Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"BAD WRITING": Ophelia Benson takes on pretentious, self-flattering, bad academic writing and calls it to account ( via Arts and Letters Daily). Excerpt:

There are several of the defense mechanisms at work in that one brief passage. The 'project' of theory is 'unsettling,' it brings assumptions into question. Ah - so that's it. It's not that the writing is bad, it's that the readers who think it's bad are 98-pound weaklings who turn pale and sick at unsettling projects. They are 'frightened off,' the poor cowardly things, by the 'difficulty' of theory - not the ineptitude, mind you, or the slavish imitativeness, or the endless formulaic repetition of repetition - no, the difficulty. So as a result they 'can dismiss' theory - not laugh at, not hold up to scorn and derision, or set fire to or thrust firmly into the bin or take back to the shop and loudly demand a refund - no, dismiss. And dismiss 'as an effort to cover up in an artifically difficult style the fact that it has nothing to say.' Well - yes, that's right, as a matter of fact. We couldn't have said it better ourselves. That is exactly what it looks like to an impartial outsider. And then even though theory is 'difficult' which being interpreted means 'badly written,' we mustn't assume it's all like that (fair enough, and if you show us the good stuff, we'll greet it with a hug and tickets to the Icecapades) because that keeps us 'from confronting the real questions that theory raises.' Oh does it really. Surely that would only be the case if 'theory' were the only discipline raising such questions. But you know what? It isn't. One can confront such questions just as well by reading people who do know how to write as by reading ones who don't.

Be sure to look at the links at the bottom of the page, especially the "Bad Writing Contest." There is also a place to add comments on the piece, if you are so inclined.

In my experience, most of those who apply Theory to ancient Judaism (I'm using it a fair bit myself in the book I'm writing now) tend to do a good job of stripping off the pretension and deliberate obfuscation and getting at the useful elements, of which (and Benson doesn�t clearly acknowledge this) there really are quite a few. (Of course, maybe I'm just not reading the right - or wrong - people.) Maxine Grossman's book Reading for History in the Damascus Document is an excellent recent example of cutting-edge Theory applied in clear prose.

No comments:

Post a Comment