The citizens of a certain town had once an officer in their service who had freed them from foreign aggression; daily they took counsel how to recompense him, and concluded that no reward in their power was great enough, not even if they made him lord of the city. At last one of them rose up and said, "Let us kill him and then worship him as our patron saint." And so they did, following the example set by the Roman Senate with Romulus.
Still, if you do not know how to tell a counterfeit coin from a true one, you should not go around pretending that you do. And this was not the worst vice of the postmodernists. Far worse was their penchant for unintelligible writing, for drawing wild inferences, and for throwing around irresponsible claims. . . These absurdities are also in Sokal's sights, and compared with them the pathetic conceit of decorating writings with a pretense of acquaintance with mathematics and physics is relatively minor.
The proponents. . . have a very easy task if they want to make their case. . . most of it seems to me gibberish. But if this is just another sign of my incapacity to recognize profundities, the course to follow is clear: just restate the results to me in plain words that I can understand. . .
[T]he response is cries of anger: to raise these questions shows "elitism," "anti-intellectualism," and other crimes --- though apparently it is not "elitist" to stay within the self- and mutual-admiration societies of intellectuals who talk only to one another. . .
There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it.
I greatly enjoyed Sokal's hoax. There is little in academic life more irritating than people pretending to understand things that they do not understand. Who cannot want to explode the long lines of intellectuals posing as having a close acquaintance with iconic items of twentieth-century progress -- relativity theory, of course, but also quantum mechanics, set theory, Godel's theorems, Tarski's work on formal logic, and much else? Custard pies are exactly what is needed.
Still, I found myself not quite as wholehearted as some of my colleagues. I felt a little guilty about laughing, even if the joke was a good one. I had edited a journal myself, and so I found it easier to put myself in the position of the hapless editors of Social Text. ....
I do not find it so surprising that they ran with it. Should they have had it refereed by mathematicians, physicists, and set theorists? I am not sure. It is better to do so, no doubt, and I expect that the poor editors have woken up every morning since wishing that they had. But there are costs of time and effort in finding referees, and as often as not you end up with two things to judge rather than just one. Anyway, it was the purported message of the physics, not the details, that mattered to their interest in it. And you do trust academics to get their own subjects right. When I edited Mind, if a paper came in from a well-regarded historian in an eminent department showing, for instance, that various facts about Hobbes's political experiences in Venice explain his attachment to some doctrine in political philosophy, I would have had to estimate the political philosophy myself. But I might well have taken Hobbes's presence in Venice as given: surely any halfway decent historian would not have developed the point if he hadn't got that bit right? Almost certainly I would not have had the history refereed, even if I had known whom to approach.
I also found something a shade distasteful about the position of those triumphalists who were crowing about the hoax. Very few of them would be able to make head or tail of a page of any contemporary physics journal. So when Sokal tells them that some sentences in his hoax were physically perfectly correct, while others were egregiously false or nonsensical, they have to take him on trust, and this alone puts them in a rather poor position from which to crow over the hapless others who took all of them, including the wrong ones, on trust.
And finally, we might reflect that gullibility is not the prerogative of wacky postmodernists. Indeed, there is a phenomenon with its own name, "the Dr. Fox effect," arising from an experiment conducted back in 1973. Fox was not a doctor but an actor. The experimenters created a meaningless lecture on "Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education," larded with double talk, neologisms, non sequiturs, and contradictions. Fox delivered this nonsense to three separate audiences of medical professionals, psychologists, and graduate students, but with humor and a pleasant and confident air. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. Bullshit really does beat brains, worldwide.
Still, if you do not know how to tell a counterfeit coin from a true one, you should not go around pretending that you do. And this was not the worst vice of the postmodernists. Far worse was their penchant for unintelligible writing, for drawing wild inferences, and for throwing around irresponsible claims, such as the wonderfully absurd assertions that before tuberculosis was identified you could not die of it, or that Newton's laws of motion make up a rape manual. These absurdities are also in Sokal's sights, and compared with them the pathetic conceit of decorating writings with a pretense of acquaintance with mathematics and physics is relatively minor.
...emphasized the agency of language in subjective constitution.
...where the signifier is irremediably divorced from the signified in a chronic but generative tension of lack.
"Reality itself is a thinking thing, and the object of its own
thinking." - Parmenides
He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, "You didn't understand me; you're an idiot." That's the terrorism part.
This monism or complete idealism invalidates all science. If we explain (or judge) a fact, we connect it with another; such linking, in Tlön, is a later state of the subject which cannot affect or illuminate the previous state. Every mental state is irreducible: there mere fact of naming it - i.e., of classifying it - implies a falsification. From which it can be deduced that there are no sciences on Tlön, not even reasoning. The paradoxical truth is that they do exist, and in almost uncountable number. The same thing happens with philosophies as happens with nouns in the northern hemisphere. The fact that every philosophy is by definition a dialectical game, a Philosophie des Als Ob, has caused them to multiply. There is an abundance of incredible systems of pleasing design or sensational type. The metaphysicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding. They judge that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature. They know that a system is nothing more than the subordination of all aspects of the universe to any one such aspect. Even the phrase "all aspects" is rejectable, for it supposes the impossible addition of the present and of all past moments. Neither is it licit to use the plural "past moments," since it supposes another operation...
