Here’s a fun game to play if you’re bored and suicidal. In case you don’t want to wade through that, Vox Day has randomized all the phrases in an award-winning work of modern “literature.” As they all make equal sense — zero — you’re invited to guess as to which one made it to the published page.
You can do the same thing with academic “literature,” too. Jonah Goldberg used to quote PoMos like Judith Butler a lot:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
Here, too, feel free to randomize the phrases and recombine them, Dada-style.* It makes just as much sense, I promise. As Goldberg points out at length, communication has nothing to do with this; all those big words are supposed to beat you down, so that you meekly go along with the author’s political platform (“vote Hillary.” Yes, even back then).
The reason professors do this kind of thing is, of course, capitalism — you’ll never make tenure if you don’t publish, and since Shakespeare ain’t writing no more sonnets, the only way to say something new is to expand the definition of “literature” (or whatever) past the point of meaninglessness. This is true of all the Humanities save History** — it has all been said before, no later than the 19th century in most cases and always far, far better. In fact, if you want the equivalent education to a modern BA, you can do it in about five hours. Ready?
Read Nietzsche — pretty much anything will do, but I recommend Beyond Good and Evil — and James Joyce (again, pretty much anything will do. If you want to slog through Ulysses or, God save us, Finnegan’s Wake, be my guest, but A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man will get you there, and it’s actually sorta comprehensible). Modern academics, you see, believe in only two things: Words and Power. Whether Words create Power, or vice versa, determines what flavor of egghead you are, but the basic idea is the same. They got this from Derrida, who got it from Foucault, who got it from Nietzsche, who wrote crystal-clear prose. To make themselves sound all deep and original, they had to take ol’ Fred’s basic insight and gussy it up past the point of incomprehensibility….
….which works, because if there is nothing but Words and Power, then it follows that only the form of the Words matter. Which is literary Modernism, which is Joyce.
Give it a whirl. Submit your final exams in the comments.
*Back when that was new and edgy, Dadaist “writers” actually did that — they wrote a story, then cut the individual sentences out of the page, scrambled them, and pasted them onto a new page. Because “art is dead” or something.
** And only there because new evidence can always come to light.