I came across this exchange via Slawkenbergius’s discussion of it, but as I read more, I like this Mark Dery fellow, despite the accusations of being a jerk. I think that the most recent discussions of Derrida, especially of his writing style, would be well-advised to raise the same sorts of questions: what’s really behind this tyranny of simplicity, when it comes to philosophical prose? is the demand to be clear and accessible not an ideological position?
In his comment, Dery writes:
Pardon my rant. But I cordially loathe the reactionary politics of style—the anti-intellectual philistinism and Babbitry hiding behind a lot of the calls, here and elsewhere, for clarity and concision. There’s a streak of pugnacious populism running through this mindset familiar from Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in America. At times, it even gives vent to a latent homophobia, linking an allusive, polysyllabic style to velvet-breeches pretentiousness, which is code for an un-Hemingwayesque unmanliness. Furiousthought nailed this point in the other thread, writing, “[Dery’s writing] wears its literary style on its sleeve and a lot of internet people have a taste for keep-it-simple-stupid boilerplate and are keen to beat up art fags.”
The Tyranny of Normalcy demands that all writers aspire to a Gladwellian blandness. It’s killing cultural criticism or public intellectualism or whatever term isn’t too art-faggy for the MeFi mind. Certainly, these two threads, which could have engaged seriously with ideas but opted, instead, for grammatical colonoscopy, are casualties of a killing insistence on the stylistic status quo and the repressive normalcy it embodies.
His point about simplicity=manliness is an interesting one. Is all of that Derrida-hate that’s been going around lately not a good example of some ideological repression? Why do people get so angry with Derrida’s stylistic experiments? He’s not the only philosophical writer who is difficult to read. I think the explanation is the alleged “uselessness” of Derrida’s twists and turns. The ideological message is “be clear or die trying” and “if you can’t express it clearly and concisely, you don’t know it yourself…” Surely, convoluted writing is difficult to process, it slows you down, requires time and thought. So the ideology of clarity-as-normalcy here is the ideology of consumption – if it takes too long for me to “get into” a thinker, it will take too long to “use” his writings for my own commodified thoughts (papers, essays, books), therefore my price as a commodity will rise slower…