My Reasons for Misquoting

Several people have brought it to my attention that I do not always quote my sources exactly.  It seems that they have compared what I have quoted with the original texts and have found there to be some odd discrepancies, and they thought that they would do me the service of bringing these issues to my attention so that I could correct them.

So, let me say, once and for all, that I have indeed misquoted, often, purposefully, systematically.  I have changed tenses and pronouns.  I have replaced contractions with full words.  I have omitted the contents of parentheses and subclauses.  I have alterred endless amounts of punctuation.  I have, in all these ways and probably many others, misquoted.

Do not, however, mistake this confession for contrition.  I do not intend to start subjecting myself slavishly to the letter of the texts that I quote.  Though I am deeply respectful of authors and their words, I would suggest that a true respect for words involves the understanding that they are not absolute, not sacred, not originary, but malleable, multiple, and sometimes best respected when they are incorporated into the idiom of another author who loves them enough to work and to play with them.   To insist on the letter of the text, even when it does not do justice to the living text, can only ever be a mere legalism.  I am not concerned with it.  My concern is elsewhere.

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2 comments
  1. Lauren said:

    Do you think this idea of loving the words enough to play with them should carry over into the realm of adapting or rewriting classic works in weird ways or writing sequels long after the original author has passed away? I don’t mind the former concept, but I find the latter to be almost unforgivably arrogant.

  2. Lauren,

    I am not in principle opposed to adaptations and sequels and other rewritings. I think that this is exactly how creativity can and should work. It is certainly how many of the classic works were themselves written.

    In practise, however, much of this rewriting is done merely to take advantage of a classic work’s reputation, and the new work is of the same horrible quality as most literary production is and always has been. There are certainly some adaptations that I really enjoy, even some very strange ones, but too often people fall into the assumption that an adaptation of a classic work must be good simply because of what it is adapting, which is, as you know, so untrue as to be laughable.

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