If it’s difficult, fix it

Time to get out the trusty old grain of salt, and put it to good use. It’s to do with Terry Eagleton again.

In the preface to his latest book, The Meaning of Life, Terry Eagleton writes that his subject matter is fit only for the crazed and the comic, and hopes that he inclines more towards the latter. “I have tried to treat a high-minded topic as lightly and lucidly as possible,” he says. He has certainly managed the light bit…But comic? Or lucid? There are precious few gags on offer – unless you count passing references to Monty Python and Douglas Adams – and the prose is so dense in parts, you can re-read a passage several times and still be none the wiser. The words make sense on their own, but somehow, when combined, they rather lose their meaning. But then, literary and cultural theorists tend to have different benchmarks of levity and clarity from the rest of us. As Britain’s answer to Derrida, Althusser and Deleuze, Eagleton has standards to maintain, and he doesn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered at the suggestion that – so it often appears to the rest of us – theorists are wilfully esoteric and exist only to talk to other theorists. If it’s difficult, it’s difficult, and it’s not the job of the theorist to make things overly accessible; it’s the reader’s job to put in the intellectual legwork to meet the writer on his or her own turf.

No. No no no no. All wrong. It’s not that it’s ‘difficult,’ it’s that it’s pointlessly difficult. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s that it’s difficult way out of proportion to its merit or interest or significance, and that it’s difficult on purpose for the sake of being difficult, as opposed to unavoidably as a result of the nature of the subject matter. Got that? Terry Eagelton doesn’t write about anything that needs to be made incomprehensible, therefore he ought not to do so.

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