Lemons and Lives

Franz Aubrey Metcalf (fmetcalf@CRL.COM)
Tue, 5 Apr 1994 19:31:49 -0700

James Carrier, in a moment of thoughful bemusment, wrote:

> Obviously some people are going to find that some topics cut a bit
> close to the bone in one way or another, but the process still bemuses.
> Presumably this is just another joy of the internet.

Carrier is, of course, right, that we should find this a joy of
the internet. Due, I suspect, to our being stripped of the social
incentives that keep our veneers glued on, we seem to be much nastier
on the net. Not as much as cruel, but much less than kind. (You of thinner
skins, just be glad you are not caught in a thread on rec.sports.basball,
where the real heavy hitters [sorry] come out.)

More seriously, Carrier is also right to find another reason in
the subject matter of this thread: the topic of our prose cannot be seen
apart from the topic of our power, our status, our contribution to
culture, our jobs. *Naturally* it brings up suppressed emotions, it is
freighted with our goals and fears for the field and for ourselves. But
we must allow ourselves this emotion if we want to begin to disentangle
power, knowledge, and self-esteem in the marketplace of academia. Bourdieu,
a discussion of whose prose got the blood runnig so high, here, is on
the right track (though he seems to be driving very badly) in seeing power
relationships in all this. There is more, too; one explanation is never
sufficient. Our writing styles and our defenses of them stem directly
from our vision of what the human sciences are and should be, and, more
deeply, from our personal needs to feel what we have devoted our careers
to is valuable. Some people can only feel that if their subjects, or at
least their writing, is recondite and byzantine.

We all agree we don't want to be *those* things, but then we
all go and disagree on what they are. Still, opening the debate about
academic language, as we are doing, here, can hardly be bad, though
it may become nasty. If readers of the group don't enjoy it, that *might*
be a good sign. Psychotherapy is no fun either, not when it's working.
Yet, I do not mean by this to give us all a license to flame.

And, since that strikes a nice defensive last note, toodle-ooo.


Franz Aubrey Metcalf fmetcalf@crl.com That ol' U of Chicago
But now happily researching in Los Angeles