Monday, September 26, 2011

When scholars write so that you don't understand nuffin

I have had to read a couple of really obscure papers recently, ones that used specialist terminology in such a way that made them almost impossible to understand. And when I understood the argument being made I realised things could have been put much more simply and in WAY fewer words. And that annoyed me.

So I have a humble suggestion.

Let us heard together some of the main culprits. We all know who some of them: they are usually found in linguistic and/or philosophy departments, or engaged in related studies in other areas. Let's gather, say, 6 of them - probably the older ones who act as role models. Then we place them on a busy golf driving range and strap them to the 150 yard markers. For a day.

Yes, violence is never a good thing, but I think in this situation a case can be made, at least on utilitarian terms, which would justify a few golf balls in the face to act as a sufficient deterrent, making the rest of us so much happier (greatest happiness for the greatest number etc.)

Okay, got that one out of my system. Feeling better already. Rant over.


At 9/27/2011 1:04 AM, Anonymous bw16 said...

To be fair, learning these discourses should really be considered part of the "essential tools" of biblical studies. While it is true that some authors are annoyingly obfuscating, a lot of the time it is simply indicative of our inadequate training to engage with literature beyond our own discipline.

At 9/27/2011 2:36 AM, Blogger Bill Heroman said...

We should force them to blog for a few years. It might actually help!

At 9/27/2011 6:34 AM, Blogger Emerson Fast said...

Hegel and Heidegger.

At 9/27/2011 9:31 AM, Blogger Terry Wright said...

Be careful when you criticize! I called out Amos Yong on my blog for being obscure, and he posted a comment!

At 9/27/2011 10:43 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

As I read your post, I initially assumed it was about Douglas Campbell. Is it heresy on this blog to say that Douglas Campbell comes to my mind as one of the worst offenders against clarity?

There's a good reason why so many scholars "have not understood central points in DoG", and it has to do with Campbell's lack of ability to write clearly. (I say this as someone who agrees strongly with Campbell's thesis) Anyone who labels their own position as "pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology" needs to seek urgent help with regard to communication skills.

At 9/28/2011 3:10 AM, Anonymous Zac Doons said...

If by heard you mean herd, then I agree.

RE: Douglas Campbell... speak for yourself bud. He spends alot of time getting to the point where you ought to be expected to know what the heck that means.

I'm all for compiling a set list of bad writing. Who's with me?

And to start off, I'll start with J Kameron Carter. The man is profound, but his writing is horrific. Simply horrific. Get him an editor. A random sampling from his blog (I refuse to buy a copy of the book!):

"Key here is that Slaveness must be understood not merely in connection with that historical condition of slavery that occurred in the past (and that therefore one might think is over and done with), though to be sure this must never be lost sight of. Rather, Slaveness/Blackness as a structural and positional or ontological matter indicates that ongoing condition that in myriad ways is recomposed and reenacted on generations of Blacks as the condition of their (non-) being in and in relationship to civil society."

No offense to anyone!

At 9/29/2011 7:44 AM, Blogger Emerson Fast said...


The quotation you gave is elementary school english compared to the style of any old phenomenologist.

"To say that consciousness is consciousness of something is to say that it must produce itself as a revealed-revelation of a being which is not it and which gives itself as already existing when consciousness reveals it." -Sartre (B&N, p.24, Hazel Barnes tr.)

Blech. It is like that everywhere you turn in his 800 page work.

At 9/29/2011 1:51 PM, Anonymous Zac Doons said...

Wow - not sure if it's my fault for not learning to read/think like this, or theirs for asking me to. Thanks for pointing this out - it will help me read with more grace in the future.

At 9/29/2011 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps this might be interesting:

At 9/30/2011 12:43 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for your comments, guys.

And it certainly wasn't about DC - I think he writes very clearly. Then it occurred to me that often one person's obscure is the next person clear, and vice-versa.

The paper I read, by a living and well known scholar, was much like Sartre. But worse, it said less.

Love the First Things article!

"clear writing is a foretaste of grace"

Amen to that

At 9/30/2011 5:17 AM, Blogger Emerson Fast said...

Oh DoonS!

I wasn't meaning to put you down, haha. In fact, I was being very impish. The quote you gave seems equally wearisome and abstruse.

I take measure with myself though, because I remember the scriptures which say that "[Paul's] letters contain some things which are difficult to understand."

Shall we put Paul on the dock, with his seventh chapter in Romans that to this day cannot be agreed upon?

At 10/06/2011 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just scholars writing, it's when they speak ... I could name a few lecturers, but I'll be good. There's a golf course not far from LST, btw...

At 12/06/2011 1:21 PM, Anonymous John C. Poirier said...

In a *First Things* article about Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas said that MacIntyre intentionally wants to be difficult to understand, and Hauerwas actually thought that was a good thing!

And I agree with Terry Wright's remark about Amos Yong. When I finished reading his Ashgate book (forget the title), I had no idea what the book was about. If there was a thread of an argument in it, it was completely overwhelmed by Yong's program of showing everyone how well read he is.


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