Friday, October 15, 2010

Making a reader think

Il ne faut pas toujours tellement épuiser un sujet qu'on ne laisse rien à faire au lecteur; il ne s'agit pas de faire lire, mais de faire penser” (We must not always exhaust a subject, so as to leave no work at all for the reader. My business is not to make people read, but to make them think.) - Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws, Book 14, ch.XX)

 By chance, when thinking about my next blog, I met this quotation on the Philosophy Calendar, which hangs here somewhere on a wall in my house. I looked it up on the Internet in Montesquieu’s work ( in order to see in what context it had been placed. Montesquieu, so he said there, originially had the intention to investigate for all kinds of moderate governments known how the three powers are distributed and what the relations with the degrees of freedom are, but he wouldn’t do that for something had to be left to the reader: one must not only make him or her read but also make him/her think.
The comment added to the quotation by the Dutch journalist and philosopher Vanno Jobse related it to the difference between what a good book is and what is just a book: Some authors write a book where the whole thread and all thoughts are completely spun out. Then, you read the book and that’s it. Good books, however, have been developed well, everything is thought-out but, despite that, not everything that can be said about the main theme is said, and it gives the reader handles to make him or her think.
When I look back to how I wrote in the past, I must say that I was the type of author and thinker who tried to be complete. My attitude was: try to be as complete as possible. And when I discovered yet a little loose thread in my thoughts I tried to fasten it. I must say, I was also stimulated to do so by others. In case I had sent a paper to a journal, I usually got comments like: “How about this?” “How about that?” “There you can be criticized”. And so on, forgetting the main line of the thought. In the end I was fed up with it. What sense does it have to try to be as precise as possible? So I gradually changed my way of writing, I loosened my style and let the loose threads hang down. Or I intentionally left some points open without discussion. I started a blog website, too, which is exactly a place where you can have your thoughts run freely without thinking whether each thought can be substantiated. It is not that I hoped that I could make other people think, although that would be nice, of course. I write my blogs for myself, often as a reflection on what I have just read. But when I read later an old blog again, I often discover failures or imperfect thoughts that make me think again. And I enjoy it.


Luzdeana said...

Hi, Henk!
About your last reflection, Heraclitus said that about not being possible to go into the same river again, because the river has changed, and so have we.
When we read something that makes us think we feel involved in the text and so reader and writer come into contact.

HbdW said...

Hello Diana,
Gracias. Panta rei. Everything streams. So do the thoughts of the writer and reader, too. If they touch, often we get a fertile result.
Thanks for your blogs, too. I just read your last one.