Worst.Press.Release.Ever: Word Salad


The late Denis Dutton ran a much-loved competition from 1995 to 1998 called the Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest, in which he lampooned the acrobatically obscure scribes of academe. A similar competition should exist for art writing, particularly press releases, though crowning a single victor may prove difficult given the glut of preposterous prose. But every once in a while a sentence comes along and energizes us with its singular lack of meaning, the tinny sound made by so many letters, marched into so many words, all profaning the artworks they are meant to elevate. One such sentence arrived today from Sikkema Jenkins & Co and was immediately spotted by Ben Sutton:

Leslie Hewitt uses the language of photography to interrogate the function of memory by calling to attention the displacement in time and location that occurs in its realm.

One might say whoever penned it uses the language of null language to interrogate the function of meaning by calling to attention the displacement of adjectival structure and direct objects in its realm. But don’t get too worked up — things could be worse. Judith Butler, who won Denis Dutton’s competition in its final year, earned her laurels for a sentence appearing in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” published in the journal 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.

For further reading on how to not bend it like Butler, Dutton’s “Language Crimes” essay for the Wall Street Journal is a great place to start.

Worst.Press.Release.Ever is a sometime feature on Hyperallergic.

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