February 25th, 2011 / 10:50 pm

“…working class intellectuals like big words and their sentence formation is excessively ornate. It’s what they think of as ‘smart.’ Pomposity. It’s an embarrassing condition of being unsophisticated and not knowing what is truly smart which is simplicity and modernism…” —Eileen Myles



  1. Katherine Yemelyanov

      It’s true but it’s a product of isolation, I think.

  2. phmadore

      So what do middle-class intellectuals think of as smart, uppity twat?

  3. kb

      “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus

  4. Charles Dodd White


  5. Charles Dodd White


  6. deadgod

      … yuppie intellectuals like debunking sophistication preemptorily. It’s what they’re confident is ‘popular’. Leveling. It’s a blithe condition of impressing the likewise ambitious and not knowing what is truly rigorous which sometimes admits of complexity and complicated expression …

  7. M. Kitchell

      since when is eileen myles a yuppie?!

  8. herocious

      eileen miles is the rawest.

  9. herocious

      how embarrassing.

  10. Jimmy Chen

      style is style, even non-style. every word written is style. stop talking.

  11. deadgod


      not ad hominem; ad argumentum

  12. Frank Tas



  13. Another Sean

      Smacking elitist chicle in my braunschweiger world gets you nowhere.

      Jimmy Chen, you are correct.

  14. tomk

      Hmmm, dont know what to think. I like eileen myle’s writing a lot.
      What’s the context for the quote? Don’t like having class picked on, can feel all my heckles being raised. Why is being unsophisticated embarrassing….surely sophistication is a value system applied from above…why the blanketing tone? It must be out of context or something, right?

  15. zusya

      there’s no ‘smart’, only different kinds of ‘stupid’..

  16. David

      It needs to be pointed out that Eileen Myles comes from a working-class background, which she identifies with pretty fiercely and hasn’t left behind. So, though I’m not familiar with the exact context, it’s more than likely that this reference is to a form of working-class intellectuality she sees struggling to climb a ladder of professionalism and promotion – basically, what becomes the middlebrow – rather than develop a proletarian sensibility that is precisely not declasse but the epitome of authentic brilliance and, as she says, modernism.

  17. Guestagain

      tasty quote here, but not sure I ever met a working class intellectual, is that an oxymoron? I’m not even sure we have a working class anymore; most of those jobs have been exported by our gangster politicians, the only war those cowards have been able to win is the war on the working class. This is more accurate stripped of “working class” and applied to “intellectuals” in general, but Ms. Myles probably had to qualify this in some way to avoid a searing broad indictment. Fire bad.

  18. NLY

      I know what she’s talking about, and it’s real enough, but her tone is strange. It would be an easier point to make if she hadn’t tied it up in value judgments. There is such a backwards idea of being ‘smart’, and there is such a truism that ‘pomposity’ is generally not ‘smart’. It must have been possible to have made that point without making so many hairs prick up and holler, Ride your high horse into the garden of ideas, lady, just stay off my cabbages.

  19. Janey Smith

      Reynard? Like her or not, Eileen Myles paid for my dental bill last June. That said, I’m working poor–and a total precisionist.

  20. reynard

      well no it’s not really out of context, i mean, it is obviously (you may have noted the ellipses), but i wouldn’t have removed it from context if i didn’t feel that she also meant it to apply to the general

      however, i should say that she followed this by ‘certainly it was twenty years ago when I learned to write’ (referring of course to the new york school)

      actually you can read this whole essay here: http://www.woodlandpattern.org/gallery/eileen_myles01.shtml – this quote is from the fourth paragraph

  21. reynard

      yes david this is true, but isn’t it interesting that the knee-jerk reaction to this particular class critique is: it must be coming from the next floor up!? personally i do my best not to point this sort of thing out, but i am glad that you did

  22. reynard

      i think that is sort of silly but possibly for linguistic reasons alone, i think we still have a working class guestagain, it’s just that the work they do is different, it requires less manual labor, almost none, and involves the exchange of information, services, and ideas; it exploits invention, ingenuity, and greed, rather than suffering

      let’s say i was an engineer for boeing and i am going to build the new refilling plane or whatever that recent contract was for, and i make like $250k/yr which i think anyone would agree is a lot, but my mortgage and bills and sending kids to college and also i have another house in the mountains — i really need my job, i am not in control of my financial destiny — to me, this is working class, not middle class as many would say

      everything above the working class is those who are independently wealthy; they are holders of capital; they can shift large amounts of money around and so on; they own businesses small and large; etc.

      so, maybe it’s semantics, but no, as a working class pseudo-intellectual, i don’t think that’s an oxymoron at all

  23. reynard

      this is the last sentence of the paragraph this was taken from: “In general I think writers are not smart. They are something else and each writer can fill in a word here, but smart is not what that word is.”

