On the value of misreading

Sarah J. Sloat in Passages North:

“Every surprise changes the world,” wrote the aphorist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. In the case of misreadings, the surprise opens the possibility of an alternative world, one in which a clutch of attorneys might “spend the afternoon stargazing in the library,” rather than strategizing, as attorneys in our world are wont to do.

Positive or negative, there is something refreshingly jarring about the unexpected. Good writers do it by thwarting reader expectations. But in the case of misreadings, not the writer but the reader delivers the surprise. The reader’s mind switches out the details. It lapses. It sees what it wants to see. Not only does it overlook, it compensates and embellishes. The misled mind is creative. It doesn’t take words at face value but gets involved, creating a personal subtext.