8
   

What is the value of obscure academic text?

 
 
north
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Dec, 2011 09:31 pm

wisdom
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Dec, 2011 09:34 pm
@north,
...you mean Wiz-doom ! Laughing
north
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 Dec, 2011 09:36 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
Fil Albuquerque wrote:

...you mean Wiz-doom ! Laughing


no

wisdom
0 Replies
 
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2011 12:08 pm
That's wishful thinking.
north
 
  1  
Reply Sun 11 Dec, 2011 05:12 pm
@Shapeless,
Shapeless wrote:

That's wishful thinking.


perhaps

Wisdom is important nevertheless
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 11:45 am
@north,
I don't think anyone doubts the importance of wisdom. What we're doubting is whether wisdom is effectively conveyed through obscurantism.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 03:47 pm
@Shapeless,
My opinion is that it is not. Obscurantism is probably more often an attempt to hide the lack of wisdom.
Communicating a complex idea is always more successful using simple language. Obscurantism only lends more incomprehensibility to the complexity of the issue you are trying to account for.
The Pentacle Queen
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 06:27 pm
@Cyracuz,
Hmm. Cy I think you're right and I think this definitely does occur, but something else I was thinking was:
What about the ways language is used to describe things that are beyond language? It appears that sometimes there is no choice but to be obscure. For instance, Zen koans and language to describe emotional states or music. To me, there is still a distinction (although it's hard to draw a hard and fast line) between this 'cogent obscurity' and just general nonsense; Shapeless, I haven't read a lot of Jankelevitch but maybe you have? To what extent does the 'obscurity' function as something needed to express the substance of music? As in prose functioning almost as poetry to take the reader 'beyond' language. And in this sense, a paraphrase would not serve the same purpose.
Ding an Sich
 
  2  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 06:31 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
The Pentacle Queen wrote:

I was thinking: what is the point of the obscurity?


Whatever the reason, we sure as hell don't get it from the text itself (if we get anything at all from it).

0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 07:07 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
Quote:
What about the ways language is used to describe things that are beyond language? It appears that sometimes there is no choice but to be obscure. For instance, Zen koans and language to describe emotional states or music.


I considered that, but if something is beyond language, it is beyond obscure language as well as clear language. The difficulty in grasping what is being conveyed does not lie in the communication itself, but in the nature of the subject itself. In such cases, it seems to me, obscure phrasings and overly complicated sentences do not help to clarify the matter.

JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2011 11:07 pm
@Cyracuz,
Interesting points. The obscurity of zen koans is a function of the cognitive posture of the student, not the structure of the language itself. In my abstract paintings, however, I often intentionally install patterns of ambiguity, not to hide meaning, but for aesthetic ends. Ambiguity, like mystery, looks interesting to me, as long as it does not have properties of chaos, as in the experience of confusion.
The Pentacle Queen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 06:41 am
How do you separate ambiguity from confusion though? Are you talking about chaos as an 'aggressive' type of confusion?

Yeah. I know what you mean Cy and I agree, but I guess 'obscurity' is relevant to understanding, and I can certainly imagine it might be hard for someone to understand phrases like going through the 'gateless gate' etc.
I find, especially with canonised philosophers etc. it's hard to know when they're being obscure or when you're being stupid. I always used to presume it was the latter, maybe it isn't always.
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 08:00 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
Quote:
What about the ways language is used to describe things that are beyond language? It appears that sometimes there is no choice but to be obscure.


You're right that there are some academics who use obscurity to reproduce the effects of music and art as closely as possible. For writers like Jankélévitch, Abbate, etc., the role of scholarship is to be an extension of art rather than an explication of it. In her most characteristic text, "Music: Drastic or Gnostic?", Abbate goes so far as to say there are moments when scholars must acknowledge the inadequacy of their scholarly methods in recapturing the aesthetic experience and that we might all do better to simply "fall silent" (her words) before the artwork. Jankélévitch says much the same, especially in his writings on Debussy, and it's not a coincidence that Jankélévitch is among Abbate's favorite writers. In that sense, the humanities trends of the 1990s were a reincarnation of German Romantic writings of the nineteenth century, especially Hoffman and Wagner.