  24. reynard

      i’m sure she cleaned yr teef up real nice janey

      & span

  25. Eric Burke

      Here’s the offensive bit: “But the working class person is above all afraid to seem dumb so in acting “smart” and footnoting everything they betray the insecurity and weightiness of the UNEXPERIENCED conclusion, which is an imitation of what writers are like.” (caps mine) Really? Who are these working class intellectuals? I would like to see some of their non-writing. Seems like what she says applies to some people at some stages of their development (like, say, students). Some of these people are working class, but some of them are not. They are simply “young” in their intellectual development. Maybe she thinks the rich are young only when they are young and working class schmoes are more likely to be young when they are adults and engaged in writing for the consumption of others. But this is bogus. Lots of rich folks don’t get (or dont GET) the education in humanities they should have in college. So, later in life, they are just as likely to suffer from the syndrome Ms. Myles describes. Bringing class into it is to succumb to stereotype.

  26. Eric Burke

      Needless to say, I should have said “The other offensive bit”

  27. reynard

      fair enough, but how do you feel about john frusciante’s solo work? i think niandra lades and usually just a t-shirt is surprisingly good, but then there’s this one song on the streets you hold & the song is called ‘nigger song’ so i don’t know like, i guess i’m asking do you feel that is bad also

  28. deadgod

      that’s interesting context, which includes, towards its end:

      You know how you can’t just meet someone in their country a few nights and then your country?

      You learn to repeat the experience a number of ways, to begin to compare the person to the people you know, to have that aha, and then realize that that impression is also wrong. Slowly the new friend begins to appear in your imagination like a kind of geological event you’ve never encountered before.

      this description of coming through ignorance to less ignorance (of a concrete particular) is quite in contrast to the earlier – perhaps simply phatic or jokey – dismissal of “working class”, “intellectuals”, “ornate”, and “unsophisticated” (some resolution of which I take to be “[p]omposity”)

      one might conclude that what I’m saying was generated by systematically undercompensated labor, but, that being true or not, later, one will realize that it’s the product of a confluence of unsuspected lithogenerative forces

  29. deadgod

      is there a next floor down?! (I mean: other than ‘out of doors’, or grampy’s basement)

      it is Myles – in the excerpt – who is saying which floor things come from

      it’s not just Myles’s identification of “class” that’s been lampooned and disputed

      there’s also her dismissal of difficulty

      but chiefly, for me, there’s the ‘sociology of knowledge’ scam: ‘don’t busy yourself with content in a text; analyze the writer from some angle and this analysis will generate for you the meaning of the text’

      this strategy – that of the excerpt, though maybe not of Myles elsewhere – is incompetent identity politics, and lose-lose reading comprehension

  30. Eric Burke

      I am not familiar with john frusciante’s work. So, I surf on over to the perilous lyrics sites and take a quick read of the lyrics of this song. Am I offended? Do I think this is bad? I do not know. I have not really thought about this song long enough to come to a conclusion. Nor do I want to, since these lyrics bore me. What is he doing? Identifying with those whom others call ‘niggers’? Making a claim that the ugly things he and the other’s called ‘niggers’ do is just fine so screw you who are doing the calling? Criticizing those who would stereotype and characterize the activities in the song as belonging to a ‘Nigger Song’? Bit o all of this? Or perhaps the opposite? Dunno. But I would ask if you think Ms. Miles is doing the same kind of thing in the piece quoted as Mr. Frusciante might be doing in his song. Even if she identifies herself as a working class intellectual, her statement seems to be a non-ironic, these-are-the-facts-as-she-knows-them statement. She means us to simply accept her statement as true. It is not.

      I am willing to admit that there might be cases where someone belonging to a pissed-upon-by-the-elite group might want to revel in the ugliness that the elite sees in their group, to stick their dirty finger in the eye that judges. In so doing, they might affirm that that ugliness exists in the group, belongs to the group. And this may, in certain cases, have artistic merit. But I do not think that this is what Ms. Myles is doing. Nor would it make it a true statement.

  31. deadgod

      the blurring of distinction between working and middle is a good point

      for example: American factory worker (well, before reaganomics), as opposed to factory workers in poor countries

      for another: office workers who get paid okay and work relatively safely, but who do dreary work the drudgerious peer of factory/farm labor

      for a third: skilled manual labor – plumbing, say – , which is not-badly-paid work

      BUT: there is still, in America/Europe/East Asia, a difference between ‘working comfy’ and ‘working desperate’ – 250k/annum + “i am not in control of my financial destiny” = cray zee

      and: the issue of political economy is not an issue of equitable compensation; it is an issue of compensation-at-all

      (I have a splinter in my foot from this soap-box, which I use to see what’s up on the factory floor)

  32. Tom Willard

      So I guess we throw Joyce, DFW, Pynchon and Vollmann out the window then… What shame they must feel in the face of the staggering genius of Myles…

  33. tomk

      thanks man.

