Direct observation of contemporary societies at the threshold of widespread literacy has not assisted our understanding of how such literacy altered ancient Greek society, in particular its political culture. The discovery of what Goody has called the “enabling effects” of literacy in contemporary societies tends to seduce the observer into confusing often rudimentary knowledge of how to read with popular access to important books and documents: this confusion is then projected onto ancient societies. “In ancient Greece,” Goody writes, “alphabetic reading and writing was important for the development of political democracy.”

Can someone explain the bold part? The part "confusing often rudimentary knowledge" sounds grammatically wrong for me, and because of the part I cannot get the meaning of the whole sentence.


confusing often rudimentary knowledge is not a discrete constituent

Confusing is the -ing form (gerund-participle) of the verb confuse, cast in the non-finite -ing form so that the clause which it heads can act as the object of the preposition into.

It is employed here in the construction confuse A with B, meaning "fail to distinguish A and B properly".

  • The 'A' piece in this construction is the noun phrase often rudimentary knowledge of how to read. The head of this phrase is knowledge: it takes the complement of how to read, which designates what is known, and it is modified by the adjective rudimentary.

    Rudimentary in turn is modified by the adverb often; the sense is that on many (but not all) occasions the knowledge is merely rudimentary.

  • The 'B' piece is popular access to important books and documents.

You may paraphrase thus:

The discovery of the "enabling effects" of literacy today tends to mislead observers. They confuse the widespread ability to read, which is often merely rudimentary, with widespread access to important texts.

The author's point appears to be that ability to read at a minimal level does not assure that the reader will actually read complex texts, which require a much more sophisticated ability.

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