So I might have made a mean and salty subtweet recently on the tl that got a bit more attention than I thought it would…
It’s another one of those Twitter encounters that really doesn’t warrant being highlighted on the blog but, in light of all the Consciousness Razing chat here recently, about not feeling good enough and vocabularic baggage, it has got me thinking about a lot of things — and those things at least deserve their proper context.
That being said, this isn’t all directed at the example above. This is just the mental fallout of two years pent-up frustration.
There’s no denying that word salad is common on the tl — in some places more than others. This blog might even be guilty of it on occasion, although I do personally try to be clear and jargon-free if I can help it because so are most of my favourite writers.
Sometimes complex ideas need complex explanations. Sometimes word salad just works. Sometimes, in writing, it conveys a sort of cyberpunk Other English. (I like philosophy that reminds me of the first time I read Pat Cadigan’s Synners.) It is not inherently bad — if it’s done properly.
What is bad is using the hyperaffected language of a college education to disguise the fact you’re trying to reinvent the wheel…
The line between the two really isn’t as thin as it might sound.
What makes me salty about this kind of posturing is how damaging it can be.
When I went back to studying in late 2016, trying to read philosophy properly for the first time, I felt like I was really late to the party. I was surrounded by people who’d studied philosophy previously and most of them weren’t afraid to swing their weight around.
I remember I felt like a hobbyist.
In early seminars there would always be someone (or more than one person) — and I’m sorry to say that 90% of the time they were American or had studied in the US — who would always talk using this jargon-laden affected language that reeked of a certain standard of education that someone wanted to lord over you.
I remember hearing things like the above example and it really getting to me at first. It created this super-competitive atmosphere that wasn’t remotely healthy or productive. But then, after a few months of hard reading, I realised most of this stuff that was getting spouted in seminars was wrong or just bad posturing. It was always a bad, basic reading — usually of Deleuze — interspersed with misused jargon to give it an air of legitimacy, that was so densely packed no one bothered to challenge it.
Others, who weren’t so resilient, dropped out. I wish I could find them and shake them and tell them not to leave over a bunch of blowhard theory bros.
Without posturing being challenged, it spreads.
Insecurity breeds insecurity.
The stakes are, obviously, far less high on Twitter than they are compared to real life institutional imposter syndrome, but the last thing anyone needs is that academic posturing leaking out onto the timeline.
Save it for the bar after the conference.
Thinking about all this makes me want to ask a question, to any American readers or other current/former philosophy students from anywhere in the world:
My (potentially unfair) assumption has always been that this sort of posturing is worse amongst the insecure and US-educated because the intense competition of US academia necessarily makes people that way.
It’s not exclusive to the US — people are shit all over — but in the UK it feels noticeably less pronounced because no one has any careerist optimism that there is anything to fight for. UK academia is beyond all hope, but people seem to want to be clearer and more communal in their learning because of that.
A fair assessment? Or am I deluded and “theory bros” really are just endemic?