Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The internal life of the adult world

I was looking at this guy's photos the other day, and read his description of one collection ("Flora") as follows:

Flora shows Isabel's sensory interaction with the outside world through the flowers and flora of the English countryside. Through her stance, expression and sensory concentration, we see her immersion in and with familiar British flora (and the ideals they represent) - an immersion that reveals as much about the internal life of the adult world as it does of Isabel and childhood."

Have you ever read something like this? Something that is, quite obviously, a bunch of garbage, made up to sound good without meaning anything? (I mean, really. "Immersion in and with familiar British flora?" You can't be "immersed with" and "immersed in" something at the same time; it's a contradiction in terms. And "the internal life of the adult world"? That doesn't even mean anything. Certainly it isn't "revealed" by a bunch of photos of a kid in the woods. Who does this guy think he's fooling? Well, some people, obviously.)

I remember the first time I noticed it. I was in high school, doing an editing internship for one of my teachers, and read some article of literary criticism in an academic journal. I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. This sounds exactly like the kind of thing I write when I don't really know what I'm talking about, but am writing something I know will sound good enough to be accepted as valid." And then suddenly, I just knew. This author was doing the same thing. Amazing! I was quite shaken by the experience. Suddenly a little of the "luster" of someone with a PhD, wore off. (Not that I don't respect those with advanced degrees. I totally do. I think I'd like to go back to school someday myself; I love school. But I just realized, that just because someone had academic credentials, it didn't automatically mean they always knew what they were doing. Especially in the humanities/"soft sciences." English, while really my favorite subject, is the probably the worst offender in these cases.)

The best (or worst?) thing about making up a bunch of stuff and calling it "social commentary" or whatever, is that it is very hard to expose. The very fact that you can be so good at saying all the right words, gives those words some validity. I myself am VERY good at this sort of thing (not to brag or anything). In fact, Sam and I sometimes like to amuse ourselves by giving each other essays to write on unexpected subjects, and seeing how academically convincing we can be. Here is the text of the commentary I wrote on the following assigned topic:

Compare the Ptolemaic model of the solar system with Marxist Philosophy. Explain the benefits and downfalls of each if they were combined with a goblin horde or a McDonald's ball pit. Use illustrations if necessary. (Some would be daunted by this subject. Not me.)

(I will transcribe my essay so you don't have to read my handwriting)

The Ptolomaic and Marxist ideals both centered around one fixed body: to wit, the earth and the proletariat, respectively. Because of their fixed position, neither of these entities could move from their ordained sphere. Marx believed that only by varying the means of production---that is, by bringing more power into the sphere of the working classes, as in Ptolomy's epicycles---could the proletariat improve their own position. Any move of political power towards the worker, necessarily brought power away from the bourgeousie: thus the unending struggle between classes.

In the Marxist model, more industrial activity---represented by more "balls" in the "ball pit"---was simply a cover-up for more exploitation of the worker. However, industry could be beneficial to the worker if it was in the hands of the worker---that is, if each worker had his own ball from the pit---and then each threw his ball (in unison) at the "goblin horde" of the privileged class. Only a revolution of this magnitude would be able to overcome the entrenched power of the upper class: thus the well-known slogan, "Workers of the world, unite!"

For Ptolomy, adding to the number of cycling planets--in metaphorical terms, simply adding more "balls" to the "ball pit" of the universe---provided no net benefit, but merely increased the net disorder and unpredictablity of the system. On the other hand, adding a goblin horde to patrol the edges of the system would be beneficial, in that it would keep the epicycles from exceeding their ordained bounds.


  1. I just spent the last two years as an English grad student reading and writing exactly this kind of frippery. Literary criticism has got to be the worst offender. I only barely escaped with my sanity.

    I'm excessively entertained by your essay exercise. You'll be an instant success when you decide to step foot again in the ivory towers.

  2. Yeah, but you have to be as smart as you are to figure this out. I read crap like that and think, "Man, those artsy people sure see alot more in them photos than I do."
    And whenever I engaged in such practices to froth up my paper enough to meet the required page numbers, I always felt like, while I sounded like I knew what I was saying, that I was a fraud.
    A fraud with an A paper, that is.

  3. "A fraud with an A paper." Yes. That is the key. And your literary integrity does you credit. (I seem to have less of it, to my _dis_credit.)

  4. That's really funny because I just looked at that guy's photos the other day too, and I was thinking what a load of garbage his little explanations were. Hah.
    And your essay blows my mind. I especially like the goblin horde...I think I'll use it the next time I write a paper, which hopefully will be never!!!