Tuesday, February 4
and an answer or two
I think academic writing sucks for many reasons, but the big ones are obvious enough. Sturgeon's Law always applies, and the remaining 10% is still predictably bogged down in artificial precision, an inability to say anything directly, and a pretense to objectivity.
If this sounds arrogant, read that as "my academic writing". These are things I'm more unhappy to be responsible for than to find elsewhere – I can *ignore* what other people write.
The fake precision and the indirectness might be the same thing. People write as if using more words and qualifying all of them means saying more. People also write as if they need to tell you first what they're going to tell you, how they're going to tell it, and why. Then they follow up with an explanation of what they told you. What they forget is to actually say anything in between.
The fake objectivity is trickier. You're not supposed to say "I". Sometimes there are sound reasons for that, but it gives us phrases like 'it would not be unreasonable to believe' and 'it may be argued that' where 'i think or 'maybe' cut a lot closer to the truth. It makes saying "I don't know" downright impossible.
I've learned more from the essays of Kenneth Rexroth than from all the textbooks and scholarly articles I have ever read, combined.
Rexroth's essays are flawed. They contain mistakes and biases and all kinds of sweeping, unsupported generalizations. Depending on your perspective, they either assume a vast universe of shared knowledge or engage in machine-gun namechecking. But they sure as hell are not exercises in impersonal complication of things incompletely understood. They say things.
early a.m. rhetorical questions
ever look around
and realize you're not quite on the roll you thought you were?
did you wonder why?
was the answer not what you wanted,
and did you understand it anyway?
"what i should be doing"
words that mean something to almost everyone
who's worth talking to?
why is academic writing
a thousand times harder than a letter to a friend
and a thousand times less interesting?
why not listen to things we lost in the fire
again, and fall asleep?
fiction, most entirely
so we stand there
demolished by the dawn
and we think
this is a sublime moment,
this one lasts
pale and bleary eyed
but aware in the chill
wet breeze that kicked up
just before the sunrise to
pull the cheap tobacco smell
away from our jackets and make
us taste the new season
growing green or dying off
for all the difference that should make
right now it isn't much
fatigue coursing through us
(water through one beat up running shoe)
ask us our names and if we even hear you
and still make sure you spoke before we answer
but we're seeing things anyway
because we've got no other choice
distractions ceased to signify
three counties back
some fool paid two point four million dollars
for the manuscript of on the road
i read kerouac once and didn't like it much
but i could see sometimes what he was reaching for
sure as hell we're beat
right now; if this isn't
that exalted state of exhaustion
that produces visions
nothing ever was
and we might wake that blanketrolled shape in the back seat
but her face asleep is enough that we speak low
none of the people i've ever loved
— who listened,
stretched out on kansas driveways
while lightning played the sky for crazy;
said just hold it in as long as you can;
knew i wasn't saved;
spoke and struck me ringing silent;
played three-a.m. piano into my voicemail;
waited 'til somehow i could move —
are here right now
but communion comes where it will
and with whom.