Academic Guffwatch (ctd.)

February 24 2013

A reader tells us how it's done:

[...] I just came across a list I made a few years ago at a Joseph Wright of Derby conference in Liverpool.

I made the list to help me learn the language of "the academy" (as some professors call it). I felt I had to learn to talk like the natives for them to accept me; but since, I have realised that - better than trying to master an obscure foreign tongue - the thing to do is talk slowly in plain English.

In isolation, most of these words are perfectly sensible. But collectively they work like one of those "thought clouds" to reveal the way that today's historian of historic British art thinks.

Point of departure; strategies; threads; tensions; connections; contested; regimes; undermine; fragmentation; anxieties; displace; reciprocity; embed; transaction; sublimate; conventions; shifting; nuanced; redistribute; exchange; collapsing polarities; juxtapose; framed by; reflective; invoke; problematize.

Have other readers experienced a similar pressure to talk like this?

Update - a reader writes:

What bothers me about art-history-guff is not just that it is often incomprehensible but that it is also so often aggressively ugly.  For instance, of the words on the list your corespondent provides, 'problematize'; or one of my own pet peeves, 'contextualize'.   Do the guffers use ugly language deliberately to dissociate themselves from the old-fashioned idea that art can enthuse and uplift our minds and emotions through beauty?  Or is it more simply that this is writing by, to and for the guffers themselves, employing ugly jargon to confuse and estrange the uninitiated?   Or most simply of all, is it just a smokescreen?

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