Jameson on cultural studies

Rahul Mahajan rahul at peaches.ph.utexas.edu
Mon May 20 16:20:34 MDT 1996

>I have a simple but serious question - why does Frederic Jameson write so
>badly? In fact, why do most of the cultural studies people - many of whom
>are well-read in literature - produce such clotted, incomprehensible prose?

In addition to the obvious point that people tend to think incomprehensible
prose is on a higher intellectual level than comprehensible prose, I
believe the main process works as follows.

Ideas about social issues that make sense and are connected logically are
so easy to come up with that any intelligent person can do it, and in fact
there are a huge number floating around from earlier times. In order to
justify the existence and exalted position of humanities and SS faculties,
people need to come up with ideas that make no sense. However, it's hard to
justify nonsense if you state it openly, so they hide a lack either of
sense or of content with impenetrable writing. Now we are reaching a higher
stage where, although jargon is greatly valued in itself, nonsensical ideas
can be stated openly without causing the stater to be subjected to
ridicule. This applies especially to "leftists" in the academy because the
raison d'etre of producing mythology to uphold the status quo is at least
less apparent than it is for the rightists.

Of course, the above reasons don't apply well to a person with any honesty,
which is why there is the odd person even in this benighted era who makes

I have never, on the other hand, encountered a natural scientist who tried
to explain anything in a more complicated way than was necessary. Even the
German physicists of the 20's and 30's (the era of the birth of quantum
mechanics) tried to make what they said comprehensible to a wider audience,
and nothing is more anathema to the Germans than comprehensibility.


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