The Literary Mind

Life, literature, and politics, from the inside out.

A Video about Ambiguity

A short animated version of William Empson's classic, Seven Types of Ambiguity

In 1928, a 22-year-old studying literature at Cambridge, William Emspon, thought his way past the ordinary and wrote a 200-plus page answer to the question, What does ‘ambiguity’ mean?  Studying literature for its tricks, he parsed “ambiguity” into seven distinct types.  His teachers called him a genius. 

Soon after, Empson was kicked out of Cambridge for having condoms in his room.  He published his classic, Seven Types of Ambiguity, without graduating.  Then he travelled, teaching English, in China.  His masterpiece is a bit hard to read, though a real beauty.  I’ve condensed it here into a short video.  

Watch the video by clicking the picture:

“The heart of standing is you cannot fly.”

William Empson

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“It seems unpleasantly refined to put things off till someone knows.”

William Empson

Also: I’ve launched a home for short videos with Tin House Magazine, called Tin House Reels. We’ll be posting short literary videos every couple of months and welcome submissions.   Come check us out by clicking right here.

Ilana Simons, Ph.D., is a literature professor at The New School as well as a practicing therapist.


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