Education, Features, Literature, Top Stories

Incomprehension 501: Intro to Graduate School

Like any responsible book collector, I’m often forced to decide which books deserve a spot in my limited shelf space. During these purges, one type of book always gives me pause. These are the books I acquired during the two years I was a graduate student in comparative literature; books unheard of by most people outside of academia but, to many inside, akin to scripture; books by Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, György Lukács, and Slavoj Žižek, to name just a few from the pantheon. I’ve held on to some thinking one day I might return to graduate school to complete a PhD, and what would a graduate student be without his copy of The Origin of the German Tragic Drama? But with a tenured teaching position, two kids, and a mortgage, I no longer entertain such fantasies. Now I’m free to finally make a confession: I never knew what these books were talking about.

The demands of my bourgeois existence grow with each passing year, and I didn’t want this little secret to metastasize each time I crossed paths with a true initiate or cracked open Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia to finally figure out “how anti-production appropriates the productive forces.” I realize that in making my confession, I may only prove my own obtuseness, but so be it. It has been quite cathartic so far.

My last book purge found me deciding the fate of Slavoj Žižek’s Tarrying With The Negative, a book I read in a class on Shakespeare and political theory. Žižek is known for threading pop culture, German idealism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis into a confounding tapestry. His pop culture references include kitsch like Kung-Fu Panda, and they lend his thoughts an air of accessibility. That air quickly dissipates, however. As a high school teacher, I know students understand a text if they can summarize its main point in a few sentences. I imagine a house guest surveying my bookshelf and, impressed by my erudition, asking, “What’s this Slavoj Žižek book about?” In a panic, I try to muster a coherent sentence about dialectics, Hegel, ideology, or something, but nothing comes. I quickly thumb through the book, looking at my copious annotations. Still nothing.

Turning to a random page reveals one reason I found it impenetrable: “In Reading Capital, Louis Althusser endeavored to articulate the epistemological break of Marxism by means of a new concept of causality, ‘overdetermination’: the very determining instance is overdetermined by the total network of relations within which it plays the determining role.” The first five words alone posed a significant barrier. I had never read Althusser’s Reading Capital and I had never read Marx’s Capital, which, perhaps, guaranteed my floundering in grad school given the pervasiveness of Marxist thought in the humanities. If my professors expected me to engage in any significant way with neo-Marxist theorists, they must have assumed I was intimately acquainted with Marx himself. I was not. I went to graduate school because I found studying literature exhilarating and fulfilling. In my undergraduate honors thesis I analyzed the significance of Herman Melville’s allusions to the Book of Job in Moby Dick. I wanted to do more of that: studying and understanding the great works of literature. Instead I was asked to understand how “The Althusserian ‘ideological interpellation’ designates the retroactive illusion of ‘always-already;’ the reverse of the ideological recognition is the misrecognition of the performative dimension.”

Since I couldn’t read Žižek to understand Žižek, I had to look elsewhere. The most lucid explanation is Roger Scruton’s essay “The Clown Prince of the Revolution,” in which he traces the influence of the dubious psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan on Žižek. Scruton explains Žižek’s main thesis throughout his corpus “We become self-conscious by an act of total negation: by learning that there is no subject…This is the aspect of Lacan that Žižek finds most exciting—the magic wand that conjures visions and promptly waves them to nothingness.” When Scruton observes that Žižek “is a lover of paradox,” he echoes Adam Kotsko’s analysis of Giorgio Agamben’s work: “[W]hat is most distinctive about Agamben’s style of thought comes from his love of paradox and contradiction.” The humanities professor and Agamben’s English translator admits that Agamben is really, really hard to understand but he believes this is a good thing. Concerning Agamben’s “study of animality,” The Open, Kotsko writes, “It’s not clear how all the pieces of Agamben’s argument fit together, but this only increases the book’s effectiveness for me: it’s not a definitive answer to the question of how humans and animals relate, but a book to think with.”

I quickly learned that, like Kotsko, many of my professors valued paradoxical and obscure arguments. And I got pretty good at making them. In an essay on Wallace Stevens, I concluded by asserting, “If everything is nothing, then that nothingness is everything. For poetry to encompass one, it encompasses the other. When Stevens’s mind of winter descends into the inescapable nothingness of his subjectivity, he has claimed for himself the totality of everything.” I don’t know what this means. But I wrote it and I was rewarded for it.

