Crowded Barrel

Oh dear, oh dear, I really shouldn’t. But I’m going to. Pester another fish in another barrel. Because it’s quite interesting how lame their arguments are, how beside the point or redundant or both. Either they accuse me of not talking about that which I never said I was talking about, or they say something I already said.

I have to say I found the ‘Bad Writing’ article extremely dissapointing. Like, unfortunately, too much criticism of theory it was utterly, utterly trivial. I mean, was this what the ‘theory wars’ were all about, that some people dislike Judith Butler’s use of subordinate clauses?

But ‘Bad Writing’ isn’t criticism of theory, it is what it says it is: a criticism of Bad Writing. Bad Writing in ‘theory’, yes, but still, the subject is bad writing, not theory. And subordinate clauses are not the problem.

Some theory is hard to read (though no harder to read than some analytic philosophy, – Gender Trouble is not appreciably harder to read than Word and Object, although the two books are difficult in different ways).

Yes. That’s my point – that ‘difficult in different ways’ bit. That covers a lot of territory, doesn’t it! I haven’t read Gender Trouble, but the theory I have read is difficult in a pointless, empty, arbitrary way, and that’s what I complain of. Writing that is difficult because the subject is inherently difficult is another matter, but that’s not the kind of writing I was talking about.

If postmodernists are wrong, critique their arguments…The best critiques of postmodernism do just that; witness the gulf separating the ‘Bad writing’ article on this site from the excellent article by Martha Naussbaum which it linked to, which engaged with the actual substance of Judith Butler’s views, rather than raising a fuss about her style.

We do critique the arguments of postmodernists, of course, in other articles. And of course the article by Nussbaum is excellent, that’s why I linked to it. But it’s certainly not accurate to say or imply that Nussbaum doesn’t ‘raise a fuss’ about Butler’s style. She does just that, here for instance:

It is difficult to come to grips with Butler’s ideas, because it is difficult to figure out what they are. Butler is a very smart person…Her written style, however, is ponderous and obscure…Thus one is led to the conclusion that the allusiveness of the writing cannot be explained in the usual way, by positing an audience of specialists eager to debate the details of an esoteric academic position. The writing is simply too thin to satisfy any such audience. It is also obvious that Butler’s work is not directed at a non-academic audience eager to grapple with actual injustices. Such an audience would simply be baffled by the thick soup of Butler’s prose, by its air of in-group knowingness, by its extremely high ratio of names to explanations.

That first sentence says it all, really. But then the other sentences go on to say quite a lot too. How can we help concluding that theory-lovers admire Butler not despite the ponderous obscure style but because of it? Especially since we have yet to encounter any who can say coherently what it is they admire about her?

Is sniggering at examples of ‘bad writing’, apparently as a substitute for providing genuine argument, really the best the self-desribed defenders of the Elightenment can come up with?

Of course it’s not. It’s the subject of one of many, many articles on this site. I disagree with the writer that Bad Writing is trivial or completely non-substantive, however, especially bad writing of the kind in question. I think it promotes bad thinking, obscures bad thinking, drives people out of the humanities, and gives the humanities a bad name, just for four things. I do think it matters. That doesn’t mean I think that’s the only thing wrong with Postmodernism, but then I never said I did. I begin to wonder if another problem with bad writing is that people who like it become incapable of reading carefully. Judging by the defenders on this site at least one would have to suspect that it does.

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