Re: the arrogance of postmodern mumbo jumbo

Thomas L. Billings (
Thu, 03 Oct 1996 16:23:09 -0800

In article <5318m0$>, (Gerold Firl) wrote:

> In article <empty-0210962219160001@>,
(CU Student) writes:
> |> Just a little perspective from across the pond: in a (London) TLS article,
> |> say Spring of '93 (just as a friend was doing the U.S. tenure track job
> |> hunt -- I sent him a copy, saying it could be worse -- "you could be in
> |> lit. instead of History!"), the author reported on the MLA convention and
> |> the dreariness of PM -- something, the author, a UK English lit academic,
> |> stated was a fashion mostly absent from the emerald island. Somehow common
> |> sense has held on more
> |> strongly there. (The palisades of falsificationism? Perhaps: Popper
still sells
> |> popularly over there, as do his allies llike E. M. Gombrich, and Ernest
> |> Gellner.)
> |>
> |> Which raises the question: if PM first (and foremostly) came to the
> |> English speaking world via the U.S. -- not England -- what sociologically
> |> distinguishes
> |> U.S. academy from its British counterparts?
> The rise of pomo is an interesting study in cultural evolution; check
> it out, before it checks-in with the dinosaurs. %^)
> One factor which complicates the matter is the fact that pomo is
> largely a political pose adopted to enhance employability. American lit
> departments are furiously competitive, with lots of claiments vieing
> for a small number of spots. What better way for lit majors to compete
> than to invent a complex jargon behind which they can play their
> backbiting games of clique and counterclique?
> I don't want to give the impression that all the pomos are completely
> cynical posers; some do seem to take it more seriously. In their case,
> however, there tends to be an aspect of mental instability involved.
> People who are more comfortable in make-believe land find that pomo is
> a useful smokescreen to obscure their tenuous grip on reality.
> It may be that US universities are subject to more competition for jobs
> than in the UK; that may have something to do with higher levels of
> cutthroat deconstruction in american english departments.
> Another question is why france has proven to be such a spawning
> ground for pomo. That makes for some very interesting historical
> connections.

One key to the timing of that intense competiton for slots in the
disciplines affected by post-modernism may be the replcement phenomenon
that I and others have observed in U.S. universities.

An example:

This happened as early as 1981(IIRC) at PSU, here in Portland, Oregon. We
woke up to a morning newspaper article about a bitter little dispute over
the fact that SIX junior professors of history were being let go, in order
to hire TWO newly minted Phd.s in Electrical Engineering.

That indignation barely calmed down when THREE senior, and tenured,
professors of history resigned early, in order to allow the junior
professors to remain and continue their careers. Even so, there would
only be TWO tenure slots for them to compete for. Given this sort of
thing going on, I suppose it's not at all odd to see the assault on
"establishment" views of science and even engineering by the pomos. The
general antipathy towards those disciplines that are displacing others has
grown substantially.

This sort of thing has been gathering steam, I believe, since the draft
ended in 1972. The shift was apparently delayed by the demand for
non-science/engineering courses while people were delaying their draft

Three questions come to mind:

1.) If the draft had not been re-started in 1947, would something like the
strategies we saw in the 1970s/80s post-modernism/multiculturalism have
been seen in the 1950s?

2.) If the original form of the WW II draft had been put in, as Truman
wanted, with deferrments for ONLY Medicine, Math, "Hard Sciences", and
Engineering, as during WW II, would we have seen these trends before the
end of the 1940s? Would they have had time to develop outside of someone
like Foucalt and his followers?

3.) We'd certainly have a lot more engineering and scientific talent
today, but would they be even more pissed upon by so many from academia.
Would we have worked through the transition by now, and learned to live
with it?


Tom Billings

Institute for Teleoperated Space Development Billings)
ITSD's web site is at,