July 16th, 2011 / 11:40 am
Power Quote

Power Quote: Trinh T. Minh-Ha

To use language well, says the voice of literacy, cherish its classic form. Do not choose the offbeat at the cost of clarity. Obscurity is an imposition on the reader. True, but beware when you cross railroad tracks for one train may hide another train. Clarity is a means of subjection, a quality both of official, taught language and of correct writing, two old mates of power: together they flow, together they flower, vertically, to impose an order. Let us not forget that writers who advocate the instrumentality of language are often those who cannot or choose not to see the suchness of things—a language as language—and therefore, continue to preach conformity to the norms of well-behaved writing: principles of composition, style, genre, correction, and improvement. To write “clearly,” one must incessantly prune, eliminate, forbid, purge, purify; in other words, practice what may be called an “ablution of language” (Roland Barthes). (pg. 16-17)

Trinh T. Minh-Ha – Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (Indiana University Press, 2009)


  1. deadgod

      “Obscurity is an imposition on the reader.  True, but [c]larity is a means of subjection[.]”  That’s good:  “clarity” in the sense of “prune, eliminate, forbid, purge, purify” – clarity in the sense of instrumentalized discipline.

      But there are other senses of “clarity” of indication and disclosure, “clarity” of and in linguistic path-making being used to get out of the way:


      In the sense of transparence,
      I don’t mean that much can be explained.

      Clarity in the sense of silence.

      Clarity, clarity, surely clarity is the most beautiful thing in the world,
      A limited, limiting clarity

      I have not and never did have any motive of poetry
      But to achieve clarity

      –Oppen, Of Being Numerous (22) and Route (1)

  2. Margaret

      Good use of the power quote. Are you reading that book?

  3. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks, Margaret.  Last week, I had my summer school students read the above linked selection from this book in conjunction with a week spent studying Theresa Cha’s Dictee.

  4. bk

      This quote’s got some juice for sure, but who believes that the issue of “clarity” can be so definitively politicized?