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Post Modernity and the Academy? How Shall I Write?

My poor old mushy brain has spent a fair amount of time chewing over the above question.  And all because I have about 4 days to edit an essay to make it read better before I can deliver it.  I was meant to be able to do some work on it this morning but being asleep after yesterday's ~20 hour marathon it didn't happen.  Ah well.

The question goes something like this...

One of the threads in Post Modernity is about language and how it constructs/shapes the world rather than reflects it. The linguistics and semiotics bit notes that understanding occurs within closed systems (cultures) and that, roughly in the words of my nice little essay, 'creates power within in a culture and is a bar to understanding beyond it.'  I even note the role of insider language in the academy.

At the same time there is the theory that in actual fact once a piece of writing is set free into the real world (not that such a thing really exists of course, it's a construct) the power over interpretation is lost, and real readers can interpret what is written as they find authentic.

Almost, it feels, as a kick-back to this, the academy lays down ever stricter rules on style, presentation and, it almost feels, language (vocabulary).  I'm not at all sure how the real Post Modernists get around this - do they give in and play the game, or do they refuse and deliver essays in 24 point comic sans, double sided, single spaced with an arbitrary referencing system?

I think what I'm trying to work through is a question that is something like 'how much I write in the style I naturally do' (short sentences, short paragraphs and uncomplicated vocabulary) and how much do I give the customer what 'it' wants?

My essay definitely does need some editing, and parts of it don't read at all well at the moment.  I'm honestly not cross or miffed about the comments, just amused and problematising it a little (now I that I think I know what that means).

I am mildy amused that the bits I've been asked to add are the same ones previous supervisors have asked me to remove.  I am not entirely clear why theologians/academics like long paragraphs - maybe their English teachers taught them something mine did not - and my experience of having to work through the ambiguity of complex sentences with umpteen subordinate clauses and a liberal sprinkling of nested parenthesising commas, to say nothing of abuse of colons, semi-colons and hyphens, leave me convinced that, generally speaking, and this amazing sentence notwithstanding, shorter is better.

Back in my industry days, my first ever supervisor gave me some sound advice on report writing - 'your job is put up game birds for other people to shoot down.'  In other words, it's not personal, and in fact the critique is only possible if the thing is there in the first place.  Later, I formulated my own verison of the 'customer is always right' philosophy that ran something like this - 'the customer is always right.  Misguided - maybe; confused - possibly; awkward - probably;  downright stupid - occasionally; wrong - never.'

I guess the academy is currently my 'customer' even if I'm paying it for the privilege, so I have to give it what it wants.

Just that I'm still not sure how this fits with this alleged Post Modern world I inhabit... 


  • I sympathise...at Masters level I was always being told that my essay style was not conventional but I did really well so who cares.....maybe we do need to challange the academy that is content that counts not style and that they are being very exclusivist by insisting on a particular style! Go for it!

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