On worthy rants


Garvan Hill has in the recent past been accused of going on a rant about something – I can’t remember exactly what it was but you may well find more than one rant in past posts.

The TLS (Times Literary Supplement) in a review back in 2004 took up the theme of rants in the context of a book which the reviewer described as an example of the genre.

Literature has a blood sport, he wrote, it is the rant. The genre is simple enough: take a well-worn topic, define it vaguely, and stuff it full of straw. And then let fly. Like some Garvan Hill rants, it seemed a worthy one.

The rant in question is a book called Death Sentence. This had nothing to do with capital punishment but it had to do with another kind of punishment – the punishment inflicted by the kind of thing which now passes for “the language of public life: the language of political and business leaders and civil servants”.

This has decayed so much, Don Watson (the book’s author) believes, that “rarely in history have sensible human beings found it so hard to say simple things”. Instead of telling their customers that they can now use electronic transactions, banks inform us: “As part of the electronic delivery strategy the vision (is) to enable customers to transact low face value commoditised financial markets instruments electronically and seamlessly”.

Now if that is not a sentence murdering a simple idea, what is?

Watson ‘s villain is the corporate world. This monster is among us and is spreading a debased managerial language around the globe. It began in the business world, he believes, but is now bludgeoning its way into public organizations which are swallowing this half-baked language whole. Welfare agencies, for example, are now trying to keep up to date by writing about “outcomes” for their customers. Museums are “preferred providers of educational experience”, hospitals develop “best-practice scenarios”, and even universities – which should be among the foremest guardians of the mission of language to help us make sense of our lives – are proclaiming that they “enhance capability gaps to empower continuous….blah, blah, blah”. That was 2004. Nothing much has improved in 2016.

The TLS review is here and the book is Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language by Don Watson

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