Re: Emperor's new prose

Christopher Pound (pound@IS.RICE.EDU)
Sat, 2 Apr 1994 18:00:12 -0600

> [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.

None of these things surprises me. The first is a pretty popular notion,
founded on an essential separation between thought and language that,
even though anthropologists and linguists have been challenging it for over
a hundred years, has proven quite difficult to eradicate. The second is
good old-fashioned utilitarianism/pragmatism/whatever. The third is
somewhat anti-intellectual and definitely puritanical.

I'd also like to say that if by "French authors" you meant Bourdieu or
Foucault, forget the whole discussion. I don't think they're at all hard
to read, at least not in the same way Derrida or Deleuze/Guattari are
hard to read, and anyway, I don't think that "boring" and "obscurantist"
are at all the same thing.

> One needs to look at the site
> of these difficulties, in an arena of academic competetiveness, to
> understand why people CHOOSE to write impenetrable prose.

This sounds fine, but the same could be said about advocates of clarity.
Consider, for example, how closely the concepts of plain style and "Great
Books" have been associated in the long debate over the quality of teaching
in American universities. You think proponents of such things don't sometimes
"CHOOSE" to push them for reasons of academic competitiveness?

Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu