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July 18, 2003

Subtracting from the sum of human knowledge

"If we have learned anything in graduate school," remarked an old friend of the Flea, "we have learned how to write."

I confess the Flea was slightly tipsy when these words were spoken due to the proximity of an open-bar and the intoxicating effects of good company. Even so, I should also confess an immediate scepticism. Flea-readers used to the lucid prose of an H.D. Miller or a Glenn Reynolds may have a false impression about academic writing.

Robert Fulford asks whether it is now mandatory for academics to write badly (via Mondo Sismondo). He points to Empire, a book co-penned by a convicted Italian terrorist, as a exemplory perpetrator:

In recent years leftist academics have been enraptured by Empire, a 500-page anti-globalization book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, published in 2000. Empire collects all possible criticisms of free trade and wraps them in prose like this: "In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate."

To commit a sentence like that is to subtract from the sum of human knowledge. But it is not really exceptional, and its authors are much admired for their fresh version of leftist "thinking."

Professor Emeritus Ian Hunter believes he can speak freely now he is no longer employed by a university. He reflects on the description of North American universities as "islands of repression in a sea of freedom" and describes university communication as U-Speak.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 18, 2003 11:25 AM