The Personalist Project

Language is meant to be communication—the prime way we share truth with one another. Often it isn't, though. Often it's manipulation. It's framed not bring the other to greater understanding or fuller contact with reality, but rather to get him to behave according to our will—buy this product or vote for that politician or accept this illusion. 

Josef Pieper has a wonderful small book on the theme, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power.

It's tempting especially for people who are good with words to use that power to get what they want—attention, cooperation, money, prestige, an emotional response. I know a playwright who is explicit about it. His goal in writing is to manipulate his audience toward a particular emotional response. I protested when he told me this, but he had no ears to hear me. He thinks that's what playwriting is all about: emotional manipulation.

Not all authors think that way. I came across a different point of view yesterday, in another book I'm reading, called Good Prose.

Writers are told that they must “grab” or “hook” or “capture” the reader. But think about these metaphors. Their theme is violence and compulsion. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a reader. Montaigne writes: “I do not want a man to use his strength to get my attention.”

These authors intuit the problem of the master/slave dynamic in writing.

I've said it often and often, and will keep bringing it up, because I think it IS "the mystery of iniquity": the master/slave dynamic has menaced all human relations and interactions since the fall in Eden. If we want to be free of it, we will have to become more aware of it, more sensitive to its operations, "in our thoughts and in our words; in what we have done and what we have failed to do."

"It's for freedom that Christ has set us free." 

Comments (2)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Jul 31, 2015 11:14am

I love this point, Katie.

A further thought: normally we speak about grabbing, hooking, or capturing, the attention of the reader, which shows that it is the interior life of the person, rather than just his body, that's at stake. That makes this kind of manipulation more dangerous. (See this post on deceit and coercion.)

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 31, 2015 11:22am

I had forgotten about that great post. :)

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