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[P]
(Post)modern literary theory - a farce?

By danny in Culture
Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:46:43 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

In 1963 Frederick Crews wrote The Pooh Perplex, in which he parodied then-current literary theories by applying them to the Winnie-the-Pooh books. In Postmodern Pooh he has written a bitingly funny sequel which takes on the literary theory of the last forty years. Read on for my review.


Purporting to be the proceedings of a December 2000 Modern Language Association seminar on Winnie-the-Pooh, Postmodern Pooh is a biting and wickedly funny parody of the whole spectrum of modern literary theory. It ranges from the absurd and near-slapstick to more subtle allusions, some of which may only be fully appreciated by those "in the business", but anyone who has touched on recent literary theory should enjoy Crews' ambitious conceit.

Crews clearly understands the theories and theoreticians he is parodying, capturing both their style and substance. The setting and contextual elements are also nicely done: the preface and the biographical notes that precede each piece, the footnotes that reference real publications, and the way the contributors attack one another and drift away from Pooh when something too good to leave out comes along (Derrida's analysis of apartheid, for example, or psycho-sexual studies of Henry James). The brief summaries and excerpts that follow can give a feel only for the more local humour.

Felicia Marronnez, "Sea & Ski Professor of English at the University of California at Irvine", opens proceedings with a demonstration of "how the ethically serious Derrideanism of the Yale school illuminates the subtleties of the Pooh books", complete with puns and wordplay.

Then there is a New Historian (calling himself a "Negotiationist") with a penchant for obscure historical connections.

"We have shown that works such as Pooh don't drift towards a banal meaninglessness; they become active historical players in their own right, shaping the public's illusions about the important issues of the day, such as conquistadorial predation, witch trials, ius primae noctis, and the castration of preadolescent countertenors."

"The immediate issue here is whether the Pooh animals realise they constitute a de facto nudist colony."

A hero-worshipper of Frederic Jameson situates Pooh in the context of late-capitalist metanarrative, suggesting that Christopher Robin prefigures Jameson, in whose form the Dialectic may have "suspended its usual tortuous course and intervened directly in human affairs".

Sisera Catheter provides a gynocritical perspective.

"Seeing himself castrated and thus ineluctably "female", Eeyore bends his head between and behind his forepaws, evidently attempting an acrobatic autoerotic feat that, if successful, will not only restore his depleted narcissistic libido and give him something to chew on that's nicer than thistles but also exchange his former adult self for a polymorphous perversity whereby the oral, anal, and genital stages can merge in an endless preoedipal, nonphallic loop. In short, he is so unsure of his maleness that he now hopes to transform himself into an unborn baby woman."

Orpheus Bruno (a parody of Harold Bloom) compares Pooh to Falstaff and argues that the Pooh books are too good to have been written by A.A. Milne and were probably written by Virginia Woolf.

Das Nuffa Dat, with whose appointment as professor it was announced that "marginality now takes center stage at Emory", applies postmodern postcolonial theory to Pooh, concluding

"If the ravages of imperialism are ever to end - if the colonising Heffalump one day lies down with the formerly colonised lamb - history may record that the first tremor of productive change was felt here, today, as we dear friends and scholars recontextualised a mere space of interrogation as a veritable site of intervention and, dare I say it, of contestation as well."

Renee Francis, who has "specialized in the application of scientific rigor to the study of children's literature", deploys sociobiology and biopoetics in a piece "Gene/Meme Covariation in Ashdown Forest: Pooh and the Consilience of Knowledge".

In "The Courage to Squeal" a repressed memory theorist argues that there is evidence in Pooh for Christopher Robin having been abused as a child. "And it's suggestive, to say the least, that the record of satanic cult activity in Milne's England of the twenties appears to have been very carefully and completely effaced."

A speaker who has changed his name to BIGGLORIA3 offers a piece "Virtual Bear", the presentation of which was accompanied by "taped, surround-sound, MIDI-generated white noise".

"So - is fanfiction, including P/P (Pooh/Piglet), a sure bet to be the future of writing? I thought so for a while, but then something bigger came along in the nineties: online social games. All of a sudden, it looked like you could forget about tender romance between Tigger and Rabbit or Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, because now we were going straight for what everybody really wants, flat-out interactive sex with lots of strangers."

Right-wing journalist Dudley Cravat III spends most of his paper attacking the other contributors, and indeed the whole MLA, but finds room to present some of his own ideas.
"... the immortal Pooh series. We know these books to be classics because they have withstood the test of time. Admittedly, less time has rolled by since Pooh's publication than since the appearance, say, of the late-Roman author Theodosius Macrobius's lively Commentary on the Dream of Scipio."

"Children are, after all, not a breed apart but merely very short people whose self-control and range of allusion still want improving."

And to close proceedings seminar organiser N. Mack Hobbs (apparently a parody of Stanley Fish) explains how much cleverer he is than everyone else in a paper "You Don't Know What Pooh Studies Are About, Do You, And Even If You Did, Do You Think Anyone Would Be Impressed?"

It is true that most of this stuff is self-parodying, that Crews could just as easily have pulled apart real papers to make his points. Postmodern Pooh, however, is vastly more entertaining and probably more effective than direct attacks on the abuses of literary theory: it will be read by students and academics who would never touch the latter. Most of the ideas targeted are relatively harmless and just need their pretensions pricked, some are positively dangerous - but in either case humour is a valuable tool for making people think.

Postmodern Pooh is the successor to a 1963 work The Pooh Perplex. Looking back at that, the foibles of mid-century critical theory now seem positively benign - and indeed the more recent work is far darker and harsher.

---------------------------------------------

An excerpt from Postmodern Pooh is available online. Also of interest may be a 1993 review of A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, which I read in an attempt to get an understanding of postmodern theory, and a review of Intellectual Impostures (Fashionable Nonsense in the United States), a more direct attack on the abuse of physics and mathematics by French philosophers.

But what do you think? Are critics like Crews and Sokal and Bricmont being fair? Can anyone explain Differance to me in plain English?

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Related Links
o The Pooh Perplex
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o A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader
o Intellectu al Impostures
o Also by danny


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(Post)modern literary theory - a farce? | 247 comments (227 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
impossible target for parody (4.00 / 4) (#5)
by tps12 on Thu May 16, 2002 at 10:30:45 AM EST

Reading some of the excerpts, I was of course entertained. But Crews is choosing a very difficult target to parody. I have read real academic discourse that rivals the above in terms of meaninglessness and general insanity.

I guess this is all the more reason to have books like these. The intellectual elite should have been laughed out of academia long ago, and this just helps spread the word.

Das Nuffa Dat... hehe :D

indeed (4.00 / 2) (#7)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 10:39:24 AM EST

I think some of the individual papers in Postmodern Pooh would probably have been accepted as genuine by some people if presented in isolation.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

I have read Postmodern Pooh (4.55 / 9) (#20)
by bc on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:14:29 AM EST

Postmodern Pooh is in itself a highly postmodern work, perhaps even post-postmodern in a sense. It is very playful, rejecting boundaries between "high" and "low" forms of Art, and emphasising pastiche, parody, irony and bricolage. It has all the aspects of a postmodern critique, in its reflexivity and self-consciousness, and emphasis on the destructured, decentred, dehumanised subject, not Pooh, but postmodernism itself.

The ultimate conceit, really; like much postmodernism it is very self-reflective and in taking on postmodernism in a highly postmodern fashion, it doesn't do anything to attack postmodernism, or even satirise it effectively. It merely reaffirms the incredible power of postmodernism as a discipline.

However, if we look at the theories of Frederic Jameson, who saw modernism and postmodernism as cultural formations tied to the three different stages of development of capitalism in Western societies, and consider that it seems capitalism is itself evolving again into an altogether new phase, provoked by the internet and instant communication, we can see that surely postmodernism is having its day and that this new phase of capitalist development, according to Jameson's theory, will lead to a new cultural formation, possibly a type of post-postmodernity.

Nevertheless, I foung Postmodern Pooh not to be critical of postmodernism, or to effectively satirise it, though it may seem that way on the surface. I came away from the book refreshed with a sense of the power of postmodernism, thanks to the effective use of the techniques of postmodernism in the very process of satirising! Wonderful stuff, really.

♥, bc.

Yep! (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:55:48 AM EST

The London Review of Books review ended by saying "If literary theory can generate a book as funny as Postmodern Pooh, you have to love it."

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

I prefer (none / 0) (#81)
by wiredog on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:06:36 PM EST

late pre-post-postmodernism.

"one masturbation reference per 13 K5ers" --Rusty
[ Parent ]
Easy (4.55 / 9) (#21)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:17:57 AM EST

First, I'll make the minor point that the fact that something can be satirised proves precisely nothing, and it is wooly thinking to suggest otherwise.

Second up, here you go:

"Differance" is the term used by Jacques Derrida to refer to the linguistic phenomenon that the meaning of any piece of language can only be understood in context, and that there is no principled way of delineating the "context" of any given piece of language to any set smaller than the whole of human experience. It's a kind of linguistic holism. So any attempt to explain a piece of language is always going to raise more questions than it answers, and any attempt to answer these questions will raise yet more, and so on, combinatorially.

Therefore, any attempt to establish the "difference" (note English spelling) between N and not-N, where N is any piece of language, raises a set of subsidiary problems, and the resolution of this "difference" is "deferred" (in French, "defferance", unless I remember wrong) until these subsidiary questions can be answered. But because of the combinatorial regress, the final and complete explanation of N is deffered forever. Thus, if we are going to say that the meaning of N exists at all, it has to be identified not with the hypothetical, final answer to the question "What is the difference between N and not-N?", but to the process of asking the subsidiary questions, which is also known as "deconstruction" by Derrida to avoid using the loaded term "meaning".

There you go. Now here are two challenges for you:

1) Could someone explain the Heapsort algorithm to me, in plain English? (This question aiming to establish that it is not obviously reasonable to expect that highly technical discussions should be accessible to non-specialists)

2) Could someone please explain to me how scientists use of "up" and "down" to describe properties of quarks bears any relation at all to the ordinary language meaning of the words "up" and "down", or indeed, what is "strange" or "charmed" about quarks? (This question aimed to demonstrate that Sokal and Bricmont operate an unreasonable double standard; condemning literary critics for using words in an imprecise and metaphorical sense, but not condemning the same behaviour in physicists>

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

are you really that dense? (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:30:48 AM EST

2) Could someone please explain to me how scientists use of "up" and "down" to describe properties of quarks bears any relation at all to the ordinary language meaning of the words "up" and "down", or indeed, what is "strange" or "charmed" about quarks? (This question aimed to demonstrate that Sokal and Bricmont operate an unreasonable double standard; condemning literary critics for using words in an imprecise and metaphorical sense, but not condemning the same behaviour in physicists)

Of course there is a huge difference between using labels that are intentionally mis-identified ('strangeness') with common language and co-opting specific jargon that is intentionally meant to coincide with and augment the ideas of critical theory ('catalysis', 'birefringence', 'gauge field'). You've got a lot to learn about the semiotics of academic literature, young man.

[ Parent ]

I give you two guesses (3.87 / 8) (#27)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:37:12 AM EST

Well, since I understand both quantum mechanics and deconstructionism and you understand neither, I'll leave questions of "denseness" to the set theorists (you got my age wrong too). As far as I can see, your critique amounts to pointing out a difference between two practices without suggesting why one side of that binary opposition is better than the other, which is admirable deconstructionist practice, but leaves it rather difficult to see why the fuck you are wasting my time and kuro5hin's server space.

There is no difference in fact, and indeed the same purpose might be served by asking what gave scientists their mandate to approriate the world "law" from its original meaning to describe regularities, which would answer your (reconstructed) case by changing the example. I have forgotten more about "the semiotics of academic literature" than you ever knew, by the way, but I haven't forgotten the meaning of the word "semiotics", so I know that you have misused it.

Any other pointless fucking points?

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

unfortunately for you (3.80 / 5) (#39)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:10:35 PM EST

the study and classification quarks are not a subset of quantum mechanics, they are a consequence of quantum chromodynamics, an oversight I might permit if there had not been a story on the front page of k5 that should have instructed you otherwise (consult your well-worn path to Google for confirmation). No, you are just another online windbag that gains personal edifice in the repetition of wafer-thin rhetorical effluvium, while in person you are a gutless peon. While you can fool many people with your witless constructions, your troll dropped like a lead glider and this thrashing is a sad witness to it.

And your trip to the dictionary to check on 'semiotics' obviously stopped with definition number 1, as you must still think there is a separation between it and semantics in academic discourse. There isn't one, but I won't scold you until the next time you make the same mistake.

[ Parent ]

"up" and "down" (3.00 / 1) (#32)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:53:38 AM EST

Nothing in QCD depends on connections between the "up" and "down" labels for quarks and the popular meanings of those words. Nor were the names for quarks chosen in an attempt to give the physics behind them credibility (if anything it was a kind of joke).

The philosophers criticised by Sokal and Bricmont, on the other hand, deliberately reuse (or sometimes just plain misuse, there's not always any pretence that they're creating their own technical terminology) terms from physics and mathematics - sometimes just to look impressive, perhaps, but sometimes to try to prevent the non-technical fellow critics from criticising their ideas.

But anyone interested in Intellectual Impostures should look at the whole range of reviews on Sokal's own site.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

evidence? (5.00 / 2) (#37)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:08:09 PM EST

The philosophers criticised by Sokal and Bricmont, on the other hand, deliberately reuse (or sometimes just plain misuse, there's not always any pretence that they're creating their own technical terminology) terms from physics and mathematics - sometimes just to look impressive, perhaps, but sometimes to try to prevent the non-technical fellow critics from criticising their ideas.

The assertion that the terms are used in this way (rather than, as I suggest, in a metaphorical sense) is quite a serious one about the motivation of these people. Do you have any evidence to support it (other than Sokal saying so).

Also, does the fact that this is your only comment mean that you have accepted that your original comments about differance were misplaced?

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Well (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:24:18 PM EST

The assertion that the terms are used in this way (rather than, as I suggest, in a metaphorical sense) is quite a serious one about the motivation of these people. Do you have any evidence to support it (other than Sokal saying so).

I don't have my copy of Sokal and Bricmont here at the office, but I do recall that Sokal's analysis of one of these frauds (Latour IIRC) was quite detailed. He made statements about relativity that were false, basically stating that the analysis required three reference frames. Again from memory, Latour claims that this is what Einstein said, which it is not, and anybody with a cursory knowledge of special relativity can confirm.

There was another one (Luce Irgay, IIRC) that claimed that physicists neglect fluid mechanics because it's more feminine. That's the hypothesis, it's not a metaphor. And it's false, fluid mechanics is a very active field of physics.

As for up and down quarks, in popularlizations physicists usally try to be clear that these are just labels. It's pretty obvious anyways.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Misinformed (none / 0) (#55)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:55:23 PM EST

Latour makes no such statements. He is a sociologist of science, concerned with how scientists behave in their labs and in their funding requests. Some of the crustacean right-wing of the science wars-movement, Gross being the best example, have elected to criticize him on these grounds; but Sokal and Bricmont do not. In fact, they have little to say critically about Derrida in their book, if you've read it, judging rightly that his philosophy makes no scientific claims.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Like I said (none / 0) (#59)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:01:13 PM EST

I don't have my copy of S&B in the office. They do devote a chapter so somebody with a severe misunderstanding of relativity, I gues it's not Latour. I'll have to take a peek when I get home, to get the name right.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
And (none / 0) (#88)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:18:23 PM EST

I'd encourage you to look at the metallurgist Sturrock's LRB piece on the book.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

links (5.00 / 1) (#188)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 10:56:05 PM EST

The LRB review is here and some followup letters here )(scroll down) and here.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Thank you (none / 0) (#196)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 01:06:15 AM EST

Great, great article. Thanks for the link. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
read the letters, too (none / 0) (#207)
by danny on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:15:39 AM EST

Sturrock has one or two good points, in my opinion, but really not enough to hold up his article.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Then ... (none / 0) (#106)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:20:35 PM EST

How would you describe the content of "A Relativist Account of Einstein's Relativity" ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Piquant [nt] (none / 0) (#109)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:24:48 PM EST


The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

You ... (none / 0) (#111)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:26:18 PM EST

... haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, have you ? You know, if you're going to be a troll, you should at least do your research.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
You asked (none / 0) (#113)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:29:35 PM EST

How I felt about it. I answered. I know more about Latour than the Internet is going to tell you, Simon.

