Read even the greatest writings with a grain of salt

This happens, right? We come across a quotation by Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin, or any legendary figure in fact, and we read it and think—that’s it—that’s the truth. What they said hits some part of us that finds relatability with that thought, and coupled with their literary prowess, we take their thought as a true fact about life. We internalize it.

But the thing is that we believe their words, their opinions on life and people, because they are famous and we have put them on a pedestal, not necessarily unjustifiably so. This is not to say there isn’t truth in their words; what we don’t consider is that perhaps one or five years later, they completely changed their mind and they no longer themselves believe those words they had written. I say that simply because people change.

In the song Daylight from her 2019 album Lover, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift writes “I once believed love would be (Burning red)/ But it’s golden/ Like daylight.” These lyrics are a callback to her 2012 album Red, where she uses the color red to describe love as a burning, intense, intoxicating, and passionate emotion. Seven years later, she uses the color gold to describe love in a different way. The contrast between these albums, one that Swift released at the start of her 20s and the other towards the end of her 20s, shows how artists evolve, and how their own art can deliver different messages and worldviews over a period of time.

There is nothing surprising about this. Artists are also just people. Normal people who are continuously evolving as humans, who are discovering life as they go, and who just like us, may also amplify certain emotions in their youth. The difference is that their words get frozen in time, while they continue to grow. And we, the people who admire them, look up to them, seek out their words to make sense of life for ourselves, and continue to read them for hundreds of years.

This thought struck me when my friend and I were talking about writing and she said that writers like Plath and Nin have a certain surety and clarity in their writing. They are sure of what they are saying. When we read their words, we can see that they really felt that way. When we read such clarity in their words, we can see that they aren’t questioning things for the most part. And aspiring writers are often envious of this preciseness and this confidence that these amazing writers had.

So I asked myself—do I also seek to be this kind of a writer? And I thought, not necessarily. The reason being that is just not how humans are. We are not stuck in our beliefs. Something that we had absolute clarity on at one point in our lives may completely throw us off at another. Life events can change our entire worldview in a matter of months or weeks. Therefore, I no longer completely trust a person or a piece of art that is so absolute and so sure. There will always be an existing or non-existing future, or past version of it/them, that will contradict or modify that ‘epiphany’ they had that got frozen in time.

An artist writes something when they are 30 and we as readers take that to be their truth, or even as a truth about life. But that artist at 37 may have a completely shifted view on those words. The problem is that unless that shifted view of theirs is out to the public eye, we wouldn’t come to know of it ever.

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One thought on “Read even the greatest writings with a grain of salt”

  1. The pen rule is, always read all the content of a writer, all the books and then form an opinion. For every writer came with the good, bad and the ugly ideas. Let them all sink in.

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