On obfuscation

I subscribe to a lot of blogs. Andrew Bolt’s is one of them. Today he blogged on an impressive example of needlessly impenetrable text:

Allen Feldman, New York University

3-5 pm, Thursday 22 March

Room 148, RC Mills Building A26

The violence that is poised between humanitas and inhumanitas speaks to the metaphysical ordering and phantasms of everyday political terror. Are practices of political aggression separable from the Western metaphysical divide between human and animal, and what are the ideological utilities of this divide? Does political animality point to an anthropological sovereignty that only acquires positivity, tangibility, and figuration through its displacement onto, and passage into, the extimacy that is animality? And why does subjugated or expelled animality perennially threaten anthropological plenitude as an uncontainable negativity? These questions imply that the many thresholds of language, labour and finitude that have repeatedly delimited, governed and consigned the animal and human in metaphysical thought and practice can be remapped as a properly political dominion: a wildlife reserve in which philosophical, ethological, and anthropological declaratives and descriptions encrypt zoopolitical relations of power and force, and where the animal predicate circumscribes a concentrated time and space of subjugation, exposure, disappearance and abandonment.

That’s got to be a joke, right? Well, it’s definitely amusing, but it’s no joke. Associate Professor Feldman wrote this in an essay that he meant to be taken seriously. And in fact it was taken seriously enough to be published as part of a collection of essays addressing “the relationship between government and humanity.”

The thing about this kind of writing is that it detracts from its message when there is a message and hides the absence of a message when there isn’t one. So why do it? It impresses people, for one. I suspect that Feldman is more interested in his career than he is in any benefit to humanity that might be gained from his study of anthropology or teaching of it. That’d be a shame, but understandable. Feldman has clearly developed a genuine talent and found a way to capitalise on it. I can’t blame him for that or for putting the best interests of himself and his family (if he has one) first.

So my purpose here isn’t to denigrate the work of an academic — it’s to encourage anyone who finds themselves impressed by this kind of thing to consider whether it’s truly worthy of being held in high regard. There’s enough unnecessary darkness in this world. We don’t need people purporting to have answers — or useful questions — darkening their message with this kind of obfuscation. We need truth, clearly expressed.

Now it’s obvious that neither this book nor this essay were intended as introductory material to the subject of the relationship between government and humanity, but if you, like me, think the subject is important and you want a source of information on it that will clarify rather than stupefy, that approaches it from a basis of sound time-tested principles rather than modern speculation, I commend to you the Acton Institute.


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