Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest Winners
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 14 May 96 16:37:43 -0700
Subject: Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest Winners
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The PHIL-LIT/_Philosophy and Literature_ Bad Writing Contest:
Results for round two.
The entries for the second run of the Bad Writing Contest have now been
tabulated, and we are pleased to announce winners. But first a few tedious
words. There is no question that we have better--if that's how to put
it--entries than the last time we ran the contest. Some of the entries are
stunning, and we think almost all of them deserve a prize of some sort.
This is not to say that much of the writing we would consider "bad" is
necessarily incompetent. Graduate students and young scholars please note:
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 for anyone wanting to pursue an academic career should
assiduously imitate such styles as are represented here. These are your
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--from
Roy Bhaskar's _Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution_
"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 to bad prose what 1685 was to good music. Fry
"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 believe it or not 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
What can we add to that?
William Dolphin of San Francisco State University located for us 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."
And speaking of marginalization, where, you may ask, are women in this?
Aren't we being exclusionary? Indeed, it's frankly unfair that men should
have all the fun, but the gallant Canadian David Savory found this lucid
sentence in the essay "Tonya's Bad Boot," in _Women on Ice_, edited by
"This melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of
un-narrativized representative bodies back into recognizable
Thanks to these and all the other entrants. If you didn't [win?] this time,
the next round of the Bad Writing Contest, prizes to be announced, is now
open with a deadline of September 30, 1996. So you've plenty of time to
find examples from the turgid new world of academic prose. Details of the
new contest will appear on PHIL-LIT. Winners of this contest, watch for
your prizes in the mail.
Thanks to all.
_Philosophy and Literature_
David G. Myers
© 1996 Peter Langston