Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sat Dec 26 08:33:16 PST 1998

William S. Lear wrote:

>Thus the jargon-infested defend themselves. Sure, sometimes you
>have to use four syllable words, but Jameson's facile equation of
>simple writing with shallow thinking, and opaque writing with deep
>thinking is preposterous.

I'm half with Fred here, and half against, which seems to be my default position on nearly everything. This is from his chapter on Adorno, and Fred emphasizes TW's view of high art using difficulty as an antidote to the products of the culture industry. Now Adorno could be a terrible snob and stick-in-the-mud, for sure. But on the other hand, FJ's explanation of "difficulty" is an attempt to explain it as something other than contrived obscurantism. Many - most? - of the canonical works of Western literature and music from the first half of this century aren't a walk in the woods, understanding-wise, whether we're talking about Stevens or Schonberg. Why is that? Certainly an element of it is trying to distance the work from what Alex Cockburn once called the garbage factory.

Obscurity as a phony marker of seriousness sucks, of course, but on the other hand, the anti-obscurity crowd neglects the difficulties of, say, Marx's Capital, or Hegel's Phenomenology, or even Milton's Paradise Lost. Just how many examples are there of simple writing combined with deep thinking? Wordsworth's Lucy poems look simple on the surface but psychologically they're complex as hell. Just because something's hard to read doesn't mean it's profound, of course, but how many profound things are easy to read?


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