One of the most difficult aspects of Parisian intellectual culture to understand for us Anglo-Saxon barbarians is its essentially ludic nature. I, and most of my colleagues, have always read this particular essay as being in that playful spirit, and have found the rabid reactions to it limitlessly amusing.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Really ? (none / 0) (#115)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:31:21 PM EST

You're remarkably sparing with your vast reserves of knowledge, aren't you ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Just what is it (none / 0) (#117)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:32:45 PM EST

That you want me to tell you, exactly? I've explained Latour's motivations for that piece, and I've explained how it doesn't represent the majority of his work, which is important.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

I want you .... (none / 0) (#123)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:41:06 PM EST

... to have to say something that either reveals a real knowledge of the subject or matter, or which conclusively demonstrates your ignorance. Don't suppose I'll ever succeed, but its fun trying.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
E=mc^2 (none / 0) (#125)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:43:53 PM EST

How's that for my knowledge of matter?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

:-) [nt] (none / 0) (#126)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:45:01 PM EST



Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
metaphor and differance (none / 0) (#45)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:26:34 PM EST

In most of the examples Sokal and Bricmont critique the terminology probably was intended metaphorically: it is the metaphors that are being used to try to impress. The problem is that the metaphor is often all there is - that is, the whole argument in some cases depends on metaphorical jargon, whereas I've never seen any physicist attempt to do physics that actually depended on metaphorical use of "up", "down", "strange", or "charm".

As for differance, I followed enough of Derrida's Differance to get the gist of it (though I couldn't have summarised it as well as you did). The problem is that I'm not convinced that the definition you gave actually means much - or rather, that translated into something like "there are no systems that can be examined in complete isolation" it becomes too banal to be interesting. If that's really all there is to it, and most of Differance is just literary pun and games, then what's all the excitement about?

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

The Pauli Exclusion Principle (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:29:00 PM EST

As we saw in the physics articles, you could reasonably summarize the Pauli Exclusion Principle to a non-scientist as "No two particles can be in the same place at the same time." To which your layman would say "Well, duh! I could've told you that."

Of course, the PEP is more complicated than that, and the brief layman's summary can't really get at what's important or meaningful about it. Why does everyone expect to understand complicated lit theory without any effort at all?

Oh, right. Because it's part of the humanities, which are only for dumb people. It cracks me up watching computer geniuses flail around with critical theory. I don't get deep math stuff, and I don't expect to, because I haven't studied it and worked to understand it. Similarly, you shouldn't expect to get anything but a gloss on postmodern critical theory without some effort. This should be simple and obvious, but somehow this argument still keeps happening...

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I would say (none / 0) (#56)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:58:14 PM EST

Why does everyone expect to understand complicated lit theory without any effort at all?

Perhaps because Sokal showed that the emperor has no clothes.

Now I'm not an expert on critical theory, but I'm lead to believe that Social Text is a fairly well respected journal. And they fell for Sokal hook, line and sinker.

The major problem that scientists have with the liitery critisim people is that the conclusions they reach usually bear little to no resemblence to how science acutally operates. To quote an obvious example, Sandra Harding's calling Newton's principica a "rape manual". Perhaps if you are familiar with her work you could explain that to me. Becuase from where I'm sitting that's just nonsense.

There are other examples, the book "House Built on Sand" has more details.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
No (5.00 / 2) (#68)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:29:15 PM EST

Sokal proved that critical theorists don't know jack about science, and are all too willing to misuse and mischaracterize it. Much like I'm saying that scientists don't know jack about critical theory, and are all too willing to misuse and mischaracterize it.

Yes, both sides are guilty of the same ignorant opinion that their specialty is more imortant, or difficult, or somehow just better than the other. This doesn't excuse either side for continuing to behave that way.

Scientists should be learning just as much from Sokal's experiment as the litcrit types did. But no, instead no one learned anything. Scientists just think it means they're smarter than the literary types. Great.

This highway runs both ways, is what I'm saying. I've heard scientists say just as much ignorant crap about litcrit as I've heard critical theorists say about science. Idiots are idiots, no matter what field they work in.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Okay (none / 0) (#92)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:28:59 PM EST

Sokal proved that critical theorists don't know jack about science, and are all too willing to misuse and mischaracterize it.

Right, that was/is the problem.

Much like I'm saying that scientists don't know jack about critical theory, and are all too willing to misuse and mischaracterize it.

Except if critical theory people had stayed on their own turf scientists wouldn't have noticed. That's the problem, they didn't. You wouldn't find a scientist writing a book about the social meaning of postmodern literary critisism. We stick to what we know.

Yes, both sides are guilty of the same ignorant opinion that their specialty is more imortant, or difficult, or somehow just better than the other.

I guess that's where we differ. At least around here we don't discuss literary critisism. Again, you didn't see hoards of papers by scientists critical of how literary theorists do their jobs.

This highway runs both ways, is what I'm saying. I've heard scientists say just as much ignorant crap about litcrit as I've heard critical theorists say about science.

But how much of it was published?

Idiots are idiots, no matter what field they work in.

Well I can't argue with that. And to avoid looking like one (if I haven't all ready) I'll leave my responses at what I said. I understand your point, just see the balence of publications differently.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Scientists misunderstanding (5.00 / 1) (#97)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:37:41 PM EST

Except if critical theory people had stayed on their own turf scientists wouldn't have noticed.

The problem here, I think, is one of misunderstanding mostly on the part of the scientists. I haven't yet seen a critical theory text that tries to establish any scientific conclusions. They often stray into examining science as a "text" -- that is, the social practice of science, the cultural impact of science, and the scientific "grand myth" that much of our social life is informed by. Scientists, being the narrow-minded literalists they are (ha! ;-)), always seem to see this as lit-crit straying onto "their turf." [Cue "When You're a Jet You're a Jet" from West Side Story, and have yourself a brief mind-movie of lab-coated theoretical physicists weilding sharpened slide rules facing off against bald wire-rimmed cutural studies profs, with wickedly pointed quill pens...]

My counter-argument, then, would be that if the scientists would pay attntion to their science, and stop reading literary ciritiques of their work (which they won't understand), they'd be much happier and less likely to get into Sokalian snits. The road runs both ways...

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

incomplete (none / 0) (#101)
by demi on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:59:19 PM EST

I haven't yet seen a critical theory text that tries to establish any scientific conclusions.

While this phenomenon may not be evident in critical theory generally, certainly the aim of some is to expose inherent fallacies in scientific conclusions, which can be the basis to discredit ideas that have sprung from them. My personal experience in this regard is in the efforts of anomolously strident feminists to label aspects of rational analysis as nullified by virtue of a institutional bias. While such biases definitely exist, they do not manifest themselves in a way that would compromise data and experiment in my view.

There are people in the humanities that view accuracy in the scientific method to be hubris and strongly desire a counter-balancing force.

My counter-argument, then, would be that if the scientists would pay attntion to their science, and stop reading literary ciritiques of their work (which they won't understand), they'd be much happier and less likely to get into Sokalian snits. The road runs both ways...

No, it discredits the entire scientific canon when the systematic abuse of jargon is not addressed. Sokal did the right thing, although it was a pity the way some opportunistic idealogues capitalized on the situation.



[ Parent ]

Both ways (5.00 / 1) (#132)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:50:07 PM EST

You're right too, of course. I've been mainly taking the side of the lit crit types, because it seems like "science" is pretty well-represented here. But my point is, both sides do it. Scientists have pointed out fallacies and stupidity in the critical theory world, and theorists have done the same with science. It's almost vanishingly rare that either one makes a meaningful contribution to the other, though. I suppose the endless argument will continue, with or without us. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Example please (none / 0) (#175)
by SIGFPE on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:22:17 PM EST

and theorists have done the same with science
Would you like to give an example?
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Hm (none / 0) (#195)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:50:25 AM EST

I can't think of an example of either one (scientists contrbuting to critical theory or vice versa). "Vanishingly small" indeed. Can anyone else?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
I think crossover is possible in principle. (none / 0) (#211)
by SIGFPE on Fri May 17, 2002 at 11:16:32 AM EST

When I was a lad at (high) school us scientist types were forced to go to English for Scientists lessons. We had to give presentations one time, to exercise our communications skills, and I chose to give one on countability. Anyway...at the end the English teacher goes: "it's just like poetry". "Eh?" I ask. "Well, like with good poetry no matter how closely you try to read it there's always something you've missed out. You can always go back and find more in it.". And he was right! There I was being a smart-arse giving diagonalisation arguments without having a perfect understanding of what I was talking about and he had completely grasped the central intuition. I was pretty blown away.

But that's a rare event. And once you've done a year or two of Derrida I think your mind's probably irretrievaby damaged so I suspect such insights are more likely from a high school teacher than a post-modern pseudo-intellectual.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]

Vectors are Phallic (none / 0) (#181)
by SIGFPE on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:41:15 PM EST

There's what's tantamount to a feminist critique of the use of vectors in mathematics that can be pieced together from the fragments linked to from here.  I'm a pretty scientistic scientist with little tolerance for post-modern crap and even less tolerance for Freud but I think this guy is saying something non-trivial and interesting.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Explanation of this (none / 0) (#116)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:31:22 PM EST

They often stray into examining science as a "text" -- that is, the social practice of science, the cultural impact of science, and the scientific "grand myth" that much of our social life is informed by. Scientists, being the narrow-minded literalists they are (ha! ;-)), always seem to see this as lit-crit straying onto "their turf."

Of course we see it that way! Lit. crit types would see it the same way if scientists wrote books about their subjects without learning them first. That's the problem in a nutshell, and it's what pisses off scientists. These people write critques of techincal subjects they clearly don't understand. And the result shows, anything I've read in this vein never bears much resemblence to the way I see science praticed every day. (like the section of Harding's book I just read)

The really interesting commentators on science (for example Popper, Kuhn, Micheal Redhead, and Paul Teller), all know (or knew) their subjects.

Anyway, that's my point, people should have some knowledge of the subjects they're supposedly producing insights about. That's why scientists don't write books about the social fabric of postmodern liturature, we don't know anything about it.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Eh? (none / 0) (#186)
by lucius on Thu May 16, 2002 at 10:29:31 PM EST

...lab-coated theoretical physicists...

Why would a theoretical physicist wear a lab coat?

[ Parent ]

Ha! (none / 0) (#194)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:41:27 AM EST

Okay, in my brain-film they did. I admit that it doesn't make much sense, when you actually think about it. :-)

"Tweed-jacketed theoretical physicists" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Though in that case, both sides would probably be tweed-jacketed, thus playing off John Woo-esque "hero/villain" symmetry, and making it ambiguous who the hero is and who the villain is. Thus underlining the very point that the two sides are basically the same anyway, echoing  themes from the original WSS and back to Romeo and Juliet, about the pointlessness of fueds between groups that are, to an outsider, practically the exact same people...

Too much? Yeah, probably too much. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Because (2.00 / 1) (#200)
by linca on Fri May 17, 2002 at 08:32:22 AM EST

The theoretical physicist works with a lab coat because he works with a chalk and a blackboard, and a lab coat is a good protection against white dust. Plus, it is good at hiding the poor excuse he wears as "clothing".

[ Parent ]
yes and no (none / 0) (#177)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:26:12 PM EST

I agree about most scientists being ignorant of critical theory, but not about them misusing it. Most scientists just ignore it, and I've certainly never seen critical theory used _inside_ scientific arguments in the way the some literary theorists try to use scientific language and concepts in their theories.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

That's because, (none / 0) (#185)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 09:49:16 PM EST

I'm sorry, but that's because you need to read more widely.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Suggestions? (none / 0) (#187)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 10:43:21 PM EST

The physicists and mathematicians have been among the fastest getting preprint servers and journals online, so perhaps you can point me at some examples of (published, refereed) works of physics or mathematics that use jargon and technical terminology derived from literary theory...

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

A scientific concept (none / 0) (#197)
by medham on Fri May 17, 2002 at 01:17:02 AM EST

If you make an outlandish claim, such as that scientists do not use cultural metaphors in their work, it's just not cricket to expect he-who-calls-you-on-it to provide you the evidence, when said evidence is as rare as air.

Now, if you're going to try to claim that you were making an analogy between the importation of scientific concepts in cultural analysis and the reverse process in scientific discourse, I'd simply suggest to you that a little book in the Unified Theory of Sciences series killed that wretched positivism once and for all.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

negative hypotheses (none / 0) (#206)
by danny on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:12:55 AM EST

Nowhere did I say scientists don't use cultural metaphors in their work. What I said is that they don't appropriate technical terminology from literary theory in the way some leading literary theorists appropriate scientific terminology.

I simply don't believe you can take well-known and recognised works of leading scientists and find in them the kind of abuses in reverse that Sokal and Bricmont found amongst literary theorists appropriating science. Yes, great scientists have all kinds of loopy ideas about all kinds of things, but those loopy ideas aren't part of their recognised work.

And positivism is dead and buried, sure. That isn't, however, a stick with which to beat anyone who asks for any kind of rigour or discipline.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Different realms (5.00 / 1) (#218)
by medham on Fri May 17, 2002 at 01:28:02 PM EST

Literary theory is not a science. There will never be explanatory theories in it. What it can do is suggest new and provocative readings. It excels at synthesis. If people wish to borrow concepts in metaphoric ways from other disiciplines, who gives a damn? Only scientists worried about their funding situation and the general zeitgeist, as far as I can tell.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

I'm a monist (none / 0) (#235)
by danny on Sat May 18, 2002 at 02:33:37 AM EST

Literary theory is not a science.

What about history? Personally I think paleontology has more in common with history (at some fundamental level) than either has with physics. But then I'm a monist - I don't believe in a clear-cut divide between the "sciences" and "humanities". "Scientific" elements (clarity, rigour, explanation) have a place in the humanities, and critical ideas (such as metaphor and provocation) have a place in the sciences.

But there has to be some pruning of all this - it's important to be able to generate new and provocative ideas, but we need the "test" part of "generate and test" as well. So if people want to use astrology or biblical numerology in literary criticism or physics, I don't actually give much of a damn - but I'm still going to cheer people who find the time to argue against them, especially if they're pushed into the political process or the education system.

See also my comment elsewhere about Chaudhuri - I don't like it when historians whose work I have enjoyed and found valuable start spouting pseudo-mathematics.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

The Sokal hoax is on you (5.00 / 2) (#83)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:08:21 PM EST

Now I'm not an expert on critical theory, but I'm lead to believe that Social Text is a fairly well respected journal.

Misled, I'm afraid; it was a fairly tuppeny-ha'penny operation which during that period was desperately trying to scrape together a "Science Issue" and fell on Sokal's article like a drowning man on a lifebelt. He chose an easy target, and well done him (nuff respect to a fellow troll).

To quote an obvious example, Sandra Harding's calling Newton's principica a "rape manual". Perhaps if you are familiar with her work you could explain that to me. Becuase from where I'm sitting that's just nonsense.

Have you considered the possibility that she was not being entirely serious?

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Irigaray (1.00 / 1) (#95)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:35:52 PM EST

Not Harding. Sandra Harding is a well respected philosopher of science. And the Principia is rather obviously a rape manual for nature.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

It is Harding (none / 0) (#105)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:12:39 PM EST

Not Harding.

Yes it is Harding. I just looked it up. Page 113 of The Science Question in Feminism. The full quote is

In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton's laws as "Newton's rape manual" as it is to call them "Newton's Mechanics"

Her point seems to be that the scientists of Newton's day regarded nature as woman to be raped. This is apparently based on Feminist studies of rape metaphors in the works of Francis Bacon. Harding doesn't actualy cite any such studys though.

I do recall reading a rebuttal of these types of studies in the book "A House Built on Sand".


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Ah, my good man (none / 0) (#107)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:21:09 PM EST

She's quoting Irigaray. That's what the quotes are for.

Read Blake. He'll tell you what to think.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Sloppy scholarship then (none / 0) (#119)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:33:46 PM EST

She's quoting Irigaray. That's what the quotes are for.

