The following is a guest post from Oliver Lee Bateman, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is also the Reviews and Commentary editor of The Good Men Project.
Years ago, I had a journalism professor who was fond of remarking that there were only two problems with academic writing: the content and the style. I remember laughing at this—not so much because it was funny, but rather because this was what you did when an instructor made a witticism. However, after eight years of post-baccalaureate education, I was forced to conclude that he was utterly wrong.
When I sat in my first graduate seminar, I wanted to hate and trash the books that I was assigned. I eagerly anticipated casting my lot with one ideological camp or another. The resulting slugfests would transform the classroom into the nerdy equivalent of the mosh pit. Alas, for reasons that still remain obscure, I began to actually read these books, only to discover that most of them were quite good.
Even the various critical theorists who were sometimes criticized by my undergaduate mentors offered useful takes on one aspect of human behavior or another. Jameson, Deleuze, Bourdieu, et al. were “challenging,” I suppose, but their work was far from impenetrable. In fact, the biggest challenge posed by Outline of a Theory of Practice was its minuscule font size (an impediment, it must be noted, that is shared by most university press publications). Only “Can the Subaltern Speak?” would prove opaque, although I suppose that was partly Spivak’s purpose in writing it.