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THE_SO_CALLED_HOAX


                                        June 18, 2003

The question has arisen
(or at least I think it has)
what exactly is my take on
postmodernism.

                                  (*Yawn* *DELETE*)

It's like this.

I was busy being an engineering grunt when the
pomo craze really started to take off in
academia, so I barely noticed at the time.

In retrospect, I did come in contact
with some of the ideas fairly
frequently, e.g. I liked Delany's
collection of critical works, The
Jewel-Hinged Jaw, and thought that               The American Shore  is an
his The American Shore was at                    entire book dedicated to
least interesting                                analyzing a Disch short
                                                 story -- probably
And I remember reading "The Name                 "deconstructing" would be a
of the Rose" with a definite                     more appropriate word than
"yeah, so?" reaction sometime                    "analyzing", but it sticks
around 83-84...                                  in my throat, which perhaps
                                                 betrays how badly
               (I never got into Delany's        traumatized I was by the
               "Neveryon" work, either.)         pomo mafia).

                  NEVER_SAY_NEVERYON


But it wasn't until a few years
later that it really sank in that my
smattering of existentialism and            Oddly enough, I think this
Nietzsche was no longer enough to           realiztion came while
qualify as a hipster intellectual.          poking around on usenet,
There was a new jabber going around,        reading the alt.postmodern
people were talking semiotics,              newsgroup.
Derrida, signifieds and signands and
what all...

My immediate reaction was something
like a sinking feeling that there
was still more stuff out there I
should really study one of these
days.

I wasn't immediately
hostile, though after
skimming around a bit
I had the thought:
"There seems to be an         That one sentence summation came
awful lot of jargon           to mind again when I started
here chasing a small          looking into "objected oriented
number of ideas."             programming" doctrine, a fad
                              which developed around the same
                              time as the pomo craze.

                                                    The possiblity that
                                                    there might be some
                                                    deep cultural
                                                    connection between
                                                    the two is probably
                                                    the most interesting
A few minutes ago I                                 thought that I'm
copped out and started                              going to raise here
doing some web searches                             today....
for good examples of
pomoisms, and I turned                                 And yet, I leave
up this:                                               it buried in this
                                                       aside, and let it
                                                       drop.
   "Society is elitist," says
   Foucault. Marx's analysis of                               JARRING
   Derridaist reading suggests that art
   has significance, given that the
   posttextual paradigm of reality is
   valid. Thus, many desublimations
   concerning Foucaultist power
   relations may be found.

   If one examines dialectic subtextual
   theory, one is faced with a choice:
   either reject Foucaultist power
   relations or conclude that
   consciousness is used to oppress
   minorities. The premise of
   deconstructivist narrative implies
   that the raison d'etre of the writer
   is social comment. In a sense, if
   libertarianism holds, the works of
   Gibson are postmodern.

The funny thing is that I kept re-reading that prose
trying to figure out what the author was getting at...
but really, this is just the output from this parody
generator:
              [ref]

This often seems to be one of the prime characteristics
of the postmodern realm: it always looks like nonsense,
so how can you tell if it's supposed to mean anything?

And that brings us to the infamous "Sokal Hoax", the
brilliant stroke that all us techies are supposed to
worship for having yanked aside the curtain, leaving the
pomosers revealed for what they are.

But I've never quite understood what the "Hoax" is
supposed to be here ("Prank" might be a better term
for it).  A guy sat down and scribbled a bunch of
stuff he didn't believe, but figured some editors
would go for.  They went for it.  He stood up and
said he didn't believe in any of it.  So?

It seems to me that the thing that's really damning, the
thing that makes the "Social Text" crew look like fools
is the way they behaved afterwards.  What they should
have done was stick to their guns:

  "This just goes to show that author intent
  really is irrelevant: Sokal managed to say
  interesting things without meaning to."

 "Certainly it's true that there are many things
  in this work that seem nonsensical, or at
  least, paradoxical, but we don't agree that the
  only things worth publishing are those which
  are guaranteed to be true.  'Truth' is
  notoriously difficult to determine, and not as
  simple a concept as it appears to the
  naive... we are engaged with enabling dialog,
  and if Sokal wishes to have a dialog with
  himself, we're glad to provide a forum for it."

If you look at what they actually did say,
it was more along the lines of:

  "We had some questions about             If you'd like to check this against
   his essay, but he refused to            the actual text of the public response:
   revise it. We ran it anyway,
   because we thought we had                   [ref]
   found a new ally in the sciences"
                                               Ross is more concerned
In other words, they published it              with sounding unconcerned
not because of what it said--                  and condescending than
which they could tell was lousy--              anything else.  They
but because of who wrote it.                   weren't really fooled
They admitted to intellectual                  by Sokal... and yet,
bankruptcy, but they're so far gone            they published it.
they didn't realize what they were
saying.

But here we are, on the other
side of the flack, well into the
pomo-backslash.  All of this                Bruce Sterling's take
stuff is a dead issue now, right?           was that this was all
                                            a lot of fiddling
But I still run into it now and             while the globe warms.
then, sometimes from people who you
would think would know better...

                              ENGLEBARTS_BARD
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