  34. reynard

      good show

  35. reynard

      yeah fuck those guys

  36. reynard

      actually look, this is not an all or nothing thing, in fact nothing is all or — it’s really not that hard to distinguish between ornateness for its own sake and that which is useful, it’s hard to deny that a lot of people use types of speech in ways that are unnecessary and which really get in the way of what they are trying to say

      while all of the authors you mentioned definitely possess ornate prose, they are also extremely economical, especially compared with say, trade fiction.

  37. reynard

      actually look, this is not an all or nothing thing, in fact nothing is all or — it’s really not that hard to distinguish between ornateness for its own sake and that which is useful, it’s hard to deny that a lot of people use types of speech in ways that are unnecessary and which really get in the way of what they are trying to say

      while all of the authors you mentioned definitely possess ornate prose, they are also extremely economical, especially compared with say, trade fiction.

  38. shaun gannon

      i like to trade fiction

  39. David

      deadgod, i think you’re maybe missing what she skewers here. she isn’t dismissing difficulty. after all, isn’t “modernism” synonymous with difficulty? or at least, in the hierarchy of critical values, praised for being a model of such? that’s the implicit point i think she’s making: the creation of a working class intelligentsia is based in the anxiety over intelligence as authentic self-possession. writing is inauthentic, not a pursuit of sound knowledge. it’s more like taking the soundings of knowledge. which means something like the sociology of knowledge approach that you dismiss, except entirely unsociological.

      i generally agree with the point of taking up a point of criticising a text for its material conditions of production without engagement with the content. but there’s no text referred to here: a statement is made about the conditions of production only. applying it as reading comprehension isn’t to the point, no more than loving John Ashbery is an argument for writing only in his style, as though it were the only way to make a brilliant poetic statement. so what’s her point? perhaps that writing is not versatility within and mastery of a paradigm of knowledge but a sort of obtuseness and even stupidity toward it. a “simplicity”. or that purple prose – to which she is clearly referring – comes about not as an infacility in writerly talent but rendering undereducated “the insecurity and weightiness of the unexperienced conclusion”. the cultivation of merit rather than the difficulty of a modernism. notice here the attacks on her fall exactly on the grounds she describes: who are these working class intellectuals? where’s the proof? she isn’t “footnoting everything”. but outside of the fact that leaves the statement there to be had, or not, it isn’t abjuring evidence, i don’t think. it’s saying evidence can derive from a different source: what Kant calls Evidenz, in which the still objective grounds for truth an immanent quality of judgement and knowledge rather than some external means of deriving and supporting conclusions. so, in footnoting here, what I’m proving by authority is a point she makes without, and gets treated like a twit for doing so. We might say, in that respect, the sociology of knowledge is exactly what she’s criticising. That and the fact that working class intellectualism is found worthy only when it unpacks itself in a critically explicated way. As in this comment. Proving the point that the need to “footnote everything”, which is not to say abandoning standards of reasoning, is, definitely, a class thing, a subterraneanly sentimental 19th century encyclopeadism. An exercise in reaffirming the superior reality of psychological verisimiltude over the more challenge future of the unexperienced, which is to say genuinely abstract, conclusion.

  40. AGB

      Why not take this opportunity to address your own pomposity, myopia, privilege, and stupidity? Why throw it back in Myles’ face using excessively ornate sentences? Unless you’re feeling a little defensive, that is….

  41. David

      correct to the above: i meant to write, “for myles, writing is inauthentic, not a pursuit of sound knowledge. it’s more like taking the soundings of knowledge. which means something like the sociology of knowledge approach that you dismiss, except entirely unsociological.” apologies for that, i hope it reads a little clearer now.

  42. Guestagain

      reynard’s engineer is upper middle class. deadgod’s plumber is middle class. What was once the working class is now the working poor and attempting to support families with the kinds of part time minimum wage retail jobs that were once taken by students. This is the so-called service economy and it started with NAFTA, a Clinton/Gingrich-era brainstorm. This sent manufacturing out of the country and eroded the tax base, which is why we can’t balance state budgets are forced to make draconian cuts. Repeal of banking regulations established after the great depression (Glass-Steagall Act) allowed banks to get into investment markets resulting in casino capitalism and the sub prime mortgage meltdown. All this makes up the crux of our economic problems and most economists are in agreement it has all been a dismal failure. Politicians on the left and right have sold this country down the river. Sorry if I’ve cheered everyone up with dry objectivity.