When I quote somebody I cite them. Nowhere on the page does she mention Irigaray's name.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
When you write (none / 0) (#121)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:39:52 PM EST

"E=mc^2," do you diligently add a footnote explaining the source of this obscure reference?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

No, (none / 0) (#128)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:45:29 PM EST

But in a book length work I'd cite a introduction to the subject I was expanding upon (I did so in my masters thesis for example). Further, I'd make it clear that I was working within the framework of special relativity, for which E=mc^2 is a provable statement. And if I directly quoted somebody elses words I'd cite them.

Harding begins the passage by mentioning feminist interpretations of Bacon, implying that they're numerous, yet gives not a single example. That's bad form. And if it's really Irigaray she's quoting why doesn't she say that? Is it so hard to add a footnote?


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
It's called "audience" (none / 0) (#131)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:49:20 PM EST

To her audience, these things are plain and simple. Well known. She doesn't have physical imperialists in mind, nor should she.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Ahh yes (none / 0) (#137)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:01:04 PM EST

To her audience, these things are plain and simple. Well known.

Sure thing. Look at the second quote: "Newton's Mechanics". That obviously came from Irigaray? People will just know that?

...physical imperialists...

Slinging insults, always a good way of argueing.

Bye now... (again)


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Ummm (none / 0) (#140)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:05:43 PM EST

No, he really does have a point. Whether it's true in this case or not, I don't know, not having read either of the works in question. But in general, pomo writing tends to be filled with those kinds of off-the-cuff quotes and allusions and assumptions of previous knowlege, much like advanced texts in virtually any other subject.

Your lack of knowlege of her field isn't really her problem. At least, not until she writes "Postmodern Feminist Theory for Beginners."

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

And you wonder why it's considered obscure? (none / 0) (#144)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:23:35 PM EST

No, he really does have a point.

Well the "physical imperialists" bit was just an insult.

Whether it's true in this case or not, I don't know, not having read either of the works in question. But in general, pomo writing tends to be filled with those kinds of off-the-cuff quotes and allusions and assumptions of previous knowlege, much like advanced texts in virtually any other subject.

Not like physics textbooks. If they directly quote somebody elses writing they cite it. Typically major derivations are cited as well. And the physics research liturature is full of citations, very little is uncited.

Obviously science textbooks assume a basic level of previous knowledge, but they typically make it clear up front what level of knowledge is assumed of the reader. Is this the same in pomo? In my limited experience I tend to think not.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Uhuh ... (none / 0) (#110)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:24:59 PM EST

And the Principia is rather obviously a rape manual for nature.

How exactly ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#112)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:27:25 PM EST

If you were going to write a rape manual, how would you go about doing it? You'd want to describe, in as much detail as possible, the nature of your quarry, no? You'd want to be able to predict her movements and reactions with great accuracy, wouldn't you?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

I suppose so ... (none / 0) (#114)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:30:16 PM EST

However I'd proceed very similarly if I were to write a manual on carpentry, or upholstery. I upholstery therefore sexual violence against soft furnishings ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
But (none / 0) (#118)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:33:30 PM EST

You wouldn't have any pretensions towards a total system. I can't recommend Blake highly enough as the anti-Newton.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

So what ? (none / 0) (#120)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:39:28 PM EST

A hypothetical rape manual would not need to totally describe the behaviour of women to be useful. So where exactly is the similarity ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
But (none / 0) (#122)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:40:54 PM EST

One that did would be applicability to all women, everywhere, you see. It's the ultimate patriarchal, imperalist fantasy.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

So ... (3.00 / 1) (#135)
by Simon Kinahan on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:56:03 PM EST

... the similarity lies in the desire for a complete, closed system to describe the subject at hand. Impossible, and arrogant, of course, but why use rape as the cannonical example ?

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Parapraxis (5.00 / 1) (#139)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:04:36 PM EST

The canon supports cannons, you see.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Harding (none / 0) (#96)
by manobes on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:36:13 PM EST

To quote an obvious example, Sandra Harding's calling Newton's principica a "rape manual". Perhaps if you are familiar with her work you could explain that to me. Becuase from where I'm sitting that's just nonsense.

Have you considered the possibility that she was not being entirely serious?

No. Why should I? From what little I've seen of her work (skimming her book, and verifying the above quote) she certainly seems serious.

I'm certainly open to correction if some extra context might suggest that she was kidding. This was in a scholarly work published by Cornell Univeristy Press, I would hope that it contained a serious point.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Take the passage streetlawyer quoted (none / 0) (#72)
by 0xdeadbeef on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:44:52 PM EST

Who better understands "meaning", a literary critic, a philosopher, a psychologist, a mathematician, or a computer scientist?

Perhaps it is because the humanities are trying to tackle deep questions that are best left to other disciplines.  Perhaps they are flailing because they try to recompose the problem in terms they understand, and resist the vagueness and clumsiness of critical theory.

[ Parent ]

Useless question (none / 0) (#82)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:07:23 PM EST

Who better understands "meaning", a literary critic, a philosopher, a psychologist, a mathematician, or a computer scientist?

That's a pointless question. There is no answer to "who better understands 'meaning'?" The meaning of what? In what context? Toward what purpose?

Might as well ask "who better uses 'words'?"

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

better question (none / 0) (#136)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:58:54 PM EST

Who uses 'better' words?

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

What's the difference? (NT) (none / 0) (#138)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:02:59 PM EST



____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
That's the whole argument (none / 0) (#149)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:31:54 PM EST

Whose words are worth more? Does formalism provide more meaning, or does intuition (like metaphors)?

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Context, again (none / 0) (#152)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:38:53 PM EST

Whose words are worth more to whom? In what place? For what purpose?

Other examples: Is a banana worth more than a glass of water? Is red better than yellow? Should champagne be sweet or dry? Does sunset provide more pleasure than sunrise?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

No, you don't get away with that one. (none / 0) (#156)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:49:43 PM EST

The argument of "context" is the same argument of meaning. The formalists don't need context, the intuitionists do.

Like I said, that's the whole argument.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Okay (none / 0) (#160)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:54:43 PM EST

So basically, we just can't have this argument, since formalists deny the ground on which postmodernists argue, and vice versa. I say potato, you say potahto. The only real difference is that your side wins by the definition of its terms, and my said just says "your definition of terms is inherently self-supporting." That's mainly why I believe one but not the other.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Exactly (none / 0) (#178)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:27:11 PM EST

Which paradigm is better? That's why one is Modern and the other is Post-Modern. You can't begin to argue with someone who rejects your premises out of hand and supplants them with their negative. That's like lining up Protestants and Catholics. You won't get anywhere.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

What do I think? (none / 0) (#193)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:37:09 AM EST

Which paradigm is better?

I think postmodernism is better. I can't prove it, because the tools basically aren't there (anyway, its an opinion). But stepping outside the argument space, the basic fact is postmodernism is deeply intolerant of hate, violence, and oppression, and I can't help but see that as a good thing. On the flip side, postmodernism can also be terribly alienating, probably due to its lack of the very factors that can make modernism unifying. But on balance, modernist "progress" always means death for someone. Postmodernists don't want progress, they want difference.

I also think that it doesn't really matter what any of us think is better. Modernism is done. Postmodernism kicked its ass. Now, basically, postmodernism is also done, because its victory was simultaneously suicide. As we've discussed before, its up to us to come up with the next thing.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

one difference (pun) (none / 0) (#174)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:21:21 PM EST

No one tries to apply the Pauli exclusion principle to (say) the politics of South Africa - or if they do, they get laughed at by physicists.

If we're presented with two theories (in the same or different domains), neither of which we have the background to understand, then we can only judge them by their connections to areas we do understand. With some literary theory (not all of it by any means), attempts to explain its implications and applications and connections with other theories and the broader world make it even less comprehensible.

Of course this isn't limited to literary theory, but when people try to do the same thing with science they are usually roundly critiqued by scientists, perhaps classified as "pseudoscience". There's no reason to think people creating or applying literary theory are LESS fallible than people wielding science, so why is there no recognised category "pseudoliterature"?

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Good and Evil, Right and Wrong (none / 0) (#192)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:30:10 AM EST

No one tries to apply the Pauli exclusion principle to (say) the politics of South Africa - or if they do, they get laughed at by physicists.

Not sure what you mean by this.

Are you saying that, by analogy, that critical theory is ill-suited to resolving scientific questions? I believe that. No argument here. The few postmodernists who would argue with that can, I assure you, be dismissed as cranks.

If we're presented with two theories (in the same or different domains), neither of which we have the background to understand, then we can only judge them by their connections to areas we do understand.

Some would suggest you shouldn't try to judge them at all. Maybe that's a little far reaching. But if you ask me whether linear algebra or gauge theory is more suited to a particular math problem, I'm not going to have an answer at all. I don't know anything about either one. Why would you feel this doesn't apply to other fields, and you can just go ahead and judge them by whatever arbitrary yardstick you want?

With some literary theory (not all of it by any means), attempts to explain its implications and applications and connections with other theories and the broader world make it even less comprehensible.

You mean like the way string theory is in physics? Again, not clear on your point.

Of course this isn't limited to literary theory, but when people try to do the same thing with science they are usually roundly critiqued by scientists, perhaps classified as "pseudoscience". There's no reason to think people creating or applying literary theory are LESS fallible than people wielding science, so why is there no recognised category "pseudoliterature"?

Because critical theory is not a true/false scenario. Postmodern critical theory especially so -- it's actively hostile to true/false dichotomies, as a rule. It's just not like science. I can analyze a text using tools of Marxist post-feminism, or tools of a postcolonialist Lacanian, or those of a deconstructionist, and none of them are "right". Some might be more or less elegant or forced, but many texts have been had at with every toolkit under the sun. There's just very little point in trying to pretend that scientific theory and critical theory are the same thing.

In a nutshell, in science, one theory is right at a time. When more than one theory seems to be right, scientists push at both until one breaks down. In critical theory, there ain't no such thing as "right".

There are, of course, people who apply critical theory stupidly (like the hypothetical postmodern scientists mentioned above). They are also roundly critiqued. In fact, everyone is roundly critiquing everyone else all the time. Did you think this was a united front? :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

science is not so different (none / 0) (#203)
by danny on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:05:39 AM EST

I can analyze a text using tools of Marxist post-feminism, or tools of a postcolonialist Lacanian, or those of a deconstructionist, and none of them are "right".

Or perhaps all of them are right in different ways, or expost different aspects of what's there. Science works exactly the same way - the same materials might be approached very differently by population geneticists, ecologists, palaeontologists, and ethologists, for example. That doesn't imply that all those approaches must a priori be considered equal, however, or that quantum mechanics has any application whatsoever to the issue at hand.

It's one thing to accept a diversity of approaches, it's another to argue that "anything goes" and that clarity and rigour (of some kind) are not only irrelevant but actively to be avoided. Otherwise we can spend all our time doing astrology - of which even Feyerabend said "it bores me to tears" and biblical numerology.

If some of these theorists are just trying to entertain, that's fine by me, but when they start applying their "entertainments" to politics or education then I'm agin them. Similarly, if people want to believe in astrology or creationism, that's one thing - if they start pushing those into politics or the education system, that's another.

There are, of course, people who apply critical theory stupidly (like the hypothetical postmodern scientists mentioned above). Perhaps Sokal and Bricmont conclude too much from that, but I don't think there's any doubt there's some serious stupidity involved in the stuff they analyse.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

By my memory (5.00 / 1) (#158)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:52:31 PM EST

Sokal's hoax latched onto only one scientific/mathematical word, "topology," that was actually used by Derrida. If you're interested, Arkady Plotnitsky's paper "But It Is Above All Not True": Derrida, Relativity, and the "Science Wars" is one of the best defenses of Derrida. The editors of "Social Text," on the hand, fully deserve the lambasting they've recieved.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Doh (none / 0) (#163)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu May 16, 2002 at 06:15:39 PM EST

I forgot, of course, the infamous "Einsteinian constant" which was spoken by Derrida in a Q&A session.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
The difference is not the use of jargon (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by 0xdeadbeef on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:07:30 PM EST

It is that Sokal was cleverer than the people he mocked, and that science, for the most part, does what is aims.  When has critical theory ever done anything useful, other than occupy the time of English professors and grad students?

[ Parent ]
Nothing. (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by FredBloggs on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:28:36 PM EST

Miles Davis used to call music critics `no-playing motherfuckers`. Its hard to argue with that! Certainly critics dont help to creation of future works. But I guess if you want to pontificate endlessly about what long-dead artists were `trying to achieve`, or try and make a bit of cash out of explaining to people why they should be wasting their time with Hirst, Emin, Wearing et al then go for it!

[ Parent ]
A silly objection (4.25 / 4) (#49)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:11:53 PM EST

You might as well ask "when has that apple tree born any oranges?". It is not the purpose of literary theory to "do something useful"; it is there to help us understand literature.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
And does it? (4.50 / 2) (#50)
by DesiredUsername on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:21:46 PM EST

Studying science makes engineers build better devices. Does studying literary theory make writers write better literature?

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
A foolish analogy (1.00 / 2) (#54)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:51:15 PM EST

Studying engineering makes engineers better. Pure science does nothing.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Ridiculous (none / 0) (#60)
by DesiredUsername on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:01:27 PM EST

Is it your claim that the science that engineers know (and they do take the classes, I've seen them) bear no relation to the engineering they do? That, for instance, the Young's Modulus that is mathematically defined by physicists has nothing to do with the Young's Modulus used by mechanical engineers.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
"Doing science" and "Knowing scienc (none / 0) (#64)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:09:35 PM EST

The parts of the latter that are indispensable for building things have to be known by builders of things, obviously. Said builders of things do not contribute to the theoretical advancement of the first term, nor are they trained to. Your own careless use of the term "science" is what's causing any potential confusion here.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

There is indeed a difference (none / 0) (#65)
by DesiredUsername on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:25:28 PM EST

Which I respected in my original question.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
are you adequate? (2.00 / 2) (#71)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:42:58 PM EST

'pure' science is, in most respects, as empirical and ad hoc as engineering (i.e., 'laws' require experimentally derived proportionality constants). If anything, science in practice must be increasingly of the applied variety, although with the advent of ab initio calculations and density functional theory, that may soon change. Theory is, and for the time being will remain, an important guide for experiment but not much else than a way to stimulate young people.

I don't expect you to have known any of that beforehand, or to understand it now, though, because the concepts of natural and material determinism are almost always out of the reach of everyone but trained professionals.

[ Parent ]

Son (4.00 / 1) (#76)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:55:01 PM EST

You're engaging a professional here.

The only real scientific revolution was Galileo's recognition of the triumph of predictive theory and modeling over the messiness of "empirical data."

The rest of your comment is stuff you picked up from the back of the Wolfram book, while desperately trying to impress the fickle eye of some young fille in Borders.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Two New Sciences (2.00 / 1) (#84)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:10:17 PM EST

You should probably read through it (probably online somewhere), it's short enough to keep your mouth from going dry. There was no theory at all in anything Galileo ever did, nothing was a model either, at least not in the modern sense of the word that you are chained to. Everything he proposed was simple proportionalities derived from experimental evidence, the same way Ptolemy did it in tabular format.

Predictive determinism has been lauded on account of its relative accuracy, but in the 20th century (were you awake for it?) pretty much any theoretical notions of models were smashed by Heisenberg, Mandelbrot, Godel, and Bell. Theory can be trumped by theory, but a theory cannot defeat a quality experiment.

[ Parent ]

Bell (none / 0) (#85)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:13:46 PM EST

Is that Daniel Bell? Here's a hint, for the future: there are only certain types susceptible to this sort of nonsense.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

crtl-G (nt) (none / 0) (#89)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:20:15 PM EST



[ Parent ]
this will help you out (none / 0) (#90)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:22:53 PM EST

my good man. Search for: "Bell's Theorem".

[ Parent ]
Ah yes (none / 0) (#94)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:30:45 PM EST

The End of Ideology. Nothing like a cold-warrior sociologist to offer up some intriguing "theorems." What are you going to do next, quote Asimov to me?

And also, let's get our umlauts straight, shall we?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

simpleton (none / 0) (#98)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:43:02 PM EST

it embarasses me as much as you to do this, but here.

