A pleasing essay on bad academic writing by Denis Dutton. David Thompson has likewise written at length about this grotesque phenomenon; Thompson helpfully provides a sample of the academic Carolyn Guertin’s exquisitely awful prose:

The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present. Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spatio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged. The gap is outside vision — felt not seen — and always existing on the threshold in between nodes. Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.

The monster’s subjectivities, i see, it’s like that is it. i was just this morning listening to a podcast on alchemy, in which a historian provides two explanations for the extremely obscure language of alchemical writings:

1. Most alchemists were out and out charlatans and deliberately wrote incomprehensible prose to try to fool the gullible (i recall Obi Wan Kenobi’s words, “who’s the more fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?”).

2. They believed they had secret knowledge of great power and, to preserve that power, they had to keep it from the masses – hence the almost impenetrable language.

For modern academics, the first answer will suffice. They are the tenured and titled equivalents of charlatan alchemists and hack astrologers, mountebanks and pimps and well poisoners. They are, quite simply, scum.

i have often wondered why people like Carolyn Guertin pursue academic careers, since they obviously have no interest in literature or thought, and for myself reading uncongenial literature is akin to sex with irritating people, that is, profoundly unrewarding. But of course there’s gold in them there hills, and a superficial, transient power – that is, dominance over the gullible and the servile.

A friend who toils at an English university, and magnificently fails to evince the slightest interest in Literary Theory or a glowing career, visited a Polish university a few years ago; she enthused to me about the academics she met – ill-paid but with passion, learning, and a sense of vocation she found startling after the pervasive smugness and complacency of the belly-patting English variety. Would Carolyn Guertin become an academic in Poland, on Polish wages? It seems unlikely.

Kierkegaard wrote of the difficulties of being a Christian in Denmark in the mid 19th Century, to the effect that about two millenia ago being a Christian meant the loss of one’s livelihood, one’s reputation, social position, and quite possibly one’s property and indeed one’s life; but that in his time to not be a Christian meant loss of one’s livelihood, reputation, and social position – if not property and life; and that if one wanted to get on in life, to advance one’s career, it was necessary to at least pretend to be a good Christian. If a religion at its origin is a collision with what John the Evangelist called “the world”, then it must preserve that quickening friction, or become something else. And just as it is difficult to imagine the Borgias, or Boniface VIII, as Christian martyrs, so with scum like Carolyn Guertin, Judith Butler, Homi Bhabha (and thousands of others) – they are motivated purely by vanity and greed.

Of course there are people who write purely for vanity – quite a few blogs are of this kind, inevitably; but at least by being unpaid, bloggers have only the inducements of vanity. As i contemplate the sorry state of my finances, my total unemployability and uselessness in this world, i think that at least i have been spared the temptations of vanity and greed – ideally, if i am to survive beyond March, i would like a job that has little or nothing to do with my writing, but which i can nonetheless do without hating my life and feeling like an imposter and a slave (as in my 5 years of office jobs). Sadly, i can think of no such work, since i have no skills of any kind. But even so, at least i’m not Carolyn Guertin.

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