Attacks and defenses of bad writing

The fourth and last bad writing contest was won by Judith Butler in 1999 for this sentence in an article in Diacritics.

“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.”

Many of those accused of bad writing respond in Just Being Difficult? (Jonathan Culler and Kevin Lamb eds.). Here’s a review of that book from Philosophy and Literature (subscription required).

“In 1999, Philosophy and Literature gave the top prize in its annual Bad Writing Contest to Judith Butler, and the national press echoed the journal in denouncing critical theory as overblown, jargon-ridden, and ungrammatical. Academic theorists reacted with pique, but not a soul in the public sphere came to their defense. Now, the professors have issued an anthology justifying their prose and denouncing Denis Dutton and other critics of bad writing. They claim that bad, or rather ‘difficult’ writing has a critical thrust: to break down common sense and dismantle unjust social notions.They fail to make their case. Much of the writing is, alas, bad. Entries offer tendentious, petulant reactions to the hubbub. Rarely do they address the basic point of the contest: that humanities professors no longer respect ideals of wit, eloquence, and learning. Instead, we have another parade of academic parochialism and radical chic passing itself off as adversarial culture and social justice.”