Re (sort of): Examples of bad manual text

Subject: Re (sort of): Examples of bad manual text
From: "Wilcox, John (Contractor)" <wilcoxj -at- WDNI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 1997 11:08:00 -0800

The following is from a year or more ago, and has possibly been posted
before. If so, sorry. Anyway, this is not exactly manual text, but
truly the best of the bad.

Subject: Bad academic writing awards

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 role models.

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" (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

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 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 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 (Johns
Hopkins University Press, 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."

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 Cynthia Baughman:

"This melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narrativized
representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual codes."

Thanks to these and all the other entrants. If you didn't 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 [the Internet discussion list]
PHIL-LIT. Winners of this contest, watch for your prizes in the mail.

Thanks to all.

Denis Dutton
"Philosophy and Literature"
d -dot- dutton -at- fina -dot- canterbury -dot- ac -dot- nz

David G. Myers
dgmyers -at- tamvm1 -dot- tamu -dot- edu


John Wilcox, Documentation Specialist
Timberlands Information Services
Tacoma, WA 98477-0001
wilcoxj -at- wdni -dot- com

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