Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 23:05:20 -0700

From: Kim & Rima McKinzey rkm[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]SLIP.NET

Subject: forward - Bad Writing Contest

Perhaps it's just sadism on my part, but these were entirely too painful

not to forward. Rima

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.


Philosophy and Literature, a scholarly journal from the Johns Hopkins

University Press, is soon to mark its twentieth anniversary. Editor:

Denis Dutton, University of Canterbury, New Zealand; Coeditor,

Patrick Henry, Whitman College, Washington.


Denis Dutton is past President and current Media Spokesbeing of the

New Zealand Skeptics.