So It’s a Sample You Want?

A reader of ours seems to think I haven’t actually read any bad writing. He’s wrong about that. He tells me to quote some that’s recently published. Very well. Mind you, I wouldn’t do it just to please him, but I’ve been meaning to anyway, when I got around to it, so I’ll get around to it now.

This is from a book published this very year, 2003. It is called, elegantly, The Futures of American Studies, and is edited by Donald E. Pease and Robyn Wiegman. Here is a sample – highly representative, I assure you – from the Introduction:

Like most founding gestures, this one gave monumental status to an origin retrospectively invoked, thereby giving the past authority over the present in a management strategy that seemed aimed to contextualize, if not override, the present threat of rupture and incoherence. In so doing, Wise sought to repair the conceptual ground of a field whose fissuring into multiple programs and subfields at once reflected and gave expression to the aspirations of social movements that had exceeded the ‘founding’ field’s epistemological grasp. The canonical objects of analysis, protocols of reading them, and the interpretive narratives that had secured Wise’s field identity were brought into the ambit of the crisis he diagnosed. In the wake of this encounter, Wise strained to invent a paradigmatic drama that would enable him to feel at home in any of the possible trajectories of the emergent field.

Stop, that’s enough! I want to go on, each sentence is more delicious than the last, so I keep typing, but there is such a thing as copyright, after all. So there you are. I must say, breathes there a soul so dead that that passage doesn’t inspire it with uncontrollable mirth? And it’s all like that. The intro is 38 pages long and it’s all full of that dark suspicion, that insistently paranoid rhetoric, that fatuously portentous jargonization of nothing very much, that wishful mention of ‘social movements’ as if this kind of thing were sort of the academic version of the Flint sit-down strike.

This bit is from the article by Robyn Wiegman, ‘Whiteness Studies and the Paradox’:

I am interested in Forrest Gump as the specific instance and the popular imaginary as the general context for thinking about the academic emergence of an antiracist knowledge project designed to interrogate and historicize whiteness: whiteness studies…If social construction has been used to de-essentialize the racially minoritized subject – to wrestle subjectivity from its oversaturation, indeed reduction to embodiment – then whiteness studies evinces the anxiety of embodiment on the other side of racial power hierarchies, an anxiety that is in itself the consequence of counterhegemonic race discourses that have put pressure not just on what but on how the white body means.

Again – it’s all like that. Page after page of it, treading water, going nowhere. Straining after profundity until the veins stand out on its poor hot forehead, and achieving only polysyllabicality. And then thinking there’s something radical about the whole thing! And there’s something so cringe-making about the sheep-like adoption of Lacanian terminology for no apparent reason, and something so risible about the conjunction of Forrest Gump with a project to historicize something. But there – perhaps I’m just dense, and this sort of thing is terrifically profound.

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