Jargon-free Zone

I acknowledge that to dismiss cultural studies out of hand is a grossly unfair. True interdisciplinary work is often of the highest order, but as along-time copyeditor for a “studies” journal and a historian of photography, I am and have been overwhelmed by the use of jargon used in the stead of well-written, clear, and elegant English.

Also, my field has been under attack (viciously so) by so-called interdisciplinary types who will ONLY consider images in the present tense. “Studies” fields often intentionally discard historical context. Perhaps if (from my biased perspective, most of) our studies’ colleagues would cease their objection to historicism and accept historical readings of primary texts (like photographs) as having as much validity as their own presentist (or
impressionistic) interpretations, perhaps we could all get along. I apologize if this sounds like an attack; it is not. Postmodern discourse is a valid and important intellectual pursuit; I engage it often. But, to paraphrase Robert Hallowell, dictatorship is dictatorship, be it of the proletariat or any other lauded body. Engaging in true interdisciplinary scholarship (which I have read too many times called “interdisciplinarity”) should inspire the scholar to accept as equally valid the methodology of other fields.

After (very) early retirement from the legal profession, I vowed to limit myself to English. Lawyers INVENTED the technique of using guild-specific jargon to baffle. “Legalese” is intended to make the outsider turn to a professional decipherer, a lawyer. Words are power, and if one writes in a way that requires the reader to possess special skills over and above literacy in order to follow an argument, something is afoot. I could employ the word “guilding” for
both of its putative meanings, one archaic and one invented on the spot. But, then I might detect a whiff of arrogance, “See how clever I am…”?

English is flexible, but one should not take license.

Kate Sampsell-Willmann




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