Re: Emperor's new prose

Douglas Todd Gibson (dtg5@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Sun, 3 Apr 1994 09:43:07 -0400

On Sat, 2 Apr 1994, Cliff Sloane wrote:

> I would submit there is a difference here. On the one hand, it seems
> perfectly reasonable to question how arguments are constructed, and how
> knowledge and its acquisition are defined. Fine. But my complaint is one
> of intention. I find the dense prose of "the French guys" intentionally
> difficult. This is no exercise in epistemological alternatives. This is an
> intentional effort to make readers struggle. 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.
> Cliff Sloane

Intentional? Yes, Foucault, Barthes, Derrida and especially Lacan
are difficult to read. The prose is intentionally constructed in such a
way. At times it seems impossible to wade through the muck to get to the actually
meaning. But isn't that the point? Lacan would I think revel in the
thought that his works are difficult to read in French--to say nothing about the person
who must translate the stuff. Foucault, on the other hand, even had his
moments of lucidity almost to the point of writing in a journalistic style.
We must remember the social milieu where these people wrote:
France, where clarity, la clarte, is regarded as a national virtue, the
mark of a truly French mind. La clarte is almost a fetish in the world of
French academics, disguised as a natural one. Sturrock in the
Introduction of *Structualism and Since* 1979, Oxford: Oxford University
Press said, 'the ascedant bourgeoisie had grasped that [la clarte] was a
virtue appropriate to any class anxious to impose its will on those
beneath it in the social hierarchy, because it was the virtue
appropriate to the discourse of persuasion and autocracy' (p. 17).
And isn't it language as a polyvalent form of communication the
subject matter of these writers? Aren't they trying to show, while
offending the canon of the bourgeoisie, that language is not completely
under our control?

Doug Gibson
Columbia University