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My initial contribution:
Well, let me warm up a little with an aside. Why must academics write nice little books and drop them into the middle of introductions, forwards, afterwards, and interstitial chapters that dress them up with grand theoretical underpinnings? Must every damned book you submit to a tenure committee be cloaked in self-important gobbledegook that shadow-boxes various strawmen? Will the Academy not take a book seriously if it doesn't use words that need to be specially defined, for fear they might be used in the same manner as, say, the language in which they're spoken? Has a rule been passed that gives bonus points in tenure consideration for each negative thing said about a senior in the field (preferably at a different institution)?
I've read more than one book of late that would have been much better if only there weren't pasted-on usually over-ambitious and underworked chapters giving "context", with context often meaning broader areas where the author was swimming in the material. Ms. Figueira's book is just one of a type, if a particularly extreme example.
Or, to say it another way, do we blame authors for their books, or are there some institutional reasons why so much scholarship today consists of a core of good work encased in and surrounded by absolute drivel?
I find a lot of academic stuff a total hoot to read. Especially the higher up the obfuscatory language scale in which the item is written. It's apparent, the more opaque the language, the deeper the bullshit. One of the super mostest funnerest things is when two or more academics blast each other over their interpretations of the bullshit they spin. I don't bother with it much anymore. There are writers out there who do a wonderful job of translating the jargon and cant into plain, meaningful, language. I prefer reading them.
One of the things I enjoy about a lot of literature is its ability to explicate some of these impenetrable issues in simple language, thus allowing each of us to approach the fuzz through our understanding of the work. Often we won't have a more direct view into the fuzz, but the depth of our own fuzz will be diminished, allowing us to see deeper. Literature does this in a round about way with fairly direct language. Philosophy wants to be more direct.
Okay, once again, I have a sneaking suspicion I've made a fool of myself again.
And if you'll grant me that provisionally for a moment, the second premise--that academic writing is not only opaque, but opaque specifically to cover up the fact that it's bullshit--is where we'll have to part ways. There are SO MANY people doing academic research out there--some careerists trying to catch the right trend and couch it in the right terms (not that that makes their work self-evidently bullshit either), some there for pure interest or even pure joy, some to avoid "real life" (I think those guys are operating on a flawed model in a few ways), some--most--mixing all the motives together. Whether we like the terms of expression, most of these guys do have material, and ideas can be gleaned--this I guess is going back to A_M's original complaint about "a core of good work encased in and surrounded by absolute drivel". I'll admit that, but drivel surrounded by drivel, no.
It seems like we move fluidly between meanings like "scholar in general", "humanist, especially one deep into poststructural philosophy", or "literary critic", and group them all under the umbrella "academic". Are we including the hard sciences in the indictment? The social sciences? How are we defining our terms? To take the social sciences, are we conceiving social-science work more in the big-tent theoretical model of say a Foucault, who has his drivelly as well as his crystal-clear regions, or are we talking about the yeoman work that 95% of research in the fields actually consists of? "We got these two groups of people together and had them do this test and here's what it said about how they interact with x under condition y. Here are some graphs. Here is our ethics-board approval." Because that stuff can be badly written as anything, but is it as important for it to be well-written as it is for a Figueira or a Kermode?
I edit academic prose for a living these days, and a big part of it is just the grown-up version of "Y KANT JIMMY READ": students aren't being taught good language skills at the K-12 level. For most of them it never matters, because written communication of complex ideas doesn't form a large part of their life activity. But it's an open and arguable question whether smart people should be kept from doing good research because they can't express it strongly. Everyone can benefit from a good editor--just some more than others. On that note I'd also like to mention that everyone feels the pressure to publish in English, even people who really shouldn't be. (Reading Derrida in French: by all accounts revelatory.) And that academic publishing houses, for filthy-lucre reasons as far as I can see because they are by far the most profitable part of the publishing industry, don't give scholars adequate in-house editorial support--hence the existence of private editorial firms like the one I work for.
