Reviewing CCCC 2000: Tripled Essay Writing Draft 2
Academic writing...the very pairing of these two words makes me tense up, as if I'm about to ward off a blow or sit down in the dentist's chair. I hate language that is meant to obfuscate, to impress, to nail down in defeat someone else's idea. I love to write (well, I love the actual act of writing though I avoid it in many ingenious ways) and I love language and in so much academic writing I find no evidence of either of these passions.
On the other hand, I recognize the beauty of well-crafted arguments; I respect careful scholarship; I enjoy literary criticism that approaches a work with respect and opens it up to the greater appreciation of readers. But this sort of writing seems rare. Most of what passes for academic writing is boring, dull, pretentious and opaque. There! I've said it.
So why are there thousands of people turning out the stuff? What the hell is academic writing really for?
And who reads academic writing? Is it really just a cruel conspiracy to intimidate graduate students into duplicating nonsensical sentences that sound intelligent? Some of my students may believe this to be true but I think we all have been touched by ideas and I know that the deeper I got into graduate school, the more I began to enjoy some academic writing.
Nonetheless, what can I use here--take good ideas and leave the rest? The essay won't stop resisting, chaffing at the phrase "academic writing" like a collar with too much starch while also wanting to perform like a classical musician in a perfect tuxedo. Maybe the music can happen when academic writing becomes more playful, when the play of ideas finds a stage on unlined paper.
The only way the writing can become more playful is if you make it more playful, if I make it more playful. Great--we'll take back the agency, the night's beauty will return to us without fear. Though CCC or College English will reject me, they'll be only vaguely amused. Mostly the editors will say, "everyone knows that already," "there's no review of the towering scholarship on this subject," or "the voice is too colloquial and sounds like a telegram." Maybe if we took Annie Lamott's suggestion, and put all the editors (imagined or real) in a glass jar like mice, then close the lid, we could silence the noise. I'm angry enough to shoot the mice in the head if putting a lid on them doesn't work.