CTHEORY, the international journal of theory, technology, and culture
March 14, 2003 4:12 PM   Subscribe

CTHEORY the international journal of theory, technology, and culture.
Recent articles:
The Ambiguous Panopticon: Foucault and the Codes of Cyberspace
Posterchild for the Future: Living with Michael Jackson
The Post-Cyborg Path to Deconism
posted by signal (22 comments total)
Cloyingly cryptic.
Behooves befuddlement.
posted by HTuttle at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2003

This is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in their rambling, incoherent site were they even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on metafilter is now dumber for having seen to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
posted by hammurderer at 4:28 PM on March 14, 2003

You know, I can't help but smile when when I read a sentence like this:

"Both panopticism and the Internet construct space with a special attention to the subject's internalizing a particular model of space, and a particular notion of how people are distributed throughout space in relation to one another, and with a special attention to the defining of the individual through the space she occupies. "

Sure, it's horrible writing from a horrible piece of scholarship. But goddamit, it's wonderful. I read "hard" postmodernism with about the same mindset that I read pulp detective novels or H.P. Lovecraft. I don't really think that's an insult, as just about everyone else I've known who's been into the stuff has about the same outlook. In fact, I think one of the big lessons of poststructuralism, hidden between all the big words and freakish concepts, is that we need to lighten up.

So I, for one, will say "thanks for the link, signal. May you dwell in full realization of the spaces you inhabit, surround, and signify."
posted by kaibutsu at 5:00 PM on March 14, 2003 [1 favorite]

I bet these people could make sense of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity without really understanding the point. (click here if you don't know that story)
posted by ArcAm at 5:03 PM on March 14, 2003

This is friggin' glorious. As someone who majored in French Literature & Philosophy at a certain New Haven university when it was the US bastion of deconstructionism, I've got to shudder when I realize that I can still decode most of what's (trying to be) said here. (I can gladly say that it's been almost twenty years since I've seen someone say "the traditional text's moiety of jouissance" with a straight face.)

Nevertheless, having slogged through the Panopticon essay, I think the best part is that he never seems to catch on that if the Internet is indeed the phallic, all-seeing corrective space that he claims it is, by contributing to an online journal, his multi-syllabic ass is now out there to be spanked in its turn. Bad, bad little untenured professor!
posted by LairBob at 6:13 PM on March 14, 2003

tripzine! or, for the more rationally inclined, butterflies and wheels :D
posted by kliuless at 6:16 PM on March 14, 2003

Of special note:
Criswell Predicts: Lost Voices from a Forgotten Future, 1956-1959, a stream-of-semi-consciousness rant that washes through '50's futurism, government conspiracies, LSD, UFO's, the CIA, "Forbidden Planet" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (in which Criswell was one of the more talented participants). Also look for the oblique reference to "Mr. Ed"...
posted by wendell at 6:57 PM on March 14, 2003

Well, ArcAm, Igor Bogdanov's paper "Topological Origin of Inertia" actually got published in a physics journal as I noted here, so it's not news here and kettle pot and all that.

However, I assure you that the Bogdanov's theses seem like gibberish to me, at least from their abstracts - even though I work on topological quantum field theory, and know the meaning of almost all the buzzwords they use. Their journal articles make the problem even clearer. You can easily get ahold of these, because they are appended to the PDF files containing their theses. Some parts almost seem to make sense, but the more carefully I read them, the less sense they make... and eventually I either start laughing or get a headache.

I got on C Theory's mailing list from doing my show somehow and get their unreadable little missives every so often. Stop Making Sentences will be the title of the film.
posted by y2karl at 7:59 PM on March 14, 2003

kaibatsu: It took me about three readings to discover that the verb in that sentence is construct. If only William Strunk Jr. hadn't been a member of the evil patriarchy.
posted by tss at 10:44 PM on March 14, 2003

16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.

