here's what I've been thinking about for the past month or semester:
There's a tactics of starkness, an aesthetics of starkness, of blockage. Reading these writers (continental/literary theory/etc) I can sense a ramping up of style, a sort of linear roller-coaster ride across the terrain of the essay, height indicating the difficulty or convolution. Things start out slow, get a little bumpy, climb hills, do triple loops, there is a climactic spike, and then a smooth denouement. What happens to the reader is that he/she starts slow, gets eased in, starts holding on tighter, etc. There are there are portions when the reader holds on for dear life, barely understanding but turning pages nonetheless. At the end, the reader is so grateful for morsels of understanding that the last sentence comes as a stunning blow, an aesthetic fanfare. Trumpets, etc.
There's a price paid for clarity, though, of letting the audience know what you are saying -- which is of a lack of a flattering image, of a lack of mystique. Without a degree of convolution it seems -- it seems like the essay reveals too much, or is too easy. There's a deference accorded to that-which-you-do-not-understand, looking up onto mountains not-yet-understandable; having revealed all of its secrets, a plainer text which argues the same falls flat. I attribute much of the fame of Fried's Art and Objecthood to the last sentence -- "presentness is grace" -- which is essentially a cryptic phrase that begs to be opened up. There is a withdrawal in crypticness, in harshness, the text berates and abuses the reader and the reader responds with adulation, maybe. Yes, more, more.
How this relates to me is this question of -- what about me? What do I do? Do I say "screw this -- I want you to know what I am saying" and write plainly, clearly? Do I say "I want to write what I want to write" and mix in many convoluted expressions (like I am probably doing right now?) Is there an immorality (in terms of my own moral structure) to using these tactics knowingly? Is there an integrity to not using these tactics too much?
And then on the other hand, these tactics are things that deal just with style, format not content (if I even believe in these distinctions anymore in the world of Derrida's parergons and supplements).
I think -- I think the core of this worry has to do with an integrity I wish for in writing and literature, for it to be free of a politics. Or at least, to be free in terms of an active political manipulation between the writer and the reader.
I think what I need to think is to decide where what I write lies. Is it closer to literature, a magic trick where part of the joy lies in the incomprehension of the illusion? Is it a scientific or engineering document where the elegance of the creation is in the transparent mechanisms of its workings?
And maybe I'm attributing these tactics to the author too much. The operation of these tactics really lie in the possibility for it to be used on a crowd of readers. If everyone saw obfuscation for what it was then things might not be so bad. The problem is that that's not always the case -- sometimes I know exactly what's going on, yet am swept up in the rush of emotions and feelings conjured up by something. That's always the problem, isn't it? Aesthetics covering over politics.