I love my old friend Jonathan Mayhew’s prose. His blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks (Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done), is often very charming (and it is always illuminating). Read this bit on the use of “scare quotes.” The last sentence is beautiful.
Obviously, (well, obviously to me), this mannerism arose out of deconstruction. All of sudden the “language” we use to describe “things” came into “question.” It seemed “naive” to use words that were “problematic” in this way, so everything had to be put
under erasure. Since we still had to use words to “communicate,” we could “signal” our distance “from” them typographically.
A word like “aesthetic” could be used, but only in quotes, otherwise the reader might think we actually believe in “aesthetics,” god forbid. The word in italics functions in the opposite way: here we are saying that this word solves our problems, as in the word cultural.
“Here we are saying that this word solves our problems.”