The BAD WRITING CONTEST
Winners from the second and third Bad Writing Contests, sponsored by the journal Philosophy and Literature and its internet discussion group, PHIL-LIT.
I gathered this page several years ago, so there has been a lot of bad writing since. But they are still nice.
First prize goes to David Spurrett of the University of Natal in South Africa. He found this marvelous sentence-yes, it's but one sentence-in Roy Bhaskar's Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution (Verso, 1994):"Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal-of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard."
It's a splendid bit of prose and I'm certain many of us will now attempt to read it aloud without taking a breath. The jacket blurb, incidentally, informs us that this is the author's "most accessible book to date."
Second Prize is won by Jennifer Harris of the University of Toronto. She found a grand sentence in an essay by Stephen T. Tyman called "Ricoeur and the Problem of Evil," in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, edited, it says, by Lewis Edwin Hahn (Open Court, 1995):"With the last gasp of Romanticism, the quelling of its florid uprising against the vapid formalism of one strain of the Enlightenment, the dimming of its yearning for the imagined grandeur of the archaic, and the dashing of its too sanguine hopes for a revitalized, fulfilled humanity, the horror of its more lasting, more Gothic legacy has settled in, distributed and diffused enough, to be sure, that lugubriousness is recognizable only as languor, or as a certain sardonic laconicism disguising itself in a new sanctification of the destructive instincts, a new genius for displacing cultural reifications in the interminable shell game of the analysis of the human psyche, where nothing remains sacred."
Speaking of shell games, see if you can figure out the subject of that sentence.
Jack Kolb of UCLA found this sentence in Paul Fry's A Defense of Poetry (Stanford University Press, 1995). Together with the previous winners, it proves that 1995 was a vintage year bad prose. Fry writes:"It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness-rather than the will to power-of its fall into conceptuality."Incidentally, Kolb is reviewing Fry's book for Philosophy and Literature, and he generally respects it.
Here, spotted for us by Dave Roden of Central Queensland University in Australia, is the very first sentence of Professor Jameson's book, Signatures of the Visible (Routledge, 1990, p. 1):"The visual is _essentially_ pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer)."
If reading Fredric Jameson is like swimming through cold porridge, there are writers who strive for incoherence of a more bombastic kind. Here is our next winner, which was found for us by Professor Cynthia Freeland of the University of Houston. The writer is Professor Rob Wilson:"If such a sublime cyborg would insinuate the future as post-Fordist subject, his palpably masochistic locations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate need to be decoded as the 'now-all-but-unreadable DNA' of a fast deindustrializing Detroit, just as his Robocop-like strategy of carceral negotiation and street control remains the tirelessly American one of inflicting regeneration through violence upon the racially heteroglossic wilds and others of the inner city."This colorful gem appears in a collection called The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Political Criticism, and the Public Sphere, edited by Richard Burt "for the Social Text Collective" (University of Minnesota Press, 1994). Social Text is the cultural studies journal made famous by publishing physicist Alan Sokal's jargon-ridden parody of postmodernist writing. If this essay is Social Text's idea of scholarship, little wonder it fell for Sokal's hoax. (And precisely what are "racially heteroglossic wilds and others"?) Dr. Wilson is an English professor, of course.
That incomprehensibility need not be long-winded is proven by our third-place winner, sent in by Richard Collier, who teaches at Mt. Royal College in Canada. It's a sentence from Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory, by Fred Botting (Manchester University Press, 1991):