bad english as a political weapon (fwd)

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Sat, 18 May 1996 20:41:21 CDT

a parody of postmodernist-poststructuralist gibberish by a physicist who
slipped it under the editors' noses at the journal Social Text. The latter
is published by the folks at the City of New York Graduate Center's Cultural
Studies Program, Prof Stanley Aronowitz, Chair. The hoax is on the front
page of today's (Sat 18 May 96) New York Times. For those who don't know
yet, CUNY Grad Center is the City University's foremost bastion of Denial,
strategically located for this purpose across the street from Manhattan's
Bryant Park (behind the Public Library, 42nd to 44th Sts), then and until
very recent years the City's biggest open-air heroin market; this is a
correlative, not a causal, relationship. Before getting to the real e-mail,
here's an excerpt from the <yawn> print:
"Postmodern Gravity Deconstructed, Slyly by Janny Scott
"NEW YORK, May 17 -- A New York University physicist, fed up with what he
sees as the excesses of the academic left, hoodwinked a well-known journal
into publishing a parody thick with gibberish as though it were serious
scholarly work.
DAF Kibitz: The "well-known" is New York ethnocentrism; the reporter doesn't
*really* know how well-known is well-known; it's *true*, of course.
"The article, entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transforma-
tive Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," appeared this month in Social Text, a
journal that helped invent the trendy, sometimes baffling field of cultural
"In this case, Professor [Alan] Sokal, 41, intended to attack some of the
work of social scientists and humanists in the field of cultural studies, the
exploration of culture -- and, in recent years, science -- for coded ideolo-
gical meaning.
DAF Kibitz: Nobody out there, I should hope, has any *problems* with the usage
"*the* exploration of culture" [emphasis added]? Good.
"While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious," Pro-
fessor Sokal wrote in a separate article in the current issue of the magazine
Lingua Fraca, in which he revealed the hoax and detailed his "intellectual
and political" motivations.
"'What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy
thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking:
one that denies the existence of objective realities,' he wrote in Lingua
"'In an interview, Professor Sokal, who describes himself as 'a leftist
in the old-fashioned sense,' said he worried that the trendy disciplines
and obscure jargon could end up hurting the leftist cause. 'By losing contact
with the real world, you undermine the prospect for progressive social
critique,' he said."
DAF Kibitz: What did I tell you, ideological disputes invariably appeal to
*objective reality*, to which I, too, subscribe; howbeit caveatting that,
for matters social, above for the here and now, what we are likely to get
under that name is Misrepresentation, ie, Ideology. What else.
-Daniel A. Foss
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 11:31:12 -0400 (EDT)
From: Ted Goertzel <>
Subject: Post-Modern Poppycock Parody

Today's New York Times (Saturday, May 18) has a front page story
about a NYU physicist who hoodwinked the journal Social Text with
a story which was complete gibberish. The article titled
"Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative
Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was read by several editors and
appears in the current issue of the journal which was co-founded by
progressive sociologist Stanley Aronowitz. Stanley complains that
the physicist, Alan Sokal, "says we're epistemic relativists, we're
not. He got it wrong. One of the reasons he got it wrong is he's
ill-read and half-educated." Sokal says the article proves the
academic left, and particularly the field of "cultural studies" is
hot air. Two quotes from Sokal's article, published in the current
issue of Social Test:

"The pi of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be
constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable
historicity; and the putative observer become fatally de-centered,
disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point..."

"In quantum gravity, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an
objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and
contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior
science - among them, existence itself - become problematized and
relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has
profound implications for the content of a future postmodern and
liberatory science."

Professor Sokal defines himself as "a leftist in the old-fashioned
sense" and argues that trendy disciplines with obscure jargon can
hurt the left "by losing contact with the real world," he says,
"you undermine the prospect for progressive social critique."

Sokal says "I structured the article around the silliest quotes
about mathematics and physics from the most prominent academics,
and I invented an argument praising them and linking them together.
All this was very easy to carry off because my argument wasn't
obliged to respect any standards of evidence or logic."

The Times comments:

"to a lay person, the article appears to be an impenetrable hodge-
podge of jargon, buzzwords, footnotes and other references to the
work of the likes of Jacques Derrida and Professor Aronowitz.
Words like hegemony, counterhegemonic and epistemological abound."

Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 12:27:44 -0600 (MDT)
From: Glenn Muschert <glenn@OSIRIS.COLORADO.EDU>
Subject: Re: Post-Modern Poppycock Parody
In-reply-to: <>

On the 5/15/96 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, Sokal read
snippets from his article in _Social Text_. He claimed, basically, that
social scientists were wrong to question the existence of an absolute
(almost positivistic) reality. He seemed to say that this questioning of
"reality" would undermine society. His argument reminded me of Orwell's
"The Politics of the English Language" in which Orwell warns that the
corruption of language might ultimately allow totalitarian political
domination of society. In his parody, Sokal corrupts the language of
social science. He sloppily uses words without understanding their
political implications. I agree with Aronowitz, when he says that Sokal
does not know what he is talking about. While I might understand that
physics and society are in relation with one another, I wouldn't begin
to comment on the Quantum Theory or other physical axioms. Why does
Sokal think that he is qualified to criticize Derrida? There
is a qualitative difference between positing theories explaining the
interactions among physical particles and explaining (human) society.
People are not crash test dummies that we can smash together. Because of
the nature of our units of analysis, social scientific methods and
theories must needs be different than those of hard science.

Glenn W. Muschert