« the space for individual creativity in Bakhtin | Main | Richards and Language »

The “rightness� of ambiguity

Richards states, “But where the old Rhetoric treated ambiguity as a fault in language, and hoped to confine or eliminate it, the new Rhetoric sees it as an inevitable consequence of the powers of language and as the indispensable means of most of our most important utterances – especially in Poetry and Religion� (pp. 980-981). I found this passage to be very illustrative of the generative (versus transmissive) view of rhetoric that we discussed in class. While acknowledging that ambiguity can be a nuisance, Richards appreciates the fact that through uncertainty can come discovery. It seems very important to him that we continually update our knowledge and question our terms of thinking.

I think that it is actually a very important lesson for those in academia – even scholars and students sometimes tend to strictly favor the “correct� reading of a certain text, forgetting that the meaning itself is ambiguous and, often, relative.

In fact, it is when we look at issues or concepts from different angles that we are able to learn more. As Richards states, “And thereby we rediscover the world – so far from being a solid matter of fact – is rather a fabric of conventions, which for obscure reasons it has suited us in the past to manufacture and support. And that sometimes is a dismaying discovery which seems to unsettle our foundations� (p. 981)

-Meg