On Obscurity

Obscurity often brings lonely isolation in an empty field

I hate this story.

In fact I hate a lot of Aesop’s fables, but that is a topic for another post. Why is the moral of this story ‘Obscurity often brings safety?’  Why not say, ‘Flexibility is hidden strength,’ or ‘Sometimes you gotta go with the flow to survive.’   What a terrible message to teach people: if you want safety, make sure you are inconspicuous.

Obscurity is not a good thing.  Unless you are an ex-spy or someone on the run from the law.

definition of obscurity

The fable focuses on the first part of that definition.  These next quotations focus on the second part:


The idea of purposefully being difficult to understand is what lead me to wonder about the word Obscurity on this fine Wednesday.

There are writers and artists out there who pride themselves on being obscure.  Their art is so out there, so innovative, experimental or unique that those of us who can’t see it’s beauty or cleverness are just losers who don’t get it.  Yeah, right.  Or maybe the ‘artist’ doesn’t actually have any talent.

It is possible that some of these people are just ahead of their time.  All new forms of art start out as something only a few people can appreciate.  At first.  But eventually it catches on and becomes something many people can enjoy.  If a writer always writes obscurely and never connects with more than a handful of people, and if we can assume that he is not ‘up to mischief,’ then obviously he is a poor writer.  The point of writing is to communicate ideas with people outside of shouting distance.  If a writer’s ideas, thoughts, and feelings are not being communicated clearly, then he is doing it wrong.

I believe that there are some writers out there who were/are up to mischief. I won’t name names, but we all know at least one book that we tried to read because it is a ‘classic’ and you only get a quarter or half way through before you cry ‘this is total BS!’ and throw it across the room.  Those writers knew exactly what they were doing.  Trying to backpedal on their uncomfortable fame and go back to being obscure, safe, isolated.

There may be safety in obscurity, but safety is boring.  Don’t be boring, be bold, be brave, sink those roots in deep and hold your head up high.  And if you get knocked down in a hurricane  well, at least you tried.

And besides – you are not a tree, you can get back up again.

2 thoughts on “On Obscurity

  1. Most people reading Einstein’s theory of relativity would think it obscure, but it’s actually their own lack of understanding not his incompetence or mischief…..


    1. Then he wasn’t a good writer. There are writers (Bill Bryson for one as you know) who are able to explain Einstein’s theory very clearly, because they are good writers.


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