  43. Christopher Higgs

      As a constructive rebuttal to my Judith Butler power quote, this works well. I like how it’s conjured a conversation, and think it’s interesting that people seem to be engaging more with Myles’s words than Butler’s.

      It is true, one of the major criticisms lodged against JB is in reference to her willfully obscure style, some go so far as to claim that she’s not a very good writer. Of course, I don’t believe in such a thing as “good writer” — for me there are only different kinds of writing or different kinds of writers.

      Although I am not extremely familiar with Eileen Myles’s work, I have been interested in checking out her new INFERNO book. As well, the book this quote comes from also looks interesting. But I must say, I dislike any position that promotes simplicity.

      Simplicity leads us away from novels, toward twitter.
      –for example, many of my students can’t be bothered to trudge through a ten page essay, and often times they say things like: “the author could have said what they wanted to say in like a page”

      Simplicity leads us away from critical thinking, toward acceptance of institutional dogma.
      –for example, religion offers simplistic answers to the complexity of the universe: god created everything, dude has a plan, wives obey your husbands, and so on.

      I could go on and on, but the bottom line is: Eileen Myles is wrong. What is “truly smart” is quite obviously NOT simplicity.

      You know who else complains about people using “big words” and “ornate sentences”? Sarah Palin and tea party crowd. Ouch.

  44. deadgod

      Efficiently made point: “ornate” can be ‘economical’ and “economical” can lead to ‘trite; dishonest; meretricious’.

      But reynard – let’s look again at the excerpt: it is “an all or nothing thing”. And, as I’d hoped to show (above), the “working class” and “unsophisticated” reductions are in contrast to a finely grained sensitivity (to amity) that the essay ends with.

      – which is cool: saying something in an essay that one wanders away from to almost its contrary – especially, something would-be comical.

      But — not to be suffocatingly serious, at least not without a snorkel — that excerpt, in its immediate context in the essay, is the kind of jive that ought to raise hackles and heckles.

  45. AGB

      One can’t be thoughtful and seeking via short, concise sentences? Because Sarah Palin cynically attacks “elites” for her own political gain that effectively invalidates the points Myles was trying to make? Does this logic withstand any scrutiny whatsoever?

      I wonder, do you guys have any interest at all in breaking free from your bubble — in considering how people without advanced degrees think, feel, lead their lives, etc. — or are you content to flap around in your hermetically-sealed chambers, jerking each other’s chains? To pretend class does not inform, and to a large extent determine, one’s ability to appreciate and work through complex literary, metaphysical, political matters is desperately, hopelessly wrong.

      I have to say, watching ostensible liberal humanists blather about with such a paucity of class consciousness is sad, although at this point unsurprising.

  46. deadgod

      Conceded, as I should have from the start: when people ‘jump up’ in a hierarchy – whether of many or of two – , a persisting overcompensatory striving often characterizes or co-constitutes their subsequent efforts.

      Is some particular arriviste chameleon-camo a natural articulation, or an “embarrassing” calling-of-attention to what hasn’t fit ‘naturally’ (or at all)? – a fair, albeit cruel, question.

      When Myles says “excessively [slippery word, here] ornate”, “[p]omposity”, “unsophisticated”, and, especially, “simplicity”, she is “dismissing difficulty” – unless one take her words away from her in order to help her out??

      [Quibble: Modernism isn’t “synonymous with difficulty”; modernism is characterized by, among other attributes, ‘difficulty’ – by its
      hostile critics, by specious difficulty – but so are many other formations characterized by ‘difficulty’, like Pindar, Horace, and their kind of poetry. (Pindaric poetry is a symptom of a perpetual, occasionally re-surfacing “modernity” in Western Civ? Well, that’s a whole other conversation.) Literary modernism was and is criticized for its easy – perfunctory – assimilations, for not being critical enough, rigorous enough, for being a threadbarely clad emperor – for not being difficult enough in the (supposed) superficiality of its methods. Maybe I’m not interpreting Myles’s “modernism” aptly.]

      Is Myles really making “a statement […] about the conditions of production” (of knowledge), or is she reasoning from the identity of knowers to the quality of knowledge? I don’t think this is an empty distinction – not if the “condition for production” is exactly that identity. As with Bourdieu’s ‘sociology of knowledge’, this ‘discovery’ of circularity, to me, simply admits of more error – more slippage – than the purchase it promises will bear, as well as being distracted from what some particular “intellectual” could actually be saying.