The difference, of course, is that Hoffman and Wagner never claimed to be academics. This raises the separate but related issue of what the proper role of academic texts, obscure or otherwise, ought to be. For writers like Jankélévitch and Abbate, I would say the purpose of obscurity in academic texts is exactly what was mentioned above: to bring the texts closer to the condition of art, which in my view has the effect of bringing them further away from scholarship. Many scholars disagree with me, of course, but I would question whether recapturing the aesthetic experience is what academics should be doing in the first place. I really can't take seriously any scholar who says our job is to "fall silent," and I certainly don't think falling silent is enough to warrant a PhD or an academic position. (One colleague of mine wryly observed that Abbate has the luxury of falling silent now that she has a cushy Ivy League job.) The above-mentioned writers are using the obscurity of art as way to shield their own writings from refutation, which seems intellectually dishonest to me. As a few people mentioned here, it's a strategy that appears occasionally on A2K... here's one long-winded example and a briefer example from the distant past.)
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 08:11 am
@JLNobody,
I am not sure we can use the word obscurantism in connection to aesthetic expression. Wouldn't it be a matter of taste or personal preference in that regard? The primary function of academic text is to communicate information, but that is not the primary function of art, though it can certainly be a function of it.
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 08:23 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
Quote:
it's hard to know when they're being obscure or when you're being stupid.


I've had that experience myself. But, since philosophy mostly happens in English for me, and English isn't my main language, I have grown into the habit of looking up words and phrases that are unclear to me. If it turns out that a lot of the text can be rewritten with a much simpler language, that is perhaps a good sign that the author is deliberately obscuring the meanings.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 08:32 am
@The Pentacle Queen,
The Pentacle Queen wrote:
I find, especially with canonised philosophers etc. it's hard to know when they're being obscure or when you're being stupid. I always used to presume it was the latter, maybe it isn't always.


So far, a few reasons have been advanced to account for obscurantism. One is that may simply be bad writing--and certainly it is not any fault of yours if you don't understand what was not clearly and unambiguously explained. Another is that the author is willfully being obscure, so as either to appear to be making profound statements, or to provide her the means of defending her position by asserting the critic is not describing what she means. Yet another is that the subject doesn't admit of facile description, such as Shapeless refers to with descriptions of artistic expression.

Finally, of course, there would be those texts which are obscure because they deal with complex or complicated subjects that don't admit of simple, straight forward description. That would be the only case in which you might reasonably feel that you had failed to understand, and the obscurity is more perceived than real. I suspect that such case are, however, rare.
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 04:19 pm
@JLNobody,
In my last post I said that I am not sure we can use the word obscurantism in connection to aesthetic expression. But then I found this definition of obscurantism:
Quote:
A style in art and literature characterized by deliberate vagueness or obliqueness.

So I guess that proposition is out.

But I think it is a good definition, because we do not expect aesthetic expressions, like paintings or poetry, to be clear. Aesthetic considerations come before informative considerations, and that's part of what makes it art. But in academic text, informative considerations should have the highest priority, which makes obscurantism kind of inappropriate.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 05:59 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
When I enjoy the "ambiguity" of non-representational abstract art I am experiencing it pre-cognitively, as I've said before. I consider that a kind of PRE-orientation.
When I suffer "confusion" before a work that almost represents something but does so ambiguously in what appears to be a form of creative ambivalence, I consider that a kind of DISorientation. At the moment this is a significant distinction for me.
But I must acknowledge that what may be confusing for me may be clear for the artist or for the viewer standing next to me. It may even be clear for me tomorrow. Subjectivity, and perhaps the force of situation, may be among the principal characteristics of art
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 06:54 pm
I did a search on wavicle, and came across a post on another forum. Granted, wavicles, the topic of the post, are not easily understood, but I wonder if it is the unfamiliar nature of the wavicles themselves or the authors style that makes this very obscure...

Quote:
what is a wavicle?
It is not a wave. It is not a particle. It is both a wave and a particle together with their respective intrinsic properties of wavelength, frequency, linear and angular momentum. In addition a wavicle has intrinsic double spins. Both spins can singularly be described by a conserved mass independent local infinitesimal angular acceleration such that the scalar inner dot product of this acceleration and the local infinitesimal metric is a constant the square of light speed in vacuum. If now a unit of inertial mass is defined then, as inertial mass dependence description, the product of unit mass and c is the same as Einstein’s mass and energy equivalence E=mc and the local infinitesimal acceleration is equivalent to the inertial acceleration of Newtonian mechanics with a triple equivalence of inertial mass, rest mass, and gravitational mass.


I am not qualified to judge if this is true about wavicles, but it seems to me that there is too much information crammed into each sentence, making this material very hard to process. Is it just me? Smile
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 Dec, 2011 10:29 pm
@Cyracuz,
I don't know if there are wavicles. I just use the term to avoid having to decide which is the more real, particles or waves. I prefer to think of them as both existing in the sense of the co-existence of yin and yang, hence wavicles.
 

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