If the purpose of American grad school, as I’ve long maintained, is to teach young people to write badly, then the function of intellectuals in American life is to paralyze discourse.
Of course, the Swift Boat Graduates always have a point: a lot of complex things go on in the brain in response to a Satie Gymnopedie, and ultimately the Encyclopedia Britannica is just a record of billions of subjective impressions upon which doubt could be cast. Those are interesting, important issues to ponder, but they are rather divorced from everyday life, and few of us can afford to leave everyday life for long. Subjective, objective, complex, simple, are all comparative terms whose absolute endpoints lie outside human experience; and if you’re going to swallow up those words into their intellectually derived absolutes, then we still need other words for the everyday meanings those words hold in conversation. What’s wrong with the Swift Boat Graduates is that they sometimes wax fascistic about disallowing naive uses of their pet words, as though once you’ve discovered a more sophisticated concept for the word, what the naive use once referred to disappears. This tendency threatens to bring musical discourse down to a grad-school level. Part of intellectual maturity is knowing when the exalted meaning is appropriate and when the quotidian meaning is just fine.
ACADEMIA TRAINS YOUNG PEOPLE TO WRITE TURGIDLY AND VAGUELY. And not only young people. Readers of this blog sometimes get upset with me that I seem so anti-academic, that I am always denigrating university culture. I love certain aspects of college life, and I am extremely pro-education, but it has to be acknowledged that academia, as it stands, has a default tendency toward inculcating pomposity in writing and, most of all, a bureaucratic avoidance of personal responsibility