Jun 14, 2003

Questions of Confusion and Complication
An obfuscator is surely one without the merit of intellectualism: he is a fraud passing out words bereft of soul. The obfuscator is hiding, refusing to clarify, for his brilliance is because of the muddle.

It is a cheap crime, but hard to catch.

Charging one with obfuscation is hard, because the thought that you just aren't intelligent enough to understand and are too poor a mind to try hard enough to grasp the tangle of thoughts is a thought always present. It is the obfuscators claim and it is present in your mind and in thoughts of the hearers forming the jury.

For how does one seperate the confusing from the brilliant? At what point does what stop struggling with the complicated and condem it? When can we say that such complication cannot--cannot!--be intelligence and is worthless?

The cry of "mere obfuscation" has often been heard hurled at philosophy. And certainly sophists have always used terms in a great terminological circle to raise confusion and earn bread. But what, functionally, seperates them from the brilliant. Only a few names in philosophy are beyond the charge. The great Greeks, mostly. And we wonder at night if Plato was just a excellent fraud. More than one has dismissed the whole of philosophy on this claim of sophistry and obfuscation.

And how can one ferret the fraud, if indeed a fraud is something less than the whole enterprise.

The fear and the chare is even more present in poetry. We can discard much under the rubric of "an attempt to sound smarter than he is or at least too obscured to be worth reading." And so we lose Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot, before we even get to the avant garde or the post avant garde.

In poetry too we find lost the option of "more explaination," for the explained poem is the worst of them. The poet must stand by a code of "it's in the poem and can't be out here in prose," or poetry is worthless. Ought the poem's words be rendered outside of poetry? Then what good is the poem? How should the poem be appreciated if appreciation of the poem isn't poetic?

And how can we know? What line do we draw: this complicated and no more? There is merit in simplicity and brilliance in simplification, but when I tell a badgering fellow I can't explain some philosophical point to him because he hasn't read enough, am I but a bluffing obfuscating fraud? If all of modern philosophy can't be reduced to five minutes to meet the demanded answer to some unread Rationalists, is it hiding in confusion and ambiguity?

If a poem of my isn't understood, am I "pulling one over"? Is it worth understanding? Is there something there? I grant that confusing men isn't a value or a mark of quality. But is it quality and value by necessity found in their understanding either? If it is neither, then what is the reader doing since they are irrelevant?

Drivel, it seems, is neither spawned by complication nor simplicity, but wraps itself in both. Yet, the drivel one knows beyond a suspicion is the drivel one isn't confused by, that one can cut out by being beyond the complicated turns of terminology.

It is only when one is intellectually beyond the obfuscator, unraveling his tangle and showing the flaws and showing that things are more complicated than he has allowed, that one is able to condemn without doubt.