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Engineer Deconstructs Literary Criticism

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  • by glinden (56181) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:16PM (#7928806) Homepage Journal
    Another widely reported [salon.com] exploration into post-modernist literature was "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" [nyu.edu] by Sokal. Sokal says, in order to "test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross -- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions? The answer, unfortunately, is yes."
    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:39PM (#7929110)
      That paper used lots of big words and I didn't understand it at all, so it must have been written by really smart people!
      • I find the article is actually hilarious if you take the time to struggle through the Big Words. My favorite passage is this one:

        Derrida's perceptive reply went to the heart of classical general relativity:

        The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center.

        It is the very concept of variability -- it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of something -- of a center starting from which an observer could master the field -- but the very concept of the game

    • by Frymaster (171343) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:41PM (#7929134) Homepage Journal
      i'm tempted to recall a scene in italo calvino's "if on a winter's night a traveller..." (a classic of po-mo lit):

      in said scene, a literary critic develops a program to count the frequency of words in a given book (ignoring prepositions, pronouns and the like) and then display the 20 most and least frequent words. the theory is that the core concept of the book can be gleaned by simply reading these lists.

      now i have tried this myself and can say, while it does not work to the level stated by calvino, it does certainly give you a feel for the book. different genres have noticable word distributions especially. it's easy to identify, say, a western or sci-fi or romance novel from these lists.

      • by Slamtilt (17405) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:31PM (#7929816)
        I remember an odd line in that book. At one point, reference is made (at least in the edition I was reading) to a "slime green volume". Since it's such an odd description, I inevitably began to wonder if it was a misprint, for either "lime green" or "slim green". Then I wondered if it could be an intentional misprint. Then I wondered if it wasn't a misprint, but was deliberatly placed to make the reader wonder about this. Then I thought about how clever the translator must have been if it was intentional. Then my head exploded.
    • by Otter (3800) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:43PM (#7929152) Journal
      Here's what I never got about that Sokal business: the core principle of post-modern criticism is that there is no priviliged reading of a text, even the author's, right? So what's the fuss about a "hoax"? The editors perceived something worthwhile in the article, and Sokal has no standing to insist otherwise, even if he is the author.

      I don't get why no one seems to have made that argument. It came to my mind within seconds of hearing the story.

      • by Walter Wart (181556) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:56PM (#7929295) Homepage
        A nice piece of sophistry. However, when the hoax was exposed the editors of Social Text didn't take it so philosophically. They had, and there's no polite way to put this, a s**t hemmorage. They accused Sokal of mopery and dopery and aggravated intention to loiter. They claimed that he was really a right winger and that his volunteer work in Nicaragua was a lie.

        Like most stuffed shirts they didn't handle looking foolish very well.
      • by Jerf (17166) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:59PM (#7929329) Journal
        I was going to RTFA you, but I note Sokal's followup [nyu.edu] has not been linked yet. In it, he makes the following statement:
        Of course, I'm not oblivious to the ethical issues involved in my rather unorthodox experiment. Professional communities operate largely on trust; deception undercuts that trust. But it is important to understand exactly what I did. My article is a theoretical essay based entirely on publicly available sources, all of which I have meticulously footnoted. All works cited are real, and all quotations are rigorously accurate; none are invented. Now, it's true that the author doesn't believe his own argument. But why should that matter? The editors' duty as scholars is to judge the validity and interest of ideas, without regard for their provenance. (That is why many scholarly journals practice blind refereeing.) If the Social Texteditors find my arguments convincing, then why should they be disconcerted simply because I don't? Or are they more deferent to the so-called ``cultural authority of technoscience'' than they would care to admit?
        Perhaps this will resolve your misunderstanding on why "no on seems to have made that argument"?
        • Perhaps this will resolve your misunderstanding on why "no on seems to have made that argument"?

          I'm probably obtuse, but -- no, I still don't understand. Your point is that Sokal is making a similar argument, right? And is his argument invalid?

          My spin is just the opposite of his. If I'm a Social Thought editor, the argument I make (out of sincerity or out of damage control, as the case may be) is this: all this talk of "trust" and "deception" is irrelevant. Dr. Sokal submitted a provocative article and we

          • i think that's his point. If they (the editors) really believe that there's no privileged reading, then they shouldn't care that the author came out and said "haha! it's all crap!" because hey, the author doesn't matter.

            However, they DID get upset...really upset. They should have made the argument "it doesn't matter that you didn't mean it, you still wrote really good stuff, intentionally or not" but they didn't.. in otherwords, they don't buy into their own philosophy (that the work is independent of
          • by Jerf (17166) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:44PM (#7930014) Journal
            No, he made the argument and he meant it. Under their rules it should not have bothered them that he did not mean it.
            If the Social Texteditors find my arguments convincing, then why should they be disconcerted simply because I don't?
            It did bother them, thus it is valid to speculate about why. (My call is "hypocrisy", but that's just one interpretation. I can't prove it without access to the editors I don't have.)

            The problem is that as scientists/engineers/rational people, the concept of "gibberish" has meaning. If "gibberish" is given the same standing in a journal like this as claimed "meaningful writing", then the logical conclusion is that there is no distinguishing between "gibberish" and "meaningful writing", and as a consequence there is no such thing as "meaningful writing" going on if it's all logically equivalent to "gibberish".

            Thus, to be consistent, the po-mos must act as you say, but as scientists/engineers/rational people, we're not going to buy it and we're going to conclude they're full of crap. This bothers them, and again, it shouldn't since they despise our worldview so. This is what I believe Sokal was saying, and what I thought you were getting at. There's no inconsistency here from Sokal or the engineering camp, there's just inconsistency from the po-mos. (And hypocrisy, in the sense that by their own logic this isn't supposed to bother them, but it clearly does. As a scientist/engineer/rational person, I would claim this is because no matter how hard you try, you can only disconnect from reality so far...)
        • If the Social Texteditors find my arguments convincing, then why should they be disconcerted simply because I don't?

          I understand that a similar stunt was once pulled on a women's studies department with a bogus article about lesbian behavior in sheep.

          Background required... Mating behavior in normal sheep is:
          - The ram kicks the sheep in the side.
          - If the sheep is not in heat, she moves away.
          - If the sheep is in heat, she responds by holding still.
          - Upon determining that kicking the sheep in the s
      • I like to apply that concept to art.

        The message the artist tries to convey - either consciously or subconsciously - to the audience is secondary. Art should reflect the essence of the audience - not the artist - back to themselves. Does my work make you happy? Great - why do you think that is? Does it make you hopping mad/afraid/sad? Fantastic. What is it inside you that made you react in such a way?

        Great art always shows you something surprising (and not necessarily pleasant) about yourself.

        Needless

    • by urbazewski (554143) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:23PM (#7929712) Homepage Journal
      What I appreciated about the article here, as opposed to the one by Sokal, is that rather than just dismissing the entire enterprise he makes a genuine attempt to understand what's going on and to see what has merit and what doesn't. Also, the analysis of how the incentives for academics work was right on target --- he didn't say that humanties professors are morons, they are just doing what they rewarded for, responding to incentives they face.

