Re: Emperor's new prose

Franz Aubrey Metcalf (fmetcalf@CRL.COM)
Sat, 2 Apr 1994 18:14:02 -0800

Christopher Pound wrote:

> > [French authors' dense prose] is an
> > intentional effort to make readers struggle.
> This statement makes me think three things:
> (1) You think that it's the thought that really matters and
> that style gets in the way of meaning.
> (2) You don't actually like reading and writing; they're
> simply a means to an end. One's intent should only be
> to write efficiently.
> (3) You think it's the author's duty to express him/herself
> without taking pleasure in the means of expression.

Now, I don't want to sound too testy in what is my first post to this
group, but neither do want to let Pound's thoughts go unanswered.
It seems to me that he is being less than charitable to the previous
poster, Mr. Sloan, and more than charitable to Mr. Bourdieu.

Pound takes a quote that I endorse, and makes three interpretations of
the thought behind it, all three of which I violently oppose. I speak only
for myself (if that), but perhaps Sloan shares my mind, here.

1) Thought matters; style matters. For precisely this reason, we must avoid
bad style. Both should contribute to conveying meaning.
2) I do not enjoy reading or writing *bad* texts. Both are (for me, alas)
unavoidable, but both are mere shadows of the creative experience of
writing or reading good texts. When these acts are pleasures, the ideas
propelling them gain force. This goes well beyond "efficiency."
3) Yipes! I hope no one in this group subscribes to this view of the duty of
an author. Since the pleasures of the text should (and sometimes do, look
at Geertz) add to the power of the message, the author has a positive
duty to make her writing speak, even at times to sing.

I, too, have bushwhacked my way through Bourdieu, and through innumerable
other academic authors content (even proud) to wound their readers, who are,
after all, their only real admirers. While I agree having some difficultly
is inevitable, and even tonic, when an intelligent and informed reader must
work through a sentence four times just to find a path through the jargon
and the obfuscatory grammar, the author has done something *wrong*.

In fact, Carrier's post, quoting Bourdieu's reviewer, Jenkins, points
out just what wrong Bourdieu (and so, so many others) is perpetrating. As
Bourdieu himself explains, we must look at the power relationships
inherent in the academic situation to understand academic discourse. I
would add, we must also apply a bit of psychodynamic insight to the ways
in which academics want and need to feel important and insightful, in
the midst of what we all see as ominous signs for the future of the
human sciences. But the power and the pervasiveness of the reasons for
bad discourse do not excuse the practice. That, as far as I am concerned,
is all there is to it.

We must, to some degree, open up the discourse, or we will preserve our
intellectual turf by turning it into a wasteland, a barren place that
supports no one and nothing, neither in spirit nor in wallet.

Okay, so I got a little carried away by the rhetoric, but it was *fun*
rhetoric, and that's more than you can say for Bourdieu. Sadly ironic that
though Bourdieu has so much more to say than I do, *he* (of all people) is
trapped in writing that isolates him from the wider audience his ideas
deserve, whle *I* routinely manage to express my meaning in simple
phrases. Of course this is partially explained by his abstruse material,
partially, but not sufficiently. Is it any wonder the we in the human
sciences feel economically threatened?



Franz Aubrey Metcalf That ol' U of Chicago
Now, happily researching in Los Angeles