Post Academic

Speaking of Translating Jargon: The Postmodernism Generator App

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on September 2, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWe’ve all used a name generator. My favorites are the Wu-Tang name generator and the Jersey Shore name generator. But what about a postmodern author name generator? Oh, yes, there’s an app for that.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Postmodernism Generator, which has been creating pitch-perfect faux cultural criticism since 2000. (Frankly, much of what comes out of the generator is easier to read than certain authors we have mentioned before …)

The portable version of the Postmodernism Generator lets you get your cultural critique fix anywhere, anytime. You can quote from it and play “trick-a-professor.” But the niftiest part of the app pulls last names out of your address book so you can read fake articles by your friends, who get their own nicknames worthy of a cultural critic. For example, if “Richard Lopez” is in your address book, the Postmodernism Generator turns him into the esteemed “H. Jurgen Lopez, Department of Deconstruction.”

That’s H. Jurgen Method Man to you! Image of Method Man by Johnny Blaze from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Who’s the best writer? A journalist’s point of view

Posted in Absurdities,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on July 20, 2010
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Now that I’m spending my days editing academic writing, I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few months back making the case for and against academics as superior writers to their counterparts in journalists and creative writers.  Seeing as I’m reading lots of scholarly essays day in, day out, I’m pretty sure what I wrote before goes double for the strengths and weaknesses of academic as writers.  (And if you are an academic reading this post, please, please, please follow the style sheet and formatting guidelines of whatever journal you’re submitting to–it makes the lives of your editors much easier!)

Anyhow, I figured now would be a fine time to continue our battle royale between academics, journalists, and creative writers.  (Gee, we sure are having a lot of competition-style posts these days, though that’s not really the way we mousy post academics roll.)  Anyway, it’s a little hard for me to write this installment in defense of journalists, because I’m not really one, unless you really stretch the category and count freelance music critics.  But I guess I’ve worked for some news publications and know some journalists, so I can at least try to step into those shoes.

Strengths: The strengths of good journalistic writing can come through loud and clear and quickly.  Excellent journalism combines a variety of skills that would seem completely antithetical to academic types, constructing a good narrative that includes lots of helpful information while remaining concise.  Writing style is one thing, but journalists are probably underrated when it comes to their skill sets, which require them to take care of their assignments on time, letting go of an article when it’s done, and to actually work with other people…

More on cases for and against the journalist as the best writer…


From the digital archives: Bad Writing Contest, 1996-98 (with quiz!)

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 30, 2010
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"Judith Butler at a lecture at the University of Hamburg, April 2007" by Jreberlein (Creative Commons)

In a week when we’ve covered such oddball yet at least a little bit thought provoking topics about writing like a literary draft, which type of writer is the best, and which theorist is cited the most often, it figures we should end the week by revisiting the “Bad Writing Contest” which made a little bit of a splash at the end of the 1990s.  You remember that, right, where some of the most influential scholars–most likely to be of poststructural and postmodern persuasions–were skewered for their difficult prose.  I’m withholding the names (though the photo here is a mighty big hint), because we’re gonna have a little fun with the winners and test your knowledge of them after the jump!

Lest anyone think that we here at Post Academic are aligning ourselves with the ideologically dubious and probably culturally retrograde judgments made by Denis Dutton and friends, we aren’t.  Sure, the winners/losers can be difficult to read, but there’s definitely a method to what appears madness that’s hard not respect and admire.  So keep in mind the following:

1. If my writing could be recognized as a “bad writing” alongside some of my Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial heroes, I would have been glad to be recognized as such.  I remember when my grad school colleagues and I first found out about the “Bad Writing Contest” and how we took it with a grain of salt, bemused though we were that the biggest names in our field might be deemed poor writers.

2. It’s not like it isn’t a tradition in critical theory and its philosophical antecdents to use complex, confusing language to interrogate complex, confusing subject matter.  Dutton himself seems to acknowledge this, though its couched in the worst bad faith possible in this Wall Street Journal piece he wrote justifying the contest:

As a lifelong student of Kant, I know that philosophy is not always well-written. But when Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein are most obscure, it’s because they are honestly grappling with the most complex and difficult problems the human mind can encounter. How different from the desperate incantations of the Bad Writing Contest winners, who hope to persuade their readers not by argument but by obscurity that they too are the great minds of the age.

That’s right, the whole contest really isn’t about writing, but intention, which make the whole thing less entertaining by a lot.

3. On the other hand, I’ve heard other Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial rock stars make similar complaints about their colleagues, probably as a warning to their students to do as they say and not as they do, in not becoming jargon juniors.  I do assume, though, that they do so in much better faith!

Now what you’ve been waiting for–the winners/losers–is below the fold…


Who’s the best writer? An academic’s point of view (with poll)

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 29, 2010
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I was reading this opinion piece from the Chronicle by Rachel Toor about bad academic writing and it got me wondering about who was the best writer–the academic, the creative writer, or the journalist.  Now there’s no decisive way to judge this and the question seems to be a futile one to ask, at best, or a stupid one, at worst, since it obviously boils down to a matter of opinion and probably subject position.  But seeing as I’m kinda two of the three types of writer I’ve listed, I was thinking about the skills that the different kinds of writing entail.

To try to compare apples to oranges to bananas, I came up with three criteria to consider each kind of writer/each style of writing: the writer’s strengths, the self-identified weaknesses, and how one might make a case for itself/against the others.  I’m only focusing on an academic’s point of view here, since Toor’s essay got me to think about this.  And if someone wants to make a case for the creative writer down the line, please do, because I’m definitely not one!

Strengths: As an academic, I’ve always been invested in the idea that scholarly writing was the superior or at least the most intellectually engaged (read: superior) form, because it allowed for the most complexity and the ability to make connections that neither journalism and creative writing could.  So what if academic writing is dense and opaque more than some of the time?: It just reflected the complexity of the thought it was trying to convey and there really is an art to slowly building an argument that makes academic writing appealing.  Plus, academic writing and research require a command of materials like no other, since the scholar needs not only to have a strong grasp of the creative works it is analyzing, but also other critical work in the field, historical background, and theoretical methodologies.  So I guess that’s why academic essays and manuscripts have to be so long, if they have to incorporate all of those elements.

More below the fold…