Bad Writing Contest

Fri, 17 May 1996 16:28:24 +1200

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Bad Writing Contest: Winners Announced

We are pleased to announce winners of the second Bad Writing
Contest, sponsored by the journal Philosophy and Literature/and its
internet discussion group, PHIL-LIT.

The challenge of the Bad Writing Contest is to come up with the
ugliest, most stylistically awful single sentence-or string of no more
than three sentences-found in a published scholarly book or article.
Ordinary journalism, fiction, etc. not allowed, nor is translation from
other languages into English. Entries must be non-ironic, from actual
serious academic journals or books-parodies cannot be admitted in a
field where unintentional self-parody is so rampant.

Note that much of the writing we would consider "bad" is not
necessarily incompetent. Graduate students and young scholars
please pay attention: many of the writers represented have worked
years to attain their styles and they have been rewarded with
publication in books and journal articles. In fact, if they weren't
published, we wouldn't have them for our contest. That these
passages constitute bad writing is merely our opinion; it is arguable
that anyone wanting to pursue an academic career should assiduously
imitate such styles as are represented here. These are your role

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

Third prize was such a problem that we decided to award more than
one. Exactly what the prizes will be is uncertain (the first three prizes
were to be books), but something nice will be found. (Perhaps: third
prize, an old copy of Glyph; fourth prize two old copies of Glyph.)

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.

Arthur J. Weitzman of Northeastern University has noted for us two
helpful sentences from The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory
and Criticism, edited by Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth
(JHUP, 1994). It is from Donald E. Pease's entry on Harold Bloom:

"Previous exercises in influence study depended upon a topographical
model of reallocatable poetic images, distributed more or less equally
within 'canonical' poems, each part of which expressively totalized
the entelechy of the entire tradition. But Bloom now understood this
cognitive map of interchangeable organic wholes to be criticism's
repression of poetry's will to overcome time's anteriority."

William Dolphin of San Francisco State University located this
elegant sentence in John Guillory's Cultural Capital: The Problem of
Literary Canon Formation (University of Chicago Press, 1993):

"A politics presuming the ontological indifference of all minority social
identities as defining oppressed or dominated groups, a politics in
which differences are sublimated in the constitution of a minority
identity (the identity politics which is increasingly being questioned
within feminism itself) can recover the differences between social
identities only on the basis of common and therefore commensurable
experiences of marginalization, which experiences in turn yield a
political practice that consists largely of affirming the identities
specific to those experiences."

Finally, the Canadian David Savory found this lucid sentence in the
essay by Robyn Wiegman and Linda Zwinger, in "Tonya's Bad Boot,"
an essay in Women on Ice, edited by Cynthia Baughman (Routledge,

"Punctuated by what became ubiquitous sound bites-Tonya dashing
after the tow truck, Nancy sailing the ice with one leg reaching for
heaven-this melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of
un-narrativized representative bodies back into recognizable
heterovisual codes."

Thanks to all the entrants. The next round of the Bad Writing
Contest, prizes to be announced, is now open with a deadline of
September 30, 1996. There is an endless ocean of pretentious, turgid
academic prose being added to daily, and we'll continue to celebrate it.
Details of the new contest will appear on the internet discussion
group PHIL-LIT.

Dr. Denis Dutton
Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Art
Editor, Philosophy and Literature
University of Canterbury
Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone: (03) 366-7001 Fax: (03) 364-2858