“There was never anything ugly, or misshapen, but the chaos.”—Sir Thomas Browne

There is too much joy in clarity. We need more confusion. In today’s world, a man can pick up a children’s book and understand the thing the whole way through. This makes him giddy. We need more scholarly writing: In today’s world, a man reads twenty pages of a scholarly article and is so utterly confounded by the overuse of big words and poor prose that he is overwhelmingly depressed. Not only will his demeanor change from giddiness to seriousness in a heartbeat, he will also feel incredibly stupid. This depresses him. This is good. Context is not King when we read, for context is socially constructed. In the same way clarity must not be King when we write, for the more unclear we can be in our writing, the better the writing is. If we know what the writer is saying, we have the opportunity to be joyful. Good, depressing writing is like good, depressing communication, and if more forms of communication adopted this premise, chaos would ensue and joy would be dead. I posit then we apply this to everything: In our pursuit to sound intelligent, we should strive to be as complex as possible in every area of life so as to create chaos and despair.

One of the major premises the Killjoy Scholar should adopt in his writing is that of research. Research is a sure-fire way to both destroy the text you are studying and complicate your criticism of it. If I am writing a paper over the Faerie Queene, the very last thing I should do is read the The Faerie Queene. In order for me to best know my queen, I should spend less time with her, for it is far better to know my queen by way of her family, friends, acquaintances and enemies so to prevent bias. Better to get a well-rounded view of her from those who know her best than to actually talk to her, and thus, it is best to know your queen by hearing what other people have said about her than hearing what she has to say herself.

The practicality of this is important. My queen’s friend may say she is rather pretty and charming as an enemy may say she is fallacious and drab while yet another may say she is actually no queen at all but a king. It is now my job as a Killjoy Critic to muddle my way through this mess and work out some obscure conclusion on the matter which can only lead to confusion for both me and my reader. Had I simply gone and talked to my queen in the first place, I would have clearly seen that she is indeed rather pretty and charming, even beautiful perhaps, and this would have motivated me to write a moving piece in praise of these attributes. We can better squander joy by seeking ways to experience as little of it as possible.

Writing classes across the country especially need to be taught this, and this should be tied in with a general encouragement for them to pursue confusion in their papers. No longer would we grade on the clarity of the thesis and the focus of the paper, we would grade on how confusing and choppy the prose sounds. It is far easier to value a good thesis statement over a bad thesis statement, but simplicity here produces too much joy. Consider instead if you had 22 bad thesis statements staring you in the face: how to determine who gets the A and who gets the F is now not so easily determined. And the chaos leads to depression as the papers continue to stare us down. The general rule in writing class should be as follows: The more the brain of the student can be compared to a blender the better: thoughts coming out of his head in pieces and fragments make for better papers. Considering this, the student should start arguing along the lines of lowering the drinking age and should end up telling you that gays should both be allowed in the military and banned from restaurants. Smoking should be illegal but marijuana legal, and the president should be impeached and granted a third term in the opening paragraph.

A thesaurus should be given to each student and no other work should be cited in his paper. (Perhaps consider encouraging students to use as many multi-syllable words as possible.) If we added obscure words to the above proposals, we would all be rightfully depressed. Consider the following lines from a book:

“You are beautiful but you are empty… One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses.”

This moving bit of prose is too easily understood and makes one too giddy. The Killjoy Critic should seek to rewrite such prose in the heightened speech of intellectuals:

“Pulchritudinous, yet nugatory, elucidates you, and necrosis for you would be none’s druthers. Veritably, a quotidian kibitzer would envisage that my rosa moschata prevaricated to be congenerous with you–this rosa moschata that appertains to me. But in her cloistered self she is augmented in more preponderancy than all the hundreds of you perspicuous rosa moschata.”

