Misleading / Misreading

One of my recent posts, “Secrets, Part One,” is misleading. Intentionally.


“I” argue for the view, more or less, that some things are better left unsaid.


In fact, however, I believe that the position that “I” took in that post is at best suspect and at worst indefensible, and that “you” would be fully justified in feeling indignant or even affronted by “my” presumption.


Here’s another way to put it: the truth of the matter is that I (Real Jim) believe that the stance on secrecy adopted by “I” (Fake Jim, the persona I adopted for that piece of writing) is not only wrongheaded but perhaps even offensive.


In other words, the entire post is ironic. Or intended to be.


“What nice weather we’re having!”  Hmm, actually, it’s raining cats and dogs and armadillos, or maybe it’s 150 degrees in the shade with 1000% humidity. What the speaker means, therefore, is that the weather’s the very opposite of nice. Conclusion: irony!


Just so with regard to “Secrets, Part One.” Real Jim does not believe — trust me on this, because I know Real Jim pretty well — that, in the ordinary course of life, we should presume to “protect” each other from the truth. Well, excepting children and the childlike. Real Jim believes the opposite of that.


And so in an effort to make his views on the matter more memorable, more persuasive, more fun, Real Jim pretended to be a staunch advocate for a rather paternalistic, infantilizing attitude. He engaged in a rhetorical gambit, in other words.


Which, as it turns out, may not have worked very well, if all it did was to confuse some of you.


But this episode in the short history of Traces — call it, “Irony Gone Wrong” — illustrates an important truth about the relationship among author, reader, and text. Namely, that the first and second of these collaborate (I use the word loosely) to create the meaning(s) of the last of these. Like this:


  1. First, the author selects and orders words with certain thoughts in mind. For example, “Let’s see, Donald Trump … orangutan hair … that weird ‘O’ thing he does with his mouth … feckless flimflammer … ferret-faced …”
  2. Eventually the author produces something — a text — that has its own existence, independent of  the author. Like a child who finally wrenches herself from the tentacles of her overprotective parent. BREAKING NEWS FROM JIM ABBOT’S “TRACES” BLOG: DONALD TRUMP IS DUMB!
  3. The reader stumbles upon this text with his or her own thoughts, ideas, biases, reading skills, etc. For example, “Oh, I’m just dying to read something new about The Donald, Don Trumpeone, DJT, the Trumpster, El Trumpo, my dreamboat, my hero of heroes!”
  4. The result is a reading of the text that is the result partly of the guidance provided by the author and partly of the meaning(s) supplied or created by the reader.


You can see how this leaves a lot of room for what an author might call “misreading” but his readership would call plain old “reading.”


It’s okay, though. It’s okay. If an author decides to use irony — intentionally misleading irony — he can hardly complain about a misreading.


Or put it this way: if a person takes Emily Dickinson’s advice to tell all the truth but tell it slant (1263), he’s gonna have to accept the fact that sometimes, the slantiness of his truth is so overly slanty that it may slant by, right under the nose of his readership.


Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

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