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Full Disclosure: I bring both insight and bias. You decide.
As a literature teacher, I love verbal complexity for pleasure. But as a teacher of writing and "shirtsleeves" real-world writer myself (feature articles on boating, nature, travel, social issues)--I value clarity and communicability for practicality. Not to be oversimple--just to make important but demanding material accessible to a willing reader.
And so here "I just don't know..." We've heard the criticism that much public academic writing is needlessly obscure, hence inaccessible, due to its jargon, abstraction, complex syntax, and the like. This book seeks to defend difficult academic writing. The authors claim that (1) readers may stubbornly claim not to understand. They also argue that (2) new and different perspectives need new presentations which shake us loose from the old conventional, traditional. They also (3) warn against the dangers of facile oversimplification.(And probably other arguments, some too obscurely-expressed to grasp quickly...)
Well, I'd critique the critiquers. As a freelance journalist, I must make sure the reader understands--indeed, cannot possibly misunderstand!--nd is served. George Orwell said "good prose is like a window pane." Somerset Maugham, and E. M. Forster, said that the best writers can express ideas of subtlety and complexity quite clearly. Not that each sentence is simplistic. The style may and even should include difficulties. But it does not mislead.
I also take a diachronic or historical approach. The postmodern style defended in this book often contains aerial abstractions with cloudy towers with filigree diction decorating them. Will this soon seem the momentary excess of a moment in history? (Created partially in order to create something new and hence gain power, status?) And soon to be rebalanced toward the "attainment and restraint" of good style?
(Less formally, I think that too much postmodern prose is hermetic recondite insular "hair oil"...The emperor has no clothes-or rather, is overdressed needlessly and inappropriately after all...)
I'd like to be convinced by the authors' defenses of linguistic density. But alas, and perhaps also significantly, I see no specific proofs. The book's writers offer no evidence that this difficulty is necessary. We shirtsleeves wordsmiths chant our mantra of "statistics, quotes, and anecdotes." We say but then show; we give instances of specific examples to clarify abstract claims or ideas.
And so, how I longed to see in this book just one instance of showing how the convoluted style is indeed competent and indeed compulsory. For example (!): take some issue ("vegetarianism as egalitarianism," I don't care...) Then (1) state it in clear plain windowpane-prose. Then (2) recast it in the postmodern academese which this book largely defends-I think. Then (3) unpack the latter version to show how it does confront complexities more competently than the prosaic first one. But where's the down-to-earth proof or even the demonstration in this lofty book?
Okay, I'll walk my own talk here even if the book didn't. I'll end with an example myself. It's from Judith Butler in her "Values of Difficulty" in the volume. She's discussing human rights discourse and universality, she reports how AIDS activists in the 1980's sought to enter Spanish-speaking communities to do AIDS outreach. When they asked who was "homosexual," few would respond. But when they later returned and asked who practiced anal sex with other men, many more people came forth. Then she sums up her "point" about all this.
I'll give my version (translation?) of her point here first. I'd have said, "When communicating with diverse audiences toward persuasion, make sure your cognitive and also emotional language is not simply how you see things, but is in line with how the audience sees things and feels free to respond."
But here is Butler's actual version: "To engage in activism is not to start with the concept of a shared language but to be prepared to find that communication can sometimes take place only when the terms that initiate a discussion undergo an expropriation that bears no resemblance to the original, where the term abandons the animating conditions of its own efficacy in order to live elsewhere as another term or as a term subjected to a radically unanticipated use."
Well...I find her version to be overelaborated ornateness, profitless bloating which almost apotheosizes transmogrified obfuscation. (Or, which almost puts decadent obscurity on a pedestal.) Now, I love dense diction when I write for fun in my own idiolect (a combination of Joycean wordpunplays, pidgin English, earnest illiterate, and pan-European). But when I try to do real-work (sic) writing, I seek glassine clarity the better to illuminate complexity. Sure a camera lens has a tougher job photographing clearly "a swamp at sundown" than "a beach at noon." But a good lens (or language style) can succeed some indeed. A muddy dirty lens (or one distorted with its own interfiliated lenticular elements) can not.
Is much postmodern prose the painful attempt not to clarify complexities, but to Gain Points (status, reputation, power) by advancing to something new? Only problem-it's not new, just "monstrous and extraordinary," as W. Y. Tindall used to define literary decadence...