I’m about to write another angry book. That is, a book motivated by anger. Real, proper rage. I’ve already written two angry books, and they are probably my best. I want to tell you about angry writing, because I keep reading writing advice that says scholarship should be dispassionate. You know, academic writing should always be objective, calm, well behaved. Right? Well, no. Not at all.
I need to say first of all that writing an angry book doesn’t mean that I get to throw all scholarly standards out the window. It doesn’t mean that I only look for evidence that supports my point of view. It doesn’t mean that I write without due attention and care to the ways in which my argument is logically staged. It doesn’t mean I just engage in bile-filled polemic. No. Not at all.
Writing from a position of anger means that I not only want -but also need – to make a case very persuasively. I have to stand on solid ground. My scholarship, if anything, is actually better when I’m writing about an anger-making topic than when I care less. That’s because when I write from anger I work hard to marshal the most convincing evidence that I can find. I am determined to deal with all possible objections. I want to make absolutely sure that I have covered all of the relevant literatures that are pertinent. I want to make it really difficult for my case to be knocked down.
Writing from a position of anger also means that the actual production of text becomes of critical importance. I want to produce writing that will keep the reader interested. I want to use metaphors that are gripping as well as apt. I want to use description and quotation so well that the reader nods their head and says “Yes that’s how it is.” I want to write so that it’s close to impossible to ignore the argument being made.
This all means that I will read, read and read and then revise, revise and revise until I am confident that my text and my case are as strong as I can possibly make them.
I want to tell you this because we academics do not always come clean about the commitments and emotional engagements that underpin our research and writing. We maintain that scholarship is driven only by abstract curiosity, by a peculiar kind of detachment from life. I don’t think that’s always the case.
I can point to many topics where I am pretty sure that some level of researcher emotion is involved. Researching almost anything to do with health and well-being, the environment or social justice for example is likely to be driven by – or provoke – powerful emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and grief. I’m sure you can add more to this list.
Writing from anger is not a problem, it seems to me, as long as we are able to keep to rigorous standards of scholarship. Indeed, rigour and standards are our good friends. As both Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault argued, scholarly traditions of evidence and reason are the basis of our expertise. And it is expertise that allows us to make potent and grounded interventions in, and pointed commentary about, the things that matter.
And indeed, conviction, sound scholarly arguments and finely honed rhetoric are absolutely necessary to deal with the kinds of opposition and political rhetoric that might be directed our way when our angry work becomes public. You see angry books enter territory where there are heated debates, high stakes policy and firm position taking. In those circumstances, we must have research and writing which provide us with a solid place to stand/speak.
I’m certainly hoping this next angry book will be good. I’m hoping it will stand up to the opposition it will provoke.
In the meantime I’ve got even more reading and research to do before I put hand to mouse.
Photo credit: Pingz Man