Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Reader Mail Day!!

I've gotten some really good letters from readers this week, and it's time to share.

Sam wrote to say that as a professor and a dad, he has "come to question the limits that professional life places on family roles." He also offers a dead on critique of academic writing and the insularity of the university. Not only is academic writing sometimes intensionally dense, as Crooked Timber has been discussing, but most (but not all) academic articles have become too arid, incestuous, and jargonized.

In any event, I wanted to respond to your "New Tricks" post and encourage you to take the plunge out of academic writing. I have done the same, though from the relative comfort of a tenured position, and all I can say is I may never go back. We are trained in graduate school to believe that anything non-academic is, basically, worthless. And we are drawn into a small circle of others where we turn back on ourselves constantly. Writing for a (gasp!) popular audience is, by contrast, liberating. You can escape the jargon, the incestuousness, the obsequiousness, and, frankly, the aridness of the academy and, on top of it all, people actually read what you write and care about it. It will be difficult but you should certainly give it a go. If you get a few things published, you will see how cheering it can be.

I mentioned Sam's critique to my dad, a political science professor, who whole heartedly agreed. He pointed out that in the past, the greatest thinkers, such as Hobbes and Rousseau, came from outside the university. Perhaps blogging can democratize the idea industry. Not only do academic bloggers have to learn to write more accessibly, but their ideas can be challenged by non-academics. And non-academic bloggers can get their ideas out without wasting 8 years in the university.

After working on this blog for the past few months, I find that the academic writing style has become onerous. Its rigid rules have become too confining. And the topics too arcane. How thrilling to write stuff that people might find interesting. I have tasted the sweet nectar of writing for a larger audience than the five fogies on a dissertation committee, and I'm hooked.

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