Understanding One’s Audience

Reading Aristotle’s Ethics slowly, stopping at every paragraph to ask “why was this paragraph written?” If one doesn’t read carefully, he seems to repeat himself a lot, or say obvious things. Truth is, he always has an eye to a particular audience and their concerns: i.e. he starts Book 1 talking about the problem of knowledge and action, now he’s ending Book 1 talking about the unity of virtue (where knowledge meets action) and pleasure or “external goods” – two different sorts of people have two different sorts of concerns.

If there is a deep problem with my blogging, it is that I do not understand the audience out here on the Internet. I work hard to, but one thing I see when my stuff is up at social bookmarking sites is that my writing is way too dense for most people. I don’t mean that to slam them: they’re used to a prose which is easy to digest, because writing’s job is purely to convey information nowadays. They also are being thrown an enormous amount of information not just from my work, and want to sort it out. But I can tell that they’re not paying close attention to what I’m saying most of the time, or even much attention, because the comments almost always miss the point (the people who comment on this site are really good, I think).

What I need to do is probably make my prose even denser, with an eye to creating puzzles or using images that force people to more carefully work through what is presented. In a sense, offering interpretations of poems and comments on philosophy is a dumbing-down: I say I’m doing it to introduce people to beautiful things, but perhaps people really like to be challenged.

Another idea, more practical in the short run, is to find a way to reward people more substantially for spending time with my work. I don’t know that such a thing can happen, though. This is a really serious site – I might not have meant that originally, but that’s what it has become.

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