There is a new paper out on the corporation form and the concept of reification. My initial reaction to the paper was, how can you write on that topic and not cite the seminal work of my friend, co-author, and colleague William Klein. My second reaction was to have a bad headache caused by plowing through this sort of writing:
Combining the reified status of the corporate form with its convenience for the perpetuation of a particular kind of political economy, it can be argued that the highly problematic ontological and epistemological status of the corporate form may very well not be the result of simple theoretical and methodological aberration, and will probably not be solved by better theory formation.
As the NY Times observed all the way back in 1999:
The journal Philosophy and Literature has taken to holding an annual Bad Writing Contest, with prizes going to the work of some of the country's top scholars. There is even an Internet site that automatically creates a ''post-modern'' essay, replete with bloated jargon and incomprehensible sentence structure, every time someone logs onto it (www.cs.monash.edu.au/cgi-bin /postmodern). (''If one examines a post-dialectic conceptualist theory, one is faced with a choice: either reject post-dialectic conceptualist theory or conclude that culture is capable of truth,'' was a recent creation.)
Yet the debate has taken a new twist recently with a decision by Edward Said, the new president of the Modern Language Association, to use his first official column in the association's newsletter to denounce bad writing. In an essay on how science is growing at the expense of the humanities, he accused literature departments of fostering incomprehensible writing and factionalism, resulting even more in their ''diminishment and incoherence.''
It wasn't just Mr. Said's position as head of the largest and most influential organization of literary scholars that caught people's attention, however: Mr. Said himself is a progenitor of a new kind of literary and cultural criticism that has frequently used difficult language.
One of the country's most prominent literary critics, Mr. Said concedes that his own writing hasn't always been easily accessible, but he said in an interview: ''I moved away from that kind of thing many years ago, because I feel myself that it's terribly important as an intellectual to communicate as immediately and forcefully as possible.
Indeed, clarity ought to be the first goal of every academic. Bad writing is contrary to the very purpose of academic inquiry:
In 2006, Daniel Oppenheimer, then a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, published research arguing that the use of clear, simple words over needlessly complex ones can actually make authors appear more intelligent. ...
A disconnect between researchers and their audiences fuels the problem, according to Deborah S. Bosley, a clear-writing consultant and former University of North Carolina English professor. “Academics, in general, don’t think about the public; they don't think about the average person, and they don't even think about their students when they write,” she says. “Their intended audience is always their peers. That’s who they have to impress to get tenure.” But Bosley, who has a doctorate in rhetoric and writing, says that academic prose is often so riddled with professional jargon and needlessly complex syntax that even someone with a Ph.D. can’t understand a fellow Ph.D.’s work unless he or she comes from the very same discipline.
Indeed. I have been thinking, reading, and writing about reification and the corporate form for almost 3 decades and I have no idea what point the author was trying to make. Interestingly, the corporate law sentence got a Gunning Fox index of 36, while the invented post-modern literary sentence only got an index score of 21. "An interpretation [of the index number] is that the text can be understood by someone who left full-time education at a later age than the index."
There are lots of explanations for why people write this way, but I think a lot of it has to do with obfuscation. How do you assess the merits of an idea if you can't parse it?