2. Write in a way that comes naturally.

6. Do not overwrite.

14. Avoid fancy words.

posted by tss at 10:49 PM on March 14, 2003

tagline! Metafilter: the traditional text's moiety of jouissance.

Then there's Metafilter: panopticon or merely surveillant?

Maybe. Maybe not. Ah, what's the différance.
posted by dhartung at 10:56 PM on March 14, 2003

Yes, these are gruesome examples of the misuse of a certain set of critical theories - people writing to be heard in an academic seminar room, or a scary corner of a student bar. But it's a bit pathetic, MeFi's, just to abuse postmodern thinking. In the hands of people like Walter Truett Anderson or Richard Kearney, it's a powerful and perceptive mindset.
posted by theplayethic at 2:58 AM on March 15, 2003

Reminder to self: send that fan mail to Alan Sokal.
posted by chrisgregory at 3:49 AM on March 15, 2003

Whatever, a lot of Ctheory is crap, but a fair number of event-scenes are fascinating. I suppose it's easier just to mock the style of writing than it is to actually engage the site as a whole. Thank God the multitude of scientific fields never publish anything that provides anecdotal fodder for the 'ooh, what crap' mill. [Please note sarcasm.] And fyi, all of Sokal's work after the initial hoax is woeful; he understands as much about metaphor and metonymy as I do about the mathematical foundations of superstring theory.
posted by hank_14 at 4:38 AM on March 15, 2003

There's no question that the post-modern approach has brought an important new perspective to many different areas of thought, but I've always personally maintained a distinction between "Deconstruction" and "deconstruction".

As a rigorous approach to not let oneself inherit a lot of traditional blindspots, deconstruction is a tremendously powerful approach. These essays, though, reek of "Deconstruction" as a poseur school, and it's not just the intentionally opaque language. They don't really apply to anything important--they're so flitty in how the approach a topic, and so opaque in their conclusions, that it's almost impossible for them to be relevant outside their academic posturing.

The real post-modern thought of value, like Kearney, is both much more legible, and has a much clearer direct import on the real world. Just follow playethic's Kearney link and scan the excerpt--granted, it's academic, but he's clearly trying to be understood. For pete's sake, "preserving reading's moiety of jouissance" just means enjoying reading (with the obligatory de facto sexualization that "big D" Deconstruction requires--jouissance means 'happiness', but also has orgasmic connotations that are pretty irrelevant to the essay).
posted by LairBob at 6:35 AM on March 15, 2003

As a rigorous approach to not let oneself inherit a lot of traditional blindspots, deconstruction is a tremendously powerful approach.

Which is the point of it, is it not?

These essays, though, reek of "Deconstruction" as a poseur school, and it's not just the intentionally opaque language.

LairBob, this is what I suspected from reading their stuff. You, theplayethic and Hank_14 make much the same point as rusty did here. I

Postmodernism, as conventionally understood (not as misunderstood by the ignorant mind you) is generally about textual analysis and interpretation. Just like Marxist analysis is correct as long as it remains internally consistent, and new criticism is correct as long as it remains internally consistent, so is deconstruction theory correct, and post-feminism, and so forth. They're just different ways of talking about texts. Each one can shed light on its subject matter in different ways, and can prompt you to maybe see the world in a way you hadn't thought of before. But it's never going to be a matter of one way or another somehow "winning," or being "proven right."

What I've found bizarre for going on a decade now is how postmodern modes of critique in particular have grabbed the public's imagination, and can continue to provoke such strong responses in people who fundamentally have no idea what they are. It's like if everyone went around arguing about the basic assumptions and methods in one particularly esoteric branch of poetic theory, and got really upset about it and everything, without having read any of the actual poems or critical works about them.

I suspect the strong responses are provoked from reading or hearing stuff that reek[s] of "Deconstruction" as a poseur school. Then, too, there is rusty's (not as misunderstood by the ignorant mind you)...

