Further to yesterday’s post on Judith Butler and her opaque prose, I thought I’d add a few thoughts. One commenter, Dr Dawg, has argued that Butler is making a point, albeit badly:
“If any of you is really having a hard time with the passage quoted, I'll translate it into two-syllable words for you. I agree that she could have made her point in clearer language, indeed I wish she had, but that doesn't mean there is no point there to be found.”
I think this misses an important point. The issue, I think, hinges on whether you regard the opacity of Butler’s statement, and of many others I’ve highlighted, as a result of ineptitude or something more deliberate. Is it a mistake, a technical necessity, or a stylistic affectation and convenient camouflage? It seems to me that mere clumsiness doesn’t explain the prevalence and uniformity of those “mistakes” among leftwing PoMo academics. It seems much more likely that this habitual and remarkably uniform obscurantism is a determined effort – specifically, an attempt to hide the slightness of certain ideas and their various assumptions and contradictions.
The issue, as I see it, is one of bad faith. Hiding a small and tendentious idea, or no idea at all, inside Very Big Language is not a promising indicator of good character, honesty or wisdom. As I’ve argued elsewhere, one might suspect that the unintelligible nature of much postmodern ‘analysis’ is a convenient contrivance, if only because it’s difficult to determine exactly how wrong an unintelligible analysis is. In this respect, one might see the PoMo phenomenon as not so much a loose collection of often disreputable ideas, but more as a rhetorical tactic employed by narcissists, ideologues and academic shysters.