Jon Cogburn shares his frustration with (an allegedly) Derrida-imitating author whom he cites in his post on the matter:
[Again, WTF? I would gripe in detail about this as I have the previous sentences, but Marder’s prose has sucked my soul dry until I am a now an exhausted shadow of my former self. Help. Me. I. Am. Barely. Able. To. Type. This.
I have written before, or rather, I have blogged before about my own frustration with the style of, say, late Leonard Lawlor and others, that is to say, Derridean style. I have to say I read Jon’s post with much giggling enthusiasm, and yet I am uneasy about general dismissal of turgid prose as such. I think that I am ambiguous about the matter for several personal reasons, but mainly because I think we tend to blame some types of writing not because they are unnecessarily obscure or nearly non-sensical (see Jon’s examples), but because the effort put into deciphering this sort of a text sometimes does not pay off, or rather, is not perceived as deserving of our efforts due to unlikely return on the investment. Let me explain. Two quick points:
1) Kant or Hegel or Heidegger or any of the important so-called analytical philosophers are not easy or accessible, they are simply considered worth our time, that is, we are told they are worth the effort and therefore we put in the effort. But when it comes to new authors, especially if they (intentionally or not) imitate the masters, the issue is not whether one can get through a difficult book or not – hopefully any educated person can read through any book they choose to – but whether it is worth our time to do so. In other words, if accessibility was the ultimate criterion of worthiness, too many books would be left unread. I have read many books of many different styles (and so have you), some were enjoyable in their turgidity, some were annoying in their imitating and ultimately empty verbiage, but none were judged to be good or bad based solely on their style, I think.
2) Behind accusations of intentional obscurity and put-on complexity (not from Jon, but generally speaking), there are often accusations of elitism, charlatanism, and disrespect/arrogance. These particular accusations go beyond style of the book. Take Derrida. He was quite clear in some essays, and quite annoyingly gut-bustingly and knee-crushingly dull and unclear in other essays. And yet in many talks, presentations, discussions and interviews he was able to communicate his ideas quite clearly and simply, while still being persecuted (metaphorically, of course) for his obscurity and supposedly intentional “let’s-fuck-with-their-head”-ness. To put it differently, I wonder what is the real reason why we hate people’s style and whether it has anything to do with that style? When I hate some Derridean mumbo-jumbo, I’m not hating their style as such or my own potential waste of time, I hate the posturing, the pretense, the thin layer of bullshit that covers such exercises of coded insider-talk, and yet I cannot claim that I get all of this from the text itself, there must be more to it.
Needlessly complicated prose is frustrating, yet the idea of accessibility as a virtue is a rather slippery one and anyone who ever tried to explain a “simple” philosophical notion to students knows that there is simple and there is simple. Yes, sometimes complexity is a way of hiding one’s ignorance or some lack of original thought (which is very useful in any academic setting), but that is not always the case – complex subject matters sometime require complex expositions, otherwise we end up with idiotic nonsense such as this:
First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant’s arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact “so many formulations of precisely the same law” (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then thowing up a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.
Second, we cannot expect ordinary people to be better philosophical moral reasoners than Kant. Kant’s philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. Therefore, we should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant.