[A lecture of eminent academician Avijit Pathak, Professor, School of Social Sciences, JNU on the launching program of the journal ‘Society and Culture in South Asia’ and panel discussion on the ‘Politics of Academic Publishing’ on 3rd February 2015, New Delhi was recorded and transcribed by Rickshaw team. Speaking on the occasion Prof. Pathak emphasized on the art of good writing in academics and the resistance to ‘writing fetishism’.]
Professor Avijit Pathak talks of three points that he believes ought to characterize good writing. Good writing is an art; it is not just the technical arrangement of words, arrangement of statistics, tabulation, jargon, bibliography, concepts, and references. He says, ‘Good writing is an art and when I am talking about art, I am not talking about William Blake or Wordsworth’s poem’. He takes for example, serious essays and says,’ ‘imagine Clifford Geertz’ s brilliant ethnographic piece on the cock dance of the Balinese cock fight. Any student of anthropology and sociology would say that what a great piece of art is it.’
The second point he argues is that good writing emerges out of a serious urge to communicate. It is essentially therepeutic; it is not a solitary, self-narcissitic activity. It emerges out of the urge to communicate and to share something. He says ‘The moment you bring out Michael Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization” and Pascal’s quote in the front page makes you really mad and Foucault begins the first chapter with Pascal’s quote that men are so necessarily mad and not to be mad would amount to another form of madness’.
Writings should emerge out of interest, passion and the urge to communicate. It is not just a marketable product. A good writing is an inspiration and does not emerge from compulsion. It should come out of an urge just like the urge of drinking a glass of fresh water after a long walk. Something that bothers, haunts, disturbs you should motivate one to write. Such writings emerge out of inspiration and some invisible forces guide it. Therefore he says ‘so, good writing inspires a reader because good writing emerges out of an inspiration’.
He laments that academic writing that does not fulfill these characteristics. He regrets that academic writing has been given the impression of bad prose by the teachers and academicians to the students. A bad prose which does not flow like a fountain, but with interruptions like a traffic jam interrupted by full stops. Further, he commented that academic writing has become burdensome and not liberating owing to the use and predictability of similar kinds of quotes, references, foot notes in the academic journal. The information and knowledge becomes burdensome owing to it. He objects to quoting becoming a compulsion rather than a dialogue with a scholar. The compulsion to quote, for instance, Foucault on power is restraining, oppressive and do not allow one to grow, evolve and look at the world in one’s one-way. This reflects in the dissertations too which have lost the freshness he explained lamenting. The uniqueness of style and matter gets disappeared in the pressure of standardization of the publishing agencies. He urges the students not to compromise on the uniqueness and style of writing bowing to the pressure of publishing and making a point. Academic writing has become a market product and hence require attractive packaging by brand publishing houses.
He critics what he calls the ‘writing fetishism’ that exist in the academic world today. There should not be a compulsion to write in order to survive academic competition. One can read a book, do a research, think it, reflect and should not think that one’s essence be always defined only in relation to writing. Writing fetishism is about the urge to publish the next book, the next paper instead of thinking how one has thought is redefining the world, how one is teaching and communicating, the silences and reflection resulting in triviality in the name of academic writing.
Writing should come out of the urge of sleeplessness and restlessness to communicate something instead of a ‘corporate anxiety of the production’. Academics according to him is about the moments of contemplation, the great moment of teaching and dissemination of ideas.
He quotes T. S Eliot’s poem to contemplate about the life that is lost is living, the wisdom that is lost in knowledge and the knowledge that is lost in information.