In order to achieve serenity, the sceptic started philosophising about the fact that he evaluated his sensory images, and realised that some were true and some were false. He then fell into contradictions between equally good arguments on either side, and not being able to decide one way or the other, he suspended judgment. Finally, suspension of judgment led by fate to serenity in matters of opinion. Someone who believes that anything is objectively good or evil is perpetually disturbed. When he lacks the things he thinks good, he thinks he is being tormented by things which are objectively bad, and he strives after things which are good (as he thinks). But when he has obtained them, he falls into even greater disturbance because of his irrational and immoderate elation; and fearing a reversal of fortune, he does everything to avoid losing the things which seem good to him. But the person who has come to no opinion as to which things are objectively good or evil puts no effort into avoiding or striving after them. This is because he is in a state of serenity.
§204. Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. It is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in form as it is in content. It is critique of the totality and historical critique. It is not "the nadir of writing" but its inversion. It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation.
§205. In its very style. the exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination in terms of the rules and the corresponding tastes of the dominant language, because when it uses existing concrete concepts it is simultaneously aware of their rediscovered fluidity, their necessary destruction.
§206. This style which contains its own critique must express the domination of the present critique over its entire past. The very mode of exposition of dialectical theory displays the negative spirit within it. "Truth is not like a product in which one can no longer find any trace of the tool that made it" (Hegel). This theoretical consciousness of movement, in which the movement's very trace must be evident, manifests itself by the inversion of the established relations between concepts and by the diversion of all the acquisitions of previous critique. The inversion of the genetive is this expression of historical revolutions, consigned to the form of thought, which was considered Hegel's epigrammatic style. The young Marx, recommending the technique Feuerbach had systematically used of replacing the subject with the predicate, achieved the most consistent use of this insurrectional style, drawing the misery of philosophy out of the philosophy of misery. Diversion leads to the subversion of past critical conclusions which were frozen into respectable truths, namely transformed into lies. Kierkegaard already used it deliberately, adding his own denunciation to it: "But despite all the tours and detours, just as jam always returns to the pantry, you always end up by sliding in a little word which isn't yours and which bothers you by the memory it awakens" (Philosophical Fragments). It is the obligation of distance toward what was falsified into official truth which determines the use of diversion, as was acknowledged by Kierkegaard in the same book: "Only one more comment on your numerous allusions aiming at all the grief I mix into my statements of borrowed sayings. I do not deny it here nor will I deny that it was voluntary and that in a new continuation to this pamphlet, if I ever write it, I intend to name the object by its real name and to clothe the problem in historical attire."
§207. Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author's phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.
§208. Diversion is the opposite of quotation, of the theoretical authority which is always falsified by the mere fate of having become a quotation a fragment torn from its context, from its movement, and ultimately from the global framework of its epoch and from the precise choice, whether exactly recognized or erroneous, which it was in this framework. Diversion is the fluid language of anti-ideology. It appears in communication which knows it cannot pretend to guarantee anything definitively and in itself. At its peak, it is language which cannot be confirmed by any former or supra-critical reference. On the contrary, its own coherence, in itself and with the applicable facts, can confirm the former core of truth which it brings out. Diversion has grounded its cause on nothing external to its own truth as present critique.
- Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
To write is to surrender to the fascination of time's absence. Now we are doubtlessly approaching the essence of solitude. Time's absence is not a purely negative mode. It is the time when nothing begins, when initiative is not possible, when, before the affirmation, there is already a return of the affirmation. Rather than a purely negative mode, it is, on the contrary, a time without negation, without decision, when here is nowhere as well, and each thing withdraws into its image while the "I" that we are recognises itself by sinking into the neutrality of a featureless third person. The time of time's absence has no present, no presence. This "no present" does not, however, refer back to a past. Olden days had the dignity, the active force of now. Memory still bears witness to this active force. It frees me from what otherwise would recall me; it frees me by giving me the means of calling freely upon the past, of ordering it according to my present intention. Memory is freedom of the past. But what has no present will not accept the present of a memory either. Memory says of the event: it once was and now it will never be again. The irremediable character of what has no present, of what is not even there as having once been there, says: it never happened, never for a first time, and yet it starts over, again, again, infinitely. It is without end, without beginning. It is without a future.
The time of time's absence is not dialectical. in this time what appears is the fact that nothing appears. What appears is the being deep within being's absence, which is when there is nothing and which, as soon as there is something, is no longer. For it is as if there were no beings except through the loss of being, when being lacks. The reversal which, in time's absence, points us constantly back to the presence of absence -- but to this presence as absence, to absence as its own affirmation (an affirmation in which nothing is affirmed, in which nothing never ceases to to affirm itself with the exhausting insistence of the indefinite) -- this movement is not dialectical. Contradicitions do not exclude each other in it; nor are they reconciled. Only time itself, during which negation becomes our power, permits the "unity of contraries." In time's absence what is new renews nothing; what is present is not contemporary; what is present presents nothing, but represents itself and belongs henceforth and always to return. It isn't, but comes back again It comes already and forever past, so that my relation to it is not one of cognition but of recognition, and this recognition ruins in me the power of knowing, the right to grasp. It makes what is ungraspable inescapable; it never lets me cease reaching what I cannot attain. And that which I cannot take, I must take up again, never to let go.
A Massachusetts educator warns teachers about using The Story of Babar because it "extols the virtues of a European, middle-class lifestyle and disparages the animals..."
Lacan's "return to Freud" could be read as the realization that the pervading agency of the unconscious is intimately tied to the functions and dynamics of language, where the signifier is irremediably divorced from the signified in a chronic but generative tension of lack.
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