      I find Sokal, on the other hand, just as much of a holier-than-thou elitist as the people he criticizes, though he's a good deal funnier.

      What Morningstar claims to have found from his explorations is a few good ideas with a whole lot of shite slathered on top. That would describe many many other academic disciplines outside the humanities as well.

    • You might also be interested in the so-called "reverse Alan Sokal hoax", in which the Bogdanov brothers got published in a couple physics journals by submitting a bunch of gibberish that "sounded good".

      The Bogdanov Affair [ucr.edu]

  • ...can be found here [answers.org]:

    Deconstruction is a theory that is beyond being intellectually bankrupt -- it is intellectually meaningless and thus had no intellectual capital to begin with!

    Crikey!
    • It's sorta like intellecutal welfare, then? Call the Republicans!
    • As an avid reader, I have to say that this entirely true. But then again, deconstruction is not about being intellectual. It's about SEEMING intellectual, when in fact all you are doing is rewriting somebody else's work using the tersist means possible. In short: deconstruction is creative writing for essayists. It is a tool for those learning how to write. And expecting something so masturbatory to be anything more than a bit of clever fun is going to result in anti-intellectual rage.

      When you deconstuct a work, you create a paper which is impossible to fail on a theoretical basis, because each deconstruction is in fact its own theoretical entity. It's very hard to say, objectively, that a deconstruction is "wrong." And therefore, in the eyes of many professors, your grade on this paper can only be judged on its logical progression and its written style.

      In short: deconstructions can be interesting, can be fun, and show off a person's analytical and prosaic talents. But no, they aren't going to further the "intellectual" pursuit of writing. But this is no different from a forensics meet, where people argue a position they themselves may not hold, to showcase their oration and research talents. This is no different from a poetry slam or rap battle, where people read disconnected passages to gain a subjective edge over other poets. And it's certainly no different from engineers engaging in robot battles, code obfuscation contests, or blog entries about how literary criticism is bullshit.

      Incidentally, while deconstructionists can never be wrong because they write their own assumptions, literary critics in general CAN be. In fact, one of my favorite exercises in my 350 level discourse class was to rebutt a literary criticism from the New York Times magazine. Literary critics make mistakes in logic, levy unfair comparisons and make mistakes of intent all the time, and these often result in an unlikely hypothesis being legitimized. Hence the popularity of Ayn Rand!
    • by kiwimate (458274) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:06PM (#7929433) Journal
      Although I'm not a literary critic, I am married to one, and she always disagreed with Derrida (the father of deconstruction theory, as I understand it). Interestingly enough, we had the chance to listen to him present a seminar a few years ago in Auckland, New Zealand, as he was participating in a conference sponsored by the Auckland University School of Philosophy.

      So we went to listen to him speak (unfortunately not on deconstruction, but she was still very excited to have the chance to hear him). We left the Town Hall after the seminar and my wife said to me "Dammit, now I can't dislike him any more, he's so nice". A few seconds pause, then "But he's still wrong about deconstruction".

    • I'm not a card-carrying follower of the Church of Deconstruction, but I've studied it a bit, and tried to understand it. It's true that deconstruction would state that no statement is true. And that's a contradicion. But that doesn't mean it's not true. Or wait, it does. The point is, it doesn't make deconstruction less interesting. Deconstruction demonstrates how language fails, how logic is undermined by rhetoric and vice versa. The statements people draw from it are far less interesting than the thinking
  • Other way round (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CompressedAir (682597) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:20PM (#7928859)
    Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?

    That's a field where everyone says you're wrong about everything.
  • by Kulaid982 (704089) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:20PM (#7928861)
    In eleventh grade, I wrote my term paper on The Hobbit. Part of the assignment was to provide literary criticism of the work. I cited sources that stated how JRR Tolkien HATED allegory and reading deeper into works and therefore claimed I didn't need to provide any literary criticism of the Hobbit. My teacher bought it and I got an A. Tolkien rocked because he felt literature should be taken at face value.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:35PM (#7929059)
      Then you and your teacher should be sent back to school. Tolkien, in his preface to LOTR, wrote that he hated allegory - NOT that he hated people "reading deeper" into his story. In particular, he said that his stories should be read as mythology and not as allegory. In allegory, the story is supposed to represent something specific (e.g Animal Farm, an allegory of the Bolshevik Revolution). Allegory does not allow multiple interpretations. Allegory has a single meaning determined by the author.

      In mythology, however, the story can be freely interpreted (e.g. creation myths, fall-from-grace myths, hero myths). Mythology allows people to read deeply into it and interpret the story according to their own desires. The meaning is determined by the reader, not the author.

      Tolkien's beef with allegory is that the story is subordinate to what it alludes to. Myth has no such "deficiency".

      Of course Tolkien intended readers to "read deeply" into his books. They are not "light reading" or pulp, they are carefully crafted retellings of heroic myths which can be interpreted a myriad of ways. The whole point of myth is for people to "read deeply" into it.

    • Oh, how I wish I had been in your English class. Every English teacher whose class I have had the dubious pleasure of attending was a big deconstructionist, and I *hated* having to figure out how to write a paper that was funny, original, subtle, and thought-provoking, but utterly devoid of meaning, fact, or any value whatsoever. Compounding this, I've always been an engineer-at-heart -- playing with programming, electronics, and such since the age of six. Fortunately, my father was an English teacher *a
  • Cut-throat literati (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ktistec Machine (159201) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:21PM (#7928872)
    Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?

    You haven't been around any English departments, have you? My wife has an MA in English, and it sounds like the department was pretty vicious.

    I'd argue that it's a lot harder being in a field with "soft" realities. Anything you say is subject to criticism, and it's really hard to "prove" you're right. I'll take an objective field, where I can demonstrate truth or falsehood irrefutably, any day. (I know that's an overstatment: you can always debate the meaning of experimental results. But you get the idea.)

    • by UrgleHoth (50415)
      So the only proof they can use is proof by intimidation?
    • by Otter (3800) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:36PM (#7929083) Journal
      Or, to put it differently -- nobody can say you're "wrong" but they can certainly deny your grant application, decline your papers, deny you tenure... Academics in those fields compete with a sort of gamesmanship and style that's every bit as cutthroat as being right.

      (Anyway, if humanities folk cross the line into any sort of political correctness, believe me that there won't be any reticence about declaring them "wrong", then.)

      • nobody can say you're "wrong" but they can certainly deny your grant application, decline your papers, deny you tenure... Academics in those fields compete with a sort of gamesmanship and style that's every bit as cutthroat as being right.

        Which isn't entirely unreasonable.

        You see, while the hard sciences are all about controlling and manipulating the real world, the social sciences are all about controlling and manipulating other people.

        So of COURSE there is a "right" and "wrong" to things like deconstr
    • by haystor (102186)
      If you can't get things right, only the soft field is accessible to you.

      If you can get things right then the sciences are wide open to you but you'll still have the same fight as anyone else in the "arts".

