Friday, January 22, 2010

We we we, all the way home...

Graham Harman has responded to my previous post. Hurrah! I exist in the realms of internet textual exchanges.

He considers the use of 'we' in academic writing, rather than 'I'. This reminded me, in reference to my anecdote about how my Honours supervisor instilled a horror of the 'I' in me, that said supervisor was even more withering about the use of 'we'. I think he evoked some sort of pseudo-ethical tone when he did this: who is this 'we'? What gives you the right to say 'we'?

It possibly needs to be delivered in the very particular tone of my supervisor, for full effect.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The I is a... What?

Many moons ago, one of my Honours supervisors told me that I should never use "I" while writing. How would this work, I asked. Well, he said, use lots of passive constructions.

I took this advice on board, despite the attempts of my other supervisor to talk me out of it. I implemented the passive writing style, the stance of strange objectivity ("it must be noted...", "such-and-such will be considered"), to a fault over the course of my entire Honours dissertation. Since then, it has become a stylistic tic that I feel bound to employ whenever doing 'serious' writing (i.e. anything that takes place in a word processor).

But I feel I'm sick of it.

This, in part, comes off the back of reading many posts about writing style by Graham Harman over at Object-Oriented Philosophy. He has made the point a few times that style is a very contagious thing. What you read, you tend to emulate. Not only that, but style and content in writing are essentially indivisible. Groundbreaking ideas need stylistic oomph. Therefore, the moral of the story is: read good writers.

Well, I have been reading some good writers of late. And plenty of them say "I". This makes me think: it's time to put away the aversion to saying "I".

But these habits, adopted to please the supervisorial Big Other, are hard to drop. You feel illegitimate somehow, perhaps too casual, when you say "I". It is also a more nude position to be in: these opinions are claimed, straight away, as my thoughts, my assertions.

Which is ultimately probably a good thing. But nonetheless, confronting.