November 26, 2008

He's won the "Bad Writing Contest" twice, but now Professor Fredric R. Jameson has won the $900,000 Holberg Prize.

"The prize, established in 2003 by the Norwegian Parliament and worth about $900,000 this year, is awarded annually to an outstanding scholar in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, theology, or law."

The Duke literature professor has written such things as "Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism."

His 1997 "Bad Writing" prize honored such sentences as -- from "Signatures of the Visible":
The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer).
Were you ever required to read that sort of thing? Did you ever assign such readings to yourself?


David said...

Yeah--I was required to read Joyce's Ulysses. Tried. Failed.

Only question on the final was about Ulysses.

I ignored the question and wrote an essay on how unreadable it was.

Got an "A." In the early 1960's, before grade inflation.

matthew said...

I dabbled in Derrida's différance before Law School beat it out of me.

I've now gotten back to the point where reading sentences like the one here sound like jibberish again.

I'm not sure if I'm happy about that or not.

Jack said...

Headline: "Al Qaeda Condemns Unfair Pro-Obama Press Bias"

ROFL. Funny how AQ sounds just like Republicans!

Bissage said...

Were you ever required to read that sort of thing?

Hell, I used to write that sort of thing.

When you were in college, did you ever drive up to a house party and there was this guy sitting by himself on the curb a couple of houses down writing stuff on scraps of paper that he later set on fire before he returned to the party?

That was me.

Ah, the clueless philosophical ambition of the drunken young dilettante.

I remember it well.

lumiere said...

Why yes. Once upon a time I did have to read that kind of the University of Wisconsin in Madison Political Science Department.
Ah, thanks for the memories...and the student loan.

Jameson is, of course, a Marxist.

jdeeripper said...

"One of the things that you’ve got to understand is that we’ve got to develop a continuity in order to relate to exacerbate those whose curiosity has not been defended, yet the information given can no longer be used as allegoric because the defendant does not use the evidence which can be substantiated by,” he said before finally asking, “What was the question?"

A Distinguished Professor With a Ph.D. in Nonsense

Unfortunately there are no vintage clips on YouTube.

PatCA said...

I spent two years in graduate school reading this stuff!

I credit those two years with the beginning of my disillusionment with liberalism.

Original George said...

What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

With what meditations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipent lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Major) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.....

What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising, and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible....


As natural as any and every natural act of a nature expressed or understood executed in natured nature by natural creatures in accordance with his, her and their natured natures, of dissimilar similarity. As not as calamitous as a cataclysmic annihilation of the planet in consequence of collision with a dark sun. As less reprehensible than theft, highway robbery, cruelty to children and animals, obtaining money under false pretences, forgery, embezzlement, misappropriation of public money, betrayal of public trust, malingering, mayhem, corruption of minors, criminal libel, blackmail, contempt of court, arson, treason, felony, mutiny on the high seas, trespass, burglary, jailbreaking, practice of unnatural vice, desertion from armed forces in the field, perjury, poaching, usury, intelligence with the king's enemies, impersonation, criminal assault, manslaughter, wilful and premeditated murder. As not more abnormal than all other altered processes of adaptation to altered conditions of existence, resulting in a reciprocal equilibrium between the bodily organism and its attendant circumstances, foods, beverages, acquired habits, indulged inclinations, significant disease. As more than inevitable, irreparable.

Why more abnegation than jealousy, less envy than equanimity?

From outrage (matrimony) to outrage (adultery) there arose nought but outrage (copulation) yet the matrimonial violator of the matrimonially violated had not been outraged by the adulterous violator of the adulterously violated.

What retribution, if any?

Assassination, never, as two wrongs did not make one right. Duel by combat, no. Divorce, not now. Exposure by mechanical artifice (automatic bed) or individual testimony (concealed ocular witness), not yet. Suit for damages by legal influence or simulation of assault with evidence of injuries sustained (selfinflicted), not impossibly. If any, positively, connivance, introduction of emulation (material, a prosperous rival agency of publicity: moral, a successful rival agent of intimacy), depreciation, alienation, humiliation, separation protecting the one separated from the other, protecting separator from both.

