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.