A Failure to Communicate

I occasionally like to rummage through the old files and papers I have lying around in my storage closet (it’s what I call my back-up reserve of documents collective hardware dust), because it’s a good way to see how my writings and ideas have developed over the years (and, sometimes, I also stumble across a good literary critique/analysis that I can post on this blog).

Unfortunately, I haven’t stumble onto any forgotten masterpieces I had composed, but I did find a pamphlet that was handed to me during my freshman year in college from the Humanities department.

It reads:

The indicative self-measure that postulates itself through the adolescent weltanschauung has a tendency to both hyper-diversify, and hyper-conflate the delicate stimuli, out through which decision making agencies are subverted by the consistent array of submission-intensive exaction.

This sentence, for me, perfectly embodies the reason why so much of academia cannot take the Humanities department seriously (and gives credibility to my humorous take on a similar subject,here).  I mean, what the fuck is this crap.  And it’s not that I can’t decipher what the pamphlet is saying, but the way it is being said is so needlessly pretentious and obtuse, that I’m basically drowning in a sea of sophistry.  Why would anyone choose to write the above when the can just as easily write:

The ego-centric mindset common to adolescents can both over-complicate, and over-generalize the various factors that are looking to influence, and subvert, their decision-making process.

There.  Same message as before, written with a similar academic flair, but much more legible.  Seriously, what is the point of having an entire department, whose academic objective is to teach students how to communicate and express themselves clearly, only to produce this sort of drivel.  Yes, when writing one shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting with different techniques and styles, but it is also important to keep in mind the medium one is using, and most importantly, the audience being addressed.  It should never be a showboating contest on how many “scholarly” sounding words can be crammed into a single sentence.  Never dumb yourself down, never use a simple word to replace a perfectly valid technical term, but don’t overwhelm the page with this redundant attempt at so-called sophisticated scholarship.

In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell gave six rules for writers to follow:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

From where I stand, #2-5 have been completely violated by the pamphlet writer(s) (and that’s only one sentence, the pamphlet goes on for a good few more).  If this mode of communication continues to be pushed in literary-critique courses (and various other humanities courses, such as the social sciences), the ironic result will be the desire to express oneself in more elaborate words, only to end up depriving one’s prose of any relevant meaning.  A failure to communicate, indeed.

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