Like Seizing Sweetmeats from an Infant

Well this is going to be fun. Thanks to the link at Arts and Letters Daily, we’re getting letters about the ‘Bad Writing’ In Focus – agreeing on the whole, but with some dissenters too. Perhaps it’s dirty pool for me to answer them here…?

Nah. Most people who visit the site never even find Notes and Comment, and besides – the question of the way Bad Writers defend Bad Writing is in fact part of the issue. It’s part of what the article was about, and part of what’s wrong with the whole field. So talking about it is part of our (admittedly self-appointed) brief.

This awful article trots out very familiar objections to “theory” in a way which only provides ammunition for those who think such objections are always merely anti-intellectual.

Hmm. Well, maybe, but it looks to me more as if it’s providing evidence (not that any more is needed at this late date) for those who think Theory is a textbook case of The Potentate’s New Garments.

Benson argues that the questions theory raises are dealt with in other disciplines, without bothering to explore those questions, or even hint at what they might be.

True enough, but that’s because I think everyone knows, at least everyone who’s interested enough to read this site. Why bother to specify? It’s only Postmodernists who think they’ve invented ideas that have been around for at least a century or two.

She makes no effort to enter into any complexities of the debate over who is to judge what is “bad writing,” how, and why (is she by any chance dismissing feminism and Marxism without the need to actually acknowledge their existence, let alone attempt to engage with their critiques? Who knows). Benson also does not actually consider any specific terms/jargon (depending on your view) theory uses, in order to investigate whether they really can be substituted for satisfactorily by the language of “common sense.”

Yes, see, here’s where we get down to it. The ‘complexities of the debate’ – because it is all so very complex and difficult and deep, you know, which is exactly why we can’t discuss it without all this heavy breathing. No, it’s true, I don’t get into the debate over who is to judge, because I don’t see any need to. I think we all are, that’s who. I think the badness is self-evident and I think we’re all perfectly capable of judging it. And as for feminism and Marxism – what have they got to do with anything? Here again the solipsism of Theory comes into play. As if literary theorists had some kind of monopoly on Marxism and/or feminism – or even much to do with them, frankly. More borrowed prestige, is more like it.

And then the bit about common sense. That’s just translation, that’s all that is. I’ve talked about translation here before. I didn’t say one word about ‘common sense,’ it’s not a phrase I use, I think it’s just as silly as the letter-writer does. That’s a false and ridiculous dichotomy – the only two choices are either Theory-jargon, or the ‘language of common sense.’ Pu-leeze. Those two items do not exhaust the possibilities. Nope, this is all just the same old blowing smoke – the writing in question is not bad, it’s difficult, and you don’t understand it, because it’s so technical and profound and professional, and you’re conservative, look at the way you don’t so much as mention Marxism and feminism, and you expect everything to be commonsensical ‘cat sat on the mat’ kind of writing, and who is to judge what is bad writing anyway and how and why, there’s a very complex debate about that which it takes a lot of jargon to discuss properly, and you don’t expect physicists to write common sense language so why do you expect theorists to when theorists’ subjects are every bit as difficult as physicists’ subjects no more so because all physicists have to do is count and measure things.

Oh I don’t know, maybe it is dirty pool, it’s too much like shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s so amusing…

4 Responses to “Like Seizing Sweetmeats from an Infant”