By what reflections did he, a conscious reactor against the void incertitude, justify to himself his sentiments?

The preordained frangibility of the hymen, the presupposed intangibility of the thing in itself: the incongruity and disproportion between the selfprolonging tension of the thing proposed to be done and the self abbreviating relaxation of the thing done: the fallaciously inferred debility of the female, the muscularity of the male: the variations of ethical codes: the natural grammatical transition by inversion involving no alteration of sense of an aorist preterite proposition (parsed as masculine subject, monosyllabic onomatopoeic transitive verb with direct feminine object) from the active voice into its correlative aorist preterite proposition (parsed as feminine subject, auxiliary verb and quasimonosyllabic onomatopoeic past participle with complementary masculine agent) in the passive voice: the continued product of seminators by generation: the continual production of semen by distillation: the futility of triumph or protest or vindication: the inanity of extolled virtue: the lethargy of nescient matter: the apathy of the stars.

In what final satisfaction did these antagonistic sentiments and reflections, reduced to their simplest forms, converge?

Satisfaction at the ubiquity in eastern and western terrestrial hemispheres, in all habitable lands and islands explored or unexplored (the land of the midnight sun, the islands of the blessed, the isles of Greece, the land of promise) of adipose posterior female hemispheres, redolent of milk and honey and of excretory sanguine and seminal warmth, reminiscent of secular families of curves of amplitude, insusceptible of moods of impression or of contrarieties of expression, expressive of mute immutable mature animality.

The visible signs of antesatisfaction?

An approximate erection: a solicitous adversion: a gradual elevation: a tentative revelation; a silent contemplation.

From the 'Ithaca' section of Ulysses.

Bow, ye of little words, before James Joyce, the master.

dualdiagnosis said...

Blogger Jack said...

Headline: "Al Qaeda Condemns Unfair Pro-Obama Press Bias"

I think there is a worldwide consensus on that point.

rhhardin said...

It reads okay to me. But then I read Derrida with pleasure as well.

There are probably several factors:

1. There are empty-headed academic imitators. They have nothing to tell you. This writer may be one or he may not, you can't tell yet.

2. You have to be philosophy-oriented, in particular actually be interested in classical philosophical problems for one reason or another. This is chiefly a small subset of males.

3. You have to be willing to read very slowly. I copied Derrida out into a notebook word for word just as a speed check. It pays you back.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Did you ever assign such readings to yourself?

No. If I wanted to read gibberish I'd buy one of Obama's memoirs.

Luke G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke G. said...

I've actually read several of his books (I'm a PhD student in English Literature). He deliberately makes his writing "dialectic," ie, hard to understand. (Judith Butler, another academic famous for convoluted writing, argues on the same basis.) You almost have to understand basic Marxism and Gramsci and the Frankfurt School before you pick him up or he'll be impossible to access. I had a professor basically "decode" him for a class I was in for more than six weeks before he started making sense...and even then, he only made sense if you accept many Marxist suppositions.

I tend to trail to the libertarian, anti-Marxist side of the political scale, but I have to admit that Jameson really is one of the most profound thinkers in the academic world alive today. The best contemporary case for an intellectual, reasoned approach to Marxism is through Jameson.

knox said...

an intellectual, reasoned approach to Marxism

i.e., hell

Joe M. said...

Marxism. Ick.

Kurt said...

I had to read Jameson's book, The Political Unconscious at one point in graduate school. Quite honestly, I don't remember if I ever finished it. Mainly I knew Jameson by his reputation as an "important" Marxist at Duke. I don't remember all of it being as dense as the quoted passage, though.

I could usually get through most of the theory I read slowly (as I read most things slowly), but had the most trouble with German philosophers and theorists: Hegel, Heidegger, Habermas.

