The Spectre of Jargon

My friend Maureen Mullarkey responded to Gowers Against Jargon (or, to be perfectly accurate, to the email to friends that become the weblog entry) by pointing me to Lionel Trilling’s remarks in The Liberal Imagination:

A specter haunts our culture — it is that people will eventually be unable to say “They fell in love and married,” let alone understand the language of Romeo and Juliet, but will as a matter of course say, “Their libidinal impulses being reciprocal, they activated their individual erotic drives and integrated them within the same frame of reference.” . . . There can be no doubt whatever that [such language] constitutes a threat to the emotions and thus to life itself. . . .

[T]o call ourselves the people of the idea is to flatter ourselves. We are rather the people of ideology, which is a very different thing. Ideology is not the product of thought, it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties but of whose meaning and consequences in activity we have no clear understanding. The nature of ideology may in part be understood from its tendency to develop the sort of language I parodied, and scarcely parodied, a moment ago.

Here’s Maureen’s website, including both her painting and her writing, which I very much commend.

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