Thursday, July 21, 2016


Re-post of an article by Joshua Rothman in the The New Yorker

A few years ago, when I was a graduate student in English, I presented a paper at my department’s American Literature Colloquium. (A colloquium is a sort of writing workshop for graduate students.) The essay was about Thomas Kuhn, the historian of science. Kuhn had coined the term “paradigm shift,” and I described how this phrase had been used and abused, much to Kuhn’s dismay, by postmodern insurrectionists and nonsensical self-help gurus. People seemed to like the essay, but they were also uneasy about it. “I don’t think you’ll be able to publish this in an academic journal,” someone said. He thought it was more like something you’d read in a magazine.

Was that a compliment, a dismissal, or both?


The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing

A new movement strives for simplicity.

Re-post of an article in The Atlantic by Victoria Clayton

The idea that writing should be clear, concise, and low-jargon isn’t a new one—and it isn’t limited to government agencies, of course. The problem of needlessly complex writing—sometimes referred to as an “opaque writing style”—has been explored in fields ranging from law to science. Yet in academia, unwieldy writing has become something of a protected tradition. Take this example:

The work of the text is to literalize the signifiers of the first encounter, dismantling the ideal as an idol. In this literalization, the idolatrous deception of the first moment becomes readable. The ideal will reveal itself to be an idol. Step by step, the ideal is pursued by a devouring doppelganger, tearing apart all transcendence. This de-idealization follows the path of reification, or, to invoke Augustine, the path of carnalization of the spiritual. Rhetorically, this is effected through literalization. A Sentimental Education does little more than elaborate the progressive literalization of the Annunciation.

Passive Resistance

The active voice isn’t always the best choice.

Re-post of an article in The Atlantic by Steven Pinker
The passive voice has long been dismissed as a hallmark of turgid prose. “Many a tame sentence,” wrote Strunk and White in The Elements of Style, “can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is, or could be heard.” George Orwell, in “Politics and the English Language,” agreed: among the “tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged” is that “the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active.”

21st July 2016