Re: unusual language [postmodernism]

Nick Carbone (
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 18:48:46 -0400

On Thu, 10 Oct 1996, Jeffrey R Galin wrote:

> Nick, elitism is a derrogatory term as I use it, yes.
> Exclusionary prose, standards, and other practices, when they are
> intentional, are generally elitist. I dont' value elitism because it
> breeds contempt, classification, and self-agrandizement, all traps we
> academics too often fall into at times. Again I turn to the culture wars
> of the 1990s to demonstrate. The defensive posturing and finger pointing
> that went on among intellectuals at that time was appalling. Take a look
> at a book called PC Wars: Politics and Theory in the Academy_ and Roger
> Kimball's _Tenured Radicals_ for starters.

I'm familiar with the fist (meant to say gist, but fist works, doesn't
it?) of the books you mention. Which is why when we sometimes knee-jerk
against language I wonder why we're doing to ourselves what is already
being done to us unfairly. But then, I've been arguing both for and
against certain theories, or at least I think I am; I'm loosing track of
my thoughts from frame to frame.

You're right, intentionally excluding, as when a doctor deliberately talks
down to a patient or when a teacher answers a student's probing question
with language he or she knows the student won't grasp as a way to shut
them off, is bad, but I would call that boarish rather than elite.
Semantics. Though it's interesting to note that language doesn'thave to
be all that specialized to work this way. I remember reading in one essay
that was dealing with student's right to their own langauage how a grade
school teacher refused to acknowledge a student's need to go to the
bathroom because the student didn't ask the question as grammatically
desired. Nothing special, nothing more "I gots to go the bathroom," not
being "I have to go to the bathroom." Which makes Charlie's colleague who
instead on correct appreciation of 'Scarlett Letter' seem benign (hope you
treated her to Demi Moore's movie of that).

That said, what language is there that cannot be used in an elitist way?
Ian's eloquent, and full, apologia clearly shows a cfp that intended no
intentional disavowal and exclusion. But clearly as well _Culture &
Space_ has elite intentions, intends to be of a certain quality, certain
value, much as _Rhetnet_ does.

I guess I don't want to surrender elite to the perjorative it is so often
put. It's a lovely word that suggests both pride and understanding,
learning and teaching, that I associate with scholar/teachers at their
best, who do not sacrifice one for the other.

Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344