Pogo said...

It is one thing to have nothing to say, quite another to say nothing in the most difficult and obscure way possible.

Indeed, he should win the prize, having concocted a career out of blatant bullshittery, making discordant mountains out of philosophical molehills.

Why not? They pay grown men handsome sums to catch baseballs, to drive giant corporations into bankruptcy, to sing unintelligibly over piercing guitar solos about love lost or hamsters or something (it's too hard to decipher), so why not large sums doled out to obscurant buffoons?

Woe to the small number of males who think they understand him, for they are the butt-end of a tedious ruse.

rcocean said...

"Profound, reasoned Marxism" - a true oxymoron.

Luke G. said...

Let me put it this way...

Before Jameson, I had only encountered straw-man arguments against Marxism. Jameson presented vigorous, measured, and relatively reasonable arguments.

I saw that there was, given a certain set of assumptions and priorities, an actual convincing case to be made for Marxism, mostly through Jameson's arguments.

However, I still saw those assumptions as faulty and the priorities as perverse, so I could not accept Jamesonian Marxism. BUT his is still the single best argument for Marxism I've ever encountered.

Luke G. said...

Sorry, I should have said, "straw-man arguments FOR Marxism"

Kirby Olson said...

Was he part of the Duke 88 that lynched the lacrosse kids?

Baron Zemo said...

My dear lady, I am sorry that you did not win the award. I am sure your writing is much worse than Professor Jameson.

Stephen Snell said...

On an unrelated note, it is a relatively dark and stormy night here in Nevada.

One of my great bonding moments with my sister was when she was in grad school and started blasting the writing in a horrid book she had to read, and I interrupted and asked whether it was Cornel West, and it was.

While I immensely enjoyed Joyce's Portrait OTAAAYM, I never read more than a page or 2 of his other stuff.

Kat said...

I agree with the first comment by David about how unreadable Joyce's Ulysses is. Tried. Failed. It's the only assignment I didn't complete in college. I wish I'd had David's nerve to expound upon the reasons why Ulysses defeated me on the exam (preferably with the same grade result). Alas, I was not that gutsy and had to bluff my way through on class notes.

Ann Althouse said...

jdeeripper, thanks for reminding me about Prof. Irwin Corey. I have loved him since the 60s.

Bob W. said...

Speaking of bad writing, did anyone see this article in the NYT this a.m.? Priceless!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Palladian said...

So... a Marxist has won a 900,000 dollar prize? I assume he'll be giving that 900,000 blood-stained dollars "to each according to his need" then?


OK Sorry. What was I thinking!

Palladian said...

You have to be rich, misanthropic, and produce nothing of value to call yourself a "Marxist" these days.

Palladian said...

"jdeeripper, thanks for reminding me about Prof. Irwin Corey. I have loved him since the 60s."

I used to like him too. Sorry to learn that he's stupid enough to call himself a Communist. What's the average value of an aged Jewish comedian in a Communist country?

Michael said...

Speaking of poor writing, presentation and editing:

President Dolt and First Lady Dolt sent out invitations to Jewish leaders for a Hanukkah reception at the White House with a big Christmas tree pictured on the front.

The message reads that the couple "requests the pleasure of your company at a Hanukkah reception," written beneath an image of a Clydesdale horse hauling a Christmas fir along the snow-dappled drive to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


Maxine Weiss said...

Doorbusters: JCPenny open at 4am, Friday.

Be there.

Palladian said...

I love how Gene Ol... I mean, Michael comes along at the ass-end of every thread, like a buzzard picking the last maggoty sinews off a dead deer carcass. Actually, the metaphor isn't apt, since the buzzard serves a purpose in the ecosystem. Lucky Old Michael just stinks.

Freeman Hunt said...

Like rhhardin, but probably not nearly as well-educated, I don't mind this kind of writing if it then goes somewhere. (Unlike rhhardin, I can barely stomach the anti-realism of Wittgenstein's successors.) I admit it: I want to know what came after the quoted passage. But then, I love philosophy.

