Right Wing Nut House

11/3/2009

A WRITER’S LAMENT

Filed under: Blogging — Rick Moran @ 10:55 am

I don’t know why it’s taken me five years to realize something of paramount importance to understand if one wishes to make a living as a writer.

I am not the brightest bulb in the room, but I still should have grasped this concept long ago; the reader’s perception and understanding of what is written trumps the author’s own intent to impart meaning every time.

I don’t know why this fundamental rule escaped my notice. I am familiar with literary criticism, where certain schools dominate and great works of literature are examined through a particular prism of understanding. I remember reading a Marxist critique of Moby Dick that had me on the floor laughing. Another critical essay I remember reading about the Melville classic dealt with the influences of Shakespeare on the writer - a brilliant exposition of a particular point of view that forced me to examine the book from a perspective I had never imagined.

But isn’t it ironic that when it came to my own writing, I failed to understand that each of us perceives the ideas and concepts on the page in front of us through our own prejudices, ideology, upbringing, and other elements that make us individuals?

Imagine the hubris it takes to believe that, as the author, your perspective on what you mean is really what counts, and that any notions to the contrary are examples of poor reading skills or worse? That has been the delusion I have been operating under these many years. And while there are almost certainly times when people are incapable of understanding my intent, I suspect that for most who pass through the doors of this web portal, they glean the essence of my thoughts through the same personal prism that I use when reading others.

Now, it may very well be that one of the reasons this is so is that I am not always crystal clear in imparting exactly what I want to say in my writings. My wordy wanderings have great need of an editor, and I really do appreciate those who make an effort to understand my intent, my meaning. I realize this is not always possible, but insofar as my efforts to be precise in my criticism fail, I shouldn’t go off the deep end excoriating someone who may or may not have understood what I was trying to say through no fault of their own.

I don’t know why this is hitting me now, except that my post yesterday was criticized roundly by many conservatives who, in my estimation, missed the point of what I was trying to say. If the criticism had been grouped around one, general theme, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But in both the comments to the post, and criticism on other blogs, there was wild divergence in what readers found wrong with what I wrote.

Again, it may very well be that my skills as a writer are deficient to the point that the piece was incoherent to most. I know what I was trying to say but hardly anyone picked up on it - even if they agreed with it! Hence, I was struck with the thought that the reason this is so is because either 1) the piece was poorly written and inadequately reasoned in its arguments and conclusions; or 2) the piece was viewed through the personal prism we all use to process what we read and each perceived my arguments in a different reality.

It could be argued that some of both conclusions were at play - something I am incapable of judging to any degree of certainty. But even if it was more of #1 than #2, I still think I have literally stumbled across a truth that writers ignore at peril to authentically understanding the essence of their craft; perception and reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Or, more poetically:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

14 Comments

  1. But isn’t it ironic that when it came to my own writing, I failed to understand that each of us perceives the ideas and concepts on the page in front of us through our own prejudices, ideology, upbringing, and other elements that make us individuals?

    But there’s a twist: at a certain unknown point, honest subjectivity comes to an end and bad faith begins. In general, the right’s problem is that they have made a killing acting in public bad faith while pretending they are subjective. The killing sponsored imitators. The imitators are now everywhere, because it is easy to spout this nonsense, far easier, actually, than doing any honest work, or honest thinking about America.

    The bottom line is that conservatives, right now, excluding a few, really have no clue what is happening in America. Their spin has completely isolated them from anything real. They no longer even understand their victories. And when defeat occurs, as it will in 2010, there will not be a shred of comprehension.

    Other factors beyond spin will no doubt take precedence in 2010. The problem as I see it will be that the right draws the wrong conclusions from any gains that might be made.

    I am not sure anyone knows what’s happening in America right now except that things are changing. Where that change will take us no one can say for sure - pollsters, pundits, politicians - anyone. We seek to divine trends but its like reading tea leaves at this point. I sometimes write about the undercurrents of history - powerful forces moving beneath the surface that we can only dimly understand. Revealing where these forces are taking us never happens in one “Eureaka!” moment but is only understood by the passage of time.

    ed.

    Comment by Modulo Myself — 11/3/2009 @ 11:13 am

  2. You’ve hit the nail square on the head, Rick. When we read Right Wing Nut House, us readers aren’t thinking about Rick Moran and what he thinks of the issues, we’re thinking about ourselves and what we think of the issues! Even when we are “replying” to you in the comments (and many times us commentators are replying to only each other), 7 times out of 10 the typical commentator is speaking past you!

    So don’t feel bad about having just found this out, many bloggers haven’t done so either about their readers. Your Mea Culpa here is very welcome in a society where the typical member refuses to admit fault for anything.

    PS-The thing I particularly enjoy about your blog are your stinging remarks inside our comments. Can’t think of another blogger who does that anywhere as frequently as you do…

    Comment by Surabaya Stew — 11/3/2009 @ 11:13 am

  3. Welcome to my world. If I may steal a line from Artie Lange: Waaaah.

    Yeah, no sh*t readers often don’t get it. Quick story: I have a secondary character who is anorexic. Anorexics are often actually reinforced by people who only see that they’re thin, not that they’re in trouble. So I have a major character kind of cluelessly remark to the anorexic that she looks good. It’s a deliberate choice: I’m showing that this main character doesn’t get it, that he’s unwittingly making things worse.

