I stumbled across this review of the 2003 book Just Being Difficult? Academic Writing in the Public Arena, which was published (and, for some reason, made available on the web) in the journal Philosophy and Literature. Basically, the book is a response to Philosophy and Literature editor Denis Dutton’s “bad sentence” contest. Guess what? The review thinks the book is bad!
Time away from graduate school has softened my views regarding those who tend to be labeled as “anti-theorists,” but I will say two things. First, I personally subscribe to the “bad writing is relative” school of thought, and my teaching about “style” and “clear writing” continually reinforces this idea. There is no transcendent “good writing” because good writing always depends on audience, purpose, and desired effect. That being the case, how can these folks comfortably define “bad writing,” especially when it is reduced to a winning “bad sentence?”
Second, Dutton et al really are a bunch of “reactionaries,” in at least an academic sense. I was on the philosophy and literature mailing list maybe 8 or more years ago, and it was an incredibly irritating discussion to listen to and participate in. It’s sort of like what happens to me when I stumble across Rush Limbaugh: just about everything these folks said back then (and what Rush says now) angers me and makes me want to shout and explain why they are wrong. And they weren’t exactly thrilled to listen to me, so I signed off.
I edited this slightly based on stb’s (somewhat nit-picky) comments. This is what happens when I write these things right out of bed in the morning and before I finish my first cup of coffee….