Outside of philosophy, however, and in my own writing, I like things terse.

Freeman Hunt said...

But then again, I appreciate clear writing in philosophy. The only problem is that having something to say of philosophical worth isn't necessarily correlated to writing ability. So it goes. We trudge onward.

Michael said...

Anybody know how far it is from Crawford to Bastrop?

Pogo said...

Freeman, I have long suspected this sort of writing is similar to free jazz, in its eclectic, obscure meandering and seeming lack of form (or even recognizable content).

Similarly it's audience is quite small, but devoted.

Paddy O. said...

Reading such a book now. Beauty of the Infinite by David Bentley Hart.

A book on theological aesthetics. The first part of the book consists of him essentially deconstructing continental postmodern philosophers. He does this by playing their own game.

Later parts he moves on, but doesn't in his writing. If you want to read the most obscure vocabulary and sentence structure, almost 500 pages worth, this is your book. Here's a sample sentence (yes, one sentence):

For all his solicitude for noble values, Nietzsche may prove, in retrospect, to have been the greatest of bourgeois philosophers: the active and creative force of will he praised may be really a mythic aggrandizement of entrepreneurial ingenuity and initiative; talk of the will to power, however abstracted and universalized, may reflect only a metaphysical inflation of that concept of voluntaristic punctiliarity that defines the “subject” to which the market is hospitable; the notion of a contentless and spontaneous activity that must create values describes, in a somewhat impressionistic vein, the monadic consumer of the free market and the venture capitalist; to speak of the innocence of all becoming, the absence of good and evil from being, and a general preference for the distinction between god and bad as a purely evaluative judgment is perhaps to speak of the guiltless desire of the consumer, the relativity of want, and that perpetual transvaluation that is so elegantly and poignantly expressed on every price tag, every declaration of a commodity’s abstract value; a force that goes always to the limit of what it can do is perhaps at one with modern capitalism’s myth of limitless growth and unbounded trade.

rastajenk said...

Yet another reason to hate Duke.

William said...

I have read Joyce's Dubliners and can recognize that a genius wrote it. Because of this I think that my inability to get through Ulysses is more a comment on my dullness than on Joyce's talent. I have no such confidence in Marx or in a distinguished explicator of his writing. The very fact that he would devote his adult life to explicating Marx makes him suspect. I suppose there was a time when one could believe in the astronomy of Ptolemy and try to work out its contradictions. Nowadays such a person would be a fool.

Seneca the Younger said...

Read it? He3ll, I've tried to talk to him about it in person. He talks like that too.

eaglewingz08 said...

Since I had to visually acquire the writings of that idiot but now much richer jerk author, I can say without exception that there was nothing remotely close to 'pornography' in that visual experience. In fact, it was the most trite marxist critique I've seen in some time. It's like Bill Ayres without the inspiration. I must say that this is not the Norway that I once knew, to award a prize to this bozo. As Reagan was wont to say, don't vote for these guys, it only encourages them and to Norway, please stop your foolishness now, while you are still only a laughingstock country.

Chris said...

I'm with Lumiere.

I miss those crazy days of college. I actually wrote (with my girlfriend) a paper where she provided all the good ideas and I provided the Fred Jameson style (i.e. I was pretty much the ghostwriter). It got published somewhere with our Prof's name added. My style was half parody and half mimicry and I remember my professor saying I had a "knack". He actually reworked the thing for a textbook so if I Google the title I get quite a few hits. Cracks me up.

My favorite from those days was Foucault. I read him in English but his (translator's) description of the torturous death of Robert-François Damiens is something I don't think I'll ever forget.

merle newgrain said...

heres jameson at his best: Signatures of the Visible (Routledge, 1990, p. 1):

The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer).
its academese at its most complex: sterile, wordy, hyper-tensive, blatherful, blog worthy, babble.