October 17, 2018

Horse 2477 - Read The Book Because You Can't Fool Teachers

If this is October then it must be examination season in Australia.  Largely because I live in a post-industrial society and partly because the sorts of people who happen to be the most interesting on social media in my opinion are academics and people who teach for a living (the kinds of people who smash big ideas into smaller chunks in order to fit them through the windows to people's souls and through the small inlet vents on the sides of people's heads), the last quarter of the year on my social media feed is replete with the perennial complaint that students are lazy and don't want to read the course material. I personally don't understand that mentality because I will read things even if they are mind numbingly boring.
The fact that students are lazy is a subset of the more general observation that people are lazy. This is congruous to one of Newton's laws of motion that says that objects are lazy and will keep on doing what they are already doing unless they are acted on by a sufficiently large enough force. Also because students are lazy, they will tend to want to get out of doing the homework and reading the course materials, which in a literature class means reading literature, in a history class means reading history and in a politics class means reading political theory. This also goes for the sciences and maths dependent subjects where you really need to do the grunt work or else be found out really quickly.
I am no longer in formal education but I am still curious enough to want to read the course material. Consequently, through sheer osmosis I have acquired a bunch of information (not necessarily knowledge because let's face it, I know very little about the world) and can do that most useful of skills that students think that they can get away with and that is write a bunch of rubbish and fill out word counts. Of course this is no substitute for actual study but I intend to prove by demonstration, the method by which students who have obviously not read the course materials think that they can get away with it.

The opening section (like the paragraphs above) will start out with some kind of explanatory story because I am aware that if you dear reader, arrive at a piece of writing cold, then you will have nothing to hang it on. The opening story is at best tenuously related to the subject at hand, at second best adjacent and frequently kind of only a bit related so that I have something to shoe horn the rest of the piece into.
Although there have been pieces that are tremendously well researched, the vast majority are not and are so laden with opinion that they almost buckle under the weight of nonsense that they are forced to carry. The last sentence of the opening paragraph is usually either the fluffy strip upon which the rest of the piece is velcroed to, or perhaps the lamp which is where I have stolen the lampshade from. Also quite often, I will want to bury the lede because if you leave those things lying around, someone might trip over and see what's hiding under the skirting covers.

On the subject of research, it is the second paragraph which is where facts and figures are often kept; in order to give a sense of credibility and authority to the piece. If there is no research (and let's face it, there often isn't) then the second section is where all of the nonsense from which the great steaming mound comes from.
A great steaming mound of poop gives off very obvious airs.
It is an absolutely essential skill of a writer to sound authoritative and decisive even if and especially if you have no idea what you are talking about. This is something that news outlets and trashmedia does exceptionally well. If you have an opinion that you want to masquerade as fact, then you need to dress it up in the appropriate clothes. That old proverb that says that you shouldn't put lipstick on a pig is complete nonsense because the pig likes it and besides which, who doesn't like having the flashiest pig in show?
If you are charged with writing about a literary work which you clearly haven't read, then either you had better do an excellent job at synthesizing the Cliff Notes or Spark Notes, or you may as well not bother. Lots of people have engaged in this game thousands of times over and they already know what the art of writing nonsense and rubbish looks like because they too have already done so. The laziest option is simply to have read the material in the first place and then write your several thousand words of rubbish.

If you have made it this far, then you will have usually exhausted all of your facts and figures and you should realise that you are far short of whatever word count target you are aiming for. This is where the art of generating rubbish comes up into its own. People in casual conversation might call this 'crapping on' about stuff but mere crapping on is not going to get the task done. We need some proper weapons grade guff. We need the kind of filler that would be shown in the Tate Modern for the audacity of its rubbishosity. We need the kind of bullshit that is made by a proper artist.
To this end you have more than a few colours in your palette of poop. There is the tortured metaphor which is like a pus filled boil which never runs out. Keep on flogging that dead horse. Make a whip of cords and put it in a Group Three race for dead horses and keep on flogging that dead horse to victory. Put it up for auction at the dead horse sales, where other owners and trainers looking for zombie horses and dead horses will pay inflated prices in case it makes a good stud, and flog it there. There is the rule of three which says that anything sounds convincing if you make three connected statements. Then there is proof by denying the opposite; which a decent artist with a palette of poop should guess, is restating a previous point in the negative and then arguing why it can not possibly be.

The thing that you should eventually realise dear reader is that your lecturers and tutors, your teachers and schoolmasters have themselves been through what you're trying to do before you even thought of and they also have a wealth of experience that they can draw upon, to see your pork barrelling for what it is. What makes you think that you can bluff your way past paid professionals into thinking that your hastily prepared spam dish is actually a steak croquembouche. Of course I've got no idea what that is either and it might sound like it could be real but just try and pass off fried spam at the Cordon Bleu as Steak Croquembouche and see how far that gets you.

The very end of a document should almost always leave you with the conclusion stated and/or should end on a weak joke. It has long been a staple of children's television and even some serious drama (where there is a definite dénouement) that everyone must be laughing as you enter the closing credits. The closing joke is always terrible and if it was made in the real world, it would either be met with groans (or perhaps someone might come at you with the whip that they've been flogging that dead horse with (this is a call back (and this is a third level deviation))).
Of course the most sensible course of action would have been to have just read the book, or the paper, or the source material, in the first place. One of the great advantages of actually bothering to read the thing that you were supposed to have read is that if you read a lot of stuff, you can synthesize a whole bunch of stuff into freshly manufactured guff. To steal from one place is to plagiarise but to steal from many places is to do research. If you combine enough stuff that you've read, you will break the butterfly upon the wheel and your teachers and the people marking your work will be looking for hidden references. That's one of the great things about doing a literature, politics or some other human it is a course which doesn't have an air of authority conferred on it by the use of numbers: provided you can manufacture high quality guff and have read the material, you should be able to do all right but you still won’t be able to hide the fact that you never read the book; so just read the book.

No comments: