Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Conversations on Textual Strategy

I am absolutely buried at the moment, but I thought I would belatedly post a pointer to an energetic discussion still unfolding over at Larval Subjects on the question of the necessity of “difficult writing” in certain kinds of philosophical texts. From the original post:

Hopefully I have enough “cred” to inveigh against “difficult books” (I am, after all, mired in the work of figures such as Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, etc., who are the worst of the worst), but I have increasingly found myself suspicious of the “difficult work”. On the one hand, I read texts in the sciences that express extremely complex ideas in very basic prose. Somehow I’m just unwilling to concede that what Hegel is trying to talk about is any more difficult or complex than what the biologist, complexity theory, economic social theorist, ecologist, or quantum physicist is attempting to articulate. This leads to my concern. I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments. What I am referring to is a general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation, that by the time you’ve managed to make heads or tails of what Lacan is arguing or Hegel is seeking to articulate or Deleuze is seeking to theorize, you have so much invested that you simply cannot think critically about that figure.

The rest of the post, and then the extensive discussion that follows, open interesting questions around the ways in which particular kinds of writing cultivate, or fail to cultivate, particular reading experiences and affective attachments to authors. Adam has also weighed in at An und für sich with a gloss on the original post:

I have some reservations about the recent Larval Subjects post about “difficult” books, but I think that, in part, it points toward a real phenomenon — one that I call “academic Stockholm Syndrome.” We’ve all seen it before: an academic invests great energy and undergoes profound suffering in the attempt to grasp a particularly difficult thinker and, upon succeeding, spends the rest of his or her career thoroughly identified with that thinker.

“Academic Stockholm Syndrome” sounds like it might not be a bad phrase to pick out a structural risk of a number of dimensions of academic training…

I’ve posted briefly in the discussion at Larval Subjects, before other commitments overwhelmed my blogging time. I wanted at least to put up a pointer for those who haven’t already seen the discussion…

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One response to “Conversations on Textual Strategy

  1. Pingback: Elective affinities « Dead Voles

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