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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Wednesday, July 23, 2003 In Modern Times, Chaplin finally speaks – in pseudo-Germanic gibberish.
It's as if the prescient Little Tramp saw ahead to today's Postmodern Times, when the language of scholar has become incomprehensible babble, as the National Post's Robert Fulford observes:
The perpetrators are by no means obscure hacks beavering away in the remote suburbs of academe. Dutton quotes Paul H. Fry, professor of English at Yale. He finds this in Fry's A Defense of Poetry: "It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness -- rather than the will to power -- of its fall into conceptuality."
Readers may imagine (as Dutton says) that they are too ignorant to understand "the absentation of actuality." Academic theorists take advantage of the innocent reader's natural humility. In this case, Dutton suggests: "The writing is intended to look as though Mr. Fry is a physicist struggling to make clear the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Of course, he's just an English professor showing off."
Mass culture now attracts the most bizarre theorizing. When moviemakers changed James Bond's brand of vodka, Aaron Jaffe of the University of Louisville wrote that this "carries a metaphorical chain of deterritorialized signifiers, repackaged up and down a paradigmatic axis of associations." (Via E. L. Core)
You, too, can write this stuff, with the help of the Postmodernism Generator. Hit refresh to create a new document of densely garbled and incoherent prose sure to impress your dissertation advisor.
At least when modern-day vaudevillian Alex the Jester talks tongue-twisting gibberish in his act, he's up-front about speaking nonsense.
Academics, by contrast, can be pretentious about it. Take this paper on the "Social-Pataphysiology of the Tongue" by a budding sociologist who goes so far as to render his name all in small-caps: Postmodern deconstruction brought to you by e. e. cummings. (Imagine what the writer will do with this headline. Keep an eye on the scholarly journals.)