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Seven Types of Ambiguity Hardcover – 1 Dec 1949

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus; New edition edition (Dec. 1949)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701106549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701106546
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 244,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


...a brilliant poet-critic, equally gifted in both departments. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Hailed as a masterpiece on its publication in 1930, this landmark in the history of criticism draws on authors from Chaucer to Eliot, illuminating the strategies of individual writers and creating a brilliant theory of poetic practice. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 14 reviews
164 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Read & Think Subtly 8 Feb. 2001
By HackedHacked - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The prose of the author is delightful: it was originally published in 1930 when better authors had a genteel but sophisticated style. The author's original intention was to set forth a theory of metaphor by distinguishing and analyzing, as the title says, seven forms of (linguistic) ambiguity. He draws the examples on which he exercizes his probative skill mostly from great writers in the English language. But for those schooled after, say, the 1950s it is a wonderful exhortation to read, speak and write with more subtelty than is usually encountered. A corollary of the case he makes is that ambiguity--carefully crafted ambiguity, not ambiguity of the slothful kind--can be very powerful, but it presupposes a precision in reading and writing which is a precondition for well-crafted metaphor. As such it stands for OUR generations as an exhortation to lingusitic sophistication and an implicit disproof that "liberty" goes hand in hand with slovenliness. It certainly does make better readers out of those who go through his book.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gospel 29 Nov. 2009
By Blockhed Blockhed - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is one of the finest introductions to the power of words ever written. I read it when I was the same age as the author, and it etched itself on my mind. I cannot think of a more convincing analysis of how poetry works, beyond the simplicities of rhyme and rhythm. Poetry compresses emotion. It makes the words work hard. That is why it is effective and memorable. A line of poetry contains multiple meanings, which is what I understand by Empson's "ambiguity". Prose attempts to eliminate ambiguity, and the result is legalese, or the writings of the denser philosophers: hopelessly boring, unmemorable, ultimately incomprehensible. This book is a guide. I have kept it with me for the last fifty years.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetry in Action 22 Mar. 2007
By Robert E. Koskulics - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is for people who love words. Not just love them, but have a serious lust for them, who have such a powerful desire to absorb as much as possible that you can't even fully articulate why. What this novel does is help us remember why we love poetry, and the enormous power it can have. That's not to say it can make you like poetry if you don't already have a healthy understanding of it; indeed, in order to read this book I need complete silence and total concentration. This is not a book to read before you go to bed, or while you're at the gym. This is a book to read on your day off, when you can shut off all outside distraction. That seems like a lot to ask, but the rewards are great. After reading this, take another look at your all time favorite works of literary art. Take a look at "Macbeth," or, "The Sun Also Rises," or even, "Fight Club." This book will help you get more depth of meaning than you ever suspected out of these words.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambiguity is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing 8 Oct. 2012
By Martin Asiner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The art of close reading as a technique to glean meaning from a text involves the use of a myriad of critical reading skills that we like to think are taught in both secondary and higher education. I might have begun the next sentence with, "Alas..." but instead it might be useful to point out that the deficiencies of readers in comprehending texts is not limited to today. In the years following the end of the Great War, students then as now were increasingly slothful in their reading skills. Part of the problem was that the term "ambiguity" had received some bad press. Most readers assume that when they read a text that if they encounter a word, phrase, term, or idea that they deem ambiguous it must be the result of sloppy writing on the author's part. William Empson in Seven Types of Ambiguity rises to the defense of ambiguity by insisting that the rush to indict it as slothful thinking might just be premature. What, Empson asks, should a reader think if an ambiguous word or idea is deliberately so? Does the mere fact that this word or idea might have more than one meaning suggest that the author does not supply any helpful hints? Empson writes of ambiguity as if it were yet another close reading technique that when judiciously used induces the reader to peek under the patina of that ambiguity to uncover a richness of meaning that might otherwise lie dormant. Other New Critical writers prior to Empson have urged readers to be aware of the presence of ambiguities but mostly in the context of adversely judging the presence of an "organic unity" that might be forestalled by their presence. Ambiguities thus have a definite upside.

Empson looks at a wide swath of writers like Shakespeare, Pope, and Donne to examine how each uses carefully crafted ambiguities not unwittingly to mislead a reader but purposefully to guide that reader into a thematic fork in the road, one which points to an unwanted destination even as the other leads to the Holy Grail of poetics: the organic unity that all New Critics insist is the one and only correct interpretation. The seven linguistic potential detours is a possible Road Less Traveled By and in Seven Types of Ambiguity, William Empson invites the reader to decide for himself which fork to take.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 7 Types of Ambiguity 18 Feb. 2006
By Ulysses - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is one of the great milestones of twentieth century literary criticism. Published originally in 1930, its relevance has not faded. It is heartily recommended to anyone with an interest in poetry, and is absolutlely essential for anyone working for a college or graduate English degree. It could also be profitably used by younger persons in high school honors English programs.
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