Just a small rant

I am reading a book on women’s autobiography. The current chapter argues that literary critics tend to forget that men and women don’t experience the world the same way, and therefore trying to compare their autobiographies is like the old story of apples and oranges. According to the author, even when some early critics did try to address gender differences, they still ended up reducing them to, basically, “men write about Big Ideas and Lofty Accomplishments, while women are concerned with home and marriage.”

The ideas in this book are reasonably interesting, but like all critical theorists I’ve encountered, the author seems incapable of using simple language. The following sentence annoyed me so much that I had to say something about it. Look at this:

The recourse to a binarism that reifies the public-private opposition eventuates in a simplistic and unsatisfactory description of textual difference.

Deeeeep breath. Okay. Credit where it’s due: this sentence actually means something decodable, unlike so many other sentences one encounters in critical theory. No, really it does — even if it is near-impossible to get through the first seven words of it without glazing over!

But COME ON, highly educated lady!!! Articles and prepositions do NOT exist merely to help you string together big words that nobody knows! Just look at the ratio of normal words to obscure scholarly words in that sentence. “Reifies”! “Eventuates”? In the same sentence?? I don’t know how people can live with themselves when they write like this. I mean, why write at all, if a PhD is required merely to decode your meaning? Can’t you just say this instead:

By reducing gender difference to the black-and-white idea that men exist in the public arena and women’s lives center around the home, these critics ignore the more complex and subtle differences between men’s and women’s writing.

Come on, that wasn’t that hard. GEEZ.

To my mind, sentences like this one (hers, not mine), in a published book, are as much an affront to the reader as a book full of typos or mangled facts. One doesn’t aim to avoid these latter just because one wants to be “correct”; having grammatical mistakes or incorrect statements in a book detracts from what the author is trying to say. They’re like smoke screens in front of the true thoughts the book represents. In this sense, sentences like this author’s are just as much a disservice to her ideas and her readers as lousy editing would be; hence, my outrage at being asked to tolerate them!!

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]

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2 responses to “Just a small rant

  1. why do you think nobody ever reads those books?

    …Except people with PhDs or nerdy people with good vocabularies? I’m currently in the process of reading my agatha christie book of 5 hercule poirot stories. Well that is, when I wasn’t reading about primate evolution or amino acids. =P But I’m done with those now! Only one more final to go. 😀

    By the way, I updated my cats in strange places. finally. :]

    can’t wait to see you this weekend! 😀

    Shra

  2. the kicker is “eventuates.” What the hell? Who uses that word? Why not just start writing in ye olde english to prove how much smarter than everyone else you are?

    Much sympathy, Lisa. It’s writing like this that sent me sprinting away from critical theory as a literature undergrad and into history as a grad. I can’t believe I actually wrote a theory-centered English thesis. What was I thinking?

    I am really fed up with theory by this point. I feel like if you can’t express your ideas to someone who has (a) passed the AP English exam and/or (b) graduated college, you need to edit your writing.

    My college roomie was the most gifted creative writer I have ever known, and she would have sooner stuck a chopstick up her left nostril than read/write this kind of crap.

    BTW I freakin’ HATE the word “reifies.” UGH!

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