Right-Wing Anti-Intellectualism (Gene Shalit Test Edition)


There's a nice example of right-wing anti-intellectualism in today's Washington Examiner, in which Charlotte Allen dubs Duke University the "worst university press" in America en route to declaring they all stink ever since they stopped being "dull but useful" by publishing "monographs on soybean production, treatises on the rise and fall of the water table in Vanuatu and statistical summaries of the frequency of garbage collection in Midwestern suburbs."

Exhibit A in Allen's fright-fest is Francesco Casetti's Inside the Gaze: The Fiction Film and Its Spectator, whose jacket copy reads:

"In what way does the film address its spectator? How does the film prefigure the spectator? Is the film aware of its orientation toward its spectator? And to what extent does it posit itself as the spectator's lead?"

To which Allen musters her best Gomer Pyle and avers: "Duke bills Inside the Gaze as a 'film theory classic [that] brings semiotics and psychoanalytic concepts to bear on the film experience.' But most readers won't get past Casetti's impenetrable lingo. And this is supposed to be a book about going to the movies, for heaven's sake!"

Her whole thing here.

C'mon, does it really take 25 years of book-larnin' to get through that copy? And is it so eggheaded to ask how moviemakers make assumptions about their audiences (or to call it "film" or "cinema")? Is it wrong to engage in film criticism that is a bit more demanding than the latest Leonard Maltin guidebook or Gene Shalit review?

As someone who sat through enough grad seminars in literary and cultural studies at the height of the "theory" period, I've been exposed to more than my share of bad academic writing and gratuitously jargon-filled prose. But pace Allen, who writes at the Independent Women's Forum Inkwell blog, academic books that use difficult language and/or technical terms are not necessarily "dull and useless." Yeah, most readers won't make it through Casetti's book–it's for a specialized audience. But that's exactly why it's being published by a university press such as Duke's. And it's worth noting that university presses, far from alienating readers by producing "produc[ing] thick tomes of bloated pontifications upon the trivial and the ordinary," are enlarging their readerships outside of traditional academics thanks to book superstores and an increasingly educated readership.

And props to Duke University press for years publishing Reason contributor Tom Peyser's Utopia and Cosmopolis: Globalization in the Era of American Literary Realism, which is (warning!) full of nickel-, dime-, and even quarter-sized words.