I used to work for the BC government, where I saw lawyers and bureaucrats produce horrors that match anything that comes out of universities. I think, too, that if Peter W. weighs in on this thread, he can probably confirm that he's edited novels that would make you run for the vomitorium. I don't think that this phenomenon is limited to academic writing, but I think that it irritates us a lot when we see it in academic writing for reasons that have to do with the responsibility of the academy to be a light in the community--and the reasons it's abdicated that responsibility are complex and have to do with, inter alia, the move to a business model; overspecialization; the legacy in the humanities of theoretical approaches that were current in roughly the last quarter or half of the twentieth century but still have to be replied to and grappled with because they're part of the context now; and certainly the loss of good academic positions, the fact that you have to crank out material around a punishing and non-financially rewarding schedule of sessional and other responsibilities, the fact that the perceived uselessness of the humanities (combined with the job situation as mentioned above) has made them more and more into a sinecure for rich kids, who get the jobs not so much because they're the best candidates as because they have the resources to support them until something comes up, while a lot of talented people--usually not the very very best, who get support, but a lot of others--fall by the wayside.
This is getting so long! Anyway, I think those are some factors. Also, though, academics have always been pompous people who like the sound of their own voices and enjoy grappling with abstruse concepts in misty, inaccessible, often linguistically unaesthetic ways. Only the worst of us can match Hegel, say, for awfulness. But I think the last thing that needs mentioning is that a field where output is itself highly complex, depends on a great deal of versedness in related complex work, and really can't be reduced for the most part to a schedule or a precis, is by nature one where charlatanry will find it easier to thrive. Like, if it takes me an hour to tell the emperor that my reading of Aristotle leads me to conclude that his, the emperor's, reading has no clothes, it's usually easier to just let him be and go back to my own stuff, which I try to make valuable but don't always succeed, because sometimes it's easier to toss off a piece of crap and go out in the sunshine, just like in any field.
Really, the thing that bugged me the most about the particular book ( discussed a bit more on the Summer Stock thread) was the author's need to do what she did worst and put it right up front rather than focusing on the good book within. The good book was, perhaps (and that is a big perhaps) less ambitious, and certainly had fewer pretentions, but it was not just good but even, if you really focused through the haze of pratter, revelatory in a way. But, alas, the sum of its parts ended up less than the part that should have been the sum.
Europeans—to the extent we know what we are talking about here--are fond of saying that whilst they abhor America, they are generous enough to like the individuals hatched there. If I may speak for those of us without a continent of our own, and be excused for what you misconstrue as bitterness, we feel that there is no point in despising a people if we don’t despise the people comprising those people. I may not be an Albanian—I assure you—and we all hate Albanians—if you need to be reminded—but we all of us know and love some of them—even the most phrothilous despiser of Albanians has been caught off guard, liking a fellow who turns out to be Albanian, but so as not to be a hypocrite he (we) will determine that a certain Albanianism is lacking in this particular specimen: surely this one does not clean his ass with the same filthy water day after day, wiping with the same unwashed hands we have just embraced with our own, kissing his spotless face thrice upon greeting, and if he is reproducing at seventeen times the local rate, surely the intent is not to acquire our apartment, for we have seen with our own eyes that he has a swell enough apartment of his own; if he were out to colonize my birthright by birth record, he would hardly be sending half his pay check back to Albania where they, as he has told us humbly, as if it were a slip, all drive a Mercedes (which is where the real paperwork prestidigitation is necessary at those pauperous prices). But an American, an American is no person, even where he’s a minority he can’t even manage that, maybe he’s an individual but hardly a person, no, he’s a peacekeeper and a bomber, a target-picker and a panderer, a spy, a slaver, an advance man, an opportunist, a derelict dandy, a money changer, a Christ killer, a fiend, a lopo, a Barrabas, a Roman, a sadist, an asswipe, a bootlick, a stool pigeon, a fartsniffer, a computer terrorist, an extortionist, a