The further I get in academia, the more I come to love the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Basically, the story is that an emperor was approached by a tailor who said that he could make the emperor the finest new set of clothes in all the land. The emperor agreed, but what he didn’t know was that the tailor was actually a crook. The emperor arranged a great reveal for his fabulous new clothes, and when he emerged from his palace to parade before all his subjects, everyone was shocked to realize that the emperor was, in fact, wearing nothing. Out of fear of the emperor, nobody said anything as he majestically began to walk down the parade route, flanked by his courtiers and knights and other nobles. However, midway through, a young boy perched on his father’s shoulders shouted out the fact that everyone else knew but was too afraid to admit. “The emperor’s wearing no clothes!”
This sensation has become more and more frequent for me, whether I’m reading a strange article or listening to a strange speaker. “What is going on?” I think to myself. In the past, I’ve blamed myself when I don’t understand something that sounds extremely complicated. As I’m beginning to mature and find assertiveness, however, I’ve realized that it isn’t always my fault. Writing isn’t supposed to be totally inaccessible to a reader, and it’s not always the reader’s job to make sense out of what an author writes. Sometimes, the emperor really is wearing no clothes, and everybody is just too scared to admit it. Today, for example, a professor joked that her partner has told her in the past that he just doesn’t understand poetry, and she responds that nobody does, they only pretend to. After the beat of silence that met her remark, she frantically added, “But of course I was only joking.” While the rest of the class responded with a weak laugh, the wheels in my head started turning. Something that isn’t talked about in academia is the fact that sometimes, theories are incomprehensible. Whether it’s because the writing is incoherent or because the concepts are just plain bizarre or the speaker is not good at presenting information, sometimes things we encounter don’t make sense. I think that academia would be a better, more accepting, more supportive place if rather than pretending to understand things all the time, we could occasionally admit to each other that things don’t always make sense.