      In college, I consistently received C's for my English papers (I was a math major taking some English courses.) I had to explain some of the issues of the Vietnam War to a friend (since they don't seem to learn about it on their own). She turned in her paper having written what I said verbatim and rece
  • by sohp (22984) <(snewton) (at) (io.com)> on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:23PM (#7928895) Homepage
    The author shows terrific mastery and use of the rhetorical literary deconstruction techniques he derides. In other words, he couldn't have written the article without the very skills and work he criticizes.
    • by jandrese (485) * <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:41PM (#7929132) Homepage Journal
      Indeed, at the beginning of the article he even explains how he read the basic fundamentals of the field to determine weather or not there was any merit to the whole process. In doing so, he discovered that the whole exercise was not as difficult as first appeared and proceeded to explain in laymens terms how the whole thing works. That's why its a great article.
  • by MonkeyBoyo (630427) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:24PM (#7928908)
    Q: What do you get when you cross a Post Modernist with a Mafioso??


    A: An offer you can't understand.
  • afterwards I'd wondered if we were talking the same language.

    The first case was with a techincal support representitive with a large company that had migrated alot of their after-hours support staff off site. (The company rhymes with Crisco, the off site location rhymes with blindia.)

    I'm not in any way being critical of the country of origin, and I _know_ this person was speaking in english...but we weren't talking the same language. Curiously, his emails were completely understandable...it was the verbal conversation I couldn't grok.

    The second was a meeting of high level Government IT staff, and some other members of government to discuss centralizing Internet services. Things were going well as we all introduced ourselves and stated what we wanted to get out of the collaboration. Then a lady came to the floor and spoke very eloquently for a good five minutes.

    I have no clue what she said.

    I asked about her afterwards and it turns out that she was a) a lawyer, b) an elected representative, and c) a manager.

    Pretty much a lit crit Trifecta!

    Naturally the group dissolved after a few meetings when it was determined it was too little too late and the existing issue too complex to put in one box.
    • by mekkab (133181) *
      I had to call some tech-support guys in Swanwick (you don't pronounce the second 'w') to re-load some data I accidentally RM'd- and I know he was speaking the Queens english but I'll be DAMNED if I understood a word of it. Mind you, I find Scottish brogue to be charming and sometimes understandable, but this fellow made Cockney sound like the AT&T computer operator voice.

      On a differnet note I called other tech support (this time in Florida) and tried to figure out how I could print from our ol' VM syst
  • Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed.

    Step 2 -- Decide what the text says.

    Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort.

    Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction.

    Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself.

    Step 6 -- ???

    Step 7 -- Profit!
  • Engineer's Disease (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:24PM (#7928915) Homepage Journal
    Engineer's Disease has claimed another victim.

    "engineers disease": The delusion because you're ubercompetent in your chosen field, you're automatically an expert on everything else.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah.

      Why are technical people so prone to it. There was that Paul Graham [slashdot.org] article (which made me lose all respect for him), not to mention ESR's notable ravings (eg, this "science" article [catb.org], this "art" article [catb.org], this lunatic fringe article [catb.org]), and of course the old chesnut of whether programming is art [erenkrantz.com].

      Basically, all these people are talking shit. They think that because they are technical people (perhaps even "scientists") that they are therefore logical, and since those outside the hard sciences are not lo
      • by Dr. Evil (3501) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:56PM (#7929305)

        Did he misrepresent himself?

        Did his joke go unnoticed?

        I agree with you that there are some engineering fruitcakes out there, but this may not be one of them.

        A creative, educated, "non-expert" perspective in a field can sometimes be very valuable. For instance, journalists. In tech, we know they're often full of garbage, but they do say the odd thing, which when interpreted by somebody with a deeper technical understanding can be valuable.

        Maybe a better example is the absurd blithering of a really bright first-year student.

    • by *weasel (174362) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:56PM (#7929303)
      ad hominem attacks are always much easier than providing a refutation of the issues brought up.

      but of course, one of his criticisms of the field is that the people within it do not care to ever explain anything to people who do not know their jargon, nor do they ever feel it necessary to defend questions of their field with explanation. but that's truly a crticism of the people who work in the field, not the ideas and tenets of postmodernist literary criticism itself. and it's just as valid a critique of engineering in most cases. The dismissive superiority, the aloofness, it's not helpful.

      the primary thing the author was pointing out is the postmodern logic trap: when everything is subjective, there can be no objective, logical measure for correctness or quality -- which is unique in all academia, and distinctly foreign to engineers.

      Truly this is not even a critique as much as a giant warning sign that conventional logic isn't helpful in this territory. He may be implying a value judgement on this aspect, but if the reader isn't feeling defensive, there's no reason to consider it as vicious, superior, or confrontational.

      The entire piece was just a tongue-in-cheek barb toward the other academic extreme pointing out: "hey, if you guys don't learn how to communicate your ideas to the rest of us, we're going to make fun of you the way you all make fun of us."

      ironic that the objective extreme should quarrel with the subjective extreme, over which side is too isolated from the bulk of society.
      • by mellon (7048) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:17PM (#7929610) Homepage
        the primary thing the author was pointing out is the postmodern logic trap: when everything is subjective, there can be no objective, logical measure for correctness or quality -- which is unique in all academia, and distinctly foreign to engineers.


        Truly this is not even a critique as much as a giant warning sign that conventional logic isn't helpful in this territory. He may be implying a value judgement on this aspect, but if the reader isn't feeling defensive, there's no reason to consider it as vicious, superior, or confrontational.



        It's a legitimate warning, but in the real world every experience is subjective. So there is in fact no objective determination of right and wrong for the bulk of what we do. In hard science, you can refute a theory through experimental results, but you can never confirm a theory other than by saying that it matches all known facts and has yet to be refuted. In this sense, you can say that hard science is objective.


        However, most of what is interesting in the world is subjective. Is this a nice GUI? Subjective. Is this art good? Subjective. Is this food yummy? Subjective. Is this food good for me? Most likely subjective, unless it contains things that are poisonous to all humans, or contains no nutrients. I thrive on a vegetarian diet, and my wife is allergic to tofu (well, soy). Ultimately, food will kill you.


        So while we can poke fun at academics who live in a subjective world, with some justification, there really isn't a solution to the problem. The bulk of what matters in the world really is subjective. It's fun and invigorating to work in the part of the world that seems not to be subjective (e.g., engineering), but thinking that things that are subjective aren't is actually a major trap into which we can fall. E.g., management theories that are supposed to always work. Programming techniques that are supposed to always work. Civil Liberties paradigms that are definitely correct. More and bloodier wars have been fought, etc. :'}


        One of the keys to living a happy life is learning to differentiate between things that are subjective and things that are objective, and not treat things that are subjective as if they are objective. And, by the way, logic is an extremely important tool in this domain. It's just that you have to apply the logic - it's not objective. Not objective doesn't mean not logical.


        The real paradox of postmodern deconstructionism (really, of all discourse - the Indian pandits talk about this, as did the Buddha) is that at the same time that it presents the world as inherently subjective, the very act of deconstruction implies that the product of the deconstruction is objectively valid - otherwise, why bother? Yet if every topic of discussion is subjective, this implies that communication is impossible, and clearly it's not. It's a very interesting paradox to try to understand.

