Friday, 29 November 2013

Off Topic: Opinions and How Not to Have Them

Hi. My name is Kathryn and I have an opinion.

I wish there was a support group for people like me. (So far, the closest thing I have found is the INTJ discussion board on Personality Cafe.) If I have a failing, it is probably that I have an opinion about absolutely everything. And not only do I have an opinion about everything, but I am absolutely, unfailingly always right. And not only am I absolutely, always unfailingly right but I never speak up and offer my opinion unless:
  • I think this is vital information that another person will need to know as this will somehow help them, no matter how trivial the issue is.
  • This is an area where I genuinely believe myself to be an expert and I'm trying to offer an alternative viewpoint that will help the other person in their understanding of a particular topic.
Consequently, I have this strange expectation that other people will feel this strange, overwhelming gratitude that I have taken the time to offer them my most sacred opinion. And when that doesn't happen (which is often,) I have a tendency to get all hurt and sulky and retreat back into my cave and complain because really, other people just don't understand genius. (Purists take note. I'm using the word genius in a slightly sarcastic sense here.)

As regular readers of this blog would know, the reality is, I am sometimes naive and I am sometimes wrong. And sometimes I am just too damn reactive. I get annoyed about misconceptions of popular or famous books, though I'm (slowly,) learning to restrict that level of annoyance to my blog and not to level it at other people, though usually I do so because I want them to enjoy and understand the themes of the book on as many levels as I did. (See? I'm an uptight, arrogant arsehole.) I am also a hypocrite, because I believe in freedom of speech, know that all reviews are subjective and that people are allowed to react in any way they please to a book. I believe that a true artist should know and understand the value of humility. And truth be told, I wouldn't like it if every blog I visited or every goodreads review that I read said exactly the same thing about a book. And if I'm taking the time to comment, the writer of the review has usually impressed me in one way or another.

On the other had ... I have a Honours Degree in English Literature. For better or for worse, I've worked hard to earn my fucking stripes and my right to have an opinion. And one day, I am going to learn a respectful way to pass on my knowledge ...

7 comments:

  1. I find muttering under my breath ( ok and sometimes yelling) at the screen can be satisfying:)

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    1. That's brilliant, Shelleyrae! And it's probably what I should be doing ...

      I think I really do need to learn to pull my head in sometimes though :)

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  2. As I was telling my creative writing students recently, the thing with writing is that it doesn't just mean one thing. There is the "intended" thing by the author, but there is also the "interpretive" thing by the reader, which is completely based on the experiences of the reader, and that meaning that the reader has is as real and valid as what the author intended (most of the time). That's one of the things authors have to be aware of: once you release something "into the wild," it will take on new meanings, and, if they are meaning far, far out of touch with what you meant, that's probably a failure on the part of the writer, not the reader.

    And I think I'm straying from your point into one of my own.

    I don't have opinions; those are for every one else. -I- have answers.

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    1. Andrew, sometimes it's the failure of the writer, sometimes it's the failure of the reader. I know readers who have quite genuinely missed the point of To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, and there is definitely no fault with the writing there. Read some one star reviews of Z for Zachariah on goodreads and you'll see what I mean about readers missing the point.

      On the other hand ... Some books just don't work and the reader is going to struggle to understand and interpret them in the way the author intended. Night Film by Marisha Pessl is one example.

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  3. What I'm saying is the writer decides what level of understanding s/he wants to write at. You can always come right out and say "x is equal to y" and, except in extreme cases, everyone will get that. However, if I don't want to be that straightforward about it, I might say "when a is equal to b, then x is equal to y." Or any number of other things. How clear I am in my writing is up to me, the author, therefore, if I have failed to communicate my message in the way that I intended, it's because -I- have failed to communicate it in the way that I intended.

    And, sure, I also understand that readers can become better educated, more well read, etc, but, as the writer, I cannot control any of that, so it's up to me to deliver the message to the group that I want to understand it.

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    1. Can we judge War and Peace to be a failure if I were to give a copy to a six-year-old, who would struggle with it and soon become bored? Can we judge it to be a failure if I were to give a copy to a fourteen year old who has no understanding of the historical and social contexts of the novel and receives no guidance from their English teacher?

      Of course not. By taking the opinions of the six year old and the fourteen year old into account, however, we might be able to conclude that War and Peace is an unsuitable novel for a child and unsuitable for a student to read without some help and decide to find more suitable books to give to children. But neither of those things make Tolstoy a dreadful writer. War and Peace is, quite simply, not intended for either of those audiences and its reputation as a classic should not be made to suffer because of it.

      A novel is unsuccessful if the author fails to deliver their intended message to their intended audience.

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  4. Yeah, that's what I said, "...it's up to me to deliver the message to the group that I want to understand it."

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