Thursday, November 13, 2008

My finely-tuned annoyingness radar

I get irritated more easily than most people--and "irritation" is exactly the word for what I feel: an itchy inability to bear whatever it is for another moment.

Anyone who is at all intimate with me knows this--and knows, equally well, to ignore me when I leap up, flapping my arms in agitation and crying, "I hate it! I hate it!"

"Yes, Flavia," my friends say. "I know you do."

Victoria calls this my "finely-tuned annoyingness radar," which may be a more charitable description than it deserves. I don't react strongly to obvious tics or nervous habits--perhaps on the understanding that those aren't fully under a person's control--but other, seemingly more innocuous behaviors send me into fits. "WHY," I ask, "does so-and-so DO THAT? It's awful. It's annoying. It's counterproductive and socially hostile."

(Rarely are these things that bother other people. When I begin a sentence with, "don't you hate it when. . . ?", the answer, usually, is "no.")

I've recently rediscovered that one of the things that sets off my radar is a certain kind of academic writing. I'm not talking about the kind of academic writing that we all hate and all make fun of; I mean writing that is self-consciously not that kind of writing: writing that is almost quite good, but that cherishes its goodness a little too much, massaging an extended metaphor here and an exotic phrasing there--and altogether filling my nostrils with the sickly-sweet smell of self-love.

I hate that shit. And me being me, I have to respond. "Yuck," I write in the margins of one page, and "Are you fucking kidding me??" at the top of another. I corner my colleagues in the office, shaking an open book at them. "Will you LISTEN to this?" I say. "It's so awful. I have to read it to you!"

The itch must be scratched. But I fear I'm already a terrible, terrible crank.


Dr. Crazy said...

See, Flavia, that's why you and I are kindred spirits. FB claims that the natural register in which I operate is "righteous indignation" and it sounds a whole lot like what you describe here :)

At any rate, I've come to LOATHE the kind of writing you describe, whereas before it was just mildly irritating, and I think the reason is that it reminds me of the writing of students (often quite good ones) who are in love with their own words. How can it be my job to break their spirits and to beat this out of them when even trained professionals don't realize how ATROCIOUS this practice is? And in fact when they congratulate themselves for writing in this way? JUST HOW?

Yours in cranky solidarity,

squadratomagico said...

Sounds like you've been reading my book!

Anonymous said...

Give us an example. What's the difference between good writing and I-think-I'm-good writing? Authors, titles, links?

Doctor Cleveland said...

Oh, please please don't call anyone out to illuminate Meg.

I think the almost-good and the self-indulgent are found in every kind of writing, and every kind of art. And like Nashe, I thought that stuff was ille ipse when I was a little ape in Cambridge.

I have to admit, I'm sorry I read today's blog before I sat down to draft new pages today. Now my stylistic conscience is itching, too.

Flavia said...

Yes, Meg: I regret to say that I can't/shouldn't provide examples--because a) it's not nice, b) it's not smart, and c) it might only prove how insane I am.

I think the grounds for my irritation would, in some cases, be pretty obvious (even if my audience didn't share that irritation). But in other cases it's really rather minor (and yet major!) stylistic choices that make my skin crawl.

And it's true, Dr. C, that this phenomenon is present in all writing. There are journalists (of the featury, magazine variety) I almost refuse to read, and blogs I've stopped reading, because their tone or affect enrage me so.

(Like I said, dudes: I'm a crank.)

Doctor Cleveland said...

It is very strange and cranky, to be invested so deeply in matters of literary style that you can be pleased or annoyed by small things word choices, or figurative language, or rhetorical tropes. Who else do I know like that?

I think the neurosis in question is called "literary criticism." It can cause irritation, like an intellectual psoriasis.

Flavia said...

Yes, well--I actually do think that the ease with which I'm irritated by language is reasonably productive, or is at least not unrelated to the things that make me good at my job. It's the ease with which I'm irritated by the world, or more specifically, the people in the world and the things they do, that make me feel like a fussy, judgmental crank.

And Dr. Crazy: I do think that grading student papers--and the effort to remain patient and helpful in my comments there--is part of the reason I'm now scrawling, in the margins of the scholarly books I read, things like, "You haven't established this yet!" "Repetitive" and "WHAT EVIDENCE??"

Susan said...

Hee hee hee. I'm chortling as I sit at my desk, thinking about my unreasonable annoyances. (They are not usually about writing style, but people, acaemic approaches, etc.) I do think any sane academic will have them. It comes with the territory. And just think of your future: in 30 years you will have great training as a cranky old lady.

Horace said...

I don't think I'm guilty as charged, although I know I often imagine that I want to be. Something about the self-consciousness of that writing which feels just knowing enough to be right. And so I'll put little such flourishes in. But then Willow always edits them out, with most of the same margin notes that you use.

So really what these writers need is editing. Kind of like this comment.

Anonymous said...

So, if you won't give us an actual example, can you write a paragraph of parody? I have no idea what you're talking about, and I need to know if my own writing is the kind that sets off your radar...

Chaser said...

HA!!! I KNOW I'm not capable of any of the clever things you mentioned, self-conscious or otherwise, so I can rest easy.