When I was 16, just like pretty much everyone else, I was forced to read literature. I hated it. To me, those literary writes who were so revered by my teachers were nothing but a sham, people who tried to write complicated sentences for no other purpose than their own ego. They didn’t write the way they did because it was good for the story or good for the reader, but only because it made them look smart, and the people who liked those books were the same, wanting to look smart by saying they actually enjoyed ploughing through the thick mud they called a literary novel. Later on, I found out that this wasn’t always the case, but that doesn’t mean that I was actually wrong.
As with everything, there is good literature and there is bad literature. I have recently discovered the good side of it, because there truly are good, thought-provoking, well written literary novels out there, but there is also a lot of rubbish. Books that are written just to be complicated, and with an underlying message so well hidden that it has become almost untraceable. The only difference is that whereas a bad fiction book is just that, a bad fiction book, a bad literary novel is still a literary novel, and because there is so much prestige surrounding it, even bad literary novels have fans.
Take Moby Dick. I actually ploughed through this thing, and the only proper conclusion I can draw, even after desperately trying to look for interesting motives in literary reviews, is that the book is pretty much about nothing. Herman Melville needs about 300 pages to tell us that there’s a captain who hates a whale, which, by the way, is very white, as he vividly describes in a chapter dedicated to nothing but “the whiteness of the whale” that last for about 20 pages. And sure, that’s acceptable from a 19th century writer, but the problem is that such pointless books are still being published today.
It gets worse, though. Much worse. Because while the literary world is quite prestige-driven, the academic world seems to be centred on prestige alone. At least Herman Melville addressed some issues such as homosexuality and revenge, making sure that there is at least some moral in there. In the academic world, though, the language used exists only to sound clever. To hide mistakes, even. Or perhaps just to hide how terribly bad academics are at writing decent texts.
Take this quote, about a problem with the scientific method: “particular concerns arose in relation to whether the elimination of contextual variables in controlled experimental conditions is an appropriate way to study human behaviour.” Confused? Yeah, so was I. But after reading the sentence about 15 times, I realised that what they were trying to say is that if you put a rabbit in a cage, it’s going to behave differently from a rabbit outside of that cage. Shocking.
Why then is it necessary to phrase that sentence in such a pathetic way? Why can an academic not just say what they mean, sharing their knowledge like they’re supposed to? Instead, they write their texts only for an elite few people, keeping all the knowledge in the same tight circle, and then complaining when journalists misinterpret things while desperately trying to translate the text into something a non-academic can understand.
As a writer, you write for an audience. Not for your own prestige. The goal should always be to somehow make the reader happy, whether this is by entertainment such as in fiction or sharing your knowledge in literature and academic texts. And sharing knowledge is only possible if people understand your writing, if you do your best to make it accessible. Elitism in writing has become the norm, part of our culture almost, and that’s a problem, because it holds everyone back. Literary novels should be thought-provoking, not more complicated than necessary, and even though science is complex, the texts that stem from it don’t have to make it even more difficult than it already is. Writers do their job for their readers, not for their own ego.
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