Ambiguity in Writing

I was having this discussion with my friend the other day about ambiguity and vagueness in writing. It started out wondering about universal truths in philosophical terms. I asked if there was such a thing as a universal truth that could be considered objective. We wondered if maybe a sentence describing a situation in time that could be considered a universal truth such as “There is a cup on the table and 9:40 PM.” I pointed out though that one person may view that flat surface with supporting legs as a table and someone else may view it as a desk. So if they can’t agree, is the sentence still a universal truth?

So for the next few days we’ve both been pondering about vagueness and ambiguity in writing. Is it possible to clearly convey your intent without making your writing too tedious? Or is there a point where the author should accept that it is impossible to make everyone see and read what he/she intended? Is it possible to predict all interpretations and write in a way to avoid all misconceptions?

I think I am leaning toward no, that it is not possible and as an author there is no way that you can possible achieve that. And that is why the books that we read and reread are so good. It’s because there are so many possible interpretations and we will never know what the author’s intent is (or that it should even matter . . . very formalist, no?). I mean, I will never be able to figure out whether Shakespeare was for England invading France or whether he thought it was kind of a bad idea from reading Henry V. But that is why I like it. I may be able to go and dissect the text and formulate my own hypothesis, but I will never know Shakespeare’s real intent.

So, I am curious what everyone else thinks. Do you feel that it is important and possible to have your intent clearly understood by all your audience or do you think there is a point that you have to let go of your text and be okay with someone seeing an analogy for baseball where there never ever was one (or something like that)?

Also, by vagueness, I mean the philosophical term in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy:

vagueness Many sentences are relatively vague; others relatively precise. A term that is perfectly precise would generate no borderline cases, and although this is often presented as a theoretical ideal it is extremely unclear that any learnable, speakable language could begin to meet it. For even basic observations (‘this is red’) admit of borderline cases (in the oranges and purples), and even when care is taken to make terms as precise as possible, unforeseen contingencies, new kinds of discovery, and things with new combinations of properties, may always provide hard cases whose classification is left unclear.

Let me know what you writers think?


A Feminist's Thoughts on Mormon Bloggers

I thought this article was interesting, especially after reading the "Mormon women are so oppressed" article from a few days ago. Apparently some people are fascinated with classic Mormon mommy-ness, whether they believe it or not.
I've been thinking of writing more on my personal blog, mainly to get myself writing and to feel that I'm doing something that extends beyond the walls of my home. I was therefore rather amused when reading this line from the post: "For young Mormon women, who face immense cultural pressure to stay home with children rather than pursue a career, blogging about their adventures in homemaking becomes a sort of creative outlet, a way of contributing to the larger world beyond the home."
Guess I'm normal, then? :-)


Thoughts on this article

I would really like to know everyone's thoughts on the article. It was submitted to NYtimes in the relationship stories, and it has had me thinking a bunch today.

As a single (only 26) female Mormon, I think I could relate to this woman because I'm not living the cookie-cutter life with my soon to graduate from law school husband and our second adorable, bouncy baby on the way; instead, I'm living the dissenter's life in a city with my own job, food, car, and whatever else was listed. I too get annoyed that the only thing my relatives care about my life is whether or not there is a man in it. Over Christmas when I answered my aunt's questions about the man I was dating, she responded, "See, that is the reason you needed to go to San Francisco." "Yes," I thought, "if I wasn't dating anyone, than my job/location choices would be completely fruitless regardless of how living here has changed me as a person and the other experiences I am gaining." I hate it. I too, from time to time, feel as if I am not seen as a person but as a social status.

However, although beautifully written, I also felt sorry for her. I felt sorry that for whatever reason she has felt stunted and isolated in her community because she has been denied a sexual relationship (not being married). I thought, how could this woman feel independent and free and yet so tied down to sex and how it defines her?

I feel, sometimes, that in our church we treat the topic of human sexuality as taboo (okay, maybe not sometimes--more like all the time). Like, if we ignore it, than it doesn't exist--at least until you are married. It's an uncomfortable topic. Why can't we open up and admit we are all human? It doesn't mean that we are dirty minded.

I remember as a Mia Maid listening to a chastity lesson, and my advisor, with a nervous twitching lip and eyes that were on anything but us girls, explained, along with the preserving sex until marriage, we should also not pet or neck. At fourteen I thought, "what the heck is necking and petting?" I had visions of a couple vigorously rubbing their necks together. "Weird," I thought, "but, okay, I won't do that." And because the atmosphere was so awkward, I didn't ask the teacher to elaborate. It's taboos like this that I wonder about. If I ever become a young women's leader, I'll make sure to give it to my girls straight instead of using euphemisms and dated language, "You are going to want to touch each other . . . under your underwear! Don't do it."

For me, I think more than just saying, "It's a commandment; I will wait." I've had to honestly come to grips with my own body and my emotional needs. Yes, it would be nice and I could finally find out what it is I am missing, but I also know that there is no way that I would want that level of intimacy with someone who could walk away from me in the morning. In my heart, I know that would leave me psychologically torn and broken. I would need someone who I knew would be there tomorrow morning and the morning after that before I could let him get that close to me.

And then what has made us think that when we get married and finally get to jump in bed, all our sorrows will melt away and life will be bliss and a bed of roses (literally)? What happens if I get married, and we find out that we are not sexually compatible (oh, but if I followed all the rules, the Lord won't let that happen to me!)? Hopefully we've spent enough time together before the wedding night to establish a deep friendship . . . I don't know. I don't think I have an answer for that.

Although I feel sorry for her view that no sex has denied her her rite of passage (if this were true, we'd have a lot of 14 year old adults running around out there), I can't help but think that this is many of our view. But, shh, we are not allowed to talk about it.

I would be interested to hear what others think. And if this is an awkward post, it's only that way because we've made it.