William Zinsser once wrote, “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.” The comment is especially true in the case of the applicant’s description of his or her doctoral dissertation. These are often painful to read because they trying to be clever when they should try to be clear. Insight doesn’t need to be over-written to be substantive. Clarity doesn’t need high-handed rhetoric. On the contrary, bad writing needs it like crutch. The rule of thumb is that if a person writes with an excessive amount of jargon, he either doesn’t know how to write or his ideas might not be that good. I can’t say how many times at conferences I’ve wanted to interrupt a person and ask, “Could you, in twenty-five words or fewer, tell us what your point is?”
For example, one applicant described his thesis as follows:
In my dissertation “Imperialism, Phalologocentrism and Vampire,” my rapprochement to the corpus of Vampiric texts throughout the Early Modern, Modern and Post-Modern periods, both cinematographic and in tradition format, is an endeavor to tease out the esoteric implications of parasitic-creative acts that re-motivate contestatory poetics and engage with other bodies as assimilative or hybridic processes rather than as identity generating substances. In doing so, I coin the term vam-text to describe this new parasitic subject that derives its substance based on the simultaneous attraction to and repulsion of the other, carrying with it a strong dose of ambivalence in which the vampiric subject desires what he must destroy. In this regard, I depart from the previous generation’s highly essentialist and moralist treatment of the vampire and reveal a transcendental grounding of all modern subjects. In short, we are all vampires.
Me: “Re-motivate contestatory poetics.” Oh, you mean “oppose” the status quo. But how can a parasite oppose the status quo? Also, doesn’t this sound like the lyrics to a song by Sting?
As a dissertator, my project is to identify the recent trend in literary texts written in conjunction with a constraint-bound, methodologically-driven program of empirical observations. Vamp-texts, while strictly dependent upon the Other’s sanguine essence, are in fact inventive and literary in a double sense. First, authors devise their urban itineraries much the same way that Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin described the flâneur and other voyeuristic subjects. Second, these texts document the results in a highly literary fashion, of the initial act of assimilation. In carrying out this reading, I mobilize post-modern and post-colonial, performance and gender theory, as well as psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and thing theory. Deploying a Deleuzian and Derridean framework that mirrors the texts and rethinks radically the current critical perspective, I also marshaling contemporary theories of adolescence and cinema studies, as well as economic globalism and eco-criticism in order to understand the larger implications of this kind of empirical writing that is typified in this corpus typifies. In a postmodern era where reality appears as its own simulacrum, where zombies and the undead walk the streets, and where globalized media culture has produced a widespread paralysis of the collective or social imaginary, these authors adhere their critical lenses to creatively map heretofore unimagined itineraries in a politically engaged literary praxis that calls into question the hegemonic notions of the subject as a living being.
Me: A dissertator? [In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice] I’ll be back!
To be continued…