This is some well-worded prose here. We have very little idea of what is being said and the amount of time that it would take in order for it to be properly deciphered would lead to an incredible amount of frustration. Furthermore, the meaning is construed slightly from what the actual purpose of the writer had in mind to write in the first place. By the end of the last sentence, the writer has forgotten completely what he has been arguing, and the reader is thinking about everything but what he is reading. This is of great importance, for the less the writer knows in terms of the direction of his paper, the more open to interpretation that piece becomes. Thus, the reader can continue to think about what’s for dinner while he reads and still come to the conclusion that the rose, or rosa moschata, is symbolic for a particular moon bear and that the argument as a whole is considering the fallacious ideal that all moon bears are created equally. This is a stretch, and stretching is tragically and depressingly serious.

The content here needs be applied to life in general and for this I go to a depressing piece of literature. Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” is a perfect example of how miscommunication creates pain and chaos. Frost’s poem is a discourse between a husband and wife concerning their dead child. Neither side does a particularly good job of communicating their thoughts and feelings to the other, but the momentous part of the poem (in my opinion) happens when Amy, the wife, quotes her husband:

“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man could build.”

It is clear in my opinion that the husband is speaking of his child here. (Now, a good Killjoy Critic will of course take a “birch fence” to represent the economy or rain forests, but for sake of the argument we will say it represents his son.) This husband has just come in from burying his son and has sat down and stated this quote. The seriousness of this is that he does not say what he means but he gives an obscure metaphor, comparing his son to a fence. Brilliance is at work here as the wife completely misunderstands him and believes him to be speaking about his everyday troubles. The fight ends in a physical threat from the husband, and the reader grows melancholy and sad.

Lector:  Come now, if you are seeking to depress through misinterpretation, what need will you have for your own theory if everything you write is already depressing to begin with?

Auctor: There are two answers from which spring multiple answers. First, this will make our task both easier and harder. As the narrative becomes more obscure it naturally becomes easier to misinterpret. Thus, our ability to make a birch fence represent a child or a communistic government becomes rather easy.

Lector: But this makes it harder to argue for the necessity of a Killjoy Critic in the first place. If everyone is already depressingly serious, what need have we for people to show us how to properly be depressingly serious? Your logic is flawed, and this argument is making no sense.

Auctor: Granted. The whole thing of it is a mighty paradox, which in the end creates befuddlement for us Killjoys, making us depressed which in turn makes us better at our jobs.

Lector: This implies that the more you posit your own theories, the more possible it is that you could very well be out of a job in the very near future. The more you state your argument, the less convinced I become.

Auctor: And depressed I may add. Anyways, joblessness means lack of money, and this, like our government, is depressingly serious. Moreover, this only means that people will stop writing this way, joy will make a return to the world and the Killjoys will be all the more needed once again. We win by defeating ourselves, and as we go around this merry-go-round of possibilities, we can only sit back and groan in melancholy as we realize that they are much like our arguments: circles.

Thus, with all this in mind, we should seek in our everyday conversations to speak as obscurely as possible — inserting latin phrases that we don’t even know the meaning of, making insane comparisons like John Donne or interpreting each other’s words as did the Bard’s Marullus and Flavius. “What meanest thou by that? mend, thou saucy fellow!” we will say as people talk to us plainly (and we will in no way mend their souls). The implications of this will be serious. Friendships will be tarnished, marriages on the brink, jobs lost, reputations beyond hope of recovering. But we will be considered intelligent. No one will know what we are saying, or why, but they will believe that we know what we mean. And when it becomes clear that we don’t, and we see the relational collateral that we’ve left behind, we’ll sigh more and more until we are fully and seriously depressed. And then we will write, and the world will feel our pain


3 thoughts on “From the Killjoy Chronicles: On Scholarly Writing

  1. That is an utterly false quote by Browne, only vaguely echoing his true statement ‘there are no Grotesques in nature; -Religio Medici 1:15 Please either quote the source of your quotation or desist from disseminating false attributions !

    1. Sorry my mistake, it sounded unfamiliar, i am so used to seeing many false quotes taken out of context and attributed Browne by bloggers. The true full quote is, ‘To speake yet more narrowly, there was never anything ugly, or mis-shapen, but the Chaos’; R.M 1 :16 but if i could source the reference for the quote in minutes so can you !

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