Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Plain Mystifying

Noosa Lee at That's So Pants and Ms Baroque cheer Germaine Greer for her sarcastic response to her 'Golden Bull' award from the Plain English Campaign. Prof Greer receives this award for the following sentence in a Guardian article on October 23rd:
The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold.
'The unsynthesised manifold', as Greer explains in her more recent article, is a phrase from Kant's Critique of Judgement which should be familiar to students of aesthetic theory, and Greer says, to 'most reasonably educated Guardian readers'.

Now I agree with those who have said that the PEC are barking up the wrong tree here (legalese and political obfuscation are surely the better targets), and it's also true that, as Ms Baroque illustrates with examples from their web site, there is a dangerous linguistic dumbing-down tendency in their philosophy and practice.

But, I don't know... Maybe it's the ex-secondary-school teacher in me, a teacher of rehoused Gorbals kids who had arrived at secondary school at the age of twelve unable to read... Those contemptuous sniggers when I didn't make myself understood, those life chances which failure to understand meant those kids wouldn't get... Maybe it's the ex-twelve-year-old in me whose uneducated relatives looked so dismayingly uncomfortable when I used big words they didn't understand... But, the thing is, I'm not very happy with that elitist supposition about 'most Guardian readers', Greer's assumption (in her original article) that she had no need even to say where that phrase comes from, leave alone what it means.

It's all a question of who you are writing for, I suppose. Are you writing only for those who already understand everything about the subject you're addressing, or are you prepared to include those who don't?
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