Monday, January 27, 2014

Obfuscation Inoculation...and Worst Writing Escapades!

Obfuscation...it's everywhere.
We delved into its intricate and bamboozling artistry in the seventh grade group. The goal was to recognize it for what it is, and to avoid falling into the trap of using it.
A prime source was an art catalogue, in which the art spoke for itself but the text obfuscated. Here's a sample (if you get lost reading this, we shall send out search parties):
The compelling weight of substance and palpable mood which distinguishes the canvases of A.K. conveys constituents of pertinent value to transfer visual gratification. Excepting and exclusionary emphasis demotes the influence of superfluous detail while raising the authority of veritable presence as phenomenon suffused by, rather than delineated by, explicit definition.
Are you with us? I hope not! Is this even English?
The students decided quite wisely that the catalogue copy was designed to fool people into buying art by using incomprehensible high fallutin' language...featuring words that sound so expensive that (by logical deduction) the art must be pretty spiffy, too.
When writing functions to obscure rather than illuminate, that is obfuscation. And it is everywhere, like the work of a young student with a bad case of Thesaurusitis!
We experimented with writing our own such pieces, wreaking havoc on syntax and frolicking in ostentatious vocabulary.
In a related vein, some students will enter the WORST WRITING CONTEST, an actual contest in honor of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, that master of the purple prose (who nonetheless coined quotable phrases, such as "The pen is mightier than the sword").
Why not try your hand at obfuscation? Why not experiment with the lush indirectness of purple prose? A student commented on how styles in writing change, and how - back in the day - some of these very qualities were valued.
Language - a history lesson to be sure.

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