Monday, January 24, 2005

More fun with academics.
I waste too much time on this shit:
Jonathan Goodwin quotes this news story under the title:”Today’s Irrelevant Clause”

"In Trier, Germany, birthplace of Karl Marx, the prosecutor’s office has been investigating the claim of a woman that babies were being cut up and eaten in Satanist rituals."

As I tried to remind him, it’s a story. The mention of Marx is merely a means to pull people in; It’s a rhetorical device, a little silly but as I noted, if Walt Disney had been born in Trier they might have used him.

It is in fact very hard to tell what part of any structure is irrelevent to its function. Do do so you have to decide what that function is. What is the function of a news story,
to communicated factual information? To entertain? To make money for the publisher?

I find very little difference between any of you, and your arguments, between Sokal and the idiots at Social Text. All of you are trying to find ways to turn ambiguity into something managable, something concrete, something to which you can apply simple numbers and/or rules. What is economics but a set of assumptions? At what point do those assumptions become unsupportable? You all find ways to generalize from specific cases, and you do it in ways that are either over-simple or perfectly arcane.
You might as well be race car mechanics.

None of you value the specifics of things, the tastes and smells. A cook deals in specifics, an actor deals in specifics, a lawyer deals in specifics. A poet writes in untranslatable specifics. But for the academy everything must fit within a generalization. And when the generalization defines the thing, the thing, as a specificity, no longer exists. And what’s worse, every mediocre graduate student and cow-town professor must be able to make such generalizations. Every holder of a Ph.D must be able not only to teach important problems but to solve them, must have not only a good mind, but an original one.
That's too much to ask.

My mother gives perhaps the worst performance of Bach on the piano that I have ever heard. She plays the notes, unable or unwilling to take the indulgence of adding any variation, any idiosyncratic gesture that might make the playing personal. She refuses to perform as if by performing she would become merely a specific thing in time, a part of the world, unaware, un-intellectual.

If you can’t understand specifics your generalizations will be meaningless. And if you can’t play Bach as if you wrote the music yourself you’ll never understand the music he wrote.

The value of this is what Alan Sokal disputes. And what disgusts me is that nervous professors in the humanities are worried that he’s right. Why else would they indulge in pseudoscientific bullshit except in a desperate attempt to find a way to say that they too are worthy of respect.

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