Winner of the ‘worst postmodern article title’ award

I know that I have conservative instincts compared to some, but surely I was not the only one who found the rash of punctuation in theoretically progressive books and journals (e.g. his-story as (en)gendered practice) boring after the first couple of times it happened. But even my breath was taken away by the apotheosis of this trend by an article I recently came across, entitled:

an ILL/ELLip(op)tical po – ETIC/EMIC/Lemic/litic post® uv ed DUCAT ion recherché repres©entation.

Yes, you heard me right:

“an ILL/ELLip(op)tical po – ETIC/EMIC/Lemic/litic post® uv ed DUCAT ion recherché repres©entation.”:

I was going to write an article about how this was the worst conceivable postmodern article title until I googled that author (the very unpostmodernly named ‘Phil Smith’) and discovered that he is also the author of:

Split——ting the ROCK of {speci [ES]al} e.ducat.ion: FLOWers of lang[ue]age
in >DIS<ability studies


MAN.i.f.e.s.t.o.: A Poetics of D(EVIL)op(MENTAL) Dis(ABILITY)

It is at this point that I would throw in the usual disclaimers that I don’t think the author is a bad guy, or that the papers are poorly written or stupid but I can’t really do that since in fact I have absolutely no idea what they are about and I’ve never met him. And I can’t really paste a quote into this blog entry because HTML is too frail a vehicle for the massive typological complexities of his prose (or perhaps I’m just too frail of a coder. That said, I have to give him credit for going balls to the walls in terms of effort, even if his claim that “WORDS ≠WORLD, ‘kay? It’s all right there in the damn books, go read ’em yer own se’f (Gadamer, 1988)” gets exactly wrong Gadamer’s argument about the way in which language functions as the horizon of a (her)meneutic pheno(men)ology.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

14 thoughts on “Winner of the ‘worst postmodern article title’ award

  1. Hahaha, the abstract is also very funny. Looks like a stunt or something? Maybe he could update the guide HOW TO SPEAK AND WRITE POSTMODERN?

  2. Well, not everything the guy publishes is like this, but I do think that he is serious — or at least a repeat offender. I mean, if what you want to do is that sort of thing, they’re not bad versions of it… certainly extreme, which you’ve got to admire him for at least. If you have a subscription to the journal through some institution you should check it out — you won’t be disappointed!

  3. Aha, okay, in this article he actually explains his writing style:

    (Ethnographer Corrine Glesne) explored ways in which her research could be represented in nontraditional forms. As a poet, she became interested in ways in which poetry could be used as a representational mode for her research, developing a style that she called “poetic transcription” (Glesne, 1997, 2004).

    Informed by her work and thinking, I adopted a poetic transcription style in some of my own writing (Smith,2000a,2001a,2004). Later, I extended and transcended this poetic in other work, borrowing from approaches used by conceptual, postmodernist, and other post-poets (Smith, 1999a, 2000b, 2001b, in press; Smith & Godfrey, 2002).

    Here, I will outline what I would call a poetics of representation, arising out of what others have referred to as a dismodernist perspective (Davis, 2002). This poetics is almost literally a moving target—it changes as fast as I write it down, for the act of writing it influences the poetic (which influences the writing, which influences the poetic: it is, literally, a writhing writing). This writing about research is seeking to become,as Lather (2003) says, “the other/outside of the logic of noncontradiction”(p. 4).

  4. I was fortunate to be mentored by Corrine Glesne, an absolutely wonderful ethnographer (Busier et al., 1997; Glesne, 1989, 1998, 2003; Martin & Glesne, 2002).

    Do ethnographers always have to cite compliments?

  5. Wow Rex, you got commented by Scott Kaufman.

    What’s the big problem? Don’t like it? Don’t read it… I admit, it’s a little hokey and old-fashioned, like bell hooks and e.e. cummings and all the other formal innovators (which seems to me less pomo than high modern), but that’s their thing that they’re doing. Why should it irritate you so?

  6. I don’t think ‘irritate’ is the right world. ‘Amaze’ is more like it. What do you think the peer review on that piece was like? at any rate, I guess ‘high modern’ is a pretty good description.

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  8. I followed the link from Acephalous going “wow, Savage Minds got linked!” only to see that C.R. Shalizi’s website got linked too, making nearly everything I read on the web suddenly connected by this one post. If you can link to a certain cycling forum, it will be complete.

  9. Who is Scott Kaufman? Is he the guy that started that t-shirt store that is eating up all interesting neighborhoods? American Apparel?

    Anyway, regarding the title. I get the ‘always already’ urge – the desire to mark that as we experience it and then think it and then write it, it becomes something new. That the beyond always is something else by the time we attend to it. But the title still humors and annoys me. In part because it is so self congratulatory (oh, look at me, I’m the clever one aren’t I??) and in part because some of the work that allows for this stuff is really important and smart and titles like this make lots of people refuse to attend to it.

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