See below

John L. McCreery (jlm@TANUKI.TWICS.CO.JP)
Fri, 21 Jan 1994 12:46:06 JST


Back in December, in the midst of the great "Pomo" debate, Dan
Jorgenson suggested that a way to get a handle on the issue might be
to compile a glossary of "favoured phrases that are meant to signal a
kind of hipness, also indicative of attitudes towards work." As samples
he offered, " interrogate, transgression, desire,representation, etc.." He
also suggested that, "This would be accompanied by certain diacritical
uses of punctuation, including scare-quotes ("scare-quotes"), the
obliquestroke (/), hyphens (-), and parentheses (( )), all generally in the
service of puns ranging from corny to hilarious." It was, and is, a
terrific idea, a truly "reflexive" turning of anthropological analysis on
an academic "culture" that's at least as "Other" as most of the cultures
we study. Now, I'm pleased to note, someone with similar ideas has
gone ahead and done it. The latest issue of _the American Scholar_ has
in it a marvelous piece by a drama professor, Bert O. Sales, called
"Notes on the Poststructural Code." It's readable, sharp, and delicious.
If there's one thing you have to read on the subject, this is it.


We are warned by d'FOSS that "epistemology will lead straight into the
pit of ontology." As a summary description of trends in academic
argument, I find this very plausible. Personally, I prefer to move in
another direction. In the work of writers as diverse as Percy Bridgman
(operationalism), Thomas Kuhn ( paradigms ) and Patrick Winston
(programming AI applications in LISP), I find a common thread which I
would summarize in the maxim: "Keep your eye on how we get from
here to there." As a working hypothesis, I am quite comfortable with
d'FOSS suggestion that we aren't dealing with a binary (0 or 1) choice
but a range of values from something like "that's crazy" to "I'll buy
that." Then we have interesting questions to ask: How is the range
constructed? How to we specify points along it? What is the metric that
tells us one point is "better" (less crazy, more acceptable) or "less"
(crazier, less acceptable) than another? And, the real point of the
exercise, what do I have to do to be "better"? As I've said before and
will keep on repeating, experimental and statistical models answer
these questions for a limited set of situations which satisfy certain
criteria: the ability to isolate and manipulate key elements of a
situation (for experimentation); properly drawn samples (statistics).
Our problem as anthropologists (or historians, critics, philosophers,
etc.) doesn't fit experimental or statistical criteria, and we haven't done
a very good job of specifying what criteria should apply to what we do.

Cheers, John McCreery (