I always wonder about the authors of literary theory or criticism: who do they think they’re writing for?

Unfortunately, in many cases the answer seems to be: themselves. Or rather, people exactly like them.

Fellows readers of academic writing, you  know what this is like.

As required by my major and my department, I’ve read my share of literary theory; many of the “classics,” as it were. Pieces by Foucault, Bahktin, Greenblatt, Butler, Freud, Jung, countless others. (Don’t even get me started on the craziness of some: my critical theory grad seminar spent a whole class trying to picture exactly what the hell a rhizome is really supposed to look like; we ended up being someone around a garden potato.) And generally speaking, they are all pretty brilliant in one way or another – even if that way means you can only tell that at some point in life, the writer had a brilliant idea, and stopped there.

But there are some pieces that are so wrapped up in their own “brilliant” way of thinking, that you’re left with only two options: 1, that the work is so wonderful and smart that the only reason you can’t understand it is becasue you are not as wonderful and/or smart; and 2, that it’s a piece of crap, the author knows it’s a piece of crap, and therefore decides to write using the most-confusing logic available, that may/may not have made sense to them or their editor at some point.

[If you’re still following me after that paragraph, you must have been in this situation before.]

Which brings me to this question: Does critical work need to be complicated to be respected?

I’ve never had a teacher that didn’t want their students to write concisely, so where are these writers coming from? (I’m not sure where, but I’m sure you’re not supposed to ask.) Then again, I’ve had teachers comment that sometimes being too logical is a negative, making your argument too predictable.

I digress. But what causes this whole issue to pop up (yet again) was a book I’m reading for my thesis which cited a large paragraph of French without giving a translation.

I wonder: Is this inconsiderate of the author, or just an error on my part? Perhaps, in their mind, I am expected to be able to read Old English, Middle English, Latin, and French (and two out off the list just doesn’t cut it).

Yeah…..I’ll get back to them on that one.

Advertisements