    • by HeghmoH (13204)
      I'm not sure, but you may be confusing it with a similar problem:

      "Relative responsibility syndrome": The idea that because you're ubercompetent in a field where the wrong answer results in things which don't work, lost money, and lawsuits, you're automatically qualified to give opinions on fields which you have studied, but not rigorously.

      There's a similar but less common one, "Dependent lives expert syndrome": The idea that because major mistakes made by you can result in death, and no such deaths have h
    • by Jerf (17166) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:14PM (#7929561) Journal
      Try the Sokal [nyu.edu] articles [nyu.edu].

      It is not the engineers thinking they understand everything; it is the engineers demonstrating that the lit crits understand nothing technical, and arguing by extension that the odds of them understanding anything in their own field, absent evidence to the contrary, seem to be very, very low.

      It is also a disease to think that you must be an "expert" in something to have any sort of valid opinion. The fact that dedicated attempts by smart people with no agenda and an honest intent to find meaning in postmodern lit-crit have failed is a strong indictment that can not be waved away with "Oh, they're not experts", and merely provides more fuel for the idea that lit-crit is full of crap and rather then demonstrate some sort of meaning, they must resort to ad-hominem to defend it.

      Note that engineering disciplines can indeed meet that criteria; even if you don't understand math you can see there's something there. Even if you don't understand structural engineering, you can see buildings that stand vs. those that don't. (Consider the recent earthquakes in California and Iran, with similar magnitudes but vastly different outcomes.)

      These people aren't making appeals to authority, they aren't standing on their "engineering creds", they're demonstrating pointlessness. It would be a fallacy to claim "I am an engineer, therefore their writing is pointless." But they are not doing that; they are saying "After a serious attempt to find meaning in these writings, we have failed and have been forced to conclude there is none." You want to prove otherwise, you need to produce the unabiguous "meanings" for these sentences; "our" side has done its work (as I am with these guys).

      Indeed, if anyone is guilty of assuming competence, it is these lit folks, literally attempting to re-write the world so that engineering and science are just "another point of view", all the while willfully failing to understand why they are different.

      The engineering and science toolkits are perfectly applicable to the task of analyzing lit-crit. The failures of the analysis must be laid at the feet of the lit-crit, not the techniques.

      Grow up, branch out. Experts are just people who have studied something for a while, and they may yet be wrong. Nothing prevents an engineer from being an expert in something else, too. Stop pigeonholing people and stop suffering from "expert disease", OK? It's not good for any of us, because you can vote.
    • Engineer's Disease has claimed another victim.

      I don't entirely disagree with you, but... Maybe it's because engineers and scientists live in a world where there's usually a clear distinction between what's correct and what's not, and an emphasis of substance over form. They're expected to actually know what they're talking about, and it's usually painfully obvious if they don't. That's why you'll never hear about a humanities prof sneaking a nonsensical paper into, say, Physical Review Letters as a joke.

      On

  • Must see link (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arvindn (542080) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:25PM (#7928929) Homepage Journal
    Postmodernism generator [elsewhere.org]

    Consider the following paragraph from the article:

    The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.

    Now read an essay by the postmodernism generator. Can you tell the difference? ;-)

    • Re:Must see link (Score:3, Interesting)

      by urbazewski (554143)
      Realign the phase inverters to calibrate the flux of the tachyon field...

      A techno jargon generator would produce text that would seem equally comprehensible/incomprehensible to someone unfamiliar with the definitions of the terms used. Just because I don't understand something doesn't mean it doesn't make sense, what's interesting about the article is that it recounts the author's attempt to find out if literary criticism has content or not.

    • Re:Must see link (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JoeBuck (7947)
      You can't tell the difference because the author of that paragraph constructed it in the exact same way as the postmodernism generator does, by stitching together a bunch of random phrases from literary criticism jargon. It is not an example from a serious paper, it is deliberately constructed to make fun of postmodernist academics.
    • RTFA (Score:3, Interesting)

      You jerk, that sentence from the article was meant to illustrate the sillyness of postmodern jargon. It's the only sentence that doesn't make sense.
  • Science (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aardpig (622459) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:25PM (#7928932)

    Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?"

    Unfortunately, the postmodernists have attempted to apply their idiotic claptrap to science, claiming the existence of such absurd concepts as "alternative scientific truths". What they miss is that science is empirical, and therefore deals with observed characteristics of the real world (i.e., "facts").

    I've always wanted to throw one out of a plane over China, and yell after them as they plummet to their death: "how are you finding that Far-Eastern Gravitation?"

    • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Petronius (515525) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:32PM (#7929015)
      Unfortunately, the postmodernists have attempted to apply their idiotic claptrap to science, claiming the existence of such absurd concepts as "alternative scientific truths".

      religions have done just that for thousands of years... yet no one seems to complain.
      • No one seems to complain? Do you live in a cave or something? Just look at, to pull one obvious example up, the huge disagreement between "science" and "creationism". People complain all the time!
    • Re:Science (Score:4, Insightful)

      by molafson (716807) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:45PM (#7929188)
      Unfortunately, the postmodernists have attempted to apply their idiotic claptrap to science, claiming the existence of such absurd concepts as "alternative scientific truths". What they miss is that science is empirical, and therefore deals with observed characteristics of the real world (i.e., "facts").

      There is such a thing as an overcommitment to the validity of truth in science -- i.e. so that existing scientific theory becomes ossified and dogmatic, leading to ad hoc theoretical additions, rather than the continual scrutiny of theory needed for advancement.

      Also, philosophic enquiry into scientific epistemology (how science "knows" things) -- e.g. why we identify theory with truth when theory proves to be tenuous, why competing theories are developed using identical observation, etc. -- is interesting and beneficial.
    • Re:Science (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Walter Wart (181556) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:51PM (#7929246) Homepage
      As the author of the piece points out there is a germ of something useful in lit-crit. It's important to know what someone's hidden assumptions are and to figure out what's not being said.

      In science hidden assumptions can bite you on the ass. Let's take an example from biology. Strict Darwinian "wedging" or Biblical Creationism. Those are the choices. Given the amount of time that life has existed you simply can't have two species competing in the same niche. The better, fitter one would have already driven the more poorly adapted one to extinction. Therefore we must reject evolution in favor of the Bible's explanation.

      Anyone who understands anything about basic evolutionary biology will immediately be able to poke large holes in the argument. The dualism is false. There are many other possibilities. Strict adaptationism, while not actually a crime, is certainly a major character flaw :-) Applying value judgements like "better" clouds the issue, and so on.

      The history of science and engineering provides thousands of examples.

      What is not said and what is assumed change the character of the discussion.

      That's the useful germ. The problem, as the author of the piece points out, is that the critical theorists have spent a long time talking to themselves without having to interact much with outsiders and in fields where there are no reality checks from the outside.
  • You're wrong! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by igaborf (69869) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:26PM (#7928939)
    Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?

    Actually, everybody can say you're wrong. They just can't prove it.

  • Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?