      “[T]he superior reality of psychological verisimilitude over the more challeng[ing] future of the unexperienced [abstract] conclusion” — David, that’s not, or not categorically, true of “working class intellectuals” – that’s true of the academy, of academic intellectuals, the knowing class, the institutionalization of the production of knowledge.

      A critique of the Academy of Fine Ideas, by way of scorning the ‘footnoting’ of one’s argument? – terrific – but to say that what Myles is doing here, by not giving examples of or even argument for the idea in this excerpt, is criticizing the production of a kind of knowledge, is, it seems strongly to me, special pleading.

      She’s cast an unargued-for (in this essay) aspersion – perhaps self-correctively! – in (I think) a humorous tone, smearing together “truly smart” and “simplicity” in opposition to the smeared-together “working class” and ‘excessively ornamental pomp’. This, to me, is “cultivation” of a different kind of “merit” – not a meritorious kind.

      For exciting this rococo dialogue: Shame, Eileen Myles!

  47. reynard

      totes dog, that is true, also i agree with the point you made above about the last paragraph, i think one of myles’s real strengths is the ability to be harsh and fluffy at once, if one pays attention, because she definitely begs of your attention, probably it’s because she’s a dike

  48. Eric Burke

      Class does NOT determine one’s proclivity towards pomposity and the unexperienced conclusion, as Myles claims. Class does to a large extent determine one’s access to higher education and one’s ability to spend a lot of time being an intellectual (since we are using that term). It may mean that there are likely to be fewer working class intellectuals than rich/middle class intellectuals. Maybe. But it does not mean that those working class folk who do become intellectuals are less capable or more foolish. Many of them have advanced degrees (which does NOT disqualify them from being working class); some do not. Certainly, among working class poets, I do not find any of the proclivities that Myles mentions. Read David Ignatow, for example. Tell me how he is deficient in the manner that you describe or defective in the manner that Myles describes. He is not. Read the glut of working class poets (famous and not) who work in a self-consciously anti-academic idiom, where raw and real is the goal. There is no trace of the pomposity, excessive fondness for big words, unexperienced conclusions, etc. that Myles would indict them with.

      Sure, poverty and its next of kin are limiting. This is obvious. But this is not the claim that Myles is making and it is not the claim that is being discussed by the folks you accuse of being in a bubble.

  49. reynard

      wait so would you say an assembly line worker or an auto industry union member is middle class? because the question of money says that they would be, but i’m pretty sure that dude or dudette would be insulted by the idea he/she was not a part of the working class. go tell the people striking in wisconsin they’re middle class – actually, the problem is they DO think they’re in the middle class and that simply isn’t true (in my opinion).

      if you’re going to talk about money, where do you draw the line? that’s why i prefer to think about where the power is, and if you don’t have it, you’re in the working class. of course we have poverty in america, but if you’re going to call our lowest economic sector the working class, well, they’re unemployed or make minimum wage, that is not a living wage so to me that is not even working.

      again, this is just a matter of words, but it does matter because the meaning of words has a profound affect on what we conceive of as a collective truth – for instance, the school of the americas changed its name to the western hemisphere institute for security cooperation – why? because it’s hard to say and it has no personality. do they still train the elite of latin america to rule over their people with an iron fist? of course they do. after wwii the us changed the name of the department of war to the department of defense, why? because its intention was no longer that of defense but of war, so you know does it really matter that i am saying this? probably not, people are, by in large, going to go on saying that the western world in general has this huge middle class and i will continue to think it is a colossal misconception

  50. Eric Burke

      Or rather: Myles makes a very specific claim about the way in which being working class is limiting, and she is wrong. Of course it is limiting in a more general sense. But it does not have the specific effect she claims.

  51. deadgod

      Eileen Myles holds back water from sometime-seabed??

      joke, and by that I mean jyke, and by that I mean unit of humorosity, and by that I mean I’ll get my coat

  52. Amy McDaniel

      Christopher, I feel like you are disagreeing with the use of “simplicity” based on how you define it, rather than based on how Myles uses it. I don’t think she means simplicity is lack of rigor, or certainly not lack of length in chapters. Surely you don’t think your students are right in saying she author even COULD have said the same thing in a page? Like, surely something would be lost, in what the author is doing. I believe Myles is talking about saying more for saying more’s sake. More syllables, not because they sound right, or because they advance purpose or beauty or charge, but merely to sound smart. You are talking about simplistic, even in your own words. Simple is not simplistic. Sure, you can use simple to mean dumb. But I don’t think that’s how Myles is using it. Also, she doesn’t say don’t be ornate; she says don’t be excessively ornate.

      With all this, I’m sure you still have grounds to disagree with her, and I’d be interested to hear about them; for now, I don’t think your statement that she is wrong seems based on how she is using the words she’s using.

