RE: Poetry (was Hakim Bey )

From: Richard Steven Hack (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2002 - 14:19:18 MST

At 12:00 PM 2/27/02 -0500, you wrote:

>Amen to that. Humanities academics often seem to struggle with the
>poetry/prose dichotomy, unable to decide whether they are creating art or
>conveying information. Often they try to do both at once, and as a result
>aren't very successful at either.
>Similar ideas were expressed by Orwell in his essay, "Politics and the
>English Language":
>There's also the issue of poseurs and intentional spoofs, like the paper
>that Alan Sokal successfully submitted to the postmodern journal, _Social
>"Alan Sokal, it may be remembered, is an N.Y.U. physicist who, in 1996,
>submitted a paper called "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a
>Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to Social Text, a journal
>of cultural criticism based in New York City. As the issue containing his
>paper was going to press, Lingua Franca published Sokal's disclosure that
>he'd conceived the article as a hoax. A full-blown turf war soon ensued,
>with commentators from all sides of the academic and political spectrum
>using the episode to score points. In addition to reprinting the original
>paper, The Sokal Hoax assembles a full range of those responses to it,
>from the defensive posture taken by the editors of Social Text; to
>right-wing chortling over the left's embarrassment; to internal left
>polemics; to replies by some of the theorists Sokal had strung up by their
>own petard.
>"The title of Sokal's paper alone should have aroused suspicions among
>Social Text editors, but Sokal mixed up science, pseudo-science, leftish
>pieties and pure gibberish into a brew they apparently could not resist.
>Here, to set the tone of the piece, is a typical Sokalism: "The victory of
>cybernetics over quantum physics in the 1940s and 1950s can be explained
>in large part by the centrality of cybernetics to the ongoing capitalist
>drive for automation of industrial production, compared with the marginal
>industrial relevance of quantum mechanics." The choice between quantum
>mechanics and cybernetics is pseudo-history; that it made it into print is
>real egg on the face of the Social Text editors. And it fits right in with
>Sokal's agenda, which was to spoof anti-science attitudes by pretending to
>lay the groundwork for a postmodern quantum theory. Sokal agitates for a
>"liberatory" science-one that has shed the Enlightenment "dogma" that
>there "exists an external world" to be!
> grasped by "the (so-called) scientific method," and has opened itself to
> "the insights of the feminist, queer, multiculturalist, and ecological
> critiques."
>"Sokal liberally sprinkles the spoof with undoctored quotes from the
>leading lights of postmodernism, many of them French. Here, for example,
>is Derrida doodling on about the "Einsteinian constant," which he takes to
>be "not a constant" at all and "not a center," and hardly even "the
>concept of something" but, instead, "the very concept of the game." And
>here is Jacques Lacan seizing on notions of "differential topology," a
>supposedly promising approach to some problems in physics, in order to
>elucidate the "structure of mental disease"-because, after all, if "one
>can show that a cut on a torus corresponds to the neurotic subject," then
>why wouldn't another "cross-cut surface" correspond "to another sort of
>mental disease"? Other pomo heavy hitters, including Gilles Deleuze, Felix
>Guattari, and Jean-Francois Lyotard are allowed to speak verbatim as well.
>Under the guise of agreeing with them, Sokal exposes them to their fair
>share of (ultimately self-) abuse.
>"One perennial lesson the book appears to reinforce is the immiscibility,
>as in oil and water, of Anglo-Saxon thought and French rhetoric. French
>thinkers reserve the right to dip their tropes in tincture of the absurd
>to give them extra firepower, a right we reserve for poets, late-night
>comedians, and animated cartoons..."
>(Quoted from the Atlantic Online:
>The complete text of Sokal's article may be found at:

I agree with your analysis of the French (and derivative "pomo" )
thought. However, the point to keep in mind that some of these people DO
have valid - to some degree, presumably - points to make and dismissing it
all as "crap" might be premature. Not that I haven't done it in some
instances... :-}

I guess you have to decide whether the topic being discussed is worth the
energy and time needed to decipher the propositions being made from the
poetry being used to make them.

Richard Steven Hack

Outgoing mail is certified Virus Free.
AVG Anti-Virus System Version 6.0.325 Release Date: 01/28/02
Virus Database:  182 Release Date:  02/19/02
Checked by AVG anti-virus system (
Version: 6.0.325 / Virus Database: 182 - Release Date: 2/19/02

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:41 MST