pestilence, a tsetse fly, a ripe turd, a secular pederast, a market manipulator, an oil man, a Texan, a drawling down home damnum fatale, a grave digger, a buzzard, a baalbuster, a blusterer, a blowhard, a recrudescence, a redundancy, a shithouse stain, a collapsible shelter, a mongerer, a mongoloid, a Mongol, a menace, a martinet, a myrmidon, a withering zeitgeist, a grotesque waltzschmertzer making merrily away into the night with your mistress, an abomination to, an accessory to, a situational chimera, a proud perfidy, a vagitus, a prevaricator, a varix of the mindscape, a limpid dick in a scumpond, a margrave in a sewer, a coprophagite, a bescumberer, a diarrhetic, a creature of habit, a tool, an agomphious gobbling gourmet of graft, a shithead, a real fucking shithead, never mind if he’s a moron, he’s still a detumescence of humanity (one-eyed sceptre of the scumpond), an indespumatable desquamation, a compulsively defalcating defecation, rabies, distemper, a lupine lunkheaded lord of a laissez faired Laloplegia, a dungdiver, a donkey’s ass, an ass’ dong, an inkpen plague, a serial serial-killer, a momentum, a grab your ass, a tic on the face of the globe, a tumor, a cancer, bursitis, an advanced rheum, a frenetic arthritic, a travelling salesman, a yes man, a naysayer, a nabob, a billybob, a deflated boob, an electronic dartboard, computerized juke box, a handcuffer, a torturer, a worm, a rat, a squealer, a profiteer, an encloser, a bandyleg, a marfan, a class issue, a plainsman, a maggot, a carcass and a maggot, a stick in your eye, an obelus in the sentence of history, an hysteria in the belch of time, a fargalator, an obituarial factotum, the breath of Satan, the sulphur of Sodom, the shame of God, the indisputable of Bog te jebo, a red herringbone tarbaby suit, a suit passing for a man, a haircut passing for a suit, a suitcase passed to a client, a flagellator, a hurricane of cause and effect, a hoary can of tuna, a whore hefting the fasces of Fata Morgana, a boar sucking the feces of a fat Congobwana, that is to say a Lumumbaslayer sucking at the tit of an elephantiascine Tsetseseko, a gaffer, a troll, a gargoyle, the new therianthropic (dinar is served), a theroid hormone, a phetid pheromone, a steroid glutimus, a phlegmon, a gogged magog maygog gag ye whilst a Magyar rape your sister, a bahinchut, a bonehead, a bean counter, a cuntslapper, a hypocrite, a sanguinopurulence, a carpet buggerer, a sarcoughing guest, a tuber and a tubercule, a laugh a lung so laugh along alone, a tweezer, a persisting geezer, a gook killer, a nigger hanger, a spic spanker, a wop wanker, a wogswallower, a wife beater, a Don Cheney, a Lon Chaney, a Henry Kissinger, a home wrecker, a hands-off phrenologist, a fallen Semen, a fanged cherub, a deserted island in a sea of troubles, a gonorrhealpolitiker, a gunboat diplomatist without a degree, a furfuration, a scurvy, a blight, a bloat, a beaver shooter, a groping uncle, a carbuncle, a furuncle, a regulatory cystemselfhelp guru, a grandee, a narcissist, a floating egg, a dangling modifier, a migraine, a stepinfelchit, a spider, a tykophage, a finicky sponge, a tendentious cretin, a cartocephalic, a magnum carter, a fugger, a neohanseatic, a sordeswallower, an amicidal trail of amentia, a suckwad, a territory tout, a mugger, a shambling mockery, an urgent call to octogenerial on down abortion, a dank crotch, a fragged ghost, a milktoast, a tepid sip, an acidic esophagous, a torment, an ugly, a stacked deck, a three note fart, an Octavian, a Caligula, a zero, a farce to be wrecked herewith, a bloatheaded baby raper banging his head on an altar, a tall tale told by a first person idiot in sonic boom obduracy signifying nothing left, a poison mushroom, a cloud, a clod, a Kurtz, a klutz, a kaputtsker, a kibbutzer of cultures, a rectum with sphincter of invidious force—a real strangler that, a xenophop, a bucket of slop, a toad, the warts on same, a carcinomic alembic, a cyclops looking the other way, a futuristic anachronism, a poxy moron, a scree, a dopperganglia, a sinapst, an unrequited sinophile, a fluggist, a scroffs terrier, an effete fungus, a calipernian seer, a defiling rod, a wrungcock, a flung cock, a monk’s ox, a barrel of lapsus, a terrible craponus, a mountebank, a dirtball, a pissant, a stomp on a bum, a fargone conclusion, a delphy delusion, an overt intrusion, a handkerchief passing for a man, a gaffe a minute, a pinhead, an appallbearer, a shrike, a liaison, a lesion making haste to infection, an adhesion (see stain), a stasis in the wrong places, a spurty can, a democrat, a demo, a Crassus, a Croesus, a thermoplyer, a bob to the surface, a micky finn, a sanitary puck of fluorescent green in a yellowing puddle at a roadside pissroom urinal, a cheatnik, a stasher, a terrorist, a pimp, a pusher, an insurance agent, a spent karma salesman, a tumbledumb, a ruse of a rube, a reason to rant, to rave, to riot, to rise, to raze, to rip tear and throttle, to wreak revenge.