More than a grain of truth there.
posted by y2karl at 7:16 AM on March 15, 2003

As far as the "fancy words" argument (and I'm not defending any of the writers' styles), one mans "fancy" words are another's tools of the trade. I've seen people get strung up on MeFi for such "fancy" words as Epistimological, for Jebus' sake!
posted by signal at 8:00 AM on March 15, 2003

Slog through the Michael Jackson article and you do reach a compelling thought about the artist that's probably struck most of us in some form at one way or another (could I qualify that any more?). This is actually basically his entire argument, and all the treacle surrounding it is so much fluffy PoMoSpeak, but if he were to be a lot more focused and a lot less self-indulgent, he could build a thrilling essay out of this bit:

[The trajectory of all Michael Jackson's much-decried oddities -- his surgical alterations, reachings towards childhood and immortality, liminal racial and sexual identity, refusal to convincingly participate in the traditional scheme of marriage and procreation -- is towards our current ideal]: the quest for eternal immaturity; the absolutions found in technology; the science of biology as profoundly logical and desirable; the plasticity of identity; the eradication of sexual and racial difference; the flirtation with and seduction of the Other; and the apotheosis of one in many and many in one. This refrain is like a formulaic hit song for the future, with that catchy chorus of cyberspace. We have repeatedly heard it before yet long to hit repeat it again. But when faced with an actual documentary instead of an overproduced and slick music video, usually ahead of its time (Jackson's trademark), we balk at the sights and sounds and go into global convulsions of outrage and disbelief, as if the world is suddenly poisoned by the grotesquely otherworldly without proper warning.

So the person that Michael Jackson is apparently trying to become is the ideal person according to current modes of thought (mostly liberal modes of thought, I'd say). Feminists tell us we need to move away from gender roles, racial scholars tell us we need to move away from racial roles, activists for the transgendered tell us we should embrace our capacity to technologically eradicate gender difference, etc. I can really see that, and since I'm a liberal, it's kind of a frightening thought. But then maybe MJ is an example of a good idea taken to an extreme. Or maybe in another fifty years we will, as Flagan suggests, see him as ahead of his time. Beautiful, even. Weird. Points to ponder, eh?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:30 AM on March 15, 2003

Metafilter: the traditional text's moiety of jouissance..... As someone who majored in French Literature & Philosophy ...(detournement squared, i.e. detournement of the detournement). ...Ferdinand de Saussure's oppositions between langue and parole and between signifier and signified.

Great Horny Toads.

The war notwithstanding, perhaps the Freedom Fries/Freedom Toast people are on to something....
posted by jonmc at 11:24 AM on March 15, 2003

jonmc: If you have a problem with 'signifier' and 'signified', do you also have a problem with 'word' and 'concept'?

Just curious.

I mean, come on. All disciplines have jargon. Humanities scholars get lambasted because their terms of choice are harder to map onto real things than, say, terms from biochem. But jumping from that point to the conclusion humanities scholars don't do valuable work seems like a stretch to me.
posted by amery at 9:52 PM on March 15, 2003

amery -- I picked that last one because I need one more quote with some french in it to make my point (which was meant to be humorous). But you can't tell me those other two phrases(NTM the articles themselves) don't smack of bullshit. Hell they're writing, as you say, about "the humanities" which if anything should be less jargon-laden because it's supposed to be about human experience, right?

Hell, trying to wade through stuff like that at 19 made my head hurt, I thought it was because I was dumb. Now maybe, I'm thinking the authors were.
posted by jonmc at 7:20 AM on March 16, 2003

jonmc: I'm certainly don't object to anyone saying a good deal of humanities scholarship (especially literary theory) is poorly-written and shot through with mealy-mouthed garbage, so I'm with you on your assessment of these particular articles. I do, however, think that good work does happen, and the idea of signifier-signified-referent is some of that good work.

I've actually had respected humanities scholars tell me that no worthwhile idea can be expressed simply. The only sound in the room was my jaw hitting the floor.
posted by amery at 12:11 PM on March 16, 2003

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