I knew my analysis of Wallace Stevens would please my professor, but I was bothered by a nagging thought that I really didn’t understand Wallace Stevens. I wondered if my graduate school training just amounted to a parlor trick. Last year, at my high school, the students enjoyed arguing if a hotdog is a sandwich, the millennial equivalent of asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The hotdog question made its way to the whiteboard in our staff lounge. By the time I arrived, my colleagues had written their responses. Some argued that a hot dog is not a sandwich because a sandwich requires two pieces of bread and a hotdog bun isn’t supposed to separate. Others averred that it most definitely is a sandwich: Meat between bread is a sandwich, end of story. I saw these responses and thought, “Simpletons!” before putting my graduate education to work: “In order to determine if a ‘hotdog is a sandwich,’ we must first determine the proper understanding of ‘is’ for if we do not grasp the ontological necessity of being itself, we fall into an abyss wherein ‘being’ is and is not itself and thus a hotdog is and is not a sandwich for it is and is not its very self.” I was quite amused by the whole situation until a colleague told me that a student had seen the whiteboard and said he wanted to study philosophy so that he could write like me.

The so-called Sokal Hoax was a clear indictment of the humanities’ love of nonsensical arguments. Physics professor Alan Sokal put to the test his hypothesis that something was afoul in the humanities. He wondered if “a leading North American journal of cultural studies [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?” His article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” makes abundant use of Derrida and company, theoretical jargon, and paradoxes. He expounds, for example, “that any space-time point, if it exists at all, can be transformed into any other. In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed.” The farcical essay proved his hypothesis when it was published in the academic journal Social Text. When Sokal revealed the essay to be a hoax in the journal Lingua Franca, he blasted both the editors of Social Text, who “apparently felt no need to analyze the quality of the evidence, the cogency of the arguments, or even the relevance of the arguments to the purported conclusion,” and the state of the humanities where “incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic.”

That was in 1996. The hoax continues, but now with unknowing pranksters. My Master’s degree is proof. Like Sokal, I got away with nonsense cloaked in a semblance of meaning. In constructing this illusion of comprehension, I also got away with some downright atrocious prose. In an essay on Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Towards A Minor Literature, I eked out this abomination: “Similar to Kafka’s use of German, Wole Soyinka wrote ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ in English and not Yoruba, his mother tongue. The implications for this are immense, and the deterritorialization is not merely a theoretical suggestion but infects and plays a role within the represented, diegetic world of the play.” I might have gone through my entire graduate school career writing like that had my advisor not been the department curmudgeon, who would not tolerate unparallel sentence structure or a single dangling modifier. It is possible I never would have crossed paths with such a relic, and surely many graduate students never do.

Of course, my horrendous style was a symptom of my failure to understand anything of significance in what I was reading. (I don’t know what “deterritorialization” or “diegetic” mean.) I see pretentious prose masking empty thinking in my high school students’ writing. I often read sentences like this: “The persistent continuance of racially prejudiced ideologies in the minds of many Americans has only diminished to small degrees or some might think not even at all.” Clearly, the student meant to write “racism is still a problem in America,” but, realizing the banality of this statement, injected it with prepositional phrases and multisyllabic words. This style of writing is almost encouraged in graduate school. Theorists, by and large, write sloppily. And the prose I ingested, I spewed out. Derrida, for example, writes in On Grammatology:

Unless my project has been fundamentally misunderstood, it should be clear by now that, caring very little about Ferdinand de Saussure’s very thought itself, I have interested myself in a text whose literality has played a well known role since 1915, operating within a system of readings, influences, misunderstandings, borrowings, refutations, etc. What I could read—and equally what I could not read—under the title of A Course in General Linguistics seemed important to the point of excluding all hidden and “true” intentions of Ferdinand de Saussure.

If a Jack Derrida wrote that in my English class, he would have some considerable revisions to do. I would suggest the following:

I am interested in an influential text from 1915: Ferdinand de Saussure’s A Course in General Linguistics. My interpretation of this much-discussed text is quite important even if it disregards Saussure’s true intentions.