  53. deadgod

      Well, those people in Wisconsin – the emergency-room nurses, teachers of wild or differently-abled kids, firemen, and so on – are, many of them, paying down mortgages (i. e. buying houses from banks). I think that’s qualitatively different from paying a landlord’s mortgage + buying a jet ski for the landlord’s family.

      True, the landlord is another layer of bankster, of capital, but there is a “middle” between ‘desperately breaking even in terms of sustenance’ and ‘sustenance is not an issue’.

      The bottom and middle definitely reach pretty far up and down into each other, but I think public employees in the US are fighting to bargain collectively with the end of maintaining a way of life where necessity doesn’t account for so close to 100% of the compensation for labor.

  54. reynard

      not to beat a dead dog into the ground with a fence post driver but i think both you and your students are right, and you need to figure out where to find some common ground

      i am a huge fan of public intellectuals because they put themselves into a position, or anyhow get put into a position, where they are forced to become very poetic about big ideas, they must make beautiful metaphors, otherwise they will be ineffective and they’re too intelligent to do that

      on the other hand, in the academy ornate speech is used the way a medical journal has a lot of medical terms, to me that is whatever

      but then you have people i suppose outside of academia who are thus part of the public domain and working somehow to pay their bills, the total amount of those bills is irrelevant to me, and they are speaking essentially to other working members of the intelligentsia using this ornate language, then i think it often becomes excessive

      i learned to write from stunk & white, where the flow of logic ideally jumps from the end of one sentence to the beginning of the next so that the reader is taken on a series of strolls to an idea or group of ideas maybe

      obviously i don’t really do that all the time because sometimes its more fun not to or things can be done better using another technique, but i think basically that is the idea for how to communicate with most people

      as you said, judith butler is not easy to follow. even just the one paragraph is confusing and required that i read it probably three times before i really got it

      i don’t think it’s always the case that something said in five pages could be said better in one page but sometimes it can. myles discusses robert walser in the next paragraph for this very reason, what i just said in like four paragraphs myles said in none; the subtle juxtaposition (the subsequent space) said it all already

  55. deadgod

      Let me quarrel with a false equivalence here.

      The NAFTA idea was to foster a middle class in Mexico, so Mexicans could live happily in Mexico rather than (somewhat) unhappily in America. It was assumed – capitulated – that American capital would flee to wherever labor was cheaper — and this assumption was, had been for decades, and continues to be perfectly rational in the light of corporate management policy.

      Why hold “[p]oliticians on the left” responsible for exporting jobs?? – which was hugely happening before NAFTA and would have continued without NAFTA (and probably with even more and greater deleterious effects).

      What NAFTA did was to increase the ability of Mexicans to work and so to live in Mexico, but the religious policy of Increasing Efficiency (by seeking the cheapest labor costs) – hell, that theocracy was and continues to be forced on everybody by corporate favoring of quarterly reports over sustainably long- and even mid-term economic health.

  56. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, Amy,

      I’ll admit I have really hard time understanding what Myles is trying to say, so it could be that I’m misunderstanding her.

      The final part of the quote is a good example of how confusing supposedly clear language can be: “what is truly smart…is simplicity and modernism.”

      What does “simplicity” mean? If it is truly a matter of quantity, as you point out she uses the modifier “excessively” ornate, than this reduces to the realm of relativity. What for you seems excessively ornate, to me seems only moderately ornate, and to someone else might seem only minimally ornate. Who determines what is excessive? What criteria do we have to make that judgment?

      But even more egregious, what on earth does “modernism” mean? There are entire schools of thought, entire shelves of anthologies, entire conferences (perennial conferences!) focused on the question “what is modernism” — so for Myles to state simply and clearly that what is “truly smart is simplicity and modernism” makes absolutely no sense.

      Ultimately, this is my critique. Those who argue for simplicity ignore the complexity at the heart of ideas and words. Clarity is not the opposite of opacity, it is actually a covert synonym for opacity.

      Butler says as much, in that quote I quoted, a few more lines down, she says:

      The demand for lucidity forgets the ruses that motor the ostensibly “clear” view…What travels under the sign of “clarity,” and what would be the price of failing to deploy a certain critical suspicion when the arrival of lucidity is announced? Who devises the protocols of “clarity” and whose interests do they serve? What is foreclosed by the insistence on parochial standards of transparency as requisite for all communication? What does “transparency” keep obscure?


  57. David

      Just quickly: to this point – “When Myles says “excessively [slippery word, here] ornate”, “[p]omposity”, “unsophisticated”, and, especially, “simplicity”, she is “dismissing difficulty” – unless one take her words away from her in order to help her out??”

