Philosophy and Literature
Winners of the Fourth Bad Writing Contest (1998)
We are pleased to announce winners of the fourth Bad Writing Contest, sponsored by the scholarly journal Philosophy
The Bad Writing Contest celebrates the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles
published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, departmental memos, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies:
entries must be non-ironic, from serious, published academic journals or books. Deliberate parody cannot be allowed in a
field where unintended self-parody is so widespread.
Two of the most popular and influential literary scholars in the U.S. are among those who wrote winning entries in the latest
Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of
California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps "one of the ten smartest people on the planet," wrote the sentence that captured
the contest's first prize. Homi K. Bhabha, a leading voice in the fashionable academic field of postcolonial studies,
produced the second-prize winner.
"As usual," commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, "this year's winners were produced by
well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know
what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and
Professor Butler's first-prize sentence appears in "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time," an article in the
scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively
homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and
rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form
of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the
contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the
contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
Dutton remarked that "it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of
Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’."
This year’s second prize went to a sentence authored by Homi K. Bhabha, a professor of English at the University of
Chicago. He writes in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994):
If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification,
pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate
effort to "normalize" formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened
claims of its enunciatory modality.
This prize-winning entry was nominated by John D. Peters of the University of Iowa, who describes it as "quite splendid:
enunciatory modality, indeed!"
Ed Lilley, an art historian at the University of Bristol in the U.K., supplied a sentence by Steven Z. Levine from an
anthology entitled Twelve Views of Manet’s "Bar" (Princeton University Press, 1996):
As my story is an august tale of fathers and sons, real and imagined, the biography here will fitfully attend to
the putative traces in Manet’s work of "les noms du père," a Lacanian romance of the errant paternal phallus
("Les Non-dupes errent"), a revised Freudian novella of the inferential dynamic of paternity which annihilates
(and hence enculturates) through the deferred introduction of the third term of insemination the
phenomenologically irreducible dyad of the mother and child.
Stewart Unwin of the
National Library of
Australia passed along
this gem from the
Australasian Journal of
(December 1997). The
author is Timothy W.
Luke, and the article is
entitled, "Museum Pieces:
Politics and Knowledge at
the American Museum of
Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize
and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as
social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life's everlasting quest for survival, and
canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. An
anatomo-politics of human and non-human bodies is sustained by accumulating and classifying such necroliths
in the museum's observational/expositional performances.
The passage goes on
to explain that museum
fossils and artifacts are
conduits, carrying the
vital elan of
helpful quotations from
History of Sexuality.
Finally, a tour de
force from a 1996
book published by
the State University of
New York Press. It
was located by M.J.
Devaney, an editor at
the University of
Nebraska Press. The
author is D.G. Leahy,
the Body Itself.
Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of
which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of
the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the
dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say
that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the self-identity which is not identity, while identity
is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self). This is the real
exteriority of the absolute outside: the reality of the absolutely unconditioned absolute outside univocally
predicated of the dark: the light univocally predicated of the darkness: the shining of the light univocally
predicated of the limit of the darkness: actuality univocally predicated of the other of self-identity:
existence univocally predicated of the absolutely unconditioned other of the self. The precision of the
shining of the light breaking the dark is the other-identity of the light. The precision of the absolutely
minimum transcendence of the dark is the light itself/the absolutely unconditioned exteriority of existence
for the first time/the absolutely facial identity of existence/the proportion of the new creation sans
depth/the light itself ex nihilo: the dark itself univocally identified, i.e., not self-identity identity itself
equivocally, not the dark itself equivocally, in "self-alienation," not "self-identity, itself in
self-alienation" "released" in and by "otherness," and "actual other," "itself," not the abysmal
inversion of the light, the reality of the darkness equivocally, absolute identity equivocally predicated of
the self/selfhood equivocally predicated of the dark (the reality of this darkness the other-self-covering of
identity which is the identification person-self).
calls this book
." While she has
prove her point,
this seems to be
The next round of
the Bad Writing
Contest, results to
be announced at the
end of 1999, is now
open. There is an
endless ocean of
being added to
daily, and we'll
continue to honor it.
Prof. Denis Dutton
Editor, Philosophy and Literature
University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
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