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Discuss the notion of 'difficulty'?

(Mock Essay Introduction...)

The word difficulty is a function of the everyday, applied without overt concentration upon its meaning; used to denote challenge or hardness. Yet, what has come to light through the critical and careful observations of literary theory is the recognition of the multiple nuanced associations that the word infers semantically. George Steiner’s seminal essay ‘On Difficulty’ accepts this idea, stating: “The rubric “difficulty” covers a considerable diversity of material and methods”. In his essay Steiner presents a wide “typology” of difficulty, which is immediately helpful because it recognises the breadth of distinction that should be made when discussing and using such terminology. The OED has defined difficulty with a similar breadth of character: “The quality, fact, or condition of being difficult; the character of an action that requires labour or effort; hardness to be accomplished; the opposite of ease or facility”. However, the OED’s definition is not yet a definitive totality because it doesn’t address fundamental questions; for example no consideration is given for how difficulty can come about, or in what forms it may present itself. Steiner’s essay interestingly proposes and deals with some of these questions, however, what is noticeable in current study is that difficulty is often equated with negativity. Percival Everett has perceived spoken about the presence of ‘Anti-Intellectualism’ amongst his students who perceive difficulty in this way. This is in more than one way a dangerous and fatuous opinion to hold because as well as being “entertaining” as Everett so genially points out, difficulty provides much cause for thought. Steiner makes a similar point by asking (of poetry): “How can the language act most charged with the intent of communication, of reaching out to touch the listener or reader in his inmost, be opaque, resistant to immediacy and comprehension”. Difficulty to these scholars is not merely  “the quality of being hard to understand; perplexing character, obscurity” (OED) but a space in which ideas about the nature of language itself can be asked.

Ben W. A Level English tutor

2 years ago

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