Strange Horizons

Matt Cheney, from the Mumpsimus, pointed to this week’s Strange Horizons, in which he is a contributor. I’m sure he’s mentioned the weekly SF magazine on his blog before, but it’s the first time I visited. It’s chockfull of interesting stuff, from commentary and fiction to art.

Matt’s column this week is about language “accessibility”:

“There is no such thing as “accessible writing.” There is writing that is, under some conditions, accessible to certain audiences. But even that statement is not entirely true, because it presumes we can say that something definitely did or definitely did not communicate everything it was supposed to communicate.

To cry that a type of writing “is not accessible” and then to decry that “writing should be accessible” is to make a narcissistic claim. The claim builds off the expectation that what you read should conform to the conventions you know and are most comfortable with. It universalizes personal preferences. It is a totalitarian impulse.”

I have pondered this concept of accessibility as well. There are books I have struggled through –for instance, Blindness by Jose Saramago– with some frustration because I had to work at understanding the message, and I was awed and intimidated by the prose. (Blindness remains one of my favorite books of all times.) Would most people I know work at reading these kinds of books? Probably not. They are work. For me, anyway. I don’t pretend to be highly intelligent or cultivated, so maybe the struggle lies within my own capacity for understanding. We also live in a culture of speed, and taking the time to understand concepts and messages, making the effort, seems daunting and exhausting.

Does “accessible” mean easy? I think not. Maybe it means that the writing must speak to you, on an emotional level, before it speaks to your mind. We all experience emotions differently, so it stands to reason that some writing would impact us differently as well. But if your emotions are engaged, the effort is more justifiable. I suppose there is narcissism in that.

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