      I have to disagree, deadgod: she’s talking about what composes the simple, which is, of course, an exceedingly complex – though not excessively ornate – question. There’s no need to take her words away from her to understand that she adds one more: modernism. If she wanted to take about simplicity only, she could have stopped at that. And things would, indeed, have been a lot more “simple”, though not in the way she means to signal the content of simplicity. Because modernism indicates something else, something that complicates what she means by simplicity.

      As for your argument about modernism as difficult among other things, well, we could argue back and forth, forever, about what valence is placed on modernism’s difficulty. Whether modernism is synonymous with difficulty v. merely characterised by, among many other attributes. I stand by synonymous, since modernism, very peculiarly, is still associated with it in our literary imagination. And it was also part of modernism’s brief: to shed ties with the straddling of the educated/uneducated reader (which, mind you, was a difference between educated intelligences: between a lay and elite intelligence) defined by 19thC realist prose in favour of artistic productions so intellectual, so allusively and intertextually dense, they often even surpass the reading knowledge of the elite readership itself. Obviously, other difficulties of form exist but as you note, modernism’s difficulty stands out specifically to us because it has been subject to accusations of difficulty for difficulty’s sake, often by the elite itself at the time, who saw in it an interloping canonicity, a bogus modern classicism. Today, modernism is nothing but the canon and the modern classic so the critics turned out to be right but only because they are now its fondest readers. And that position, of course, is what Myles is obviously against: in her saying knowing what is truly smart is simplicity and modernism, she’s also necessarily saying modernism is not tenured difficulty. It’s something simpler and ‘not smart’, a literary technic, not a episteme. Going off the content of the rest of her article, I’d argue she’s using modernism here – especially since she references Walser – as a shorthand for that kind of literary exploration which mixes personal observation and intertextual reference, with a set style modulated through a series of interweaving scales (as opposed to postmodernism’s interweaving of styles through a set scale), defined above all by the injunction to make it new. The deliberate eschewal of the term postmodernism is also crucial here, I think. That’s the word that feels like it is negated by the word – modernism – she anachronistically puts in its place even while defining it as something different from what it was in the past.

      On this point: “David, that’s not, or not categorically, true of “working class intellectuals” – that’s true of the academy, of academic intellectuals, the knowing class, the institutionalization of the production of knowledge.” Agreed that the knowing class is not a working class phenomenon nor the instutituonalisation of knowledge but Myles is making a more subtle argument, I’d contend. Perhaps this will be seen as more “special pleading” but the argument is there to my eyes: she mentions the 19thC, she mentions Dickens and Alcott, and what she also mentions is that what was there to fantasize about was antique. It seems to me that Myles is saying that the working class intellectual is placed in a special relation to the institutionalisation of knowledge in that the working class is likely to look backward – the 19thC was as likely as the 21st – and in this, mistake for authenticity a psychological verisimilitude and encyclopedism that was not working class. Dickens was not working class. Alcott was not working class, nor was Jo, though in Little Women, the family suffers terrible poverty due to the Civil War. Marx was not working class, though he was frequently broke. What Marx gives to the working class is indispensable – but the indispensability is a problem if we all want to be the next Marx – hence, the tart Santa and elves remark is funny for precisely placing Marx in the role of the distributer of the gifts to the working class (our Santa) that the working class, as elves, slave to produce in the workshop. So her argument runs to a special relation between the working class and intellectuality and how class is groomed. All this in passing, which is Myles’ very proletarian talent: the deep intelligence of her street poetry.

      Lastly, to whether Myles is saying something to the effect of whether the working class should not footnote and use big words, like the bourgeois or the academic or whatever, I don’t think so, since she makes the point that the plan in American democracy is for people to be free to be dumb. But what she also says – when she returns to that word dumb – is that the working class intellectual is above all afraid to be seen as dumb. And that fear is not corrected insofar as it thinks it can ever master the apparatus of class-economicized knowledge: footnoting everything. Insofar as it is about the unexperiencec condlusion, then, writing is the working class university.

  58. Amy McDaniel

      I’m currently reading Inferno, and I just heard Myles read, so I didn’t actually read her quote as a rebuttal to Butler. Myles has, beautifully and necessarily, her own grammar. Parts of that are made from the kind of conventional grammar Butler talks about, maybe, but those conventions are also being upended and often ignored in Myles’s sentences. She writes, “Cause I could know myself, that’s all. Some lazy thing I could always do because I was dumb and not normal, but special…something crazy–maybe that could be my job? I had that thought just briefly one tiny light and then it was gone.”

