Eliza Jane Darling:I’m an American, returned from teaching in Britain. My writing is inspired by a Very Famous Marxist (VFM) who once said to a seminar full of students labouring through a close reading of Capital: I won’t dumb it down for you.
I was born into that benighted category of citizenry known as “rednecks,” a term Americans use to avoid talking about class by refracting it through the prismatic geography of white rural poverty. Part and parcel of the redneck package is a habitual intellectual insecurity: hicks, by definition, aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, and are reminded so by their betters at frequent intervals. I felt dumb through much of university and VFM’s pronouncement confirmed my suspicion, as whatever we were talking about in class that day just wasn’t sinking in.
Having had a few years to chew it over, I’m not sure VFM meant to call us dumb. In my more generous moments, I think what he meant was: I’m not going to squeeze this stuff into the comfortable but mystifying taxonomy of liberalism, which is fair enough. In my less generous moments, I think he was saying: I can’t be arsed to teach you this, which is just plain lazy. Either way the “dumb” bit has long stuck in my craw as it jibes with one of the things I like least about my adopted home of academia: the ironic condescension of an intellectual radicalism which professes inclusivity but practises marginalisation, especially through language.
There are a lot of reasons for this practise but one of them is fear. Academics live in perverse terror of making a mistake – of getting it wrong, of looking dumb – especially in public, where other academics lie in wait, ready to pounce on the slightest flub (British academics in particular have turned this into a national sport, which is why I avoid departmental seminars like the plague). The result is a self-reproducing synthesis of timidity and conceit that adds up to an academic lingua franca ranging from the staggeringly turgid to the incomprehensibly abstruse. This stuff is every bit as boring to write as it is to read. After nineteen years in this business, I’ve grown weary of writing fearfully; it’s too much work for what amounts to a humourless job. It’d be vastly self-aggrandizing (and wildly inaccurate) to say that I write “fearlessly” – but my aim is to write in such a way that I’m not too afraid to be wrong.
The following is a list of my articles published here: