Tag Archives: elitism

Academic prose, or the glandular secretions of skunks

Sometimes I really love academia, and sometimes I wonder what on Earth I’m doing here.  The latter usually happens when I’m reading some chunk of academic prose that is crushing the life out of me.  After torturing my poor bruised brain attempting to pummel meaning out of long byzantine sentences, I wonder, is this really necessary?  It hurts.

Sometimes I marvel at the precision of academic language, how it can explicate something complex and specific, lay it out like a blueprint in words.  A lot of the time though, I groan and whimper and bristle with irritation: I could whittle down that entire bloody brick of a paragraph into a single sentence to say the same thing, a single sentence that would be a lot clearer and would not make little baby Jesus cry! I guess when it all comes down to it, I am merely a word economist.  I admire prose that gets from point A to point B efficiently.  If it takes detours, it better be damn pretty.  Academic prose generally isn’t.

I also find academic prose problematic because it’s such an unapologetic display of power.  When it’s good and unpacks some essential truth concisely and cleanly, it does earn my begrudging admiration.  When it’s bad and lays down layer after layer of gratuitous verbiage that one must peel back to reach some simple idea, it just pisses me off.  I will never get those precious minutes of my life back–and why?  So that the author could say: I am one of the educated elite, and for you to understand what the fuck I’m saying, you must be too. Sometimes I think it would save a lot of time if that statement were a disclaimer right under the title of the work in question (and remember it’s not really a title unless it’s two lines long and has a colon in it).

My problem is that I am an incorrigible aesthete.  I’ve been told by several professors that I approach writing as an artist rather than a scholar (which is not necessarily a compliment, for some academics it’s an unfortunate condition that one must work around).  It’s true, so much of writing for me is seduction.  It is an attempt to arouse the senses with sheer loveliness; the ideas are sort of incidental.  Or rather, the prettiness turns you on to the ideas.  A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down and all that.  Academic prose refuses to give you that spoonful of sugar.  As a matter of fact, it likes to coat the medicine with the glandular secretions of skunks to make sure you really want to take it.  If you don’t make yourself choke down something repellent along with the medicine, how can it know you are worthy to swallow it?

It’s the exclusion that chafes me.  I am a plebian like that.