The second sentence remains a bit vague, but without asking him his “true” intentions, I’m not sure I can improve it further.

George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” so clearly explains the causes and consequences of bad writing, that it’s no surprise I read it for the first time after leaving graduate school. He observes that “[Our language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” The bad and predictable style “will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” Obscure arguments and poor style exclude independent thought and new ideas. Orwell would not be surprised to see the poor style and the growing intolerance to free speech in many of our universities today.

Of course, I should have known what I was getting into. In 1989, Robert Alter lamented the eclipse of literary scholarship by theoretical language games in his book Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age. The research done in most English departments, he observed, no longer cares to “engage the literary work in its subtle and compelling specificity but rather to use it as a prooftext for preconceived, and all too general, views.” He estimates that “many young people now earning undergraduates degrees in English or French . . . have read two or three pages of Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, and Kristeva for every page of George Eliot or Stendhal.”

That estimate is too conservative by today’s standards. I’ve never read George Eliot or Stendhal and I have a Master’s. Free from academia, I should begin studying literature again. It’s time to ditch the Žižek.

 

S.A. Dance now teaches high school English in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

If you liked this article please consider becoming a patron of Quillette

104 Comments

  1. Joe Rigby says

    Oh Joy and rapture, you have made my day worthwhile!

  2. Beny says

    Wonderful assay. I had a good continuous transcendental reified laugh.

  3. Sydney says

    Can’t refer to the nonsense of Humanities in academics without giving a huge shout-out to @RealPeerReview on Twitter!!

      • KDM says

        “@RealPeerReview on Twitter” here, here. Make that 3 shout-outs.

        I also want to applaud the author on reading the ever venerable Roger Scruton. I’m snickering at the delicious irony of one of Brittons most esteemed conservatives having to translate the scrambled writings of the postmodern variety. Smiley face!

  4. The technical term for all these people is “Pseud.” And their proper role in life is to emerge sadder and wiser from the bottom of a ruck at the age of 16 or 17, setting them up for a more useful life.

  5. Appalling that the author can’t reach the obvious conclusion.
    Humanities and Social Science are damaging to the country and taxpayers should not have to pay for them.
    Substantially defund state college undergrad H and SS programs and all but eliminate grad programs. Let private schools educate tomorrow’s baristas.

    • andrewnwest says

      Appalling? That was not the point of the essay. What do you think of starving children if you found this appalling?

  6. Petey Schwartz says

    I’m an atheist but I have thought if there is a hell it would be Slavoj Žižek talking, being forced to read his drivel, and then Slavoj Žižek talking again.

  7. Don’t pretend to care about Eliot and Stendhal if you’re just going to paint all literature departments with the same brush.

    There are people doing good, important work in literature. It is a shame you had a bad experience, but if you cared deeply about the discipline you might have stayed and changed it instead of leaving and reflecting on how it was never good enough for you anyway.

    Pieces like this only contribute to the misconception that the academic study of literature is an exercise in fraud. It isn’t. Young people need to read fiction. Some theory is dense and obfuscatory and some theory is a helpful tool to enrich reading and help students gain a better understanding of what they just read.

    • Brendan says

      ‘Stayed’? He became a high school teacher, man.

    • Kris says

      Sorry, but as someone who has spent extensive time in literature departments (grad school and teaching), I have a very hard time disagreeing with the charge that the study of literature is an exercise in fraud (or a glorified book club). When Barthes declared the author dead, he also killed the discipline. Now, it doesn’t matter what the text says/what the author was driving at; rather, it’s all about what the reader (i.e. the “scholar”) wants it to say. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, a skilled scholar can make a text do virtually anything they need it to.

      As for admonishing the author with “if you cared deeply about your discipline you might have stayed and changed it…”, some of us understand that there are better things to do in life than waste our time banging our heads against a brick wall. You’ll never convince a religious fundamentalist that God doesn’t exist, and you’ll never convince a humanities scholar that post-modernism/post-structuralism is a fundamentally incoherent mess, albeit a fundamentally incoherent mess that makes a few useful observations. I love literature, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking society would collapse if literature departments disappeared.

