David Foster Wallace makes an argument against obscurantism in Academic English. He denotes that the pretense that is rife in academic writing is a result of “the delicate balance between language as a vector of meaning and language as a vector of the writer’s own resume” (56). When a writer makes an effort to reinforce and communicate their positions as intellectual motivated by vanity and insecurity they end up writing using unnecessary diction.
Wallace is arguing against pretense in academic writing yet his own essay break the rules that he is trying to reinforce. In the sentence that comes after his observation about academic usage of language, he uses words like ‘pleonasm’ which also has the ability to cloud his argument with unrestricted verbosity. Wallace does not mince his words when it comes to academic writing. He clearly says “I am afraid I regard Academic English not as a dialectical variation but as a grotesque debasement of Standard Written English (SWE), and loathe it even more than the stilted incoherence of Presidential English” (56).
The argument here is that the trick of academic English is to a concerted effort to mask reality and avoid being answerable when questions are raised about the writer’s assertions. The obscurantism in academic English gives the writer tools to avoid accountability and clear meaning making in their writing. Instead of adhering to fairer standards and clearer use of Standard Written English, Wallace tries to provide an example of a case in which academic English was a problem. The case of the black student he chooses is presented in the same obscure form that he is arguing against. He introduces terms like WASP and focus on logic. He instead could have presented this in less vague terms. This is an attempt by Wallace to prove how pretentious academic English can be especially the unnecessary choice of words that clouds than make clear. It seems like he is aware of is act of flouting his own rules
A reader of Wallace’s essay would not know what “Heisenberian Uncertainty or postmodern relativism” is. This expressions and phrases are casually thrown into the argument by Wallace. The use of words like snootitude might be a deliberate attempt to show how pretentious academic English can be, it also however proves that Wallaces falls into the same category of academic English he loathes. He tries to divorce himself from a tradition he is strongly part of.
Wallace’s discussion on Academic English is make alongside his thoughts on politically correct usage of English in the modern era. On the other hand SWE is not only about communication but is used as a yardstick for judging level of education, an individual’s intelligence, power and things like prestige. He argues that an individual need to master SWE before they can succeed in American way of life and culture. Standard Written English is however adulterated by political correctness. Politically Correct English which Wallace famously calls PCE is also a problem in modern English usage. Calling students who are struggling high potential and poor people economically disadvantaged has be ability to mask reality. It is as pretentious as the academic’s English.
In conclusion, by using some of the obscure and vain language, David Foster Wallace illuminates the problem associated with modern academic English. He manages to get away with the same way of writing because we as readers are used to reading such forms of writing, hence it has become normal.
Wallace, David. F. “Tense Present: Democracy, English and the War over Usage.” Harper’s Magazine, 2001.