25 May 2004


Reading opaque contemporary academic theory-head writing is a vice of mine. I love it when Donna Haraway says stuff like

The evidence is building of a need for a theory of ‘difference” whose geometries, paradigms, and logics break out of binaries, dialectics, and nature/culture models of any kind. Otherwise, threes will always reduce to twos, which quickly become lonely ones in the vanguard. And no one learns to count to four. These things matter politically.
and I'm not afraid to admit it.


For every sentence of difficult theory-head prose which says something incisive like that, there's an entire Routledge book that doesn't seem to say anything at all — beyond being a kind of eruption of ugly lefty academic poetry.

Mark Crispin Miller, himself a lefty academic, has some ideas about where this stuff comes from.

The merciless abstractness of the prose, with its consciousness-defying sentences, dependent clauses tacked onto (and tucked into) dependent clauses, and almost every word a ponderous multisyllable, inhibits us from noticing how much of all this work is merely self-obsessed and self-promotional. Theory's heavy leftish filigree, moreover, even has its audience, and the likes of Roger Kimball, thinking that the stuff is radical. Such affectation is especially important in an institution as completely out-of-it, politically, as the academy, whose members mostly never go to “meet the people where they are,” because they don't have time, and don't know how, and probably don't even want to, since the institution won't award them any brownie points for doing it. Thus shunted off into the furthest margins, the theorists wax “political” as if to reassure themselves that they are where it's happening, and that they do make a difference — but their peculiar view of “power” prevents them from connecting, ever, with reality as most people inhabit it. Indeed, that view induces them to see that very failure as itself politically progressive. Since “power” so values clarity and logic, good grammar and a solid argument, it must be really right-on to do sloppy work.

Of course, he can't manage the trick without using “scare quotes” on a few problematic “words,” but I forgive him.

(Also: Miller is a vigorous critic of our president, most notably in being the author of the smart, serious, and scary book The Bush Dyslexicon, which I cannot recommend highly enough.)

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