language: a plea for tolerance!

Bob King (kingbx@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Sun, 13 Oct 1996 14:25:19 -0400

On Sat, 12 Oct 1996, Tom Maddox wrote:
> The pomo theory stuff I often find ugly, pretentious, and deluded, to tell
> the truth. Words such as problematize, hegemony, aporia; goofball
> constructions on the order of con/pre/de/teXtualization re/con/inversion
> (cha cha cha); labored puns; brain-boggling syntax; ritual invocation of
> sacred names; generally, a sense that one is being addressed by a Master of
> Major Arcana--oh well, I do go on, and I'm being cheerfully unfair, but the
> hell with it; I began struggling with with this stuff in the late '70s, and
> I feel I've earned a little attitude.

I understand that your intent is cheerfully unfair, and expresses
frustrations which I think many of us have had with trying to understand
difficult texts. I mean I had to give up on reading Faulkner, way back
when, but I didn't think it was somehow his fault that I had trouble
reading him. I assumed he was doing things with language -- doing things
with the medium itself -- and I figure that's part of the point of some
pomo writers anyway, certainly Derrida and Lacan say so straight out.
Maybe it's just okay to say that at some given times, some given writers
are not useful to our own theory building, and leave it at that? Maybe
a day will come when Faulkner will make some important sense to me.

Tom, in the later part of your post you talk about immersing your students
in the primitive aspects, the material practices, of writing (the effects
of word-processing on writing, etc.) and I think that's partly pomo
theorists are doing with language practices -- attempting to immerse
readers in often taken-for-granted aspects of material practices of

I'm actually very interested in the effect of word-processing on
writing -- and I'll bet that if either of us tried to explain to students
why we were interested in that, it might could get pretty complicated
and arcane, pretty fast, and we'd maybe have a whole bunch of students all
set to tell us we're full of theoretical BS (in other words, we'd end up,
in their eyes, fitting the description you offer of pomos. If stuff is
useful to us in our own theory-building, then somehow the difficulty of it
is sort of fun. This ties back to stuff Eric and others have said about
the central fact of educational life as we've known it being coercion!