Sociologist C. Wright Mills, in critically examining “grand theorists” in his field who used verbosity to cover for a lack of profundity, pointed out that people respond positively to this kind of writing because they see it as “a wondrous maze, fascinating precisely because of its often splendid lack of intelligibility.” But, Mills said, such writers are “so rigidly confined to such high levels of abstraction that the ‘typologies’ they make up—and the work they do to make them up—seem more often an arid game of Concepts than an effort to define systematically—which is to say, in a clear and orderly way, the problems at hand, and to guide our efforts to solve them.”
Obscurantism is more than a desperate attempt to feign novelty, though. It’s also a tactic for badgering readers into deference to the writer’s authority. Nobody can be sure they are comprehending the author’s meaning, which has the effect of making the reader feel deeply inferior and in awe of the writer’s towering knowledge, knowledge that must exist on a level so much higher than that of ordinary mortals that we are incapable of even beginning to appreciate it.
Nathan J. Robinson on misdirection.
This is about Jordan Peterson—because of course it is—who’s a dude I’d never heard of until, like, Camestros Felapton started posting about Peterson’s woeful-sounding 12 Rules. But apparently Peterson’s the alt-right’s new philosophical darling because he likes to use big words to describe small mindsets which, yanno. Go figure.
As an aside, though; there’s an entire school of fiction writing which also falls into the “so verbose it must be deep” bucket. It turns up a lot in Certain Unnamed SFF Magazines and… yeah. I can’t stand it there, either.
Like, seriously kids. Something being too abstruse for you to understand doesn’t actually make it “smart”; most of the time it just makes it badly written.1
- And this is coming from someone who likes abstruse/surrealist/ambiguous media! [↩]