Thursday, July 5, 2007

Evidently, Jesus was courageous!

I currently have the...ahem..."pleasure" of reading a book on intercultural communication that, surprisingly enough, is in its SIXTH edition. Sixth. That means someone has actually thought about this drivel five previous times and decided that this was somehow publishable.

I, however, beg to differ.

My two favorite passages are as follows:
"In fact, although many Africans such as the Yoruba and the Neur, still follow traditional religions, however, most Africans, because of colonization and missionaries, are Christians or Muslims."

And the real zinger:
"As Carmody and Carmody note, 'Jesus was courageous.'"

Yes, these are directly quoted from this book.

Now, there are a few problems I have with this that actually go beyond my standard grammatical mockery.

First of all, the professor for whom I am reading this book ADMITTED that the book is terrible, but told me that I was lucky to be reading this one, because the good one is twice as long.

That frightens me, since this one is ~60 pages/day of repetitive drivel.

It literally hurts my brain to read.

So, the professor realizes this book is bad, yet assigns it anyway? This is a bit frustrating since a) there will be pop quizzes on the reading, and b) she reports some of it in my favorite format, Powerpoint, but not quite all of I'm pretty sure what she doesn't review will be on the quizzes.

I can make it through about 10 pages an hour. That's how bad it is.

The other thing that I find ridiculous, however, is the excessive use of quotations. The example above is pretty wonderful, especially since the authors are trying to make an argument that Jesus' courage has influenced Christian people to be courageous (in a way that other religions don't do, evidently). Yeah, Jesus was definitely the only courageous religious leader. And Christians are definitely the only people who value courage. Yep.

Even when the point is valid/interesting, however, the book quotes everybody and their mother. They do it out of context, without telling us why the quotation was said or why whoever said it should be trusted. Personally, I find that ridiculous. If you're going to quote some random last name at me who said that "religion is the most important factor of culture" (which is entertaining, because I'm FAIRLY sure they directly quoted people in the previous two chapters saying that family and history, respectively, were the single most important factors of culture), you should probably tell me why I want to believe that. Or, better yet, don't make blanket superlative assertions.

It's like these authors were never taught how to incorporate research into their book. Instead, they introduce a paraphrased idea, then quote someone who says the exact same thing, and do so with no interesting transitions whatsoever. Something like, "Islam has spread far over the past two centuries. As Smith maintains, 'Islam has reached many corners of the globe durnig the last 200 years, influencing many cultures.'" Why does Smith need to "maintain" that? Why did you need to quote him/her on that? Why did you need to say the same thing twice? Argh, authors, you frustrate me.

Aside from ranting about this particular book, however, I do have a somewhat relevant point to make: Academia relies so heavily on citations and quotations these days, and I think, at times, we've gone a bit overboard. Unless you're going to tell me who said whatever you're quoting, the context for them saying it, and why it should be trusted, do you really need to be quoting? Do you really need to tell me that some random Jones believes that Islam is the most complex of all religions in a direct quotation, or could you, perhaps, make that argument on your own, citing him and perhaps other relevant individuals as scholars who agree, along with various reasons for the argument? I don't know. It's a fine line to walk, for sure, and I know it's hard in a textbook or summarizing article. It just seems like so much regurgitation. Besides, the greatest minds in our world didn't really cite...anybody. You think Foucault was busy citing anybody else who said that "power structures exist"? Or that Freud needed 12 other authors to suggest that everything is our mothers' fault? Likely not. Now, I'm not saying I'm Foucault (obviously not, since I'm actually coherent) or Freud (because I'm not insane and chauvinist), but, still. When are we going to start thinking for ourselves? Ever? Or will I forever be rejected from academic journals and classrooms without a list of people smarter than I am tacked to the back of my writing?

I realize the importance of being well informed about your topic, and of grounding your argument against others' work. However, what saddens me is the lack of arguments that are being made. Scholars tend to use a statement attributed to someone else and believe that can stand as a valid argument. No, I'm afraid, "because that dude said so" is not an argument. Please stop pretending it is one.

The world will be a better place when our libraries stop being cluttered with unimportant people quoting other unimportant people with no better justification for their claims than "" and a reference list at the end.

Oh well. Maybe I'll feel better once I'm in graduate school, where real learning begins!



...never mind.

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