Friday, December 18, 2020

i do not want a wide reading audience even if…

Richard Halls (1938) US government travel poster
Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Dancing with Professors: The Trouble with Academic Prose” in The New York Times Book Review, 31 October 1993, p. 3—

“We must remember,” he [a classics professor] declared, “that professors are the ones nobody wanted to dance with in high school.” This is an insight that lights up the universe—or at least the university. It is a proposition that every entering freshman should be told, and it is certainly a proposition that helps to explain the problem of [unintelligible] academic writing. What one sees in professors, repeatedly, is exactly the manner that anyone would adopt after a couple of sad evenings side-lined under the crepe-paper streamers in the gym, sitting on a folding chair while everyone else danced. Dignity, for professors, perches pre-cariously on how well they can convey this message: “I am immersed in some very important thoughts, which unsophisticated people could not even begin to understand. Thus, I would not want to dance, even if one of you unsophisticated people were to ask me.” Think of this, then, the next time you look at an unintelligible academic text. “I would not want the attention of a wide reading audience, even if a wide audience were to ask for me.”