I don’t like them.
And the winner is ... Rick Harsch!
Brilliant rant RH. I've got Sept. set aside as my RH month. I will read as many RH novels as i can get my fatgreedyhands on. Right now I am up to my neck in reading with only a little time for my own scribbling. I am at the moment very much into THE JAPANESE TRADITION IN BRITISH AND AMERICAN LITERATURE by Earl Miner. Very helpful for the IMPRESSIONIST thread, etc. Japonisme! Lafcadio Hearn! Even the dreaded OCTOPUS was not without the influence.
Back to rants after a brief interlude. Sosollysam.
Shall i go on?
Fun fact, female hyenas have more testosterone in their system then males. Can you imagine belonging to a species where your girlfriend has bigger balls than you do? I wonder what Freud would do with that.
sorry, the caps just don't help.
A righteous rant that is, however, NOT a positive contribution to the discourse
So, more rants!
Anna, that was the most beautiful thing I've read, all week.
Look, I found it and added a hyperlink! Isn't the internet a wonderful thing?
Bob Black wrote a lot of great rants collected in The Abolition of Work and Other Essays and he has made them available at that site, free!
The question is not “Is The Bible Fact or Fiction?” (TIME, December 18, 1995) but rather, as fiction, how does it stand up? As a stylist, God is uneven. He fails to speak with a consistent authorial voice. His use of legendary material lacks the verisimilitude of a Homer or a John Ford. He often repeats Himself, betraying His insecurity as a writer. And what a better world this would be if its dominant faiths took their fictions, not from God, but from some author with greater compassion and understanding such as Shakespeare, or Melville, or Dr. Seuss.
pretty much sums up the state of popular political discourse in America today -
Murr, all this techo-babble above is an ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION on your glorious reading thread and should no longer be tolerated. You are an enlightened romantic, nearly 300 years old, and certainly not at home in the 21st century with all these newfangled technological contraptual advances being ruthlessly levied your way in the alleged name of "reading," or "conveniency" or whatever propagandish jargon they try and rationalize it with; as if anything of what they're saying is even comprehensible in its reprehensibly computeristic gobbledegookspeak designed to drive you insane like Chinese water torture!
What's next, they'll try and teach you how to twit or join Facebook? Oooo-la-LA!!!
They're called BOOKS. Paper, binding, ink. That's all you need to read.
Dear God, master of the universe, compassionate and merciful: we who are steeped in sin kneel in supplication before your throne and beseech you to recall from this world Saadat Hasan Manto, son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, who was a man of great piety.
Take him away, Lord, for he runs away from fragrance and chases after filth. He hates the bright sun, preferring dark labyrinths. He has nothing but contempt for modesty but is fascinated by the naked and the shameless. He hates sweetness, but will give his life to taste bitter fruit. He will not so much as look at housewives but is in seventh heaven in the company of whores. He will not go near running waters, but loves to wade through dirt. Where others weep, he laughs; and where others laugh, he weeps. Faces blackened by evil, he loves to wash with tender care to make visible their real features.
He never thinks about you but follows Satan everywhere, the same fallen angel who once disobeyed you.