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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Seeing Language

To develop a keen stylistic sense you have to be able to see language--not just see through it. I've had the experience in a theory class. You can ask the students what the theorist says, but try asking how the theorist writes and you might get blank stares. At most, there might be a consciousness of the text being difficult, confusing, complex, but you won't necessarily get any specifics.

I have an advantage in being a specialist in poetry, in that the language of poetry is always visible.

I read an essay recently arguing that the best typography is invisible. Maybe so, but it cannot be invisible for the typographer.


Thomas said...

Bernard Bolzano approached the theory of science (Wissensschaftslehre) as the style guide (principles of composition) for scientific treatises. "How does the theorist write?" is a quintessentially epistemological question. This is no doubt why Foucault took such an interest in the "enunciative modality" (style) of discourse.

Jonathan said...

Too bad the Foulcauldians aren't as interested in this as Foucault himself. They might question they way they write.

Thomas said...

Too true. But I don't think there is any body of theory (maybe you can think of one) that doesn't have this problem. There are two kinds of thinker that I can appreciate: original thinkers (creators) and careful thinkers (tinkerers).

Unfortunately, most writing in any field is careless and derivative. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is quoted in the New Yorker. 'In 2006, on a blog he had started, he wrote about a conference organized by the Australian Institute of Physics [note that this "hard" science], "with 900 career physicists, the body of which were sniveling fearful conformists of woefully, woefully inferior character."

That post continues: "For every Feynman or Lorentz, 100 pen pushing wretches scratching each others eyes out..."

I like that formulation "the body of which". It's just Hamlet's "convocation of politic worms". It's the age-old problem of the inertial "mass" of social life. One tries to rise above it. And, in some measure, I guess, everyone, no matter how apparently sniveling and wretched, rises above. In some measure.