Thursday, June 3, 2004

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A new challenger for Judith Butler's mantle

For some reason, I found myself clicking around the more obscure parts of the blogosphere late one night when I stumbled upon Chun the Unavoidable, a self-described "committed egalitarian" who allows that even uninformed Americans "can vote, marry, and even procreate here in America, and I see no compelling reason to change this right away."

Chun had discovered Sissy Willis' blog, an irrefutable example of "a genuine working-class Bush supporter." Chun, who's quite the leftist, was unclear about how to respond to what -- to him -- was an absurd political position for a good prole to adopt.

Before I quote from Chun's conflicted response to Sissy, let's take a brief detour into the fascinating world of bad academic writing. The journal Philosophy and Literature sponsors an annual bad writing contest, which is usually won by an academic. For example, Judith Butler famously won the 1998 prize by penning this memorable sentence:

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.

Why this aside? Because this paragraph of Chun's response to the tangible existence of Sissy Willis should be a nominee for the 2004 bad writing award:

As a committed leftist, egalitarian thinker, in what way should I dialectically work through my feelings of alienation and, let's face it, complete and total superiority, when confronted with this unpleasant materiality? I can't aufhebung; I can't aufhebung it. Note that this transitive/intransitive dichotomy has an indissociable trace of didacticality--pedanticissimo, natch, which will always already sui generise this contact narrative, which is invested with the logic of my colonizing gaze (though countermanded by my decolonializing gangsta lean), and which is itself recircumscribed by my minatory subjectivity as an oppositional leftist, egalitarian thinker. In effect, we have an histoire de l'oeil without the fun stuff but with the massenpsychologie of the burn the earth to a clinker (Klinger?) crowd. "Let us roll," indeed.

Somewhere, Judith Butler is feeling this vague sense on unease, wondering whether she still remains the densest prose stylist of them all.

Be sure to read Sissy's response to Chun.

UPDATE: several commenters have suggested that Chun consciously obfuscates his prose in an effort to punk unsuspecting bloggers. That had actually occurred to me, but is pretty much irrelevant. I know few people who could consciously write a paragraph that dense, and I hang around with a lot of high-falutin' academic types (readers are invited to try and compose something that dense). So, a hat tip to Chun for consciously or unconsciously possessing the ability to compose such dreck.

posted by Dan on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM


That sounds like it comes from one of those postmodern gabble generators. Too bad real pomo is indistinguishable from its parodies.

Sokal, you faught a losing battle.

posted by: Jan Haugland on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

I think you've been had. It really isnt safe to suppose that all leftists are humourless prigs. If you'd read more, you'd see that Chun does parody. No-one who takes his name from a gothic Jack Vance story about a tapestry of eyeballs could write that sort of guff with a straight face.

posted by: Andrew Brown on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Butler: Just philosophy. Perfectly sensible to anyone who's had graduate courses in Marxist theory. It could be far worse.

Chun: I agree, he's yanking your chain. Or yanking my chain--I'm one who finds the last paragraph hilarious, because it's ripping on the very fuzzy writing style ("as a committed leftist"? Hello!) that you're criticizing.

So now I'm gently laughing at you for taking him seriously...

posted by: John Schaefer on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Chun trolled me once successfully too. He's very good.

posted by: alkali on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Should Chun the Unavoidable be taken seriously? Is this person often writing in a tongue in cheek manner? Whatever, I find the blog to be utterly boring. The Onion is far funnier. Chun’s comments on politics are immature and banal.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

If the text is self-debunking it is nevertheless post hoc, propter hoc a postmodern text. The style is reminiscent of and perhaps based on William Burroughs's cutup eclecticism, with un certain hommage to the narrative jejeuneries de M Python.

posted by: Dave F on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

You can't front on Chun, Dan. Seriously, don't even try. He is a mythic character, much like Fafblog's Medium Lobster. He is a creature of the internet, possibly with magical powers. I'm afraid he may use them for evil, though. Relatedly, it is impossible to tell when he is joking.

posted by: Belle Waring on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

I'm not saying that the original post by Chun is funny, but the fact that you took it seriously is very funny. And people say liberals have no sense of humor.

I found it by way of Unfogged. If you found it through someone, it's polite to say who. Trust me, you're not protecting them from anything -- it's a joke.

posted by: paperwight on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Yes, Chun is yanking your chain. It's parody, Dan.

Just like this excerpt from what I consider to be the definitive article on postmodernism:

The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.
posted by: uh_clem on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Just a question:

Why bother mocking a rather obscure guy with a website?

Whatever his writing style, he has one of the best pseudonyms I've ever seen.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

What Belle said. Chun's high-point of parody is probably his wine review, a la Bainbridge.

What's also interesting is that Chun is quite well known in the lefty/academic corner of the blogosphere, where we were all--sooner or later--educated in How To Read Chun. But apparently he's not at all known elsewhere. Put it in your study, Dan!

posted by: ogged on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

The style is reminiscent of and perhaps based on William Burroughs's cutup eclecticism, with un certain hommage to the narrative jejeuneries de M Python.

More likely the style was intended to emulate the author from whom "Chun the Unavoidable" derived his name, Jack Vance (my favorite author as well.)

posted by: The Bobs on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Jack Vance would never write like that.

posted by: Russil Wvong on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

"Butler: Just philosophy. Perfectly sensible to anyone who's had graduate courses in Marxist theory. "

Graduate courses in Marxist theory? That's a put-on, right?

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

Yes, I can't detect any flavour of Jack Vance in it either. I was sort of joking really. But cut-up does come to mind.

posted by: Dave Farrell on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

The failed grad student who goes by the handle "Chun" (after a character in a science fiction novel) and who by his own description lives in his mother's basement in Tulsa, OK or some such place is scarcely to be compared to a $250,000/yr tenured academic superstar like Judith Butler.

Beyond the injustice of slaging the poor and obscure with a hammer that should be reserved for the rich and famous, Daniel has violated another key cannon of Internet life. He has feed a troll. For poor Chun is a troll and Daniel's bait is the food that will keep him going for weeks.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 06.03.04 at 12:53 AM [permalink]

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