[ Parent ]
Daniel Bell (none / 0) (#100)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:53:29 PM EST

Fails to realize that liberal humanism has not co-opted all other modes of thought, that capitalism is not the finest and last flower of humanity. The roots of his thought are easy enough to see, in Kennedy.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

game, set, and match (nt) (none / 0) (#103)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:00:30 PM EST



[ Parent ]
Perhaps you ought to read Umberto Eco (none / 0) (#70)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:35:05 PM EST

For some sensible comments on this; as with the Chinese Room and the Copenhagen Interpretation, I don't have space here to run an introductory class on such a huge topic.

And what do you mean by "science" in this case? Is the study of astronomy, pure mathematics, cosmology or quantum gravity to be judged only by its effect on engineers? Literary theory certainly helps to stop people from making simplistic, sweeping statements about the world, which is progress of a kind.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Cantor's Dilemma (none / 0) (#73)
by demi on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:49:38 PM EST

is a great book to consult on the professional life and ethical sphere of scientists, if you can abide by Carl Djerassi's creeping arrogance. I've known a few people that went into literary theory in school and there are a lot of similarities between the dynamics of that field and the more ethereal theoretical areas of physics, cosmology, and so on.



[ Parent ]

A proper objection to a baited question (4.00 / 3) (#66)
by 0xdeadbeef on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:25:51 PM EST

If literature where that self-contained, and these so called "theorists" concerned with only that, then they could do little that to earn the ire of people like Sokal and the scientific community.  But they didn't, they claimed themselves equal to science on one hand, misappropriating scientific jargon and becoming armchair sociologists and philosophers, and on the other hand attacked science and the value of the "rational" worldview.

So maybe I'm confusing postmodernism the literary theory with postmodernism the philosophy with postmodernism the cliched ideological category, but so does everyone involved.  In my experience they're all the same, a kernel of truth surrounded by tons of insular and self-gratifying bullshit.  Perhaps science is the same way, but at least science is useful, it affects the world, it works.

And thank you for confirming something I've long suspected: understanding literature is not useful. :-)

[ Parent ]

Actually... (5.00 / 1) (#86)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:15:25 PM EST

...but at least science is useful, it affects the world, it works.

Science describes the world. If anything, critical theory affects the world more than science. People view their world through stories. How people understand their stories affects how they behave in the world. People's behavior in the world changes it. Science, ideally, only seeks to describe the world (universe, what have you) that exists whether we understand it or not.

Of course, this is naive, as science is interpreted and applied by engineering, which is another human activity that changes the world. Though engineering, in principle, cannot change science, while critical theory can be changed by literature.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Crap (3.00 / 1) (#87)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:16:15 PM EST

Last sentence got switched around. I meant to say "while literature can be changed by critical theory."

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
literature vs. popular fiction (4.25 / 4) (#171)
by ucblockhead on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:02:29 PM EST

But "literature" has been increasingly divorced from popular fiction, so can you really say that any criticism of "literature" really makes a damn bit of difference in the wider world? I mean, most folks are reading Stephen King and Tom Clancy, so I'm hard pressed to see how post-modern criticism really effects the behavior of anyone other than post-modern critics and writers of post-modern novels. That's a very, very small subset of society.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Last I checked (2.00 / 1) (#201)
by linca on Fri May 17, 2002 at 08:35:18 AM EST

The proportion of people who had seen "The name of the Rose" was hardly unsignificant ; same could go with "Starship Troopers". Both are postmodern. And, really, a lot of people do read Eco.

[ Parent ]
Such amusement... (none / 0) (#212)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:27:09 PM EST

"Starship Troopers"!? Postmodern!? Is that the line of shit Verhoeven is selling now?

Honestly, in terms of the overall population, "a lot" of people don't read, period, much less Eco.

What does he sell, probably 50,000 books a year?
What does King sell, probably 500,000 books a year?
How many people saw "Star Wars:Attack of the Clones" yesterday?
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

science is a story (4.00 / 1) (#202)
by speek on Fri May 17, 2002 at 09:52:47 AM EST

Science is a story just like any other. It's just one more way of talking, as the post-modernists might say. People often try to separate it out as special, but that's precisely what post-modernists complain about. Science should not be privileged.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Nonsense (4.00 / 1) (#247)
by slan on Thu Jun 06, 2002 at 12:35:10 AM EST

If this is what you think science is, it's easy to see how you've fallen for the fallacy that it's all "just a story."

Science describes the world. If anything, critical theory affects the world more than science.

Hogwash. Critical theory (which is neither) has produced no disease cures, nor any atomic bombs -- both of which have affected the world more than any work of Derrida or Baudrillard. There are thousands of people dead today who wouldn't otherwise be dead were it not for science's invention of the atomic bomb. Conversely, the are millions of people alive today who wouldn't otherwise be if it weren't for science's discovery of penicillin. Critical theory has produced no such inventions, and would be incapable of doing so.

People view their world through stories. How people understand their stories affects how they behave in the world. People's behavior in the world changes it.

Undoubtedly. But the changes people make in the world -- the ones that last, anyway -- usually have little to do with the content of the stories they believe.

Consider Newton. He believed in the story of a mechanistic God who ordered His creation according to certain inalterable rules. This belief led Newton to postulate his laws of motion and gravitation.  But it also led him to postulate a lot of mystical boondoggle that few people today believe in anymore. In fact, the mystical boondoggle comprised the bulk of Newton's published work. In spite of this, it is his laws of motion and gravitation that stay with us today. Why?

The critical theory answer would be that male-dominant Judeo-Christian European rationalism was "privileged" over other stories, and became the ruling paradigm through force and colonialism. And indeed, that is part of the answer. But another part (and the most important part, I think) is that regardless of what Newton or anyone else believed or why they believed it, the planets and comets really do move (to within a high degree of precision) they way Newton predicted they would. And in order for his ideas to be accepted as scientific laws, his evidence had to be good enough to convince people who believed different meta-narratives than him, such as Hindus, Muslims or atheists. Which is exactly what happened.

Ultimately, Newton's laws stand or fall on the evidence alone, not the "story" he believed or the reason he believed it.

Science, ideally, only seeks to describe the world (universe, what have you) that exists whether we understand it or not.

Nope. If science only described the world as it is, it'd have not gotten much far beyond Aristotle, and we'd all still be walking around in togas saying, "tossed rocks fall to earth because that is their nature."  Indeed, it'd have not even gotten that far.

Science seeks to understand the world, and apply that understanding in the service of changing the world. Also, seeking new and deeper insights previously un-thought of, and previously unthinkable. Science is partially descriptive, yes, but it is also investigative, active and progressive.

With a merely descriptive science, we'd be stuck in the Stone Age, and there would be no books or language for critical theorists to analyze, let alone any computers for them to spread their ideas with.

Of course, this is naive, as science is interpreted and applied by engineering, which is another human activity that changes the world. Though engineering, in principle, cannot change science, while critical theory can be changed by literature.

If anything's naive, it's your understanding (or rather, lack thereof) of science.  Science is not mere engineering, though engineering is a science. And engineering leads to changes in both the theoretical and practical nature of science all the time, and vice versa. Without physics, there'd be no engineering, and without engineering, there'd be no new physics. The same reciprocal relationship is true of all other applications of science -- biology to medicine and back again, for example (or even biology to medicine to engineering to physics and back again).

Science is not mere narrative. Narrative plays a role, that is true. But the crux of science comes in the conflict of narratives, when a researcher is confronted with two or more narratives (read: theories) which are mutually exclusive and cannot both be true.

When critical theory reaches this point of conflict, it simply declares that all narratives are equally true (or false), and that there is no objective method of determining their truth or falsehood. And if we're talking about works of literature, that's a valid enough point.

But when we're talking about something that has life or death consequences for real human beings -- say, the diagnosis and treatment of disease -- then the critical theory approach is useless. Is the person's suffering caused by a virus, or demonic possession? Both theories are narratives, but they are not equally true. Indeed one of them -- demonic possession -- is patently false, and another of them -- viral infection -- is demonstrably true. We know this (among other reasons) because penicillin has a better cure rate than exorcism.

And we discovered penicillin because scientists were (and are) continuously throwing competing narratives against each other, confronting them with evidence, and offering their conclusions up to people who are determined to prove them wrong.

And that's the fundamental nature of science -- the confrontation of theory with skepticism and evidence. Science regularly subjects its theories to criticism (and I mean real criticism, not critical theory), and isn't afraid to be proven wrong. Indeed, proving wrong a long-held idea leads to new insights, and those who successfully disprove long-held ideas are accorded science's highest honors.

Which has had a greater affect on your life -- critical theory, which stimulates your mind; or the innoculations you received as an infant, which markedly improved your chances of survival in a world full of viruses, and thus allowed you to be around to contemplate critical theory in the first place?

[ Parent ]

Heapsort... (4.50 / 2) (#41)
by pb on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:15:00 PM EST

A heap is a simple structure; it only involves 3 numbers at a time, at most: the number on top, the one to the left, and the one to the right.  The only thing that makes a heap special is that the number on top is always greater than both the number on the left, and the number on the right.  Every number on top can have a number on the left or a number on the right, but it doesn't have to.  This is generally explained with a diagram:

   12
 7    5
6 3  4 2

All a heapsort does is repeatedly take the number on top out of the heap, and then make a heap out of the other numbers.  This can be done by comparing the number on the left and the number on the right, and picking the biggest one to get back the number on top.  Then you have to do the same thing for all the other numbers below that.

Of course I could go on, and define this alll exactly, but hopefully my meager attempt illustrates that it is possible (though sometimes painful) to explain algorithms in plain english.  Defining this more rigorously involves a lot less words, because then you can define a "tree" (formal definition), but that's it; formal terminologies are useful so that you don't have to explain everything from square one.  And the fact that the words we pick to describe our concepts sometimes have other meanings (like a "tree", which does share some similarities to the visual representation of a "tree") could be confusing, yes.
---
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
[ Parent ]

Thanks for putting up (5.00 / 3) (#80)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:04:44 PM EST

Thanks. Of course, if I'd been a bastard, I would have asked for an explanation of why Heapsort is O(n log n) or whatever it is, but there you go. My point was the one that you made; nobody writing for specialists would ever try to describe an algorithm in that way. They'd define some terms and use references aimed at their readership. One shouldn't be surprised that Derrida doesn't do the same.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
specialists (5.00 / 1) (#170)
by ucblockhead on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:59:09 PM EST

Well, no one writing for specialists would describe a heap-sort at all. Specialists in comp. sci. damn well should have learned it in school, so they'd just say "heap sort".

Which is, in a nutshell, your point, I suppose.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

heapsort (4.33 / 3) (#42)
by danny on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:15:04 PM EST

While the details of a heapsort may be difficult to explain (perhaps easier to demonstrate, it is at least possible to explain how a heapsort (considered as a black box) interacts with the external world - that is to say, the idea of a sorting algorithm isn't that hard to explain.

But you are certainly right about technical jargon - just consider the mathematical concepts of cohomology or compactness, for example, or gauge theory, or any number of other things. My "defence" in those cases would rest on the "external interface" idea mentioned above - General Relativity may be totally opaque to most people, but it is possible to present accessible explanations that capture something of how it connects to the rest of physics and to phenomena people do have some grasp of, etc. With some of the technicalities of literary theory, this sometimes doesn't seem possible.

Of course that's a sketchy argument and filling it out would require a major epistemological presentation. And it's 2am here!

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Your questions (4.20 / 5) (#43)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:16:05 PM EST

First of all, heapsort. Yes, with a couple of simple diagrams which would need little or no explanation, I could in fact explain it in very, very plain English. It isn't that hard. Neither are honest ideas in any other field I've ever really looked at. Sometimes there are a lot of things to learn, but if you think they're hard, you're probably learning them from someone whose job (or personal goal) includes making sure a certain percentage of the students don't learn them. Or someone who just can't teach, maybe.

Second, there is a considerable difference between up and down quarks and the way Derrida uses "difference." Put simply, physicists have invented a meaning for these words that has absolutely nothing to do with their ordinary meaning, and which is therefore clearly distinguished. First year physics students have no problem with the distinction, and neither do reasonably bright readers of popularizations. On the other hand, Derrida is claiming that "difference" has no sensible meaning other than what he defines it as(as if a scientist told me there was no "up" and all that stuff above me was imaginary,) and the problem with that particular assertion is that it is what we in the business of using language precisely call "wrong."

In particular, the context required to understand a great many perfectly useful English sentences is so limited that small children can understand them perfectly despite being ignorant of almost all of human experience. The trivial example of course: "Two plus two equals four." Granted that the children may not realize they're dealing in whole numbers as opposed to something else, and granted that they do not know how the truth of this statement came to be known and so on, its actual meaning is quite clear to them, as many of them are very proud to demonstrate given a chance.

There is no shortage of stupid theories among what pass for humanities professors these days. None whatsoever.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Advice (3.50 / 2) (#57)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:00:09 PM EST

Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent.

Or, if you don't have any idea what you're talking about, don't spread the ignorance. There's no evidence from your post that you understand anything of what Derrida says about the intertwined concepts of "différence, différance."

Is he obscure? Yes. Has his work been reduced and brutalized by American import? Yes. Does this mean that you can denounce, unread, an enormous body of work without being a fool? No.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Not very good advice (5.00 / 1) (#130)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:48:18 PM EST

Does this mean that you can denounce, unread, an enormous body of work without being a fool? No.

People do this all the time. You would be paralyzed with indecisiveness if you have to know all the facts before presenting an argument. You would also be paralyzed learning a vast amount of chaff instead of the wheat you want.

Ignorance isn't necessarily foolishness, and knowledge isn't necessarily wisdom.

But it's risky.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

A more sensible objection (5.00 / 4) (#74)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:51:41 PM EST

Thanks for taking the trouble to actually engage with the question; it's certainly more than a lot of people appear to be doing.

That said (brace yourself, this will come as a huge surprise), I disagree with you.

"Two plus two equals four" is actually a pretty fraught example, for any but the most degraded and thin concept of "understand". In order to "understand perfectly" what that sentence means, surely one would have to know what was referred to by the words "two", "plus", "equals" and "four". Which is not something children know round my neck of the woods; perhaps I should move to your school district. In order to explain how we got to those concepts, you need to dig into Platonism, formalism, logic, set theory and so on. By the time you get to the third level of explanation, you're discoursing on Athenian civil society and the role of slavery, the Axiom of Choice, and the general question of why it is that we live in a world where things need to be counted, and questions are multiplying uncontrollably. Read one of Umberto Eco's amusing and erudite essays on seemingly simple topics if you don't believe me.

On the other hand, there are more promising examples of trivially comprehensible sentences. Things like "The glass is on the table", "Clean your teeth" and "I am punching you in the mouth". These are pretty much the linguistic equivalent of pointing. But the objection here would be; are there any non-trivial uses f language which can be understood without context explosion.

I think that everyone is on a loser in choosing this point of attack against Derrida; his basic argument is scepticism about meanings, and all forms of sceptic are notoriously difficult to make watertight arguments against. If you ask me, the weak part of his position is the positive side of it; his attempt to avoid the obvious self-referential paradox of being committed to the position "No language has a meaning". He tries to get out of this problem of the impossibility of expressing linguistic scepticism in language by introducing "differance", and I think it's very arguable that this doesn't succeed. But there is clearly an intellectually respectable case to be made either side. Thanks for engaging.

