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|Pale Fire and OSS|
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0053 Thursday, 7 February 2013
Date: February 7, 2013 10:02:58 AM EST
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER: Pale Fire
I confess that when I first read the much-maligned jargon-piece, I was rather repelled. It seemed to me hopelessly pompous, pretentious and postured. But when it generated a bit of heat, pro and con, I went back to it so that I might possibly add my own wise, or at least reliable, comments on it. I discovered that there were no concepts that I couldn’t work out the meaning of, and that I could, with some effort, figure out what the author was getting at. And when I tried to translate the ideas into more common English, I found that it was difficult to use fewer words, and that the words used were as Latinate (or Hellenistic) as those eschewed, merely of more ancient coinage.
This, I decided, is the problem with all jargons, the specialized languages of sub-cultures – cops, physicians, English professors, football coaches, ballet dancers, whatever. The jargon words have both a positive and a negative result: they include and they exclude. They provide greater precision of meaning to those who, belonging to the group, know immediately what is meant. They also provide a kind of clubbiness that all of us enjoy (except, perhaps, for a few true misanthropes).
This clubbiness is the problem for outsiders, though. What makes an insider feel warm and accepted makes an outsider feel rejected, inferior and unimportant. The club members, including ourselves, simply don’t care about the excluded when we are relaxing in the club. The outsiders don’t know what we’ve gone through to earn this badge, this MD, this PhD, the dangers we’ve faced, or the time we’ve spent reading and memorizing, or the hours doing plies in front of a mirror when our legs ached and our feet were blistered.
In academics, jargon exists mainly to provide specificity; it is a technical language that your readers will immediately understand and thus will move quickly to your point. It is useful – to the insiders. The problem is that fashions change, new clubs arrive, new jargons supplant old ones. Structuralism pushes New Criticism aside, only to be supplanted by Deconstruction, which in turn is overthrown by New Historicism. You either join the club and learn the new lingo, or find yourself marginalized. And you are annoyed when the articles in your favorite journals are written in an unfamiliar vocabulary that requires hard work to understand. This is work which you don’t want to do, and it insults you that you should be expected to do it with all your learning and experience.
Of course, jargon is also useful to be exactly what I said before – pompous, pretentious and postured – to show off like a child in a crowd of adults, and to build your self-worth by damaging that of others. That certainly is worthy of scorn. But we need to understand (as well as we can) just how it functions in a particular case. Is it being used technically? Or childishly? Or maliciously?
In the case in question, I think we can eliminate the last of the three. Nor do I see strong evidence of the second. I conclude (tentatively) that it is merely an effort at technical precision, and the only question is whether it is done well or badly. Some voted Yea, some Nay. Personally, I didn’t like it, but I don’t (evidently) belong to that club so wot the hell, archie, wot the hell.
Apologies for so long a post. Got away from me a bit.
P.S. Cheers also for the information from OSS (ominous acronym) that the most searched word is “love.” Speaking on behalf of all the hopeless romantics, rank sentimentalists, and cockeyed optimists out there (the few, the proud), I find that encouraging, hopeful, perhaps reassuring, when so much effort is put into digging out and pushing to the front everything rank, confusing, insane and hateful in the Works.
[Editor’s Note: No more of Pale Fire thread. –Hardy]