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Dec 12, 2011

An Intellectual Program

Intellectual:  We must adopt policies ... any normative concept of a just society. [applause]

Mike:  He must have a great mind. I didn't understand much of what he said, but I find myself agreeing with him.
Jim:  He's not so great. Either he is intentionally confusing, or he can't figure out how to explain it to us.

02/15/07 - Elsewhere.Org

The following is an excerpt of a significant article. Don't spend time diving into the complexity, just get a feel for it.

The Rubicon of Reality:
Precultural Socialism, Socialism and Neomaterial Capitalist Theory

By Henry Wilsonaka the computer program Pomo, Department of Deconstruction, University of North Carolina

1. Consensuses of fatal flaw

In the works of Gibson, a predominant concept is the concept of textual art. It could be said that Baudrillard promotes the use of neostructuralist constructive theory to deconstruct capitalism. The subject is contextualised into a predialectic paradigm of expression that includes narrativity as a reality.

“Sexual identity is part of the meaninglessness of truth,” says Foucault; however, according to Cameron [1] , it is not so much sexual identity that is part of the meaninglessness of truth, but rather the rubicon, and subsequent stasis, of sexual identity. Therefore, Bataille’s model of textual nationalism holds that the raison d’etre of the writer is significant form. The characteristic theme of Prinn’s [2] critique of semiotic neotextual theory is the difference between class and society.

This article and about 5,400,000 others are significant because they were generated by the computer program Postmodernism Generator. It starts with a collection of authors and quotes, and writes them out in grammatical forms without knowing any meanings. It produces high class, random gibberish, allowing the reader to supply his own meanings and puzzle about the deep and intricate ideas which might lie within.

This is a neat trick. Even if you were fooled, you might think that true intellectuals would not be.

Alan Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University. He wrote an article Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity and submitted it to the journal Social Text, which accepted and published it in its Spring/Summer edition of 1996.

A few months later, Sokal explained that this paper was a parody.

Social Text describes itself: Social Text covers a broad spectrum of social and cultural phenomena, applying the latest interpretive methods to the world at large. A daring and controversial leader in the field of cultural studies, the journal consistently focuses attention on questions of gender, sexuality, race, and the environment, publishing key works by the most influential social and cultural theorists.

A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies

[edited]  I tried a modest, uncontrolled experiment to test intellectual standards. Social Text is a leading North American journal of cultural studies. Its editorial board includes luminaries such as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross. Would it publish an article liberally salted with nonsense which sounded good and flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions? The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

Could the editors really not have realized that my article was written as a parody? Is it now dogma in Cultural Studies that there exists no external world? Or, that there exists an external world, but science obtains no knowledge of it?

In the second paragraph, without the slightest evidence or argument, I declare that "physical reality" is at bottom a social and linguistic construct. Not our theories of physical reality, mind you, but the reality itself. Fair enough: anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the 21st floor windows of my apartment.

I wrote the article so that any competent physicist, mathematician, or even undergraduate physics or math major would realize that it is a spoof. Evidently, the editors of Social Text felt comfortable publishing an article on quantum physics without bothering to consult anyone knowledgeable in the subject.

The fundamental silliness of my article lies in its dubious central thesis and the "reasoning" used to support it. Quantum gravity is a speculative theory of space and time applying to distances of a million billion billion billion'th of a centimeter. I claim that it has profound Progressive political implications.

I support this as follows. First, I quote some controversial philosophical pronouncements of the physicists Heisenberg and Bohr, and assert without argument that quantum physics is profoundly consonant with "postmodernist epistemology". Next, I assemble a pastiche of Derrida and general relativity, Lacan and topology, and Irigaray and quantum gravity, held together by vague rhetoric about "nonlinearity", "flux", and "interconnectedness". Finally, I jump to assert without argument that "postmodern science" has abolished the concept of objective reality.

Nowhere is there anything resembling a logical sequence of thought, only citations of authority, plays on words, strained analogies, and bald assertions.

Alan Sokal's paper was more outrageous than a computer generated one. So, it is amazing that it fooled the editors of Social Text. They didn't understand what they were publishing. They only seemed to care that it supported their political beliefs, no matter what the subject area.

Social Text refused to publish Sokal's explanation of his hoax, as not meeting its editorial standards.

- -
Alan Sokal's articles about the Social Text affair.

Thanks to Bill Quick for the link at Daily Pundit.

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