Judith Butler Makes the Case Against Her Own Bad Writing

From her NYT letter to editor after winning the Bad Writing Contest:

The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, who maintained that nothing radical could come of common sense, wrote sentences that made his readers pause and reflect on the power of language to shape the world. A sentence of his such as “Man is the ideology of dehumanization” is hardly transparent in its meaning. Adorno maintained that the way the word “man” was used by some of his contemporaries was dehumanizing.

Taken out of context, the sentence may seem vainly paradoxical. But it becomes clear when we recognize that in Adorno’s time the word “man” was used by humanists to regard the individual in isolation from his or her social context. For Adorno, to be deprived of one’s social context was precisely to suffer dehumanization. Thus, “man” is the ideology of dehumanization.

So why do we have to write sentences like “man is the ideology of dehumanization” when ones like “Early 20th century humanists used the word ‘man’ when considering individuals in isolation from their social contexts, a usage which ignores that precisely what makes us human are our social contexts” (a) by Butler’s own account, can express the same ideas and (b) express those ideas in a clearer manner that’s intelligible to more people?

3 thoughts on “Judith Butler Makes the Case Against Her Own Bad Writing

  1. Well my first response is to ask who on earth reads Judith Butler? Other than cultural studies grad students, looking for the hermetic thrill of higher ‘knowledge’. The second thought is that Butler is not correct: Adorno’s sentence can mean more or less anything you want (like any hermetic ‘wisdom’). It’s an ink-blot. Butler just imposed a reading she liked.

  2. shape the world. A sentence of his such as “Man is the ideology of dehumanization” is hardly transparent in its meaning. Adorno maintained that the way the word “man” was used by some of his contemporaries was dehumanizing.
    Taken out of context, the sentence may seem vainly paradoxical. But it becomes clear when we recognize that in Adorno’s time the word “man” was used by humanists to regard the individual in isolation from his or her social context. For Adorno, to be deprived of one’s social context was precisely to suffer dehumanization. Thus, “man” is the ideology of dehumanization.
    So why do we have to write sentences like “man is the ideology of dehumanization” when ones like “Early 20th century humanists used the word ‘man’ when considering individuals in isolation from their social contexts, a usage which ignores that precisely what makes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s