BAD WRITING WORKSHOP

6 Dec

WITH ART-AGENDA

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Courtesy of one Nickolas Calabrese and the Art-agenda [sic] mailing list from the reliable nonsense mongers at e-flux. There appears to be little or no information available online about Mr. Calabrese, although in May 2012 he was described as an “artist and philosopher”. Please, no. By this week he was just an “artist and writer in New York.” Maybe the philosophy didn’t work out. Somebody’s intern, possibly? His oeuvre so far amounts to three reviews, but each of them is loaded with clumsy metaphors, malapropisms and other examples of what not to do in professional writing. Art-agenda apparently has editors. I feel like invoicing them for doing their job. I’m just reproducing the greatest (s)hits here; you can read the reviews in full elsewhere if you’ve nothing better to do.

ART BASEL MIAMI BEE-ACH

“The site of the apocalypse is not spatial, but temporal, and right now it is in Miami.”

Hyperbole in critical writing can be fine sometimes– I mean, look at me– but horrible as Art Basel Miami Beach is, it isn’t an apocalypse for anyone or anything. Not even the presence of Miley Cyrus is a reliable indicator that the end is nigh, although one could be forgiven for thinking so or even hoping so. In fact it’s the opposite; ABMB is part of an ongoing, methodical consolidation and reification of what Calabrese rightly calls the “depraved dealers, conniving collectors, and the substandard artists.” Leaving his initial basic category error aside, what could this pretentious sentence actually mean? Historically, apocalypse has mostly been something thought of as happening at a particular future or imminent time and not at a particular place. He seems to be confusing apocalypse with some other word, too. “Cataclysm”, maybe?

“Another daringly underrated artist with a solo booth is Jack Early at New York’s Fergus McCaffrey.”

“Daringly underrated”? This is fridge magnet poetry. Who is being so bold as to underrate this artist and why should we care? How does one not rate something highly enough in a daring manner? He also gives us a “sad frog” being “strangely heartbreaking.” How about other [RANDOM ADVERB] + [RANDOM ADJECTIVE]s like “excitingly banal” or “bravely inactive”?

“Miami is simultaneously the site of the apocalypse and its prevarication.”

No, it isn’t. It is, however, another category mistake and mangled metaphor. Try to imagine an apocalypse prevaricating. “Er… yeah, I’m kind of overbooked this week, so I might be along and I might not. I just don’t know. Start without me and I’ll see you there if I can make it, OK?”

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NEW YAWN CALORIE OPENINNNNNNNGGGGGS

“The fair [Frieze NYC] also provided galleries with the salacious opportunity to show just how garish they can really be.”

There’s another one. A “salacious” opportunity? What was unduly or indecently sexual about it? I don’t even know what meaning he was going for, but “salacious” certainly isn’t right.

“Schutz’s pictorial fictions are replete with her familiar brand of alterity.”

Just… no. This sentence is ghastly. Familiar to whom? “Alterity” is a highfalutin term for the state of being different, one that could have and should have been replaced with its plain English equivalent. More importantly, if her “alterity” is a “familiar brand” then surely by definition it is actually not different?

“Deceivingly simple” … “delusive shadows”

Catachresis: a semantic error, a misuse or strained use of words, or the erroneous substitution of a similar word. He means “deceptively simple”, which in any case is a clichéd stock pairing that should be avoided if possible. In the second case he perhaps means “illusory.”

“Moreover, her engagement with seriality opens the door to a fecund path of work that will keep her admirers satisfied. Also on display are blocks of onyx that have been sculpted so as to resemble open books. Pleasingly, they strive to exist as objects of pleasure by virtue of their disconnectedness from the familiar.”

This paragraph is pure artbollocks. I’ll just note in passing another one of his typical category error / confusing metaphor combinations; although I can see what he was trying to suggest, a path cannot be fecund. Shortly afterwards there’s a completely avoidable factual error. Bridget Riley is not American.

“New York feels a little cool from the varied contentions, but many of the works are congruent with the ardor of worthy concerns without being didactic or aggressive.”

For fuck’s sake. Let’s move on.

FLOGGING A DEAD HORSE METAPHOR

“Each screen harbors one of the band members…”

OK, final warning. Put the thesaurus on the ground, put your hands in the air, and back away slowly.

“It is so appetizing that, even if there is a splendid statement about atrophy and human relationships, it is muddied by the physical experience of the work. As Ives would have it, an artist ought to be integral about what they are doing. A keen eye and good sense for what is “hip” will only take the horse so far—getting to heaven begs the question of why one belongs there at all.”

748The atrophy is covered in mud? The statement is physical? The horse is hip? Why is “hip” in air / scare quotes in the style of a reviewer from the 1960s and… wait. Nickolas, oh Nickolas. In light of all your other mistakes, I fear you wrote “begs the question” when you really meant “raises the question.” Firstly, regardless of whether the writer understands its proper usage or not, “begs the question” is yet another clichéd stock phrase to be avoided.

Secondly, begging the question is a form of circular logic in which one assumes the conclusion of an argument, when the assumption is as much in need of proof or demonstration as the conclusion itself. It doesn’t mean “it makes us ask a question.” A so-called philosopher should know this, as should anybody involved in any form of serious critical writing. If I wrote a sentence such as “In my opinion Nickolas is a bad writer because he writes badly,” then I would be begging the question because I have not proved it or offered any evidence that he is a bad writer, nor is the conclusion self-evident a) because you have not necessarily read what he has written and b) because it is a matter of opinion and grounds for discussion or argument rather than an objectively verifiable fact. “Nickolas is a bad writer because he frequently fails to convey his intended meaning,” is also a matter of opinion but it is not committing the logical fallacy of begging the question.

Another example would be “the sky is blue because it is not green” (begging the question) versus “the sky is blue because the blue wavelengths of sunlight are scattered most by atmospheric molecules” (proof) versus “Can you tell me why the sky is blue?” (raising the question).

Begging the question is also frequently confused with a leading question, i.e. a question containing an implied or suggested answer, especially one intended to incriminate the person questioned. The obvious example is a lawyer asking “When did you stop beating your wife?” which contains an assumption of the defendant’s guilt and does not allow for the possibility that the defendant has never beaten their wife.

If I were raising the question of Nickolas being a bad writer, I would write something like this post. It is my opinion that he is a bad writer, therefore I have provided evidence that I believe demonstrates it so my readers can decide for themselves. It’s deceivingly simple to follow the fecund path I have laid out, without being didactic or aggressive, or something.

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4 Responses to “BAD WRITING WORKSHOP”

  1. anitachowdry 06/12/2014 at 3:05 PM #

    I think I shall submit all my writings to you for proofreading Alistair – your precision is terrifying!

    • Alistair 09/12/2014 at 12:31 PM #

      A professional writer should be terrifyingly precise.

  2. Alistair 27/12/2014 at 12:20 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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