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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

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.


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.