New Directions in the Humanities’s Updates

Clearing Up Ambiguity

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The New York Review of Books | Article Link | by Tim Parks

“I like middles,” said John Updike. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

“A marvellously ambiguous ending,” says Barry Norman of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“Blood Meridian is wonderfully ambiguous on these questions,” says Scott Esposito of Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

“The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure,” declares Milan Kundera.

“Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse is a beautifully composed, wonderfully ambiguous celebration of sexual liberation,” says an Amazon blurb.

So what is it about ambiguity that it has to be praised to high heaven by all and sundry? Above all, how did it come to take on, at least for some, a cloak of liberal righteousness, to shift from being an aesthetic to a moral virtue, as if the text that wasn’t clear, that didn’t state its preferences clearly, were ethically superior to the text that does.