About this article found here…
A couple of thoughts…
- the essay (by James Miller) builds on Judith Butler’s anger at being chosen for a bad writing award, as expressed in an op-ed piece she wrote for the New York Times. She argues (clearly, or as Miller puts it, “defiantly lucid”) for the power of difficult prose as a radical challenge to standard prose forms, among other points.
- Miller uses Butler’s point (and her citing of Adorno’s Minima Moralia) as a jumping off point to look at the twin poles of the argument on political writing on the left. Adorno argues specifically for the use of technical terms and complicated prose that might not be understandable by the lay person as means to challenge capitalist orthodoxies, while Orwell believed in the use of facts as a means of countering political and economic oppression.
- Miller goes through the strengths and weaknesses of each argument, fairly I think, although he comes down on Orwell’s side at the end by noting the long-lasting impact of some of Orwell’s language – hatecrime being perhaps the best example.
- This essay caught my attention because it seems a particularly salient point that comes from a discussion that doesn’t seem to end. I caught it again in this article from the Awl (and if you’re not reading the Awl you should be). And this debate keeps happening in academia, and I keep thinking about as I wonder whether to send students to academic journals, and wonder which ones to read myself.
- The question, of course, is about the specialization of the field, but it also highlights the difficulty in my mind of justifying intellectual work that does not have direct, meaningful impact on people’s lives. I understand the need to be creative and challenging, but the immense privilege of simply being able to think for a living is one that I think points to a position perhaps outside of both Adorno and Orwell (and shows the difficulty of the binary, I think, in that it characterizes political activity or lack thereof in a very limited light).
- If we become this highly specialized, then we must be providing some sort of analysis of the sort that cannot be done elsewhere.
The analysis, I’m hoping, is where we in the humanities become important. Communicating the findings that we come up with, clearly, cogently, challengingly, will be the next part of that battle…