Philosophy wins prizes for bad prose

November 15, 1996

A 139-word sentence has won the second Bad Writing Contest, run by the journal Philosophy and Literature.

The challenge is to come up with the ugliest and most stylistically awful sentence from a published scholarly book or article. Denis Dutton, the journal's editor, said: "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."

David Spurrett, of the University of Natal in South Africa, picked up first prize for an entry from Roy Bhaskar's book 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 alaytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Neitzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard."

Professor Bhaskar is professor of philosophy at Linacre College, Oxford. The jacket claims that it is his "most accessible book to date".

Second prize went to Jennifer Harris, of the University of Toronto, for spotting a "grand sentence" in an essay by Stephen T. Tyman's of Southern Illinois University called 'Ricoeur and the Problem of Evil', published in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. It reads: "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 revitalised, 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 langour, 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."

Such was the standard of entries that four third prizes were also awarded.

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