Mystery, Not Mystification

From the last post: "Democratization should not consist of the destruction of mystery, but finding ways to encourage all and sundry to participate in the mystery just as it is — and, moreover, to not let that process become a form of mystification unto itself."

That was pretty gnarly and tough to decode, wasn't it? OK, decode I shall.

Let me start with that word mystification. It's a term I've been using a lot lately, mostly to describe the attitude that reeks I know something you don't know, and while I'm not going to keep it from you, I'm going to make it really really difficult for you to find out.

Another term you might be more familiar with is gatekeeping. Mystification is a form of gatekeeping: you try to keep a monopoly on some cultural space by setting the barrier to entry, acceptance, or approval unrealistically high. Or you lower it for those who send the right signals, meaning you're less interested in the defense of the thing itself and more interested in hanging out with a crowd you approve of.

Don't confuse this with situations where you really do need to meet a high standard to be part of the goings-on. Science, for instance: there's a reason some of the toughest infighting happens in scientific circles, and while some of it is pettiness and jealousy and plain old human failings, a good part of it is that you need to show a hell of a lot of work before you can claim to be one-upping your peers or your antecedents.

OK, so what exactly did I mean by all that above? What I mean is, if you're a creator, and you want to produce something that tries to have a little mystery in it, a little ambiguity, you're going to have a much tougher time of it than someone who doesn't. Ambiguity is hard to get right. If you shoot for ambiguity, some people are going to come away from your work bored or confused — and what's more, some of those people are going to have critiques that stem from their boredom or confusion that are going to sound pretty reasonable. You have to not let stuff like that derail you.

You also have to not let stuff like that bounce off you when it really is trying to tell you something. I once wrote stuff that was so deliberately obscurantist, so determined not to let on about its "real" meaning, that nobody could follow it at all. After spending a couple of years lost in the forest of They're Just Too Stupid To Appreciate My Genius, I stumbled out. Being cagey in a rewarding way is not something you can reach in a single bound.

I think what people respond to most with mystery and ambiguity is the sense that their curiosity is being rewarded even when they don't know everything about what's going on. They like to be part of the game, not just the victim of it. Some people radiate such things instinctively through their work; some don't. If you really want to be one of those people, but you find you're not, you have two choices — learn how to cultivate it, or find another game. The latter is, I imagine, a lot easier than the former, if not as satisfying.

Tags: creativity  writers  writing 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/01/11 17:00.

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