Difficulty

DIFFICULTY

Anita asked Max on October 15, 2008:

Why do you write in a way that requires an Arts Degree in Queer Theory to understand?

Max replied:

Although this was framed as an attack, I shall not be offended by it, because the same criticism has been  (and continues to be) levelled at Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, thus making them my peers or vice versa.

The question is: why is this a problem?

The expectation that the Humanities/Arts are ‘accessible’ to every lay person serves to (further) privilege Science or the Sciences over Arts. Why is it ok that not just anyone can pick up a Science textbook (medicine, psychology, chemistry, etc…) and understand it, yet this is expected from the Humanities? We need a ‘complicated’, that is specific sometimes difficult, language/jargon in order speak about the issues at hand, just like the technical language of medicine.

When Derrida said: ‘If you don’t understand my work, then you haven’t done enough work yet’, he was right. You need to have done a certain amount of work first and that’s ok.

There is a politics at stake in ‘accessibility’, which is addressed brilliantly (as one would expect) by Judith Butler in ‘The Value of Difficulty’ in Just Being Difficult?: Academic Writing in the Public Arena. By Jonathan Culler & Kevin Lamb, Stanford University Press, 2003. As well as A ‘Bad Writer’ Bites Back(New York Times, 20 March 1999) in which she points to the ‘defense’ offered by Herbert Marcuse: ”if what he says could be said in terms of ordinary language he would probably have done so in the first place.” Understanding what the critical intellectual has to say, Marcuse goes on, ”presupposes the collapse and invalidation of precisely that universe of discourse and behavior into which you want to translate it.”

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