By the way, any reputable scientist will tell you that there's no such thing as "up" in any objective sense, and that that stuff above you is "down" to about half the population of the world.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

I'm not sure I agree on this (5.00 / 3) (#124)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:43:19 PM EST

"Two plus two equals four" is actually a pretty fraught example, for any but the most degraded and thin concept of "understand". In order to "understand perfectly" what that sentence means, surely one would have to know what was referred to by the words "two", "plus", "equals" and "four". Which is not something children know round my neck of the woods; perhaps I should move to your school district.
I do not know that every child knows these things, but equality, summation, and small whole numbers were well within the grasp of kids I knew. I would say I know more about arithmetic now than I did then, but I certainly knew the meaning of adding two to itself, and I distinctly recall the day a teacher yelled at me for asking about what I did not yet know was multiplication(the idea occurred to me because of a truly asinine addition exercise we had to do.) It will probably be tempting to ask "did I really understand it," but the answer is clear to me: yes, I understood it, provided that by "it" you mean what the sentence actually declares, rather than "the body of knowledge useful in considering the utility of the statement this sentence stands for." There is confusion here because our natural languages are very poor for metadiscussion of semantics, but hopefully I wasn't too unclear.
In order to explain how we got to those concepts, you need to dig into Platonism, formalism, logic, set theory and so on. By the time you get to the third level of explanation, you're discoursing on Athenian civil society and the role of slavery, the Axiom of Choice, and the general question of why it is that we live in a world where things need to be counted, and questions are multiplying uncontrollably.
One does not have to know how human beings came to our understanding of mathematics in order to understand mathematics. Much of the historical detail is happenstance that could have occurred differently with no real changes in the outcome, and much of what IS important to how things happened is not important to understanding the present state of things. This is less true with brand new, bleeding edge ideas, but certainly should be uncontroversial with respect to teaching arithmetic. Historical understanding is particularly useful in understanding what we do and do not know and why there are gaps here and there, but certainly none of that is relevant to whether or not little Johnny can tell you how many apples he has if he started with two and I gave him two more.
If you ask me, the weak part of his position is the positive side of it; his attempt to avoid the obvious self-referential paradox of being committed to the position "No language has a meaning".
That does seem troublesome. Personally, while I must confess ignorance of his proposed solution, I regard the problem as intractable and the root cause as silliness. You can make all sorts of claims about language, including the very credible "man's ability to cope with subtlety and complexity greatly exceeds his ability to succinctly and accurately describe those things," which is related to saying there is no simple closed form expression that encapsulates the features of the real world, or put as Wolfram would, the universe is computationally irreducible. However, saying that language has no meaning simply because it is not mathematics suggests that you have adopted too stringent a definition of "meaning."
By the way, any reputable scientist will tell you that there's no such thing as "up" in any objective sense, and that that stuff above you is "down" to about half the population of the world.
Yes, but that is because reputable scientists have an abominably bad grasp of context:) (Up has meaning in a gravity well, and even if it isn't a position independent meaning, it is very objectively real. Not all real things are universal, and our perception of them as such, proven wrong, does not disprove them entirely.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
you underestimate the problem (5.00 / 2) (#142)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:11:25 PM EST

yes, I understood it, provided that by "it" you mean what the sentence actually declares

It is an incredibly contentious question as to what the sentence actually declares (particularly, it is incredibly contentious whether or not it declares that there exists an entity named by the number two).

Nobody, least of all Derrida, is trying to deny that children can *do* mathematics, or at least that they can be taught to. But what he is pointing out is that one does not learn to do mathematics by learning the meanings of the signs -- nor could one, ever. You learn to do mathematics by learning to behave in a certain way. This becomes more obvious when one looks at non-trivial examples of actual language.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Maybe (none / 0) (#159)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:54:29 PM EST

particularly, it is incredibly contentious whether or not it declares that there exists an entity named by the number two
It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is, to paraphrase a lousy shitbag of a human being. If by "exists" you mean "exists the same way the tree outside my window exists," then no. If you mean "exists" the same way the word "two" itself exists, then yes. Our intellectual tools may or may not accurately reflect some given aspect of reality in some given circumstance, but they inevitably at least in part are our creations. That they are our creations does not make them any less real, in the sense in which it is meaningful to discuss them at all.
But what he is pointing out is that one does not learn to do mathematics by learning the meanings of the signs -- nor could one, ever. You learn to do mathematics by learning to behave in a certain way.
Depending on what you mean by "behave," I might agree. The sentence sounds ominously like something from a thankfully dead and buried branch of psychology that thought it could manipulate people en masse for the greater good. However, yes, there is a mental activity to doing arithmetic which is what must really be learned in order to do it; the symbols themselves are merely artifacts of that activity - but they are useful artifacts nevertheless; that they are not the activity themselves - that they lose some meaning - does not make them meaningless.

In any case, to someone who understands how to do arithmetic, the sentence has a specific meaning, and he does not have to understand anything but arithmetic in order to extract that meaning. Whether the sentence has any other meaning, whether the particular structure of the English language happens to express the epistemological status of the various components of the sentence properly, and so on are other questions - but it is clear that meaningful statements can be made which can stand on a very small(relatively speaking) body of context. Maybe there are limited classes of such statements, and that might be a reasonable reply, but they do exist.

I think Derrida's claim about context is much more persuasive in its home environment than when applied to the sum of all human endeavors and knowledge. Then again, a significant part of what differentiates human beings from other things we know about is the ability to make judgements based on incomplete knowledge and then act upon them. Obviously the accuracy declines with the loss of context, but still useful things can be done with very limited knowledge, and so even if the exactness and certainty of meaning may be limited, it is still there to some extent.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
No, you don't. (3.00 / 2) (#127)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:45:08 PM EST

In order to explain how we got to those concepts, you need to dig into Platonism, formalism, logic, set theory and so on.

No, you don't. Those ideas are attempts at ontology, not arithmetic. Arithmetic is this thing that children understand. Ontology is that thing that philosophers play with to figure out why children understand it.

Two plus two equals four had meaning long before set theory was conceived. You're going backwards through history, which is a mistake.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

really? (5.00 / 2) (#141)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:06:54 PM EST

The statement "two plus two equals four" has both an arithmetical content and an ontological content (actually, metaphysical, but let's not split hairs). If you only understand one sense of it, you don't know the meaning of the sentence. You can use the sentence -- you can take part in the language game of which it is a part, but that's not the same as understanding it. Derrida's whole point is that there is no principled distinction which allows you to arbitrarily partition off part of the meaning of a sentence and call that "understanding".

Two plus two equals four had meaning long before set theory was conceived. You're going backwards through history, which is a mistake.

Perhaps it did. But we have to deal with language in the world, now, because it's the only world and the only now that we have. To pretend that we can ignore what has gone before, that is the mistake.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

*the* meaning? (2.00 / 1) (#145)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:25:11 PM EST

The statement "two plus two equals four" has both an arithmetical content and an ontological content (actually, metaphysical, but let's not split hairs). If you only understand one sense of it, you don't know the meaning of the sentence. (emph. added)

The whole argument is that there is no singular meaning to anything, and that's pretty much demonstrated by your argument that the Platonists and the Russell clan's ontologies are somehow important to "two plus two equals four."

Children know a meaning of the phrase, which is enough--in fact, the only meaning of the phrase that's intrinsically interesting. As you say, "But we have to deal with language in the world, now," (emph. added). That means dealing pragmatically with what people intend when they say "two plus two equals four." No one, not even Russell, pays for his milk by constructing the bill and change from simple predicate logic axioms. Every other theorized meaning of the phrase is sand.

You claim it is a mistake to "ignore what has gone before," but it's not. It really doesn't matter. The philosophy is a separate perspective on our normal daily lives. Confusing the two is the end of your argument.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Oh come on (5.00 / 1) (#147)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:29:34 PM EST

The pragmatic use of a sentence is not at all the same thing as its meaning and that is Derrida's whole point. Which is why pragmatists like Rorty take him a lot more seriously than other Anglo-Saxon schools.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Whatever (none / 0) (#151)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:35:59 PM EST

If you seriously believe that it's important to teach children the Principia before you teach them arithmetic, then it's clear that it's impossible to teach them anything (for how could you teach them the Principia?), and thus we are all just granite rocks soaking up the sun and waiting until a glacier rolls over us.

There's another way out, but I'm not telling you the secret.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

No (5.00 / 1) (#153)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:42:39 PM EST

It's more important to teach children the pragmatic use of a sentence. Derrida is not talking about the pragmatic use, he's talking about the meaning. They are not the same thing.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Yes, they are. (2.00 / 1) (#157)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:51:04 PM EST

Pragmatically, it is the meaning. If you're a Platonist, this bends your brain, but that's only because you're wrong. ;)

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Pragmatism's astigmatism (5.00 / 1) (#162)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 06:03:52 PM EST

Pragmatically, it is the meaning.

No. It is the pragmatic meaning. Same statement, different emphasis, which hopefully clarifies what I'm trying to say.

I can't see how you can argue that "two plus two equals four" only ever means one thing, which is what you seem to be arguing. This can be easily disproven by demonstration, and in fact already has been in this thread (simply by its use as an example, rather than as a mathematical statement).

So you must be arguing that no other meaning of the sentence could ever matter, and we should just pretend they don't. Which seems silly and pointless. If I want to think about other meanings of that sentence, in other places and contexts, what skin is it off your nose?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

what? (none / 0) (#176)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:25:12 PM EST

You have a bad habit of arguing with concepts in your head instead of what I actually say. Show me exactly what I said that lead to the third and fourth paragraphs.

I don't understand your purpose of rephrasing it pragmatic meaning. It doesn't say anything more that what I said. Maybe you're making another bad assumption of what I'm saying.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Pp. 3 & 4 (5.00 / 1) (#191)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:16:07 AM EST

Show me exactly what I said that lead to the third and fourth paragraphs.

Sorry, I was making a bit of a leap. The idea was to try to eliminate possibilities and figure out what it is you're trying to say. You said: "Pragmatically, it is the meaning." So I wondered "Is he trying to say that there is only one ('the') meaning?" That was paragraph three. I don't think that's what you're saying.

So paragraph four was the only other thing I could come up with. That you would admit there are (could be?) other meanings, but that the pragmatic one is the only one that matters. If I'm putting words in your mouth, please correct me.

By rephrasing it pragmatic meaning I was trying to draw a distinction between "one special meaning" and "all possible meanings." You're right, I wasn't trying to say any more than it seemed like you were saying. I was just trying to word it in such a way that it both agreed with the way you described it, and pointed out what I was trying to point to -- that a pragmatic meaning is one among many, useful in some (many? most?) situations.

I do, however, have a bad habit of argung with concepts in my head. It comes from all the time alone here on the island. I frequently have three or four steps of an argument all by myself, so what I actually post might well be step five. It's a personality flaw. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Hmm.. (none / 0) (#208)
by Sunir on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:21:36 AM EST

This is paragraph four.

So you must be arguing that no other meaning of the sentence could ever matter, and we should just pretend they don't. Which seems silly and pointless. If I want to think about other meanings of that sentence, in other places and contexts, what skin is it off your nose?

This is your paraphrasing of paragraph four.

So paragraph four was the only other thing I could come up with. That you would admit there are (could be?) other meanings, but that the pragmatic one is the only one that matters. If I'm putting words in your mouth, please correct me.

They don't say the same thing, in particular the bit about pretending the other meanings could not ever matter.

The pragmatic meaning is the one that principally matters in daily life. In particular, any metaphysical meaning almost never matters, unless you're talking about metaphysics, simply because metaphysics is an attempt to understand the other meanings, and thus it cannot be one of those meanings itself. Meta is bubkus.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Ok (none / 0) (#216)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:45:31 PM EST

This has started to drag. Here's my assertion: Any piece of language can have more than one meaning. Trying to draw lines between meanngs, and say that this one or that one is the "real" meaning or "the only useful" meaning is silly. Useful meaning comes from context, so a priori positivist claims privileging one or another are doomed to be wrong.

Feel free to agree or disagree.


____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

jumping in.. . (none / 0) (#230)
by empath75 on Fri May 17, 2002 at 08:01:43 PM EST


Language is really just manipulating symbols according to a set of rules, and it is true that even children can understand those rules fairly easily.  You can say, "What does two plus two equal?" and they will say "Two plus two equals four", because that is what they've been told.  They can also use the processes of math and logic to arrive at a whole series of new true (and false) mathematical statements without ever relating any of those statements to anything in the real world.  They can also understand the meaning of "Two plus two equals five" and "A circle has 4 sides" both of which have no relationship to anything in the real world.

Understanding that level of meaning isn't the same as mapping those words and concepts to 'reality'.  Ask a child what two 'means' and they'll be hard pressed to give you any answer that doesn't include the word 'two'.  Each individual person associates each word and concept they use to a whole web of symbols and ideas that they have stored in their mind, and no two people have anything close to the same web of associations.

The interesting question (to me at least) is how, understanding that every persons mental map is unique, two people can communicate at ALL, and if in fact real communication (or knowledge)is really possible.


[ Parent ]

Heh (none / 0) (#167)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:29:35 PM EST

Once again, we reach a silly difference in terminology. Me, I say the meaning of a sentence is what the sentence says. A given sentence may acquire other meanings in odd contexts, but the truth is, when I gave it as an example, the meaning I was referring to was quite clearly the arithmetic one, as that is the one which makes what I said make any sense whatsoever. If I said "That elephant is about to run rusty down" you would not assume I meant the elephant you saw a picture of the other day which has been dead for 100 years, because that makes no sense, even if I am aware of said elephant.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Rorty (5.00 / 1) (#204)
by speek on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:08:18 AM EST

Sure, Rorty takes it seriously. He listens, recognizes that you have a point, and then changes the subject. When a child goes down the "why? why? why?" path, you only go so far with it. Eventually, you distract them from the line of questions and move on.

You could examine "two plus two equals four" indefinitely, but, at some point, we get tired of it, don't we? The number of posts per hour decline, and eventually this story goes away. In the end, the behavioral and pragmatic meaning of the sentence hasn't changed, but perhaps our understanding of post-modern theory has changed. Which leads a pragmatist like myself to wonder if maybe that was the whole point? Maybe, all the examining of "two plus two equals four" didn't really yield up any more knowledge of it, but only yielded knowledge about post-modern theory. Likewise with the whole Pooh thing - we didn't learn about Pooh, we learned about post-modern literary critique methods.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Oh, come now (5.00 / 2) (#150)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:35:39 PM EST

...in fact, the only meaning of the phrase that's intrinsically interesting

You've just done exactly what Derrida was all about. You took one part of the "meaning" of the sentence and declared it "intrinsically interesting." In fact, this very argument belies that position. In this discussion, the mathematical interpretation of the sentence is totally uninteresting. The example could have been "three times three equals nine" or "nineteen minus twelve equals seven" or any of a trillion other sentences and been just as interesting an example. In this context, the interest of the sentence lies in whether and how we can unpack its meanings, not what it actually says.

Declaring one meaning intrinsically interesting in a discussion in which that meaning is not interesting at all is the best example your antagonists could have come up with. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Stop putting words into my mouth, goddammit. (2.00 / 1) (#155)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:48:03 PM EST

Sure, it's intrinsically interesting because it helps us avoid walking into walls. Of course, failed philosophy is only metaphorically interesting, and meta anything implies it isn't intrinsically interesting.

But think about it this way, and you might understand what I meant by intrinsically: What inspired all that meta crap in the first place? Indeed, because the phrase "two plus two equals four" meant something somehow, people wanted to know why it meant something somehow.

It's simply cause and effect. Streetlawyer claims that children need to know all the theory that came about later to attempt to understand why people understand the meaning of the sentence, but that's just wrong. Obviously we don't, because we were already capable of learning the meaning of the sentence beforehand.

Where the theory becomes interesting is when you can loosen this so called meaning from the phrase. Indeed, that's really the problem. It's not logically necessary for anything to mean anything. And so after picking up the carpet, people have a lot of fun trying to cram a bunch of junk under it, but just because they can doesn't mean I have to care.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Two different arguments here (5.00 / 1) (#161)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:58:55 PM EST

Streetlawyer claims that children need to know all the theory that came about later to attempt to understand why people understand the meaning of the sentence, but that's just wrong. Obviously we don't, because we were already capable of learning the meaning of the sentence beforehand.

You're having a different argument than he is. See my emphasis added to your statement. You're talking about utility, he's talking about understanding.

And so after picking up the carpet, people have a lot of fun trying to cram a bunch of junk under it, but just because they can doesn't mean I have to care.