    That's why I like mathematics. Theorem, (optionally, lemmas), proof. End of story. The only way you can disagree is if you throw out the entire concept of logic or the axioms upon which it is based -- and if you do that, we'll usually throw *you* out. :)
  • My favourite example of postmodern papers is the Notes on postmodern programming [vuw.ac.nz]. AFAIC they wrote it in order to get their tickets payed to a symposium. They could have been srious, but that's a rather scary though considering it includes one page with a hand drawn and rather irrelevant image.

    Quite interesting and amusing though.
  • Wow, this is *old* (Score:5, Informative)

    by EnVisiCrypt (178985) <groovetheorist.hotmail@com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:28PM (#7928968)
    This text is several years old, at least. In fact, the wayback machine [archive.org] puts it at about 5 years old [archive.org].

    Come on guys, you know this is really, really old.
  • by Bazman (4849) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:30PM (#7928987) Journal
    The article says:

    "Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself."

    In soviet russia, perhaps.

    Baz
  • Jargon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nadsat (652200) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:30PM (#7928990) Homepage
    >> We engineers are frequently accused of speaking an alien language, of wrapping what we do in jargon and obscurity in order to preserve the technological priesthood.

    I don't like where he went with this. The argument is that postmodernists speak with such obscurity, that they wrap themselves into an island. And that what they really say is just intellectual masturbation. Sure. Of course. Doctors, programmers, lawyers... all have this.

    Personally, why not use words specific to the field? I don't think dumbing down should be encouraged. Learn the jargon, it doesn't take that long to do. Read a few theory books. Properly used, $0.50 words should not be labeled as 'jargon,' but simply as words to help facilitate communication into the edge of thought.
    • Most people have a LIFE, and don't want to spend it learning obscure jargon for umpteen different fields to communicate with people around him. Yes, by all means use words specific to your field when communicating with your peers, but the article writers point was that within certain areas there is no pressure to ever learn to communicate with people outside their field about their subject.

      Most engineers will at some level be able to "dumb down" their subject to make it at least somewhat understandable wh

      • Re:Jargon (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nadsat (652200)
        Good literary critisism, in an academic sense, is not concerned with publishing to a Disney audience. Or writing executive summaries. Sure, if the intention is to reach out to a larger audience, then yes, avoid more idiosyncratic words.

        But in the example the author cites, he was at a meeting with literary people who try to push the limitis, go to the edge of thought. To go to the forefront, you must use specific words. The author probably felt, "Hey I don't understand the cutting edge. Instead of le
  • Just a reminder... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melquiades (314628) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:33PM (#7929027) Homepage
    Not to defend deconstuctionism too much -- because I really do think that it's a field with a lot of bullshit in it -- but it's important to keep in mind that every, every field can sound incredibly stupid if you don't have all the jargon, context, background, and indoctrination that it requires.

    Most subtle, nuanced statements are going to sound pretty stupid if you render half the words meaningless and remove their context, which is exactly what happens when an outsider hears the language of some specialized field. It's very difficult for outsiders to judge the legitimacy of a field from the outside.

    I see this all the time in the general public's reactions to both software and science, especially theoretical physics and medicine.

    The article's author actually says this really well:
    We engineers are frequently accused of speaking an alien language, of wrapping what we do in jargon and obscurity in order to preserve the technological priesthood. There is, I think, a grain of truth in this accusation. Defenders frequently counter with arguments about how what we do really is technical and really does require precise language in order to talk about it clearly. There is, I think, a substantial bit of truth in this as well, though it is hard to use these grounds to defend the use of the term "grep" to describe digging through a backpack to find a lost item, as a friend of mine sometimes does. However, I think it's human nature for members of any group to use the ideas they have in common as metaphors for everything else in life, so I'm willing to forgive him.

    He goes on to draw what I think is a really useful conclusion (much more insightful than most of the posts on this thread, I'm afraid):
    Every day I have to explain what I do to people who are different from me -- marketing people, technical writers, my boss, my investors, my customers -- none of whom belong to my profession or share my technical background or knowledge. As a consequence, I'm constantly forced to describe what I know in terms that other people can at least begin to understand. ... Contrast this situation with that of academia. Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don't really count. ... What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected.

    I wonder what we might learn if comprehensibility returned to the equation. There are a lot of very interesting ideas buring in academia.
    • I just finished reading another interesting article on science, and the role of the skeptic in science in order to make it work. In order for the grand leaps to be made, someone has to go against the grain a little bit. It may be wholly possible that the postmodernist literary criticism world needs just such a person to come along in order to shake things up a bit. The only problem is, there are no oppurtunities for that person outside of the academic world that the author is talking about, so it may be

  • Not bad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:34PM (#7929046) Homepage
    I was prepared for a philistine reaction to a barely-understood domain, but instead the piece was earnest, honest and clear-eyed.

    Most cultural studies academics are aware the problems of empty jargonizing, a reaction to it set in a while ago, and things are getting better. Part of the problem is that critical theory in practice is just that - practice, not new research, in working with texts. There's the same sort of inflationary pressures going on with people trying to make their work look as important as possible.

    But there's a great deal of baby in the bathwater that's being thrown out. Sokal's best contribution was the recommendation that a metaphor used in criticism should be more, not less, accessible than the subject of the metaphor (if you're using x to explain y, x should be more, not less, comprehensible than y).

    Ultimately, it should also be recognized that art, literature, and culture are a different type of domain from physics, even if it sometimes borrows its rhetoric. In one way, however, there's a similarity: the claim that there's "no right answer" in criticism is only true in the way that "nothing is ever proven true, only not yet falsified" in empirical science. In both cases, although in different ways, it's about comparing models.
  • an academic speaks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigbigbison (104532) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:34PM (#7929051) Homepage
    As soemone who is getting thier Phd in a liberal arts field, let me just say that in reality, like any other field 90% of the stuff I read is crap. Once you get to the graduate level and move beyond the stuff that is famous in a field you will see how little good quality stuff there really is out there. I just started this last semester on my phd. I am finding that in my classes here at my new university, a good 75% of the assigned readings are either the exact same articles that I read in my masters program, or just articles that have the same ideas as other articles I've already read. While there are dozens of journals publishing papers every months, there is really just a very small finite amount of work that is really noteworthy.

    In doing my personal research there have been lots and lots of books where I shook my head and asked myself how this could have been published. The same is true of conferneces. I've been to a handfull of academic conferences and it never fails that the vast majority of the papers presented are pointless or trivial. (Certainly there may be people who saw my paper and thought the same thing, who knows). Thus it is not surprizing that the conference discussed in the article was full of crap.

    So lets not jump on academia and say it is ALL a bunch of crap. Yes 90% of it is but how is that any different than any other field. How often are there articles about incompetent tech support, or IT guys who just totally screw up simple things? Remember, 90% of everything is crap.
    • "So lets not jump on academia and say it is ALL a bunch of crap."

      But with a PhD in Liberal Arts, I would expect you to be an expert on that particular subject.

    • by niko9 (315647) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:13PM (#7929552)
      Remember, 90% of everything is crap.

      You're absolutley right. 90% of the patients I treat are total crap. They could have easily called a cab for their day old cough and sooner be in the ER, than called 911, get up from bed, unlock the door, crawl back into bed, and wait for the medics to find them in bed as if they are really sick.

