On my list of The Civilised is Dr Germaine Greer: I shall entertain criticism of her but only to appear tolerant. She excelled herself on Celebrity Big Brother by storming off it on the grounds of bullying: this was her tour de force as a human being. She’d even tried to lead an in-house revolt against the Geordie-voice of TV fascism with Jacqui Stallone in the rear. Stallone, Greer, fascism - all in one sentence: who’d have thunk it?
So how appalling that Dr Greer (the honorific is crucial if you’re not to offend her) has just picked up the Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award for failing to be crystal clear in one of her innumerable newspaper essays. Her crime was the following sentence in The Guardian last October: “The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold.”
In The Guardian today she advises the PEC people to “stuff” their award. Quite right: this message at least has the virtue of clarity. But she does herself no favours by presuming that “most reasonably educated Guardian readers” would be familiar with the provenance of the “unsynthesised manifold” – from Kant’s Critique of Judgement, she explains. I fear not, and why should they be?
Her explanation today of the unsynthesised manifold falls between the painfully obvious and incomprehensible – in other words she shares a problem of communication with writers of flatpack instructions. The poor love can’t win (except in a tutorial).