academic writing.

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” -Albert Einstein

So, I just go my essay back, it’s the essay that I posted about over here, the one that I got all excited about. Since that, I’ve written and turned in four other short essays, and I’ve noticed something. I write differently depending on how much I actually give a shit about something. The vocabulary that I use, the syntax, the way that I write is vastly different in something like this blog post and something that I would turn into a professor. (I’m not going to post an example because it’s boring as fuck.) There’s obviously a difference between academic and non-academic writing, and that’s something that I consciously make an effort to do. I just wrote three short essays for my final today. I think it went well: it was on topics that I studied and texts that I read, I was good to go. But one thing that I did have a problem with was keeping my language academic. Y’see, when I get into something, I tend to get more casual with my writing. And I was into these questions (I know. Weird, right? It’s an exam) so, I my mind was going into “cool” mode. I was cracking jokes and making references and using made-up words in my mind. My brain was the life of the party when it really needed to be the nerd in the floor above the party that is sitting at his desk trying to write a goddamn english paper about the primacy of art in “Soliloquy, on an Empty Purse” and “A Mark on the Wall” but he can’t focus because the Major Lazer coming from the party downstairs is too loud and he has a headache, but he just took the last of his ibuprofen and he can’t go to the pharmacy because he has to finish this paper first (That’s exactly the kind of run on sentence that I would have loved to use on this final, but I refrained because I’m supposed to be some sort of English major that’s supposed to be the exemplar of academic writing).

Back in elementary school, teachers encouraged students to write more, to get more into it, to find their own voice. Then, somewhere at the end of high school, that shifted from “writing is how you express yourself” to “writing is-fuck you.” Obviously, that’s more eloquent than what the actual circumstance is. So, here’s the dealio: academic writing is the bane of writing itself. In my other English class, we read a lot of critical texts. Critical texts are pretty much academic texts written by people that’ve been doing it for, like, fifty years. Here’s an example, if you have a few hours and a dozen extra brain cells that you don’t need, go ahead and read it. If you didn’t read it: (SPOILER ALERT) it makes no sense. Or, I should say it makes no sense as it’s written. She’s basically saying that certain groups of people are inherently marginalized simply because they’re labeled as different. Then she gives examples from Jane Eyre and Frankenstein. See? That wasn’t so bad. But it’s so much more difficult to understand when you read it from a “professional”. Granted, maybe this is an extreme example: even other scholars think Spivak’s fucking weird.

Let’s take a look at the quote at the top. If you’re too lazy to scroll back up to the top, it says: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” That quote came from Albert Einstein, who’s commonly known as the freaking Einstein of people that know their shit. And it’s not a bad quote to live by. When I see intellectuals that use big words and bizarre extrapolations to get their point across, I equate them to the idiots that do the same thing. When I see academic writing, I immediately assume that whoever wrote it has no idea what they’re talking about. Why do I assume that? Because I do the same thing, of course. Whenever I write a paper on something I have no idea about, I turn on the academic babble and have a field day. Lots of big words with little meaning are used, and you know what? It works, teachers and professors alike eat that shit up because it sounds smart. It isn’t, but I’ve polished the shit enough to make it passable as a tiny brown pearl.

But what’s the point? What is the point of academic writing? All it does is isolate people. Think about it in any other context. Physicists have a language that only physicists understand. Engineers have their own exclusive club: hell, electrical engineers are snootily isolated from the mechanical engineers. These examples are a little bit difference because they’re based on math, and math doesn’t change from person to person. English, however, is based purely on speculation. There’s little to no objectivity in the study of English (unless you look at linguistics, which is different than what English scholars do). It’s really surprising how often these “Great Critical Writers” straight make words up. That defeats the entire purpose of language. Language was created to let people communicate. Once we agree on a set of mouth noises, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to share ideas (Cracked did a podcast this morning where they talk about how language came about and the importance of sharing ideas. Beware: memes). So, why do the educated communities want to steer away from that. I hate to say it, but by simplifying the language people use to communicate, Cheezburger and Doge are doing more to advance language than the scholars of academia. Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little.

When they teach you to write an argumentative essay (which, coming up to a thousand words, this kinda is), they usually say you need to address an opposing viewpoint. Yes, academics use their own special language within their studies. Why should they have to dumb down what they’re doing? If any idiot off the street can understand Jacques Derrida, then what’s the point of even having academia? What’s the point of creating an expansive knowledge base if everything’s dumbed down? I did an entire thing on making knowledge more accessible, and you can see it in action on certain educational shows. In this case, it’s not about making your knowledge base more accessible (which is always a virtue of any kind of information building). It’s about legitimacy. I’m gonna Virginia Woolf this around back to the Einstein quote. When you make your theories and your ideas out of fluff, you lose all the structure and the validity. To employ a metaphor, you can’t build a house on top of a foundation of unicorn shit. When you do anything in academia, it has to be concrete and it has to be able to stand up on its own. Not only that, but the people that come after and build on top of what you have need to know that it’s sturdy. Fluffing up writing with academic babble does nothing to enhance the strength of an idea.

 

I also have a personal problem with “academic” writing. When was the last time you read a study or a criticism, something that would be accepted in a bibliography, and enjoyed reading it? Never. Never fucking ever. Like I said earlier: when I get excited, it shows in my writing. The same thing happens when I read something. If the reading has my attention, I’m more likely to pay attention. That’s just basic psychology, if something’s interesting, you pay attention. I cannot count the times I’ve been reading some peer-reviewed piece of crap, and I’ve literally fallen asleep. Even when I wasn’t tired. And the main problem is not the idea presented, it’s the language. As a society, we have decided that the most important things to pay attention to are the most difficult to tune in to. The solution is simple. Aside from one or two weirdos here and there, we read to do work and we talk for fun. Yet, the talking always seems to be more important to us, that’s why people are all up on Facebook during that university class that they’re paying thousands of dollars to slack off in. So, instead of pushing this automatic form of communication off to the side, why don’t we fucking use that? Let’s use the vernacular that we use, y’know, normally to do the big “important” things. Maybe people will pay attention. Let’s look again at Cracked, because I’m all up on their dick. Look at any of their articles. Aside from their straight-up comedy ones, they’re well researched and even better written. And they cite their sources. I’ve written about this in an essay back in high school (I don’t have it anymore), but this is really what academia should be. People sharing the greatest ideas the same way they share the okay ideas. Make the information entertaining and the education will follow. And I’ll be damned if I can’t put a dick joke in my next academic paper. Shakespeare did it all the time, why can’t I?

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