Friday, October 21, 2005

Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science

This book rocks! It says everything that has been repressed deep inside me for years. Alan Sokal, the author of the book, is the NYU Physics professor who perpetrated a hoax on the literary establishment by getting Social Text to publish his parodic paper. He is my hero du jour, and a very smart and reasonable one.

Fashionable Nonsense is hilarious. I mean, I'm sure that it is hilarious only to a relatively small sub-sub-category of people who have read or studied "post-modern" or "foundational" theory and found it to be largely of ill report. I would read bits of the book to my spousal unit and we would laugh and laugh--funnier than Ashlee Simpson's hoe-down on Saturday Night Live.

Sokal's main targets in this book are Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, and Virilio. I am more familiar with some of these theorists than others, but Sokal's criticism hits home, and he's smart enough to render a proper chastening. He is careful to dilineate that his criticism is narrow: when these theorists use science to make a point, it should mean something. Most people would agree, but the theorists seem not to.

My deal is that if these people want to invoke science as a metaphor, knock yourself out. However, to me, they seem unwilling to admit that they're simply invoking metaphors, as if that would be somehow facile or below them. Whateva. So they lay themselves wide open to the kind of argument that Sokal and Bricmont (I forgot to mention him, he teaches physics at the Université de Louvain in Belgium).

In the epilogue of the book, the authors put together a series of "lessons" to be learned from the parody, and from their arguments in general. The first one is awesome: "It's a good idea to know what one is talking about." Agreed. I look forward to reading the rest of Sokal's books.

By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont
ISBN# 0312204078