    So Kirkus — the jackasses who review books — denounce me as sexist. Because my main character is telling her she looks good thin. And those are (in theory at least) educated readers paying close attention. So some reviewers give me starred reviews, and some decide I’m an oppressor of women.

    Then there are the people who think I must be religious because out of a group of 20 or so characters I have several who are devout. Or that I must be in the pay of McDonald’s because I set some scenes in a McD restaurant.

    You’re a good writer. But writers are not omnipotent.

    You think you got problems? Jesus said ” Blessed are the meek, love your neighbor,” and generations of true believers have managed to turn that into witch hunts and heretic slaughters and holy wars.

    Yeah - I actually became an agnostic for decades before going all the way to atheism because I began to read a lot about the crusades and what REALLY happened along the Pilgrim’s Way, and in that most unholy of holy lands. Imagine a young man raised 12 years in Catholic schools coming face to face with the depredations of Medieval knights against Jews and Muslims. Gee - we didn’t learn about THAT in history class.

    Later, after more reading, my perception became a little more balanced when I discovered that those same poor, innocent Muslims slaughtered in Jerusalem murdered their way across much of Europe - also, in the name of religion (I didn’t read Norton until I was in my 40’s).

    At any rate, I wonder if I will really learn to accept what I wrote above? Should be interesting to watch what I write in the comments over the next few weeks.

    ed.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 11/3/2009 @ 11:26 am

  4. I am not sure anyone knows what’s happening in America right now except that things are changing.

    Totally agree. But the Obama administration, no matter how much it is disappointing progressives and liberals, is on the wavelength of normal, attentive,intelligent, likable, and decent.

    The Republicans, on the other hand, have forced themselves to believe that the ideologies and personas the Glenn Becks of the world occupy it.

    It’s really a division between those who have a clue what is happening, if only with their own lives and thoughts, and those who are completely lost. The funny thing is that for years, the big cultural war was over generic cultural elites and generic humble normal Americans. But it’s turning out that the humble normal Americans have more in common with gay college professors who listen to NPR than they do with the lunatic who thinks that health care is the first step to nationalized socialism and the end of the generic American Way.

    Comment by Modulo Myself — 11/3/2009 @ 11:40 am

  5. You haven’t jumped the shark. Beautifully done.

    As an aside, when you write:

    “The problem as I see it will be that the right draws the wrong conclusions from any gains that might be made”

    I find you sincere. Unfortunately, I also find you inconsistent because this represents the very change you embrace. It isn’t always clean and orderly, and wrong conclusions are reached by all politicians and commentators. Hence, the gross over-reach of the Obama Administration–the result of wrong conclusions–probably will lead to the right’s gains, and the right probably will draw the wrong conclusions from its victory. You may be too idealistic to accept wrong conclusions are a natural result of change, but it has been a common theme throughout history.

    It is purely speculative, but the United States apparently is in a state of flux that probably will not sustain any one ideology or one political party for more than a few election cycles. As a conservative, I find comfort in the inability of power to become permanent.

    Comment by jackson1234 — 11/3/2009 @ 11:58 am

  6. Now, it may very well be that one of the reasons this is so is that I am not always crystal clear in imparting exactly what I want to say in my writings. My wordy wanderings have great need of an editor, and I really do appreciate those who make an effort to understand my intent, my meaning. I realize this is not always possible, but insofar as my efforts to be precise in my criticism fail, I shouldn’t go off the deep end excoriating someone who may or may not have understood what I was trying to say through no fault of their own.

    If I were to make a comment on your presentations, it would be that, from my perspective, you tend to assume that readers grant you all of the basic beliefs in a topic–such as conservatism–and then you narrow your comments so far down that at least I, if not many others, lose sight of the fact that your basic beliefs are still predominantly conservative, and that your narrow point of view expressed in a piece is not usually a condemnation of conservatives in general.

    If one misses your delimiters, such as “some” or “a few” or “those who” there is a great possibility of misunderstanding your thrust, especially since these delimiters seem to appear at the beginning of your essays, and are lost in the following four or five (or more) paragraphs.

    The other thought I would present is that many of your condemnations of current conservative demonstrations, such as Tea Party events”, appear to be quite biased and off the mark.

    From the perspective of having attended some of these events, I find that quite a few of the conservatives I know personally as being intelligent, thoughtful and conscientious people are regular and devoted attendees. They all speak of the delight in seeing and interacting with a crowd of fellow conservatives that affirm and confirm their own ideas of what is wrong with the current political situation and what needs to be done to correct it. It is as though they are coming out of isolation and have a feeling that things are out of hand, that is, until they see a crowd of thousands that feel the same way.

    Of course, there are a very few that cross the line into idiocy in those parties, but they are simply ignored for the most part.

