What’s wrong with this Sentence?

September 12th, 2006

Many thanks to Erin Underwood, who sent along this charming example of academic prose.  She found it in Richard Lanham’s, REVISING PROSE,Third Ed. NY: Macmillan, 1992.

This first short paragraph is Lanham’s:
“A university professor, in an article accurately titled “On 
the Weakness of Language in the Human Sciences,” offers this 
spasmodic set of thises, that’s and whats:

“Now what I would like to know specifically is this: what is
the meaning of this “as” that Heidegger emphasizes so
strongly when he says that “that which is explicitly
understood” – that is, that which is interpreted – “has the
structure of something as something”? My opinion is that what
Heidegger means is that the structure of interpretation
(Auslegung) is figural rather than, say, intentional. “

8 Responses to “What’s wrong with this Sentence?”

  1. Michael Phillipson 12 Sep 2006 at 10:33 pm

    You know, my epistemology prof would have smacked me for that monstrosity. Or at least publicly humiliated me by reading it to the class.
    *shakes head* I was so glad when we got past Quine and the 20th century folks started writing to present an idea not to ocnfuse the situation.
    (As much as I like Quine’s program, he was definately a child of the positivists in his style.)

  2. Michael Phillipson 12 Sep 2006 at 10:48 pm

    I looked at it a little more closely, and really, the two big problems are that it is jargon filled, which since I assume it is intended for an audience that shares the jargon, isn’t a mortal sin, and that it breaks up a quote with a clarification that ends up implying that there are two seperate quotes. Those thises, thats, and whats (ooh that’s fun to say) are almost technical tools of early to late-mid 20th century American (and British) philosophy, working to “clarify” specifically which part of a massive sentence is the clause we are interested in.
    I just noticed the “say” at the end. Though obnoxious from a writing standpoint, it is a nice bit of ass-covering by a philosopher who can’t come up with other alternatives to figural than “intentional” off the top of his head and who knows at the bottom of his heart that if he doesn’t cover that lapse, some obnoxious little twit, probably one of his ex-grad students, will trumpet the “fact” that by not covering this obscure case in a side comment that he made at the end of his statement, he invalidates every word that he has written in the last decade. (These things get viscious.) (Ah not even a hundred words. Must be getting rusty.)

  3. Kathleen Rettersonon 13 Sep 2006 at 1:55 am

    1. For an academic piece, there is altogether too much informal language, and the informal language only serves to make the sentences more confusing.

    2. The interrupted quote is a big no-no. The author should have quoted Heidegger’s translator without the further translation.

    Remove these two issues and you have:

    What is the meaning of this “as” that Heidegger emphasizes so strongly when he says that “that which is explicitly understood has the structure of something as something?” Heidegger means that the structure of interpretation (Auslegung) is figural rather than intentional.

    Even corrected, though, the paragraph is still hard to follow.

    A third problem is substantive. Presumably, the author’s use of informal language is an attempt to use the Socratic method. He asks a question and then goes on to answer it himself. However, he doesn’t answer the specific question he asked (i.e., the meaning of “as”); he actually interpreted the whole phrase.]

    Have the question ask what’s been answered and you get.

    What is the meaning of Heidegger’s assertion: “that which is explicitly understood has the structure of something as something?” Heidegger means that the structure of interpretation (Auslegung) is figural rather than intentional.

    I’m sure there’s more . . . .

  4. Mark Tiedemannon 13 Sep 2006 at 11:33 am

    It sounds very like something which has been transcribed from a lecture–verbatim. Standing in front of an audience and speaking produces, even in the best of us, grammatical gaffs like this. Not correcting them on the page is the biggest error.

  5. Katharine Kerron 13 Sep 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Heidegger himself is very very VERY hard to follow, of course. This may be a case of Infection from Source. I shall never forget how I lugged BEING AND TIME around with me for a full semester and never did manage to get beyond page 13.

  6. kateelliotton 13 Sep 2006 at 6:00 pm

    Though obnoxious from a writing standpoint, it is a nice bit of ass-covering by a philosopher who . . . (etc)

    So funny, and so true.

  7. Laurieon 13 Sep 2006 at 6:11 pm

    I agree with Mark. It sounds like something my old boss would say in his nervous, high-pitched voice, fidgeting all the while.

  8. Kathleen Rettersonon 13 Sep 2006 at 9:53 pm

    Heidegger is much easier to understand in German than in English — all of them are. (I thought so, at least.)

    Some concepts don’t have good English equivalents and that’s a part of the problem when translating German.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply