Perhaps the answer moving forward, then, is not to join in the mockery of jargon, but to double down on it. Scholars of Yiddish studies are happy to tell you the thousand-year-old language developed as a kind of secret code so that its speakers could talk freely under the noses of their oppressors (and, yes, sometimes mock them). Perhaps academic jargon could serve a similar purpose.
But while I make my living as an English professor, that job stems from my career as a poet, without which I wouldn’t have earned my degrees or found teaching jobs. Many poets and other creative writers are in the same situation, struggling to make money in the academy. For those in the publishing industry, the situation is worse.
Few poets, however, write honestly about their economic situation. Indeed, it’s a challenge to find any poet willing to come clean about money: wanting it, enjoying it, needing it, or lacking it—even though this must necessarily be our condition.
A translator of note (he wrote the elegantly witty Is That a Fish in Your Ear? about the perils of translation) and an admired authority on French literature, David Bellos is just the man to undertake the marathon task of decoding and contextualising a novel more often seen than read during the last 32 years of its vibrant reincarnation as a musical.
More allegorical than strictly satirical, Kleeman’s novel examines hunger in all its shapes and forms – “Wanting things was a substitute for wanting people, one of the best possible substitutes” – skewering contemporary society’s obsession with consumerism, consumption, commodification and conformity.