No one's saying you have to care, or that you even have to listen. We're just saying that your attempts to disprove deconstruction are wrong. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Care (none / 0) (#164)
by Sunir on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:02:50 PM EST

You missed the point. Deconstruction is true enough, but its very premise is pretty useless. My argument is that meaning is just how much people care.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

Actually, (none / 0) (#168)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:31:42 PM EST

You and streetlawyer are arguing over a definition. He claims meaning(ie understanding what something means) involves understanding every connection it has to anything else that has ever been. You do not. I think both can be useful, but in the ordinary sense of "meaning," you're right and he's being willfully obtuse:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Er... (none / 0) (#166)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:22:33 PM EST

If Derrida's whole point was that there is no difference between the semantics of a statement and its metasemantics, then he was wrong.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Commendable effort... (none / 0) (#148)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:31:02 PM EST

But I don't believe Derrida's position can be summed up as "No language has a meaning." Unless, you intended to stress the univalency of |a| in contrast to the undecidabilty introduced by differance.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Up and down, strange and charmed (4.66 / 3) (#169)
by docvin on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:58:00 PM EST

Contrary to previous posts, the names of the up, down and strange quarks do have meaning.

Up quarks are positively charged. Down quarks are negatively charged. So you can remember which quarks make which hadron by thinking of an up quark as pushing the charge up, and a down quark pushing the charge down. uud has +1 charge (proton), udd has 0 charge (neutron), and ddd has charge -1 (antiproton). I'd imagine that this is the property for which they were named.

Strange quarks are strange because they don't turn up in ordinary matter. Low-energy, stable baryons like we see everywhere are made up only of up and down quarks. What they didn't know when they named the strange quark was that there were at least three even stranger quarks.

On the other hand, there's nothing charmed about the charmed quark. But this still differs from a lot of postmodern analysis, which applies silly names to things and _then_ proceeds to act as if the silly names had meaning behind them.

For instance, a common trick is to use the name "phallus" to represent power or that-which-is-desiable, and then to use the word "phallus" to link power to maleness.

There's no logical problem if a postmodernist wants to call a spade a "teacup". The problem arises when they argue that it can therefore be used to serve tea.

[ Parent ]

Satirising doesn't necessarily prove anything (5.00 / 2) (#172)
by SIGFPE on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:10:05 PM EST

But hoaxing can.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Regarding your premise. (4.00 / 2) (#179)
by Apuleius on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:35:04 PM EST

It seems to me that you do not grasp Sokal and Brichment. Their point was that the terminology used in science such as the arbitrary names given to the attributes of quarks, is indeed arbitrary, and to make leaps from a scientific context to the contexts used by PoMo scholars is absurd. Ask a physicist what is "strange" about a quark and he'll tell you: it's an arbitrary name for an attribute, just as "electric charge" was an arbitrary name for an attribute way back when. Therefore, to write social commentary and use quark theory is to write nonsense.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
On query (2), plus a free rant! (none / 0) (#239)
by HalfFlat on Sun May 19, 2002 at 11:10:58 AM EST

2) Could someone please explain to me how scientists use of "up" and "down" to describe properties of quarks bears any relation at all to the ordinary language meaning of the words "up" and "down", or indeed, what is "strange" or "charmed" about quarks? (This question aimed to demonstrate that Sokal and Bricmont operate an unreasonable double standard; condemning literary critics for using words in an imprecise and metaphorical sense, but not condemning the same behaviour in physicists)
Points:
  1. When physicists use the terms up and down to describe quarks, they are doing so neither in an imprecise nor in a metaphorical sense. They are labels, originally whimsically chosen, which in their context (describe quarks) are precise and not at all metaphorical. There is nothing intrisically 'up'ish ('up' in the more usual sense) about an up quark other than its name.
  2. One criticism levelled by Sokal --- as I understand it at least --- is that the authors in question will use scientific terms in such a way as to give the impression that they are using them metaphorically, yet clearly (to those who actually do have some understanding of the terms in their scientific context) these metaphors do not bring any light to bear on the subject at hand, because the terms are misused or misunderstood by the authors.

Just from the very limited reading I've done, it's clear that there are interesting, insightful and useful ideas and arguments that have come from the lit. theory camp. Sadly though, these are typically drowned out by the work of people who seem to understand neither these theories nor the fields they misapply them too. Either that, or they're having a good laugh at academia's expense.

One 'nice' example I came across recently: the 'field/focus' model for the notion of the self in Confucian writings. The authors in question spend pages describing their model for self using terms such as hologram, adumbrated, field and focus. They (deliberately?) conflate the meaning of focus as a point and focus as an act of focusing. They use terms like 'additive sum' to describe something which, if it has any meaning at all, has to have more structure than a simple sum. In short, they use a lot of pseudo-mathematical/physical language to describe something poorly.

Why do it? To anyone familiar with the terms in their physical contexts, it's nonsense. To anyone else, how is it at all illuminating? The authors themselves even say later in the text, that the use of such language is not necessary for the understanding of the concept. So why did they bother to do it all, let alone so badly?

Not all scholarship is equal. Just because there is no universal objective viewpoint in which to judge everything, one can't then conclude that everything is of equal worth. If one is publishing academically, then there is a utilitarian measure: does this work encourage understanding, or novel ways of looking at the world? (There may be others, but that's a good first stab.) A lot of the mis-science employed in poor pomo expositions is neither novel (God knows there's enough of it out there already) nor illuminating (on the contrary, it is often misleading and confused.) Readers may get something out of it, but not by virtue of the scholarship of the authors.

Basically, these people give literary theory a bad name, and many deserve the criticism they get.



[ Parent ]
all of this haughty mockery of postmodernism, (3.50 / 6) (#22)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:23:40 AM EST

consumed voraciously by people that never understood any of its tenets in the first place (save a cursory glance for safety's sake), can only use extra-contextual anecdotes and common prattle to discredit something much greater than their own contributions. When was the last time a scientist beckoned to the general public for assistance in the ridicule of a new theory? Years from now when insurance companies will be snapping up paintings by Robert Longo and David Salle, copies of Postmodern Pooh will be priceless to hipsters for ironic album covers and T-shirts.

Thomas Edison (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by SocratesGhost on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:41:30 AM EST

he was in strong opposition to AC electric current (or was it DC, I forget). As a result, he went around campaigning to show that AC was evil by creating electric chairs and other harmful devices using AC. You asked for an example of a scientist campaigning; there you go.

I do agree with you, though. Most people poo-poo literary criticism because it comes across as pretentious. It seems to read metaphors and symbolism into things which perhaps didn't intend to have that depth. This is a case in point.

While some would say that Postmodern Pooh was reading too much into the Pooh stories and as such is mis-reading the stories, this could also be seen as supportive of both postmodern literary criticism as well as the Milne's stories. The criticism shows the work to be pliable and interpretable, that it may show new truths when looked at from a different angle. In other words, at the junction of both story and criticism, a new truth may emerge. If it provokes independent thought, how can this be a bad thing? This is to be encouraged, no?

Just for fun, I like to take two seemingly unrelated concepts and then force them to relate together. It's a good intellectual exercise and it encourages different patterns of thinking. For example, can Moby Dick be read as an allegory of the plight of Northern Ireland? What does the movie Moulin Rouge have to say about food stamps? Don Quixote and global warming?

-Soc
I drank what?


[ Parent ]
Led Zeppelin and Tolkien (none / 0) (#29)
by tps12 on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:48:34 AM EST

Every Led Zeppelin song (written or recorded by LZ) is about the universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien.

[ Parent ]
LZ and Tolkien (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by IHCOYC on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:09:37 PM EST

Every Led Zeppelin song (written or recorded by LZ) is about the universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien.
"If it keeps on rainin', the levee's gonna break. ( . . . ) Goin' to Chicago! Goin' to Chicago!"

There are some LZ songs that do indeed refer to the Tolkien universe. It seems that When the Levee Breaks is not one of them. Nor do I remember much of Kashmir in Tolkien, whose works probably could use more Custard Pie scenes.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]

oh, I don't know (5.00 / 2) (#47)
by tps12 on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:29:42 PM EST

"If it keeps on rainin', the levee's gonna break" is metaphorically expressing, "if Sauron keeps on tryin' to take over Middle Earth, things are gonna get messy." The singer is an elf (Elrond?) who will   "have no place to stay" because he will "go to Chicago," or Westward over the ocean (note the references to water, and the fact that Chicago is west of the UK) at the end of the Third Age after the War of the Ring.

Kashmir was a joke? If not, I will tell you that the "gentle race" is the Eldar (elves), known for their beautiful singing voices, and that the whole thing is full of Tolkienesque imagery.

Custard Pie is already full of innuendo, and can easily be interpretted to be about anything, including rings, wizards, and such. Left as an excercise to the reader.

[ Parent ]

see, it works! (n/t) (none / 0) (#48)
by SocratesGhost on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:46:07 PM EST


-Soc
I drank what?


[ Parent ]
Memphis Minnie (none / 0) (#67)
by Blarney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:27:17 PM EST

Well, if you need to push this Tolkein theory you should draw a distinction between original Zeppelin material and blues cover tunes. "When the Levee Breaks" was originally composed by Memphis Minnie, who was probably not a Tolkein fan.

[ Parent ]
Memphis Minnie (none / 0) (#99)
by IHCOYC on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:48:44 PM EST

I had understood that Memphis Minnie was a made-up character like Nanker Phelge, and that the song was actually by Page and Plant.

It seems I was wrong.

Since Memphis Minnie recorded the song in 1929, it would seem that she influenced Tolkien, rather than the other way 'round.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]

wonderful circular reasoning (none / 0) (#102)
by SocratesGhost on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:59:55 PM EST

you could also say that Page & Plant saw commonalities between Tolkein and Memphis Minnie and so included it for that reason.

-Soc
I drank what?


[ Parent ]
"Contributions" (none / 0) (#31)
by Korimyr the Rat on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:52:15 AM EST

Perhaps the people who mock postmodernism haven't contributed much, in general.

 However, you're comparing their contributions, not to authors, but to critics. Regardless of discipline, I find it odd that the critics of books are given more intellectual respect than the writers of books.

 Of course, with someone writing a book about critics who write entire books about other peoples' books, it seems like this ridiculous phenomenon has at least come full-circle.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

Critical theory (5.00 / 2) (#53)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:40:25 PM EST

"Critical theory" has pretty much no relation to what you think it means. The people being parodied here are not "book critics" ("I loved it! The blockbuster novel of the season!"). They are much more philosophers of literature (and in many cases much more than literature).

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Actually... (none / 0) (#242)
by Korimyr the Rat on Mon May 20, 2002 at 05:41:48 AM EST

It was those "philosophers of literature" that I was referring to. Book critics are making simple judgements based on whether or not they enjoyed a book, and try to give some reasons why-- which helps people make decisions about their reading material.

 They may not be any more useful than literary critics, but they're a hell of a lot less pretentious.

--
"Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein
Founding Member of 'Retarded Monkeys Against the Restriction of Weapons Privileges'
[ Parent ]

Usefulness (none / 0) (#243)
by rusty on Tue May 21, 2002 at 01:07:13 AM EST

I don't think there's any meaningful comparison to make between the two. Saying book critics are more useful than critical theorists is kind of like saying a phone book is more useful than telecommunications equipment training. They're just entirely different things. The majority of people will get more use out of a phone book, or a book review, but lit theory and telecom training serve a totally different purpose.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Critics (5.00 / 4) (#79)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:01:27 PM EST

It's not so strange as you might think. After all, great novelists usually come along at a rate of about three or four every generation, but really good critics? Maybe one or two every century if you're lucky. Which is a lot of the problem with academic literary theory, natch.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Heh (2.00 / 1) (#35)
by trhurler on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:02:39 PM EST

Well, I have a fairly good grasp of postmodernism in broad outline, and it is utter crap. I'm reasonably certain it was a joke perpetrated at the expense of people who majored in English because they couldn't make it in engineering. As for the book ending up being a symbol of irony, I would like to place a wager. You in?:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
sure (none / 0) (#40)
by disney on Thu May 16, 2002 at 12:13:26 PM EST

although anything can now be retroactively classified as a 'joke', because just as in the case of antibiotics, widespread overuse of irony has the side-effect of a contagion of poorly executed CYAs.

[ Parent ]
going a little too far (none / 0) (#51)
by speek on Thu May 16, 2002 at 01:28:29 PM EST

While I agree the endeavor of postmodernism may be 'utter crap', the tools developed to do so are not all such. The idea that context is important to understanding any given idea is valuable. Your example in another post about "two plus two equals four" makes a good simple example. Understanding the history of the idea creates greater understanding - which is not to say the initial naive understanding was "wrong" or not useful. It is to say that greater understanding is also valuable.

Consider Goedel's incompleteness theorem. It is an analogous idea - that not all correct statements can be proven from within the theory. Bringing in new elements to the theory to help prove these statements creates more statements that are correct but cannot be proven. The context expands indefinitely.

Post-modernism is an important stage to go through, but a horrible stage to get stuck in - not unlike adolescence. Stopping at the modernists and rejecting all that came afterward leaves one ill-equipped compared to those who learned the lessons of post-modernism and moved on.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

PoMo (none / 0) (#205)
by minusp on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:09:37 AM EST

I agree, for once, with you...

I had heard that postmodern criticism began as straight-faced joke at a poetry slam in Paris... when everybody said "Allors!" or whatever, they decided to let it ride... and see where it went.

Sort of like a more literate Adequacy, in a way.

Remember, regime change begins at home.
[ Parent ]

Das Nuffa Dat?? (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by jabber on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:50:24 AM EST

That must be the funniest name ever, real or otherwise.

This article should be under "Humour".

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Thank you, Freud (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by speek on Thu May 16, 2002 at 11:54:29 AM EST

By inventing the concept of the "unconscious", Freud helped create the post-modernism phenomenon. It creates an infinite backdrop that implies everything that happens happens for a reason that can be found if one digs into the sub-conscious far enough. With post-modernism, the context includes everything, all the way back in time, and all the way down into the subconsious, which is assumed to have access to everything that has ever happened to the individual.

To which I respond - thank god for prozac! Bring on the drug culture! Where everything is instead explained by chemical processes and imbalances.

Clearly Eeyore just needs some drugs.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Freud didn't invent the concept of the... (4.00 / 1) (#173)
by SIGFPE on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:16:08 PM EST

...subconscious. Pick up some Nietzsche and you'll find him discussing what is essentially the subconscious. And I don't make any claims that Nietzsche was original on this subject either as I don't know what his contemporaries were writing.

On the other hand Freud did some unique stuff with the concept.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]

Postmodernism, freud, et al. (1.80 / 5) (#58)
by gblues on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:01:02 PM EST

It's all bullshit.

You can no more take a literary work and determine what the author meant any more than one can look at a software application and determine what the programmer meant the program to do. Granted, if the author is a particularly good one, he or she may do a spectacular job of communicating his or her ideas. This is not a license to put words in the author's mouth or make wildly absurd claims such as "All Led Zeppelin songs are set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth."

But throw around a few big names in popular psychology, literature, and sociology and all of a sudden it is legitimate. Well, I'm sorry. The emperor has no clothes.

Nathan
... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky

It's not just what the author meant (3.00 / 2) (#69)
by Profane Motherfucker on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:30:41 PM EST

First: a huge fucking problem with lit crit is the reliance on Freud. Every other legit intellecutal outlet has dismissed the jackass, but lit crit still uses it. This is of no value.

Second: you're completely missing the point. It's not *only* what the author's meaning was. That's just one school of criticism. Apparently, you're not fond of deconstrutionism or formalism, but that still leaves biological, new historical, marxist, reader response, and evolutionary criticism available.

Third: regarding the Big Names -- yes, that is how things become legitimate. That is how it works. People who are in the know, people who are educated, and people who are respected by their collegues Make Things Legitimate. Some fuckball on k5 who says something, like me, doesn't give legitimacy to a greasy carpet stain. However, what Louis Althusser says about Marxist criticism is legit, as he is Known.

Fourth: Regarding the Led Zeppelin stuff, that's a straw man argument. It's bogus. Who is talking about that stuff?


[ Parent ]

Freud (5.00 / 5) (#78)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:58:44 PM EST

I'm sure I'm not the only one to note the deliciously postmodern irony in this savage dismissal of the theorist of the Oedipus complex by someone with the nickname "motherfucker", but I'd like to be the first.

Freud remains relevant, and every serious psychology course studies him. That's "studies" these days rather than "uncritically regurgitates", but he's certainly not been rejected.