    Comment by mannning — 11/3/2009 @ 12:26 pm

  7. I was one of the critics, Rick.
    When I come to your blog, what I expect to read is some lengthy piece that (in my opinion) majors on the minors. An argument in favor of baseball-ish precision in a football-ish world. A Hamlet-esque call to ponder in the face of the need for action.
    You may not recall the time we met, at CPAC ‘09, when I brought you pictures from that initial Tea Party protest in Lafayette Park.
    While I do enjoy and value reading your posts, at times you seem a frustrating wet blanket.
    I want to see you, in writing, get pissed of and hurl some missiles.
    Cheers,
    Chris

    Comment by smitty — 11/3/2009 @ 12:32 pm

  8. I have read this blog for years, commented, been banned, cursed at and learned a great deal in the process. The proprietor is a very good writer and is usually quite lucid and clear. In the next to the last para, you mentioned two possible possible problems with the piece you wrote, i.e., poor writing or viewing the writing through personal prisms. I would add an additional possibility that is particularly related to political writing. In blogs, talk radio, MSM, etc., there is a great deal of what was once called “groupthink.” It looks like this is a part of the responses you received. Consumers of Limbaugh,Beck,Olbermann,etc., are shaped to think in particular ways and if anything does not immediately fit the mold, it is rejected and attacked.

    Your writing is also an easy target for this phenomenon as most of your writing requires thought and contemplation to understand. You don’t choose to take an easy way, rather you are knowledgeable and thoughtful and slow with the red meat rabble rousing most bloggers rely upon. And while you would disagree, a pretty good academic as well.

    Lastly, you make a good point about changes in American society. We are moving into an age that is still ill-defined and uncertain. We are being forced to at some point let go of the carbon based economy that has driven progress for over 100 years and don’t really know what will replace it. We survived the post-industrial age, but only by creating a financial system of smoke and mirrors that has collapsed and has not been fixed; again we have nothing clear to replace derivatives, etc. The liberal efforts to just keep adding more of the same old fixes just won’t work. And it appears that conservatives are stuck on efforts to conserve outmoded and now unneeded ideas. God help us all and keep writing.

    Comment by still liberal — 11/3/2009 @ 12:46 pm

  9. Poorly written. I think I got your meaning. You will correct me if I’m wrong. But you rambled. Nothing wrong with that in a blog post. But not what you intended.

    1. Dede is a libertarian Republican (that may be false but there was a case to be made)

    2. The Republican Party needs a core set of principles (small government, fiscal conservatism)

    3. Outside that core set they should be more tolerant

    4. The socons need to be more active in promoting the libertarian Republicans where only they can win.

    BTW the socons do not see themselves clearly:

    The American Taliban is rather apt. Not in terms of the culture they want to enforce but in the fact that they want to enforce culture.

    Comment by M. Simon — 11/3/2009 @ 1:16 pm

  10. jackson1234 11:58 am,

    Yeah. They always draw the wrong conclusions. Later if not sooner.

    It is why we have elections. Politicians need to be continually re-educated.

    Comment by M. Simon — 11/3/2009 @ 1:23 pm

  11. I guess the question to ask, Rick, is, “what exactly were you trying to say?” I went back and reread that post, and, what I see is you saying “to heck with convictions and principles, win at all costs. Act like a Democrat if need be. Forget everything you stand for. Just win, baby.”

    Unfortunately, this is not football. Putting Democrat Lite’s into Congress and getting control of the House and Senate would mean exactly zip, since they will just be DemoLite, will vote with Democrats, and do the same garbage that lost them Congress in the first place.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with candidates who hold Conservative beliefs. Bring ‘em on!

    Correct me if I am wrong. I would be interested in reading what you meant.

    Comment by William Teach — 11/3/2009 @ 1:51 pm

  12. You packed an awful lot into a relatively few words, and as writerly catharsises go, yours should be a must-read for bloggers.

    (Sound of hand smacking forehead.)

    But of course most bloggers DO believe that they’re omnipotent.

    I have become a better writer not just because I have grown older and wiser, but because I have grown more humble. I know that my deathless prose has a shelf life of . . . well about a minute and 30 seconds according to my Sitemeter, and this makes it even more important that I convey my message in clear and unambiguous words.

    Anyhow, enuf about me. You are a first-rate writer whether the subject is tea parties or autumn leaves. Clutch that catharsis hard to your chest and muse on your shoulder, go boldly forward.

    Comment by shaun — 11/3/2009 @ 1:54 pm

  13. M. Simon:

    I’m not sure everything needs to be reduced to bullet points.

    The Bible in bullet points:

    * I’m God, I’m running this show.
    * Stop being assh@les …
    * Or I will f@ck you up.
    * Oh, and love you guys.

    Comment by michael reynolds — 11/3/2009 @ 2:12 pm

  14. RM,
    Don’t substitute clear thinking for narrow-minded thinking.
    Who exactly are the crazies in the Republican party?
    What is your purpose- to weed out these crazies from the party or try and draw in some fiscally responsible Democrats?
    What is it that makes you so angry,is it that people are not as intelligent as you think you are? Is that how you think you are going to expand the party.Lots of luck.

    Comment by MooseH — 11/3/2009 @ 3:03 pm

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