Monday, May 3, 2010

Roundup: More on Writing in the Humanities

Gordon Wood, "In Defense of Academic History Writing," Perspectives on History (April 2010)
Instead of writing . . . narrative history, most academic historians, especially at the beginning of their careers, have chosen to write what might be described as analytic history, specialized and often narrowly focused monographs usually based on their PhD dissertations. . . . [A]cademics have generally left narrative history writing to the nonacademic historians who unfortunately often write without much concern for or much knowledge of the extensive monographic literature that exists. >>>

Rachel Toor, "Bad Writing and Bad Thinking," Chronicle, April 15, 2010.
Many people—publishers of scholarly work, editors at higher-education publications, agents looking for academic authors capable of writing trade books—who think about the general quality of scholarly prose would admit that we're in a sorry state, and most would say there isn't much to do about it. >>>

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946. Posted on Mount Holyoke's website.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. >>>

John L. Jackson Jr., "Just Bad Writing," Chronicle, April 13, 2010.
I actually enjoy reading certain kinds of "bad writing," at least some of the time, especially from the scholars who often get hammered for their impenetrable prose. That's usually anybody who invokes the notion of "performativity" or cites the work of Michel Foucault or gets described as a disciple of Cultural Studies. >>>

Keith Hopper, "Aidan Higgins, The Writer's Writer," TLS, March 31, 2010.
Aidan Higgins is often regarded as a “writer’s writer”, which is usually code for contrary, experimental and out-of-print. Derek Mahon, writing in the TLS in 2007, called him “an austere and often difficult writer, more than a touch old-fashioned, with an astringency that can stir the bile of whippersnappers.” >>>

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