Academic Jargon as a Veneer for Vacuity

Updated: Apr 15

Sitting in online seminars for Michaelis postgraduate presentations is on one hand fascinating and truly inspiring. Young people coming into the art world from all sorts of cultural backgrounds, sharing stories about how they grew up, how they operate, and how these things can be incorporated into their work. Of course, some of these artists will become successful going by Michaelis’ track record. Another tantalizing aspect.

but I am befuddled by how over-intellectualized some of the discourse around this work is. I understand that artists pick up this jargon because this is a requirement of the university. But the fact that much of this work purports to be transformational is at odds with the structures required for its presentation.

Whether I attend as a lecturer or a student, I have found academic jargon quite tedious. It seems to me that it masks an ultimate lack of actual content. Much of the discourse is informative and there have been stellar exceptions such as the Undercommons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, which is radical yet intellectually dense. But these are exceptions.

The academic institution pretends as if its structure and jargon will automatically impart depth onto its productions, but it is sorely mistaken. Most of what lies beneath this pretentious language is a whole lot of nothingness. This is no fault of the students of course. Often they approach the institution with good ideas but are forced into colonial forms of articulation.

universities will accept black students and hire black staff members, but those at the helm are mostly still white people. Even with black leadership, there seems to be an obvious subservience to colonial rule. Hence black students cannot pass through the academic factory without themselves bending to imperialism.

Even if a student is clear that their work is to challenge colonial sciences, they are essentially told that the structures have already been challenged, but that one should then do what they're told. The key is not to give up intellectual work in spite of these restrictions. To trust in one's intellectual instinct and continue to rise against the machine.

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