      90% of all the craps you take in you lifetime are also crap, the other 10% being explosive diarrhea, which is just really latin for brown water.

      What's the point of this post? Well like 90% of all slashdot comments, it's crap, that will soon get moderated by people who waste their time modertaing crap!

      Holy crap, that's alot of crap! We're swimming in it like a sea, which by the way....

      --
  • by nuggz (69912) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:35PM (#7929056) Homepage
    Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?

    If you're advanced enough in any field this can be so.
    As long as your code works a bit, it isn't wrong, just not robust, or sub optimal.
  • I would have to say that this piece is very funny and in some senses very true too. I've also studied philosophy and French literature and I can relate to a lot of it.

    However, the start of his speech that was a joke... well, it makes sense (apart from the end bit)

    The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the natu

  • by Ayanami Rei (621112) <rayanami@NospAm.gmail.com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:36PM (#7929082) Journal
    The article really isn't about deconstructing the humanities at all. That was the method the author used to expose the deeper problem: that the humanities are suffering because their most artful practicitioners have isolated themselves and no longer respond to the community.

    One thing he didn't really emphasize, but only alluded to (in a paragraph where he admits how this thinking caused him to understand why it might be important to conisder the fraility of many kinds of writing) is that these humanitarian skills are really useful! Only undergrads aren't really shown what they could do with them in the real world, besides branching off into various fields of media criticism.

    He should have driven his conclusion home harder... that academia needs a slap upside the head, and we ("Nerds") all could help a little.
    • I think you might miss a point of irony you might otherswise notice by not applying deconstruction on the paper itself. Its written with those techniques in mind, after all. He clearly establishes a dichtomy between academics and engineers, and takes a side. The real question is whether his own paper undermines or supports his own paper. I'm not entirely sure how this sort of thing doesn't result in statements like "this statement is false."
  • by Trurl's Machine (651488) on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:39PM (#7929116) Journal
    "Wouldn't it be nice to work in a field where nobody can say you're wrong?"

    Choose software engineering, then. There is no known defence against the "It's not a bug, it's a feature" counter attack.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 09, 2004 @12:43PM (#7929154)
    Wesley Phoa has written a good text called [margaretmorgan.com]
    Should Computer Scientists Read Derrida? that i can only recommend. Unlike the usual Deconstruction-Bashers that don't bother to understand what Deconstruction is about, this text, written by mathematician, is pretty clued up!
  • Tsk, tsk. Why bother looking for the "right" anser when none exists?

    Life is not a "problem" waiting for you to find the correct solution. Neither is literature.
  • by pileated (53605) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:06PM (#7929427)
    Modern literary criticism is like long drawn out hari-kari. Who knows why anyone would torture themselves with it. It reminds me of many years ago when I went back to college for an MFA in painting and happened to also take a cross-disciplinary course in literary criticism. My first degree had been in English and I'd decided not to pursue it because it just seemed fatuous, completely unrelated to the world I live in. Well anyway I'd hadn't been in this cross-disciplinary seminar for more than 10 minutes before my head started spinning and I had this horrible feeling of deja-vu, stuck in fatuous neverneverland, where anything could be said but nothing could be proved or disproved.

    It's sort of like all code can only consist of goto statements and you spend all your time chasing your tail trying to find out what something really means, or where it gets its value. You can't because there'e nothing concrete there. Every goto goes to a new goto. The buck stops nowhere.

    I suppose someone might be able to enjoy this but I think that the best artists and the best programmers eventually realize that total freedom is total chaos. There have to be some truths/constants/final variables/whatever. From there you can build something worth building.

  • by JWhitlock (201845) <John-Whitlock AT ieee DOT org> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:20PM (#7929668)
    Umberto Eco [themodernword.com] is one of my favorite authors, and an academic in the field of semiotics. Semiotics is a bit hard to define, but a quick definition is the study of how humans use signs and language to communicate. My thought was, if this obviously intellegent and interesting author can devote whole books to semiotics, there might be something to it.

    After some searching, I found Semiotics for Begineers [aber.ac.uk], which was a pretty good introduction to the field, and written with enough clarity that even this programmer could figure out the strange language. Go give it a try.

    It might also help you as a programmer. We use esoteric language all the time, like '\n', 0xDEADBEEF, deques and queues, stdout, stderr, stdlog, etc. etc., and semiotics tries to explain how these somewhat random characters can be attached to ideas, so that our community can send the characters back and forth to communicate the ideas. However, if it comes to an assembler class vs. a semiotics class, please take the assembler class.

  • by leoaugust (665240) <leoaugust.gmail@com> on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:32PM (#7929840) Journal

    In the spirit of "postmodern literary criticism" I choose the essay itself as my "text" and here are the exciting results.

    The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all.

    Well, I tried to see if I could "see into" the essay as a satire and a wicked, though blunt, assessment of the current administration. I thought that the essay was a coded satire and similar to the work of Jonathan Swift, but without the humor and imagination. (Full Disclosure - I am an Engineer by training.) So here my application of the 5-Step methodology to "deconstructing" the essay.

    "Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gddel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.

    I really don't know what Godel wrote but I have read an interpretation of it via Douglas Hofstadter's - Godel, Escher, Bach. Here is where I do find the similarities in the prescription laid out by Hofstadter and in the essay.

    Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself.
    Hofstadter calls it "Self-Reference."

    Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition"
    Hofstadter calls it "Tangled Hierarchies."

    Step 3 -- It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality,
    Hofstadter calls this the "Figure/Ground" Duality.

    Step 2 -- Decide what the text says.
    Hofstader starts of with trying to see the meaning of "This sentence is false."

    Step 1 -- It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature.
    Hofstadter extended his reach beyond Mere Godel into Bach's music and Escher's Art.

    And here is where I can extend beyond mere literature into the nature of politics, govt, and the current administration.

    However, the choice of text is actually one of the less important decisions you will need to make, since points are awarded on the basis of style and wit rather than substance, although more challenging works are valued for their greater potential for exercising cleverness.

    True, it doesn't matter if I choose to focus on the current administration, or the mad-cow outbreak. The choice of the subject is actually one of the less important decisions that I have to make.

    The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories.

    It is very interesting that such a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism was used by Mr. Donald Rumsfeld who was awarded the prize of 'Foot in mouth' prize for [cnn.com] for it, and actually came very close to being awarded the "Man of the Year" by Time Magazine ! (Rummy declined honor as 'Person of the Year [hillnews.com]) His award winning poem was trying to create a metaphysical confusion by the following :

    The Unknown [msn.com]
    As we know,
    There are known knowns.
    There are things we know we know.
    We also know
    There are known unknowns.
    That is to say
    We know there are some things
    We d

  • by invid (163714) on Friday January 09, 2004 @01:52PM (#7930115) Homepage

    Before becoming a software engineer I got a bachelors in psychology. While in college I went to a conference on phenomenology. I had taken a couple courses on the subject and thought I had a handle on it. However, the first speaker I went to was completely incomprehensible to me. Try as I might I could not put more than three sequential words of his together into anything that made any sense. At first I questioned my intelligence, but eventually I came to the conclussion that it was all a bunch of blather.