By the way, Freud is not the basis for anything other than the rather small and cultish Lacanian school of literary theory.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Well (5.00 / 3) (#93)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:29:16 PM EST

The Lacanians wouldn't exist without Freud, in much the same way we wouldn't feel pleasure if we didn't feel pain. But much of their program is dedicated to repudiating Freud by taking his basic ideas, making them harder to understand, and berating him loudly for having them in the first place. They still, of course, need him around, because if there weren't Freudians, no one would give a crap what Lacanians had to say. Which is of course the case, now that there aren't really any Freudians left, except for the Lacanians themselves in a negative-space kind of way. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Lacan's analysis (none / 0) (#236)
by anasophist on Sat May 18, 2002 at 04:17:16 AM EST

of analytic methods was a necessary, if fateful, development of Freud's theory. Necessary in that it is impossible that a relationship so imbricated with emotional value should be immune to the methods of analysis; fateful in that it implicates the analyst directly in the course of that relationship, showing the analyst her tail and spurring her to the chase.

Their guilt at having dynamited the ship was what finally allowed them to sublimate their "guilty conscience about the miracle produced by [their] Word." [caps Jacques'] Ya gotta love the lacanians and the aplomb with which they adopted the patterns of a priesthood.



[ Parent ]
If big names make something legitimate... (2.00 / 2) (#129)
by gblues on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:48:16 PM EST

... then Thigh-master must really work. I mean, it's endorsed by Sally Struthers! It's not like nobody's ever tried using celebrities to sell a product or idea.

Deconstructionism is pure hogwash. Deconstruct this:

int main(int argc, char **argv)
{
  printf("Hello, wordl!\n");

  return 1;
}

Now tell me, given the above information, what the intent of the above program is. You could make some pretty good guesses, but I'm the only one who knows the true purpose.

Nathan
... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
[ Parent ]

intentionality (5.00 / 1) (#233)
by anasophist on Fri May 17, 2002 at 11:47:39 PM EST

Dude, the point is that intentionality is a dry hole. Modernist theory propagated the notion that sitting around arguing about the intention of a particular author held little interpretive value, that the *intentional fallacy* had led literary criticism down a psycho-linguistic primrose path. Post-modern theory takes this insight to its logical conclusion: neither author nor audiences intent regarding a text or discourse is of particular salience, although their attitude toward this dilemma can be instructive. All value is contigent upon this situation of author and reader.

As to the *deconstruction* of your program, there is much of interest to say but it has little to do with the text of your program and everything to do with its relationship to an intended target (compiler). The nature of that relationship to an interpreter is of much interest and should have implications for other sorts of *functional* discourse. Think about it.

Pomo lit crit may be the worst thing that every happened to post-grad discourse about literature; lord knows that, as with most things, ninty percent of it is merde, but there is real meat on those bones.


[ Parent ]
Not to even mention (none / 0) (#234)
by rusty on Sat May 18, 2002 at 01:48:18 AM EST

As to the *deconstruction* of your program...

Without even getting into the facts that deconstruction has no relevance to a snippet of code, nor does it seek to expose what the author "really" meant. There is no good answer. The question was wrong. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

An epistimological tea break (4.50 / 2) (#198)
by dipipanone on Fri May 17, 2002 at 02:44:40 AM EST

Some fuckball on k5 who says something, like me, doesn't give legitimacy to a greasy carpet stain.

It's called paying your dues. Convince enough people that what you have to say is interesting enough and they'll buy your books as well.

However, what Louis Althusser says about Marxist criticism is legit, as he is Known.

Perhaps you should try killing your wife as well? After all, it worked for Burroughs and Althusser, why wouldn't it work for you?

--
Suck my .sig
[ Parent ]
Comments (3.20 / 5) (#61)
by medham on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:06:46 PM EST

First of all, I should say that I admire your book reviews, Danny, though I'd prefer more depth on each book than quantity myself.

It's important to keep in mind that Crews himself is a theoretician, or at least was. He had a bad experience with academic psychoanalytic literary criticism after writing a famous book employing its (very theoretical) methods. The book secured his tenure, though, and he was free to indulge in a career of "maverick" anti-professionalism. There's nothing wrong with this, but you have to see that he has his own cleavers set up by the grinder here.

I sense from the tone of your review that you don't understand much about some of the directions of contemporary cultural analysis, and that you don't care to. This is fine, certainly, but you should keep in mind that most of the audience here shares your opinion (or lack of informed one thereof), and thus consider the potentially didactic effects (or, again, lack thereof) of such an article.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

thanks for the feedback. (none / 0) (#209)
by danny on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:41:31 AM EST

Well, my reviews are getting steadily longer. But as a generalist reviewing specialist works I'm always going to be limited in what I can do - and this is certainly an example.

I'm probably more sympathetic to cultural theory than this discussion suggests. I've certainly been exposed to a fair bit of it, anyway - I know way too many English doctoral students and my sister is an academic teaching French literature.

You're probably right that Kuro5hin isn't a useful target for something like Postmodern Pooh - a discussion here was always going to end up creating a rather simplistic "it's all crap / you just don't understand any of" divide. But then the academic debate seems to go that way, too, so maybe there's no hope.

Personally I think there's some really great sociology of science, critical theory, and cultural analysis being done - and the sooner it's distinguished from the arrant nonsense around the better.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Heh (3.00 / 1) (#217)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:50:19 PM EST

a discussion here was always going to end up creating a rather simplistic "it's all crap / you just don't understand any of" divide.

Yeah. But I had fun anyway, and a few people do know what they're talking about. If you only knew how many bits Sunir and I have already murdered having similar arguments via email... ;-)

And you're right. The discourse in academic circles doesn't really go beyond what we've seen here. To quote the MeFi tagline:

"You're wrong!"
"No you're wrong!"


____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Is it just me or..... (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by artsygeek on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:07:56 PM EST

Is it just me or is Crews writing trolls to trap passionate postmodernists? Or is Crews just writing some big joke for him to shriek with delight when people who read his work (and I use the term lightly) and eat it up?(sorta like a certain religion founded by a sci-fi writer who shall remain nameless)

In all honesty (4.50 / 2) (#77)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:55:45 PM EST

I think he's trying to earn a crust, and good luck to him. I would buy the book, but I have an allergy to AA Milne.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Postmodernism is... (4.00 / 1) (#232)
by gromm on Fri May 17, 2002 at 11:45:31 PM EST

The problem with postmodern analysis of this and any other work of art is that it attempts to make a science out of art and fails horribly. Literary analysis does nothing to reveal "what the author *really* meant" but does a great deal to reveal what the reader *wants* it to mean. As a result, literature and poetry that is intentionally vague (and because of that, said literature is poor because it fails to convey any meaning at all) attracts postmodernists and English majors like shit attracts flies. And because it entirely reflects what the analyser wants it to, it is therefore completely subjective work. It's intellectual masturbation.

The fact of the matter is that art is nothing more and nothing less than magic. You can write all you like and be technically perfect at it, but at the same time be a complete and utter failure as a writer. What is missing is an artist's touch, the passion, the natural talent. There is no recipe for making art, it just happens, and noone knows how it happens, least of all the artists. For a third party to come along and pick it apart and say "this is what made this work of art great" could very well be the definition of arrogance, especially since the results are irreproducable and unverifiable.

You can call me a troll too if you like, but until I see a literary analysis that wasn't written by a crackpot or a wannabe or by someone who completely missed the point that was staring him right in the face, you won't change my mind.
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

Bashing postmodernism... (5.00 / 2) (#63)
by spcmanspiff on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:09:13 PM EST

is lots of fun, no?

I had to deal with a fairly heavy load of it in school; and I always found it to be an easy target.

However:

What's the point? One approach is to say is that post-modern lit analysis, etc. attempts to provide insight into the intended meaning of the subject work. In this, it very clearly fails in many cases, and the sometimes far-fetched interpretations make it very easy to attack.

What about unintended meanings? (Side discussion here, but fundamental to postmodernism: And where do those unintended meanings come from? The original author, leaking assumptions and attitudes into subtext, or the reader, creating interpretations to fit their own assumptions as they go?)

Postmodern thought is certainly not a failure when it comes to explorations of this stuff, although it (perhaps unavoidably) almost always does so with broad, metaphorical, and -- to me, unsatisfying -- brush strokes.

Where it does fail is when this type of thinking and exploration is applied to other fields (mainly scientific ones).

A good topic for a postmodernist exploration: Particle Physisicsts & Drug Culture: how did  drug culture influcence the work performed by physicists? Their results? Their choice of subject matter and research directions?

A bad topic: The Moody Universe: How Fundamental "Up" and "Down" Particles Imply (Un)Happiness.

That's my POV, anyway.




Intentionality (5.00 / 2) (#91)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 03:23:15 PM EST

One approach is to say is that post-modern lit analysis, etc. attempts to provide insight into the intended meaning of the subject work... What about unintended meanings?

Dragging intentionality into it at all betrays a weak understanding of the issues and goals of most postmodern theorists. They, by and large, couldn't care less if anyone intends anything. The program was much more about what you can get out of a text, what you can do with it. Intentionality was largely considered irrelevant at best, and a lingering remnant of exactly the kind of Modernist reductionism they were trying to overturn at worst.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Of course. (5.00 / 1) (#104)
by spcmanspiff on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:07:42 PM EST

But the most frequent criticisms of postmodernism (read the other comments here) are almost exclusively  based on the idea that analysis should result in some sort of hidden meaning(s) intended by the author. (X-Ref: "Modernist reductionism")

Bringing "unintended" into it is a way to respond, rather than a way to explain postmodern thought at the roots.

And yeah, maybe my understanding is weak -- I've got a high level of exposure to postmodernism but a fairly low level of interest at this point.



[ Parent ]

English class sucks dude (5.00 / 3) (#134)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:56:00 PM EST

But the most frequent criticisms of postmodernism...

...are entirely devoid of knowlege about the subject. :-)

"Determining the autor's intent" is what you learn criticism is about in high school. There have been a few such comments here. They mainly serve to inform the reader that the commenter has a high-school level grasp of the subject (i.e. knows nothing about it). You can safely ignore them.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Or... (4.00 / 3) (#154)
by epepke on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:45:41 PM EST

They could know what it is but think it's rubbish. I say there are only two things about postmodernism that aren't far better served by a mixture of mythologizing and Dada:

  1. Taking yourself way too seriously
  2. Complaining about how you don't have tenure

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
A seperate peace (none / 0) (#225)
by garlic on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:27:45 PM EST

We read A Seperate Peace by John Knowles early on in highschool. I remember being very frustrated with my teacher about it because she read very deeply into it, going so far as to assign meaning to the color of the bricks and the muddiness of a walkway. To me it seemed pretty ridiculous that thats what it meant. Later on I remember reading that John Knowles hadn't intended any inner meanings in the book at all and I felt pretty vindicated about it.

Now you're right, in that I was wrong to think that since the author didn't intend any, there weren't any inner meanings, but my teacher at the time was also wrong in implying to us that that's what the author meant vs what the work meant. However, if you seperate the need for the author's intent behind any meaning in the work, the work can have any meaning you want to assign to it which can easily turn ridiculous as the story seems to be pointing out. I know when I was in highschool if I understood this better, I would have tried to come up with my own crazy meaning, instead of my own view. I know in college I got a better grasp of this.

Anyway, somewhere I should have a point. Grasping that a work can have meaning not intended by the author is a difficult concept. Instead relying on the author's meaning is not a bad way to view a work, and a grounding force that can help keep people from getting carried away.

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

Meaning is slippery (none / 0) (#229)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 06:12:47 PM EST

However, if you seperate the need for the author's intent behind any meaning in the work, the work can have any meaning you want to assign to it which can easily turn ridiculous as the story seems to be pointing out.

It can have any meaning you assign to it. That's exactly the thing. Now, if you want to convnce me that the meaning you think it has makes any sense at all, you're gonna have to find some evidence for it.

You're right that your teacher's approach didn't help you understand the point of the lesson at all. It's too common -- teachers who want to rely on "what the author meant" while at the same time denying that what the author says they meant makes any difference. Which inevitably leads to the way you felt, which is also an incredibly common thing that people come out of English classes thinking.

It makes a lot more sense, perhaps, if you consider how a book works. Think of it like a little intricate machine, and take it apart. When you read a passage, what sense does it give you? What words, what images contribute to that sense? This is the kind of thing your teacher was probably trying to do, with her points about the   meaning of colors and muddy walkways. It doesn't matter what the author meant, or thought he meant -- authors usually are the worst people to analyze their own works. The point is that you can probably build a good argument that certain details contribute strongly to the effect of a story.

E.A. Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" is a superb story for this kind of exercise. It is one of the most obvious possible instances where the specific words used, and the imagery they combine to describe all contribute completely to the "mood", characterization, and plot. If an analysis of "FotHoU" doesn't convince you that this analysis stuff makes sense, nothing ever will. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Side topic: (none / 0) (#108)
by spcmanspiff on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:22:25 PM EST

Where'd all those whacky line breaks (I'm assuming they're not local just to my browser) come from?

I'm using Mozilla RC1...

Just FYI, I guess.

[ Parent ]

uh? (none / 0) (#133)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 04:51:22 PM EST

Wacky line breaks?

I'm using Galeon 1.2 (built on Moz RC2) and it all looks normal to me. Got a screenshot?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Bah! (none / 0) (#182)
by spcmanspiff on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:51:19 PM EST

I did not get one, unfortunately...

Essentially, it looked as if the lines were wrapping at the edges of the original comment edit box (Mozilla inserting returns?) ... but now it looks normal!

None of the other comments looked like this.

I'm willing to pass it off as a whacky Mozilla / I'm just too damn overworked sort of thing... if I see it happen again, I'll snag a screenshot.

[ Parent ]

Mozilla bug (none / 0) (#199)
by greenrd on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:12:35 AM EST

Mozilla does this to me once every few days (so very rare now - used to be more often). There is no discernable reason in the page source.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Sorta (5.00 / 1) (#143)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:15:54 PM EST

But the notion of authorial intent was first abandoned by the modernists such as Eliot and the New Criticism.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Yep (5.00 / 3) (#146)
by rusty on Thu May 16, 2002 at 05:28:42 PM EST

Which is why most postmodern critics don't even give it the time of day. It boggles the mind that many high school english classes still resort to teaching what amounts to eighteenth and early nineteenth century modes of critical thought, without ever really making it clear that there's been a lot of new thinking since then, and that what you're learning is basically history.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Agreed (none / 0) (#184)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu May 16, 2002 at 09:47:57 PM EST

High school english teachers really should introduce students to a broader array of critical approaches, but this can be taken too far. I mean, do you really think high school students are in a position, generally speaking, to be writing a "compare and contrast essay in standard five paragraph form" about the critical approaches of structuralism and post-structuralism?

I'd say kids need to be taught how to really read first -- and by "read" I intend something akin to the New Critical method of "close reading." If you introduce theory keep it simple; Aristotle's Poetics and Cleanth Brooks' The Well Wrought Urn should provide enough food for thought to keep most high school kids occupied for a long time.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Challenge them! (none / 0) (#190)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:07:53 AM EST

I think kids are so damn bored by lit classes because everyone's afraid to really bash them over the head with the hard stuff. Were I an English teacher, I'd have them going right at it. I mean, the primary complaint from high schoolers is that English is "boring." This is probably because it is boring. There's stuff out there that can shake their whole world up, make them see everything in a whole different way. But instead they typically get stuck with "What do you think Williams means by that?"

Oops. You stumbled upon a pet peeve. ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Allow me to restate... (none / 0) (#213)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:27:44 PM EST

If only because a condescending attitude towards kids and mediocre schooling is a pet peeve of mine as well.

As much as I enjoy literary theory I must admit it does have a tendency to be something of a insular affair and theory often becomes and end unto itself. I think, therefore, it is paramount that prior to learning any one critical method a student should be taught the skills necessary to become a sophisticated reader. And the skills required of a sophisticated reader are not necessary simple.

Were I in a position to teach high school kids literature, I'd give them a few guidelines including:

  • Focus your attention on questions of "how" a text means as opposed to questions of "what" a text means.
  • The role criticism is to find a way of discussing the non-paraphraseable content of text.
  • For every text develop a unique vocabulary which helps you to talk about the subtleties and nuances.
  • Always interrogate yourself as to the nature of the meaning you find in a text. Does that meaning arise directly from the text or is it more a consequence of extra-textual knowlege and experience? Or is it both? Can the two be seperated?

