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Ettinger portrayed the Arendt-Heidegger relationship as a deeply pathological one that stretched from their first encounter in 1924 until Arendt's sudden death in 1975.

Could it be possible to rewrite this sentence without a change of the meaning in this way:

Ettinger portrayed the Arendt-Heidegger relationship that stretched from their first encounter in 1924 until Arendt's sudden death in 1975 as a deeply pathological one?

Does the word order in the first sentence suggest that their relationship was pathological from the very beginning?

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You have understood this correctly.

The original explicitly states that Ettinger portrayed the pathological relationship as starting in 1924; the revision states only that the relationship started in 1924 and leaves open the question of when or how rapidly the relationship (in Ettinger's view) became pathological.

  • I think given the relationship being referenced is explicitly described as lasting from first encounter to Arendt's death, it would be a bit perverse to suppose it wasn't pathological throughout that entire span. It's not too contrived to assume an earlier relationship (conducted through correspondence, perhaps) that wasn't pathological, but that applies to both phrasings. In sum, I don't think the distinction you (and OP?) are making is inherent in the phrasing. It's more that the original expresses the relationship more clearly, so it's stylistically preferable. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 25 '15 at 14:21
  • (After all, if the writer didn't intend to identify the relationship as pathological from start to finish, why would he bother to specifically identify the start and end points of what he was talking about?). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 25 '15 at 14:24
  • @FumbleFingers You're right of course; but unclarity is not merely a "stylistic" flaw. Anything which can be misunderstood will be: the rewrite leaves room for misinterpretation, and therefore is not merely "stylistically" but semantically flawed. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 25 '15 at 14:30
  • That's an interesting usage (unclarity). I still don't see that either version explicitly either forces the "correct" interpretation, or debars the "contrived" one. To my mind it's just that whenever we encounter "unusual" phrasing (such as OP's suggested alternative), we tend to look for an unusual interpretation (in this case, regardless of the exact words/syntax used). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 26 '15 at 13:40
  • @FumbleFingers That's just my point: in ordinary prose you shouldn't make your reader look for the interpretation, you should do the heavy lifting yourself. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 26 '15 at 13:58

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