    Standing next to me (it was standing room only) was a hot chick I had spoken to prior to the talk. She was looking up at him like he was the most brilliant man alive, making little nods and short buzzing noises of agreement. I wanted to have sex with her, and this led to my moral transgression.

    After he was done speaking she gushed about how brilliant he was. Deep down I wanted to ask her if she could explain what gave her that impression, but instead I agreed with her. My little head was doing the thinking. I even spouted back some of the junk he had said in order to try to impress her.

    No...I did not end up having sex with her. She went off to join the groupies surrounding the speaker, and I was left alone in my shame. I had helped to perpetuate the BS.

  • by Snafoo (38566) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:04PM (#7930283) Homepage
    I'm going to start my PhD in philosophy in the fall. However, I have also worked extensively with software and software development; I've even written some stuff destined for commercial release. I can tell you that the solidity of the truth-criteria of software development and lit crit are very, very similar, and the fact that you have no clue about the goings-on at that conference of yours speaks only of a difference in field. For instance: Are more, or fewer, comments in source code desirable? How about highly-specific, tightly-optimized assembly versus a perl script? The po-mo's (and, btw, that pastiche of terminology you collected is in no way exclusively postmodern, or even, for that matter, literary) would have just as much trouble understanding the virtues of object re-use and garbage collection and multiple inheritance, and would be just as tempted to derision.

    Your critique, BTW, goes much deeper, and is much less grounded than the Sokal hoax, which confined itself to apeing a particularly noisome constellation of theory; the converse of what you have done would be an attack on computer science based on the foibles of visual basic.

    The upshot is: Do not be tempted to Volkisch, chauvinist rallies about your discipline. Ignorance, IMO, is fairly evenly distributed over academe.
  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:09PM (#7930351) Homepage
    From The Postmodernism Generator (http://www.elsewhere.org/cgi-bin/postmodern/) Here [elsewhere.org].

    The Expression of Fatal flaw: The textual paradigm of consensus in the works of Rushdie
    Hans Q. Dahmus
    Department of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    1. Consensuses of failure

    "Sexual identity is part of the paradigm of truth," says Derrida. But an abundance of dematerialisms concerning the textual paradigm of consensus may be discovered.

    "Society is intrinsically elitist," says Lyotard; however, according to Hanfkopf[1] , it is not so much society that is intrinsically elitist, but rather the dialectic of society. Precapitalist narrative states that art is part of the failure of culture, but only if the premise of dialectic subdeconstructivist theory is invalid. Therefore, the main theme of Pickett's[2] analysis of neodialectic cultural theory is a mythopoetical paradox.

    Hanfkopf[3] suggests that we have to choose between dialectic subdeconstructivist theory and the subcapitalist paradigm of context. However, Debord uses the term 'dialectic postcultural theory' to denote the defining characteristic, and subsequent genre, of capitalist class.

    Marx's critique of dialectic subdeconstructivist theory holds that art serves to reinforce sexism. In a sense, the subject is interpolated into a subdialectic desublimation that includes reality as a totality.

    Sartre uses the term 'dialectic subdeconstructivist theory' to denote not, in fact, discourse, but postdiscourse. Thus, the characteristic theme of the works of Burroughs is the role of the participant as artist.
    2. Realism and capitalist presemanticist theory

    The main theme of Abian's[4] essay on capitalist presemanticist theory is the difference between society and class. The subject is contextualised into a Derridaist reading that includes consciousness as a paradox. However, Foucault uses the term 'capitalist presemanticist theory' to denote the meaninglessness, and some would say the defining characteristic, of textual sexual identity.

    Subconstructivist theory suggests that consensus comes from communication. It could be said that the subject is interpolated into a capitalist presemanticist theory that includes language as a whole.

    If the textual paradigm of consensus holds, the works of Gaiman are postmodern. Therefore, Debord uses the term 'cultural Marxism' to denote the role of the poet as artist. Lyotard suggests the use of capitalist presemanticist theory to read narrativity. However, in The Books of Magic, Gaiman affirms realism; in Neverwhere, however, he denies capitalist presemanticist theory.
    1. Hanfkopf, A. B. ed. (1978) Realism in the works of Burroughs. Panic Button Books

    2. Pickett, V. P. A. (1981) The Genre of Narrative: The textual paradigm of consensus and realism. Loompanics

    3. Hanfkopf, R. ed. (1996) Realism in the works of McLaren. And/Or Press

    4. Abian, N. D. F. (1970) The Stone Sky: The textual paradigm of consensus in the works of Gaiman. Panic Button Books
  • Excellent article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Damek (515688) <adam AT damek DOT org> on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:11PM (#7930385) Homepage
    I often feel very defensive of "the humanities" (and how fun it is to lump many different disciplines under one label!), mostly because I was a half-n-halfer in college: I studied Anthropology. I generally understood a lot of what "postmodernism" was about, but have never attempted to summarise it like this guy so deftly has here:

    So, what are we to make of all this? I earlier stated that my quest was to learn if there was any content to this stuff and if it was or was not bogus. Well, my assessment is that there is indeed some content, much of it interesting. The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks. The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.


    This is the meat of the article, and, to my mind, accurately picks out that which is of value in the humanities.

    As far as I'm concerned, the humanities need a major overhaul. Those majoring in english or art should have their science requirements increased beyond whatever they are now. At the same time, I think the sciency types of the world should be similarly forced to undertake a number of humanities courses. But the humanities teachers should be forced to explain themselves in terms as simple, obvious, and concise as the author did above.

    Now, back to my botany studies...
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:11PM (#7930388) Homepage
    Science has some of the same problems as literary criticism. Go back to the Kuhn vs. Popper debate to understand this. The hard-line position is that science proceeds by someone proposing a hypothesis, testing it experimentally, encouraging others to test it, and if it survives testing, it moves up to a theory. Hypotheses which are not experimentally falsifiable are not useful. The "soft" position is that science is a cultural construct and hypotheses need not be testable. Kuhn, the proponent of the "soft" position, won a famous debate on this subject in 1965.

    The "soft" position is unpopular because it leads to the conclusion that many "sciences" aren't. Psychology, sociology, and most of economics lose out. So do the "retrospective" fields, like paleontology. They're considered belief systems, not sciences. Since there are more people in those fields than in the hard sciences, this is an unpopular position.

    Engineering makes it clear which position is right. Engineering is based entirely on results which are experimentally falsifiable. Only results tested by experiments which could fail, but didn't, have predictive power. Engineering is about prediction. Without prediction there is no reliability.

  • War as Text (Score:4, Informative)

    by weav (158099) on Friday January 09, 2004 @02:24PM (#7930535)
    Anyone who has not read Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon", I recommend you borrow a copy and read the "War as Text" section about a lit-crit conference for which the protagonist is doing IT support. Dovetails nicely with the article, and is a real hoot.

