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Monday, April 18, 2011

Bland and Spicy

A review of some books by Nicholas Dames demonstrates the difference between bland and spicy writing. He quotes a paragraph by Martha Nussbaum trying to show how the humanities are useful:
Let us now consider the relevance of this ability to the current state of modern pluralistic democracies surrounded by a powerful global marketplace. First of all, we can report that, even if we were just aiming at economic success, leading corporate executives understand very well the importance of creating a corporate culture in which critical voices are not silenced, a culture of both individuality and accountability

Then he points out how Nussbaum's idea of the humanities leaves out something essential:
Now picture one kind of “bad” student. This child is obsessive, inflexible, a bad listener. Prone to daydreaming, preferring her own company, idiosyncratic in her tastes, she is a solitary, possibly discontented child. In one way, she is a classroom problem, with disorders of attention or attachment. She is also an eccentric; an artist; perhaps a “genius”; in any case, an economic burden, a proto-elitist, with the capacity for generative unhappiness. One might go so far as to call her a natural humanities major.

Nussbaum's corporate buzzwords are bland, whereas Dames's own prose is full of life. We can actually picture this future humanities major as a sullen child who won't necessarily fit into the corporate mold.

The contrast between the two prose styles goes along way toward making the point. I don't know who Dames is, but I am going to start following his writing.

2 comments:

Clarissa said...

I have been trying for years to get to like Nussbaum's writing because she obviously says good, important things. I could never warm to her writing style, though.

Jonathan said...

It's not just the style. Someone who uses phrases like "leading business executives" has an intellectual problem as well as a stylistic one.