I think these few things, in addition to a basic introduction to the idea of cannon and intertextuality, are sufficient to working with literature at a pretty sophisticated level. That said, I don't think a student should be dissuaded from reading up on literary theory if they are so inclined.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Oops (none / 0) (#214)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:34:02 PM EST

If only because a condescending attitude towards kids and mediocre schooling is a pet peeve of mine as well.

I got that impression. I wasn't pet peeving at you, just at the educational system. Sorry if I aimed poorly. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I have to disagree with you there (none / 0) (#215)
by ucblockhead on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:34:59 PM EST

I think that the real problem with lit classes is that most kids haven't even learned to read for enjoyment at that point. I think that trying to examine works with a critical eye before you know how to just sit down and enjoy a work is like trying to learn to run before you can even crawl.

It's my experience that when kids hit lit classes and are asked to analyse "Moby Dick", for many of them, it's the first adult novel that they've ever read.

I mean, for kids that already read, I think you are certainly right, but that's a small minority these days, unfortunately.

Personally, I think that a lot of kids need a "pre-lit" class where they read things like Terry Pratchett novels or Stephen King novels, so they learn how to enjoy books.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

enjoy reading (none / 0) (#222)
by garlic on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:13:00 PM EST

I enjoy reading and did back in highschool. But when it came time to read somthing like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre I stumbled. These are hard books to read. More difficult then Shakespeare is because there's always a lot going on in shakespeare. Many of the 'classics' tend to be hard to read and even dull reading. It seems like a pretty good way to turn people off of reading entirely.

HUSI challenge: post 4 troll diaries on husi without being outed as a Kuron, or having the diaries deleted or moved by admins.
[ Parent ]

Perhaps you should ask a high schooler... (5.00 / 1) (#241)
by mikey g on Sun May 19, 2002 at 10:46:58 PM EST

Hooray for me being seventeen. Alright, on with the talk.

I love reading. I took the AP Language/Composition test this year, and next year (senior year) will be taking a class on modernist literature (of all things) at a local university. Needless to say, I love reading. I read a lot -- mostly non-fiction computer/politics/linguistics stuff, but some fiction.

For a while, I was in a level-four class. Level four is just a step below AP -- I was in the class until I took the AP entrance exam. Man, that class fucking sucked. People complained about having to read a ten page chapter out of a book and writing about a page and a half on it. People couldn't spell anything. It was terrible.

My point is that kids hate reading. They just hate it. If you're going to make kids read a bunch of Shakespeare, what makes you think they'll appreciate it? Does a "pearl in an Ethiope's ear" mean anything to the average high school freshman? I am the exception in appreciating writing.

If you want to talk instilling the joy of reading, it's all about the parents. I've got friends whose parents don't own books -- none. "A room without books has no soul"; I can't believe the state of things in some houses -- the only magazine is Sports Illustrated or some other rag. Schools don't really encourage reading: if on one side you've got sportswriting -- and not even good sportswriting -- and on the other you've got Chaucer, do you think the kid'll be torn a bit? They do nothing to ease people into loving reading. You can't read to Deltas from Othello; I agree with you -- you can't have ninth graders reading Moby Dick and expect them to appreciate and enjoy it -- much less analyze it. Of course, the educational system is so incredibly fucked that this is the least of the problems, methinks. At my old school they would bring down a metal cage around the lunch room -- and behave maturely, children. Idiot authoritarians....



--
.sig
[ Parent ]
Intentionality as a Threshold? (none / 0) (#165)
by bjlhct on Thu May 16, 2002 at 07:07:49 PM EST

`As I see it, if it isn't there, then the book isn't helping you get anywhere, it's just you thinking. So I see no intentionality as the threshold where you don't need the book.

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
The Point.. (3.00 / 2) (#180)
by Apuleius on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:37:05 PM EST

Is to drive down its prevalence in academia. Which seems a hopeless task.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Chaudhuri - literary theory afflicting history (5.00 / 2) (#210)
by danny on Fri May 17, 2002 at 10:59:49 AM EST

Where it does fail is when this type of thinking and exploration is applied to other fields (mainly scientific ones).

Indeed. I actually find literary theory, even some of the weirder stuff, rather interesting qua literary theory. The problem comes when it's extended wily-nilly to all kinds of other areas. An example of this is the historian K.N. Chaudhuri. I thought his book Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean was really rather good. So I borrowed his later book Asia Before Europe. Chaudhuri starts of by describing his visit to a critical theory conference and then spouts forty pages of total nonsense about the Axiom of Choice, Goedel's Theorem, and assorted other mathematics. At that point someone recalled the book (I'd borrowed it from the library) and I've never felt the urge to reborrow it.

Positivism was (is) a terrible mistake, CHECK. Cultural and historical context influence science, CHECK. Etc. But trying to apply the Axiom of Choice or Goedel's Theorem to history is still rank nonsense - and philosophy that induces people to do that is bad philosophy.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Pshaw (3.00 / 3) (#75)
by notcarlos on Thu May 16, 2002 at 02:51:57 PM EST

This, like the "postmodern deconstruction of Cat-in-the-Hat", and a few other bits and pieces here and there, just goes to show that you can criticise anything. Meanwhile, it's old hat.

(tips hat) Good day, sir.

He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
-- Rating on Rate My Professors.com
Banality (4.50 / 2) (#183)
by iwnbap on Thu May 16, 2002 at 08:54:53 PM EST

The problem of postmodernism as I see it (and I'm echoing comments of others) is its banality; the frustration of it is that it tends to make true but trivial points dressed up in incredibly fancy and unnecessary language. To wit: the idea of "Differance" is that getting at an unambiguous definition of meaning is hard, and since I'm now talking about the meaning of meaning, I'm getting into some kind of recursive descent problem. "Differance" is a subterfuge to sidestep this; it's analougous to Frege's creation of the idea of a formal system. One is allowed to construct sentences from an outlook of "Differance" without regard to their meaning, and use them as a formal system for argument. Meaning is postponed (much like a proof calculus) - we just juggle concepts/symbols without reference to their meaning; furthermore we can't introduce meaning into this system without corrupting it. Derrida is close to arguing that he has some kind of formal system for linguistic analysis.

This point is (IMHO) pretty useless. It comes down to saying "meaning is a hard concept, but if we don't use the word meaning it'll all be right", dressed up in obscure and badly translated language.

Furthermore, there can be no excuse for the incredibly bad puns which get thrown about. Nothing is an excuse for giving bad puns a kind of stentorian authority. I will strangle someone the next time I see a pun around "text", "context" and "texture".



(con)text (5.00 / 2) (#189)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 12:04:22 AM EST

Sorry for the gratuitous pomo parentheses. :-)

The thing to realize is that postmodern thought is very much situated in a particular historical and social context, specifically as a reaction to (and a repudiation of) modernism. The "banality" of it is due to our worldview pretty much embodying postmodern concepts. When it was invented, it was not banal at all -- in fact, it was extremely controversial and polarizing.

Postmodernism, at heart, was a reaction to the enabling philosophies that ultimately gave rise to fascism. The unifying program of "postmodernism" (as much as there ever was (or could have been) one) was anti-fascist. It was, not coincidentally, led by people who had just recently lived through World War II, and who deeply wanted a world where the undergirding philosophies of day to day life could not allow such a thing to happen again.

It can certainly be argued that what we ended up with isn't much better. It could also be argued that it is quite a lot better, even with its many flaws. Either way, it is awfully hard to justify fascism in a world where the idea that there's no such thing as unambiguous meaning is "banal."

While we're at it, my own pet theory on why scientists get so pissed off by postmodernism is that capital-S Science is one of the only remaining respectable bastions of modernist thought. I personally think that science is modernism with a leash and muzzle on, and fundamentally useful. But I am unsurprised that scientists get so outraged by postmodernists, given that essentially the latter are all about trying to tear out the foundations of the former.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Ehhical justification for intellectual movement? (5.00 / 1) (#219)
by SIGFPE on Fri May 17, 2002 at 04:12:40 PM EST

it is awfully hard to justify fascism in a world where the idea that there's no such thing as unambiguous meaning is "banal."
Post-modernists may fantasise that they are fighting fascism (just as they also fantasise that they're fighting racism, sexism and phallogocentrism) but somehow I doubt that they have had any impact whatsoever on the existence of fascism in Europe. All you need for fascism is a smart leader and a willing mob. It has nothing to do with what happens in intellectual circles and if you look in France today (the centre of all things Postmodern) you'll find no end of wannabe fascists with willing supporters.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]
Where are the fascist governments? (none / 0) (#226)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:36:46 PM EST

All you need for fascism is a smart leader and a willing mob.

Where are the fascist governments then? Why is it such a thoroughly discredited political philosophy that even the people who want to be fascists won't call themselves that? Is it due solely and directly to postmodernist thinking? Of course not. But postmodern ideas are mainstream now, and whether you like it or not, they were formulated as an anti-fascist philosophy, and formulated well. It is no surprise that in the present intellectual climate, no one is willing to publically associate themselves with fascism.

The "fantasies" of the intelligentsia influence the leaders and opinion makers. The leaders influence the people. The people influence the intelligentsia. No thought disappears, no idea has zero impact, except for the one that's never communicated.

Oscar Wilde probably said it better:

Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows? To whom, if not to them and their master, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace curved bridge and swaying barge? The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art.


____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
WHere are the postmodernist governments? (none / 0) (#227)
by Apuleius on Fri May 17, 2002 at 06:00:26 PM EST

Luckily, both nowadays are mere day dreams running through the same addled heads in the Left Bank.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
I must pro(test/text)! (5.00 / 2) (#221)
by Apuleius on Fri May 17, 2002 at 04:52:05 PM EST

Thou sayest: Postmodernism, at heart, was a reaction to the enabling philosophies that ultimately gave rise to fascism. I beg to differ. Postmodernism itself was the enabling philosophy for fascism. Sure, the fascists gave lip service to making the trains run on time, but that quickly degenerated to pretending the trains run on time, and then to asserting that since there is no objective truth, the trains are running on time, and anyone who says otherwise doesn't really exist (though, they made that last part objectively true, proof by ballistic induction and all.)




There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#224)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:25:32 PM EST

I know you're kidding. But nevertheless, Fascism in Europe: 1920's/30's. Postmodernism: 1960s.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Umm hmm. (none / 0) (#228)
by Apuleius on Fri May 17, 2002 at 06:01:40 PM EST

The ideas were around long before the label. Paul Johnson's book Modern Times gives pretty good parallels between fascists and pomos.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Yeah, Paul Johnson (none / 0) (#240)
by naugerrooger on Sun May 19, 2002 at 08:50:50 PM EST

Now that's a reliable source.  And what problems would he have with fascists, exactly?
-- "Would?" Alice in Chablis
[ Parent ]
Yes, Paul Johnson. (none / 0) (#245)
by Apuleius on Wed May 22, 2002 at 03:49:16 PM EST

And if you want to know what problems he has with fascists, read his books.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
[ Parent ]
Better yet (5.00 / 1) (#246)
by medham on Wed May 22, 2002 at 07:57:17 PM EST

Read the Christopher Hitchens article on him in the Rogues' Gallery section of one of his essay collections.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

As an aside... (none / 0) (#231)
by SIGFPE on Fri May 17, 2002 at 08:26:25 PM EST

...I'll tell you something that really frustrates me about post-modern writing. It all looks so superficially goddam interesting! Whenever I start reading a Baudrillard essay I get really excited. He seems about to elucidate these profound ideas about the culture around us. And then it goes nowhere. It's so tantalising and yet in the end it seems so empty. Same goes for Derrida. When I first read some Derrida it all seemed so cool. But when I stopped to think about what I really had learnt it all seemed so vacuous. Occasionally there's a point. The standard Derrida essay, "Plato's Pharmacy", has some interesting content. But he dresses it up in profound looking drivel. It promises such profundity but at the end of the day it just seems to have one or two humdrum observations.

Still, I do enjoy a lot of post-modern art/architecture/fiction/cinema, and if crap philosophy is the price to pay for that art - so be it.

And I do think vectors are phallic.
SIGFPE
[ Parent ]

But it's not exactly original (none / 0) (#237)
by iwnbap on Sun May 19, 2002 at 02:41:13 AM EST

But these ideas go back to the Greeks! What was the whole Apology about - those thinking that they had stumbled upon some meaning had not even considered the meaning of meaning itself. But for a few positivists in the early 20th century, the whole history of western philosphy can be summarized as "getting to an objective idea of what truth and meaning is is hard" vs. "truth and meaning seem to exist, so we must at least incorporate them into our ideas". Or alternatively "I know what's true is true dammit" vs."boo-yah-sucks I'm an ultra-skeptic you can't prove it nyah-nyah-nyah".

None of these ideas are particularly original. What irks me about pomo thought is its decision that it is unfettered by the strictures of the past, so it presents a whole new wordview. It doesn't. It's just regurgitating stuff which dates back to the sophists without properly crediting them, whilst making snide comments about colonialism, patriarchy, and phallo-logo-centricty.



[ Parent ]
How much have you read? (none / 0) (#238)
by rusty on Sun May 19, 2002 at 02:53:27 AM EST

What irks me about pomo thought is its decision that it is unfettered by the strictures of the past, so it presents a whole new wordview.

How much of the works generally considered to be the founders of postmodern thought have you read? I don't have the impression that they think that at all. That sounds like a third-hand characterization.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

sounds familiar (none / 0) (#220)
by Rhodes on Fri May 17, 2002 at 04:51:27 PM EST

And the real danny is???

Same guy (5.00 / 1) (#223)
by rusty on Fri May 17, 2002 at 05:24:19 PM EST

The "danny" who submitted the story here is Danny Yee. From time to time he submits reviews that he thinks we'd find interesting, like this one.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Perl, Sterling, and Stephenson (5.00 / 2) (#244)
by Will Sargent on Wed May 22, 2002 at 04:53:20 AM EST

One of the funniest things I've read is Larry Wall's analysis of postmodern culture and the reaction against modernist perspectives towards a looser style of reality.

Perl of course reflects this as a programming language where there's "more than one way to do it" and no one way is conceived of as better than another. Of course, it could also be seen as a language where the meaning can be secondary to the method and the terminology often (intentionally?) obscure.

I also thought Bruce Sterling has one of the more useful insights into postmodernism as an actual honest to god movement, rather than the academic fringe. You may not think this stuff is dangerous, but Sterling details the reactions of other cultures to this stuff as regarding it as outright poison. Zeitgeist is not one of his better known books, but it lays out very clearly how people map the consensual hallucination known as 'society' or 'reality' and how the stories are manipulated. I just go through reading a book about public relations which says essentially the same thing as Sterling, only with more outrage and less fascination.

Even Neal Stephenson basically came down to the same point in In the Beginning was the Command Line... in his comments about Disneyland as a mediated experience.

Reality is all about mediated experience. Money, Capitalism, Tolerence, you name it. There are some hard headed, extremely conservative people who are hoping that they can bring down China by trading with it and subverting the mediated experience of the people there, giving them a fatal dose of western values.

Of course, the problem with postmodernism is that it leaves most people infected with it ineffective at solving certain kinds of problems, mostly stuff involving Boolean logic. They become Eloi. There are also Morlocks in Stephenson's society; they understand postmodernism, but are opposed to it on many different levels. This includes the scientists and the hackers, but ironically much of the humanties and social sciences section of the intelligensia has succumbed. Stephenson argues that given the total mess that the intelligensia made of the 20th century, postmodernism is probably the most harmless option for them. As Wall also says "The basic idea behind modernism is to find one good idea and then drive it into the ground," and it's hard to disagree. Look where the social theories of containment, communism and the French revolution got us.

So... yeah. What this article and this book is making fun of are the people who have basically gone typhoid. They're off the scale in terms of their postmodernist behaviours. Don't confuse it with the idea. Real postmodernism is a powerful idea, and we're all infected. It's dangerous to think you can (or have!) ignored an idea just because you laughed at it.


----
I'm pickle. I'm stealing your pregnant.
(Post)modern literary theory - a farce? | 247 comments (227 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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