Category Archives: incomprehensibility

A challenging context

Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War

A colleague of Dalrymple heard a nurse, who had climbed up the greasy pole to become finance director of her hospital, say,

The future projection of the current fiscal envelope predicts a challenging context.

This, says Dalrymple,

makes Emperor Hirohito’s radio announcement after the Americans dropped the atom bombs — that developments had taken place that were not necessarily to Japan’s advantage — seem brutally frank.

With a little polishing,

it could be upgraded in writing to complete incomprehensibility.

The projection was

shorn of all human agency, as was the prediction of a challenging context, to say nothing of the overspending by the hospital and its finance director.

Academic vacuity can go no further

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 07.54.50Even at his most opaque, writes Dalrymple, one sometimes glimpses in Jürgen Habermas

a meaning, or a connotation, as one might glimpse a giant panda in a bamboo forest. It is this dialectic between incomprehensibility and meaning that has given him a reputation for profundity. His thoughts lie too deep for words, and the fault lies with us, not with him.


tries to squeeze significance out of truisms, as a constipated man tries to squeeze stools out of a reluctant colon.

Compared with reading a Habermas book, says Dalrymple,

going to the dentist is a pleasant experience.

Habermas is held in high esteem, which is itself

of sociological and psychological interest. Audiences have been known almost to swoon at his Teutonically polysyllabic vaticinations.

Habermas, Dalrymple points out, is

largely incomprehensible; where he is comprehensible, he is either banal or wrong, or both. He is often funny, but not intentionally.

Habermas has made a career

as a torturer of language,

yet underlying his platitudinous but mistaken verbiage

is something sinister: the communist, fascist and Nazi dream of the abolition of politics, in favour of mere administrative decision-making by a supposedly enlightened élite, armed with indubitable truth from which their decisions follow syllogistically.

Dalrymple adapts Burke slightly:

In the groves of Habermas’s academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.

An MBA’s idea of intellectual seriousness

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.19.55Dalrymple writes that there are two ways

for prose to impress more than it should: by incomprehensibility and by portentousness.

In another post, we looked at how Dalrymple views incomprehensibility as exemplified by the contents of an academic criminological journal. In this post it is the turn of portentousness, a good specimen of which is the British, or mid-Atlantic, Economist news-magazine. The Economist, Dalrymple explains, is

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.52.49dull and self-congratulatory,

characterising itself as of

the extreme centre.

Its reports at the front of the magazine do not always coincide with the economic data at the back, and its prognostications are belied by events, yet it manages to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as it acknowledges them, are

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.51.56the fault of the events rather than of the Economist,

and that the world has a duty to be as the Economist says it is and will be. The articles are written anonymously, which is

intended to create the illusion that the magazine speaks from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth can be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can it retain its reputation.

Dalrymple finds the Economist‘s style dull, and asks how it is that

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.38.08correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, write in the same fashion, as if everything that happens everywhere is fundamentally the same.

The Economist, writes Dalrymple, is about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose

is the equivalent of Ikea furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tries to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrives only at portentousness.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.41.59Dalrymple wonders who reads the Economist, and what for.

I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.

But at least the Economist

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.59.15is comprehensible—even, in its way, lucid. Publications for academic intellectuals are far worse.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.01.39

They got that right

They got that right

The secret vineyards of truth and knowledge

The grape English essayist: characterful, sometimes gratifyingly acidic, earthy, supremely well balanced

The grape English essayist: characterful, sometimes gratifyingly tart, earthy, supremely well balanced

Verbal phylloxera

There are two ways, Dalrymple points out,

for prose to impress more than it should: by portentousness and by incomprehensibility.

In another post, we looked at how Dalrymple views portentousness as exemplified by the contents of a Western news-magazine. In this post, it is the turn of incomprehensibility.

Prestige conferred by impenetrability

Picking up a criminological journal, Dalrymple comes across a representatively logorrhœic and polysyllabically incomprehensible passage:

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 08.21.40

The handiwork of vile sap-sucking verbal pests

We use this signifier, hypermodernity, instead of, say, postmodernity or high modernity, because the prefix hyper is probably better for conveying the strategic dimension of contemporary modernity. It is precisely this strategic dimension of the contemporary which is producing extreme levels of reflexivity and flexibility. These, in turn, (re)produce a process of socio-cultural hyperdifferentiation, and, as such, feedback into contemporary strategisation….In this article, we have argued for an answer that will try to mobilise hypermodern energies of dislocation to debunk privileged discursively (re)produced Truths and foundations that inevitably block out the voices and hopes of multiple Others. Our answer lies in a radical politic that tries to fertilise the Othered margins of essentialised discourse.…Border-crossing criminology is a permanent process of de(re)construction of discursively constructed, essentialised borders. Border-crossing criminology is a reflexive and flexible (hypermodern) praxis: it evokes infinite Other voices of oppression/suppression, even those that are—inevitably—being silenced in and through specific border-crossing discursive moves.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 08.11.11Humorously, the journal states that it is

committed to publishing only the highest quality of scholarship.

What, asks Dalrymple,

would lower levels of scholarship be like?

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 08.35.49

Du fléau qui ravage nos vignes, délivrez-nous Seigneur

Intellectual aphids

That the kind of prose quoted is

not an aberration, a freak, but a manifestation of a widespread academic fashion or disease

is demonstrated by

(a) the fact that it is frequent in the journal, and

(b) the fact that the journal has an editorial board of 49 academics round the world, from Norway to Venezuela, from Poland to Japan.

Lutte contre le phylloxéra

Lutte contre le phylloxéra

Such prose, writes Dalrymple, is to academic life

what phylloxera was to vines in 19th-century France. Whether recovery will ever be possible must be doubtful.

Dalrymple writes that prestige in publications for academic intellectuals

is conferred by impenetrability, where truth and knowledge are kept as secret gardens that would be defiled by the presence of the uninitiated.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 08.59.05Large numbers of fifth-rate academics,

paid from public money, go a long way in polysyllabic incomprehensibility about subject matter that is describable in plain language.

Blight upon academic life

Blight upon academic life