  • by noewun (591275) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:13PM (#7931936) Journal
    I'm a writer, and a pretty good one -- got the degree and everything. The school I attended was one of the most radical Writing programs in the country, along with U Wisconsin Madison and a few others. Because of this, I got a fairly good exposure to Postmodern Theory and Practice and developed a pretty good dislike for it. My problem is not with the theory itself, which is, like any culturally situated theory, fun and interesting to play with and something which can lead you to think about things in a new way.

    However, I also noticed that Postmodern Lit Crit had become a growth industry on some college campuses, creating a whole strata of students and teachers involved in a constant circular conversation whose only purpose seemed to be the stimulation of recursion and the attaining of tenure. The theory produced some original and interesting thought, some patently ridiculous shit, and lots and lots of boring fiction. I even developed a nickname for such fiction -- MFA fiction. It's usually written by middle class white folk with little or no experience outside the ivory tower world with a condescending fascination on working class 'Merica.

    This guy's onto that, and in a really good way. Unfortunately, any group produces its own symbols of group identity and people who are dependent on that group identity for everything, and just as there are people who would fold up and die if the next Lord of the Rings movie doesn't come out on DVD, there are people who, without their Masters degree and sense of superiority, would have no reason for living. The guy doesn't have the whole story, as there is some real value in all this theory -- The Matrix takes a lot from Baudillard and his postmodern work. Postmodernism is also a valuable tool for looking at cultural context, i.e., understanding the ways in which disparate cultures come together and clash. The "rootlessness" of Postmodernism is a great help here, as it is not dependent on one world view, such as earlier cultural analyses (Social Darwinism comes to mind). This aside, he has hit the bullseye on the bullshit side of modern Lit Crit.

  • by splante (187185) * on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:19PM (#7932026)
    I'd just read the article in this post, after reading about it in this excellent post on the USS Clueless [denbeste.nu]. In it he mentions some of the other articles linked in earlier comments. Definitely worth reading.

    The posts on this site are written by a longtime techie Stephen Den Beste, but are not the usual techie subjects. I also like his Strategic Overview [denbeste.nu] of the US war on terror in general, and Iraq in specific.

    Also, more techie oriented, this discussion is about the creation of a Super-human Intelligence [denbeste.nu] that's probably not what you'd think it is.

    I read USS Clueless pretty much every day now.

  • Tolkien (Score:3, Interesting)

    by np_bernstein (453840) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:39PM (#7932331) Homepage
    I want to a highschool where literary critism was a normal event in literature classes. I've always been opposed to this nonsense, since I started out as an artist and have heard people reading things into paintings I've done, or paintings that have been done by people I know: paintings which in many cases mean absoultely nothing. In addition, a good percentage of the art teachers I've had have taught "tricks" like blind contour drawings as basis for paintings, and using color schemes that apply a meaning even when no meaning exists.

    In any case, in my softmore year, we were assigned the hobbit which we had to read, and then explain what the book was really about. Aside from having read the book several times prior to the class, I happened to have the first official U.S. priting, which had a rather extensive introductory letter by tolkien. Aside from the very beginning, which talked about how this was the first printing, and not to purchase the book from other U.S. publishers (they did not have the rights to publish it and were not giving him residuals) he went on to discuss the meaning of the book -- speciffically, the entire lack thereof. He disavowed the book being a metaphore for anything, and asked the reader to accept it for what is was - a story, a flight of fancy, a fantasy which he wrote for nothing other than the purpose of enjoyment. I photocopied the introducion, wrote a quick appology for not disecting the meaning of the book considering that I felt it would be disrespectfull of the author to read meaning into it when he has specifically asked his readers not to. I got a D-.
  • by SmackDown (246562) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:47PM (#7932468)
    I got my bachelor's degree in English, Linguistics and CS. My senior thesis in English was intentionally written in plain, easy to understand US English. I received many, many compliments for the readability and understandability of my work from my thesis committee. The professors on my committee (a US News top-10 English Literature program) hate "postmodern" critical techniques. My father is an art professor at the same school. He detests this (as someone posted earlier) masturbatory writing style. I have a feeling PoMoLitCrit will be short lived. It is not taken seriously by anyone in the humanities who does not have something to hide academically. Please do not make the error of using a few academically dishonest, mistakenly tenured morons to judge the whole lot of us.
  • by akuzi (583164) on Friday January 09, 2004 @04:50PM (#7932508)
    For more on this subject check out Richard Dawkin's article post-modernism disrobed [nyu.edu]

    Also here [umich.edu] Noam Chomksy reaches similar conclusions.

    From Chomsky's comments...

    So take Derrida, one of the grand old men. I thought I ought to at least be able to understand his Grammatology, so tried to read it. I could make out some of it, for example, the critical analysis of classical texts that I knew very well and had written about years before. I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I've been familiar with since virtually childhood. Well, maybe I missed something: could be, but suspicions remain, as noted.
  • by starX (306011) on Friday January 09, 2004 @11:20PM (#7935451) Homepage
    The author has a lot of problems here that have been pointed out several times over, and some good points as well. One thing that seems to completely escape him is that he must apply deconstructionist techniques in order to deconstruct the particular brand of deconstructionism that he has run into. In and of itself, deconstructionism is merely another tool with which a text (yes, it is the accepted term for anything that can be interpreted) can be read (conotatively meaning "interpreted").

    Think of it as a sort of reverse engineering. You break something down into component parts and try to find out how it works. One of those component parts is the author. In the case of "JFK was not a homosexual," we need to know how the author feels about the state of homosexuality; if he is homophobic, than I would say yes, it CAN be legitimately interpreted as a statement of superiority of character. It could even be taken as a statement of envy.... in the context of descibing how many women JFK had sex with, for example. However, in the context given, it is little more than a butterfly under glass. Maybe it's useful in trying to understand the author better (why this particular example), particularly in the context of understanding some of his other writing (particularly about JFK or sexuality).

    You shouldn't think of deconstruction as masturbatory any more than you should think of grokking a block of code as masturbatory. Yes, it is completely possible for deconstructionist critics to move in circles in never ending battles of who has the most style in presenting their argunments, however, as I have seen pointed out here, this is a lot like obfuscated code contests (yes, both of those are primarily self indulgeant excercises). However, one of the primary reasons why arguments are so often deconstructed is to determine whether or not the person is wrong. If there is an error in logic or in fact (Like a critic making an argument based on Huck and Jim being on the Colorado River in Huckleberry Finn), a deconstruction of the argument is bound to reveal it.

    As someone who spent ample amounts of time in both my college's English and Computer Science departments, I am surprised about the misunderstanding that I often here the geek crowd voice about literary/philisophical/theatrical criticism. A good body of such criticism is language based, and shares much in common with Comp. Sci's language and Machine theory.

    Anyway, allow me to offer an alternative reading of the reaction to his introduction. The nods he was getting were merely encouragement from an "in-crowd" trying to be polite to an outsider who was trying to fit. The laughter was due to the fact that everyone knew the author was BSing, and when it became apparent that the author knew it too, there was nothing impolite about acknowledging the fact. Of course, to know for sure one way or the other, we would have to ask the attendees, so I suppose we'll just have to live with possible interpretations for the time being.

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