Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What He Said

I will give a hearty second to this point from David Bordwell: "Literary humanists sometimes talk as if they want explanations to be as complex as the thing being explained. But that would be like asking for the map to be as detailed as the territory." If there's one critical move I find tiresome it's the recourse to complexity. As in "any history will fail to grasp the complexity of how audiences actually respond to movies" or "this reading fails to grasp the contradictions of gender as an intersectional identity." Now, if a model, idea, or scholarly argument can better capture an object of study in its complexity, great. There is a version of the previous examples that would do just that.  And some approaches are reductive. But usually the rhetoric of complexity simply discounts the hard work it takes to make complex phenomena a little more understandable. I think a good rule of thumb is that if you criticize another scholar or lay person for having an insufficient complex view of something you better offer that workable, more complex view. Even then, realize your complex model may lack certain explanatory power of a simpler one. 

3 comments:

Jason Mittell said...

I'd agree, with the caveat that describing something as complex is not an issue; critiquing a scholar for missing complexity without (as you say) offering something better in return is weak. It's part of a general tendency in a lot of scholarship to tear down other work without really offering something else instead. Life's too short for that type of writing...

Matthew Holtmeier said...

Bordwell aside, I agree with what you say here about a 'rhetoric of complexity.' Of course, particular discourses engender an overly complicated way of going about things - for the sake of specificity - but beyond this, it is easy to distinguish one writer from another in terms of how they engage with this 'rhetoric of complexity.' Of course, I'm sure I fall into this rhetoric as well.

I'm currently reading Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Cinema, which takes on some very complicated ideas by Deleuze. As a result, however, the writers who can render difficult ideas more accessibly really shine. This is something I have been thinking about while reading through this anthology (and, anthologies are probably an excellent place to look at the difference between the rhetoric of different writers, because of the cohesiveness of the topics).

Matthew Holtmeier said...

Haha! I like this, I want to second Jason's comment here:

"Life's too short for that type of writing..."