Geoff Dyer kicks off a new column for the New York Times by launching an attack on the unsuspecting Michael Fried. The Atlantic's Ujala Sehgal likes it, New York Observer's Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke wants to see a good literary feud, and Tyler Green thinks Dyer did a "deft" job. Others are a little more charitable.
The general social media consensus seems to be in favor of Dyer, and Ian Bogost's blog post sums up most of the reasons why. Dyer wittily mimics Fried's style to critique the turgid prose of academia, a prose-style that has become increasingly inaccessible to non-academics. His article isn't a piece of anti-intellectualism, as some of Bogost's academic friends claim, but it plays on the ivory tower's well-cemented position as object of ridicule. From Thales falling down the well to Fried endlessly introducing his ideas, academics make themselves easy targets. Folks largely re-tweeted Dyer's article with glee for the same reason that my non-academic parents switch off when I try to explain the appeal of Hubert Damisch.
But, as someone who spends the majority of their time wading through academic publications, I've come to appreciate the occasional economy of academic prose. Some academics, like Joseph Leo Koerner, write beautifully and prove that Dyer's punches can't be generalized too far (Yale University's Alexander Nemerov is a joy to read, but since his father was poet laureate he should probably be considered a special case). Ultimately, I think Bogost was right to link to Damon Horotwitz's article which points out the benefits of cultivating a well-informed, readable humanism that snatches the best of both worlds.
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