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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Here's an example of ineffective writing that I found by way of Clarissa's blog. She quoted it in order to criticize it and I will perform some more criticism of it.
Elevate Difference is a forum for thoughtful critique that aims to embody the myriad—and sometimes conflicting—viewpoints present in the struggle for political, social, and economic justice. Elevate Difference offers fluid and dynamic perspectives on various items and events that represent the rich differences found in progressive communities. Emerging from the desire to dismantle progressive movements that privilege assimilation to one school of thought over another, Elevate Difference intends to make the value of difference more visible. We seek to move beyond a facile tolerance of difference that eschews its merit in favor of focusing on common ground. We believe the ways we are dissimilar should be foregrounded, engaged, and deemed of equal worth. Elevate Difference provides a challenge to ourselves and to our readers, a reflection of our ideological paradigms, and a command to reframe our actions.

Lack of clarity: What does it mean to say that there is "a facile tolerance of difference that eschews its merits..." ? I am unclear about whether "focusing on common ground" is supposed to be good or bad. The stiff, unnatural vocabulary and syntax could easily be revised: simply read the passage aloud and change any phrases that you wouldn't actually say in a normal conversation. In other words, all of them.

Self-Congratulation: The tone is so relentlessly self-congratulatory that it makes me distrustful. All this feel-good language (thoughtful, myriad, rich, value, worth), but used in an overbearing and bossy way. I feel like I am church.

Ideological inconsistency. You cannot take a viewpoint that is wonderfully neutral (all differences are equally valuable) and yet so dogmatic in spirit: they propose to "dismantle" progressive movements that they don't agree with. A difference in and of itself cannot be valuable anyway. Something or someone is valuable for what it is, usually, not for what it's not. And, really, is being left-handed as significant a difference as being of another animal species? Is it really possible to place an equal value on all the ways people differ from one another? Is it valuable to a Nazi, simply because it is different from being a Quaker? Don't we have to consider each kind of difference into account on a case-by-case basis and decide how significant it is? People can create identity politics out of seemingly small differences and then demand that those differences be respected on the same footing. Is that what this passage is demanding? Could a gluten-allergy qualify as a significant difference? It's hard to know because of the turgid, self-congratulatory style.

Inattention to Audience. Who is this written for? Only for those already in the secret of the jargon of a certain academic in-group. Isn't the author of this statement introducing a barrier to certain kinds of difference by writing in this way? I mean the difference of being able to understand this sort of language or not, the difference between being attracted to or repulsed by preening, pretentious self-congratulation.


Clarissa said...

What a great analysis! It turns out that this passage is even more ridiculous than I thought.

The most annoying thing is that often calls for sessions at conferences are couched in very similar terms. And then you just sit there, trying to figure out what the session organizers are trying to say.

pohanginapete said...

I didn't even read the paragraph carefully, yet it still gave me the kind of uneasy, distrustful feeling I recognise when I read spin. I suspect many readers are so used to this style that they switch off quickly.

Good to see you and Clarissa dissecting it. With luck, these kinds of analyses might encourage more thoughtful writing.