      Surely, part of what Myles is putting forward is an aesthetic preference. So? Why begrudge her that? But the main thing, for me, is I think something pretty specific, something that I think I’ve seen. As a teacher, I have students who think they will sound smarter if they say commencement instead of smart, or that it is more evocative to say vermilion instead of…I don’t even know. Red? Blue? Red, apparently. Now, surely, it is sometimes okay and good to say commencement or vermillion. But in student writing, it can sound pompous, and silly. And then sometimes they misuse the big words. People would laugh at them for this, when they think they will be taken more seriously. As a teacher, I do think they should be aware of that.

  59. Dan Moore

      I don’t think the solution to the problem of hydroplaning over the surface of clear writing is Judith Butler’s needlessly obfuscated sentences. That’s like trying to make your reader feel how hot a fictional environment is by setting some pages on fire.

      In any case I find Butler’s style just as desperate to avoid critical suspicion, by means of its affected rigor and its hysterical, academic voice. People are engaging more with Myles’s words because they’re written in a way that allows and encourages engagement.

  60. Guestagain

      I only listed what happened and business will go wherever it can like water. Not to restate the whole thing, but NAFTA was a Clinton/Gingrich production. If our politicians take donations because they have to save their seat before they save the country to allow business to export intellectual property, dies/tooling, manufacturing, to restart the industrial age in another country and take the tax base with them, then there are a number of things here we can no longer pay for so have to either borrow or cut. Germany does not do this and finished 2010 in a very good domestic growth position. This is the objective state of things and I don’t know that there is any argument to be made about it but you can try.

  61. deadgod

      Not to restate the whole thing, but, before – long before – NAFTA, “American” companies had been industrially abandoning America (while phonily supporting American consumers by supporting import tariffs on “foreign” products). The objective state of things is that NAFTA did not introduce the export of American jobs to “American” corporations as an accumulation strategy (one with the unhappy effect of killing the goose of a tax base).

      It’s not true that “we can no longer pay” for things. It is the objective state of things that the bills for 1) an unnecessary, stupidly fought. and still-lied-about war, 2) continuing reluctance to make owners and managers of corporations pay their fair share, 3) tax giveaways to rich people, and 4) the socialization of the risk undertaken by lenders and traders in loans, all make paying for socialized investment difficult. Blaming NAFTA for these deductions to the common weal of America is irrational.

  62. deadgod

      Well, it sounds like you’re saying that Myles “isn’t dismissing difficulty” (you taking up my words) by calling “simplicity” “truly smart”, because she understands complexity to be what “composes the simple”. That’s what I mean by ‘taking her words away from her’ – not letting a word mean the opposite of its contrary!

      Essential to Myles’s discussion is that “[f]or all intents and purposes [Walser] was 19th [century] […] the century of the working class”, that Walser’s micrographs are of the same “century” as Dickens and Alcott (??). – and that Walser’s writing isn’t “modernism”, “working-class” writing that ‘looks back’ at the “century of the horse” as it does (?). I think she’s just not in control – in this piece – of the terms she’s using.

      Myles says that “in acting ‘smart’ and footnoting everything [working class people] betray the insecurity and weightiness of the unexperienced conclusion” – this is not to the effect of recommending that working-class intellectuals not ‘footnote’??

      For Myles, “dumb” is a Bad Thing, and a Bad version of “dumb” is ‘acting “smart” in a dumb way’. – and this “acting”, on the part of the “working class”, is by way of the excessive ornament of pompous self-explication. David, is “working class” really a useful way to get at purple rhetoric of the Academy?

      It’s, to me, a loosely-woven ‘essay’ – fine; an instigation. To see in it rigor is, I think anyway, to impose rather than to discover.

  63. Guestagain

      I agree with much of this to varying degrees, but NAFTA is a best and most egregious example and the tax giveaways there have been made clear. These government/business deals happen in backrooms with secret handshakes, but with NAFTA we were warned publically about jobs disappearing en masse in a giant sucking sound during the 92 campaign as Clinton looked to the floor red faced and shaking his head. It is true that we can no longer pay for things, China is financing Treasury and our heroes are again negotiating to raise the debit ceiling. We can end the 2 wars and soak the wealthy for 99 cents on the dollar instead of 43 cents on the dollar but still come nowhere close to covering the tax revenue and transactions generated by the now exported industrial sector of the economy. My primary point here was speculating somewhat sarcastically on if we still had a working class in response to the phrase “working class intellectual” which struck me as oddly specific at the time. Those trying to feed a kid all day on minimum wage have a more profound sense of shit then either of us and the situation is a failure of government and politics which has been bribed so rolled on the regulation responsibility over markets that will naturally run wild without them, we’ve been through all this in the 1920s.