      • Chris says

        I’m reminded of Back to School when Rodney Dangerfield’s character hires Kurt Vonnegut to write a paper on his own literary works. The professor tells him, based on Kurt’s paper, that he doesn’t know the first thing about Vonnegut. Life imitating art, I suppose. I remember being forced to write a three-page essay on an eight-line poem. There isn’t anything I could possibly say that would be more accurate than those eight lines.

        • Your comment reminds me of something I heard Isaac Asimov say to a small audience at the college where I taught. A grad student prefaced his question by stating that he (the student) was writing his doctoral dissertation on Asimov’s writings. Asimov quipped, “I got my doctorate in biochemistry. Pity I didn’t know I could get one by reading my own books.”

  8. I’m a psuedo intellectual. Intelligent enough to bluff my way into anything from astro physics to philisophical dialectics of the nicene creed. Not that I bullshit or lie, I actually like discussing things on a deep level. But man….. Zizek is full of shit.

  9. <>

    Come on… OWN UP.
    WHO DECIDED THAT?

    I’l tell you who…. NO ONE. Not even the Earl of Sandwhich’s butler.

  10. Luke Landtroop says

    For what it’s worth, ‘paradoxical’ is not a synonym for ‘meaningless.’

  11. Just as I thought…much of academia is a facade. Beautiful piece…thank you for confirming I’m not crazy when I read something and think…this is bullshite.

  12. James Payne says

    You didn’t read Marx, or Orwell, or Stendhal, but you were in a graduate program for literature. “Red and Black” is high school fare. Orwell’s essay you mention is one of his most popular and he was likely the most popular essayist in English in the 20th century. Not reading Marx today is akin to not having read Ovid, or the Bible, or Herodotus in the past. It seems the problem here might actually be with, gasp, you. That you would complain about not knowing what “deterritorialization” or “diegetic” means instead of spending half an hour finding out speaks to your mindset. I don’t even know why you’re complaining about not knowing what “diegetic” means – it’s from the Greek and literally goes back to Aristotle.

    • cook says

      You heard it here first: Karl’s Capital is to us what the Bible was to our forebears. Praise St. Marx, Peace Be Upon His Name.

      • James Payne says

        Actually, since half the world’s population lived under a government influenced by Marx, and the other half responded to those governments influenced by Marx, and only 1/3rd of the world is Christian, you could argue you’d be even more remiss to not understand Marx today than to not understand the Bible.

        Your point is really this: you think it’s worthwhile to study and understand things you agree with, and to not study and understand things you don’t agree with. That’s not how actual pursuit of knowledge works and it’s not what our universities should be pursuing.

        This is just anti-intellectual pablum for people who need their prejudices validated to latch onto.

    • David Turnbull says

      Marx’s connection to Marxist literary criticism is minimal. You could read Marx for Dummies and get all the relevant background. As for deterritorialization in the Deleuzian not anthropological sense, it’s just more of the gobbledegook that the author was referring to.

    • Maureen says

      I think you’ve thoroughly managed to miss the point.

      • Maureen says

        I meant my comment for James, not his other respondents. I agree with them.

        • James Payne says

          I meant my comment for Maureen, and the other respondents. I disagree with them.

      • James Payne says

        I think you’ve thoroughly managed to miss the point.

    • Chester Draws says

      A very illuminating comment. We are meant to read Marx — who isn’t literature and is poor economics — and not real Homer, whose class has lasted 3,000 years!

      And you can’t just look up diegetic, because each writer will use it to mean different things! See “critical” meaning something quite different from the dictionary word. Zizek uses words to mean what he wants them to mean — making him a modern day Humpty Dumpty.

      • Benjamin Buckley says

        Chester: Can you find five examples of people using “diegetic” in five different ways? If you can’t, then would you be willing to admit that maybe you don’t know enough about literary criticism to make that kind of judgement?

        (For whatever it’s worth: “Diegetic” is a fairly simple term. In a work of fiction, the stuff that exists within the universe of the story is said to be diegetic, e.g. the characters and events. Anything else — for example, an omniscient narrator in a story, or a musical score or title text in a movie — is non-diegetic.)

        • S Ahmad says

          I am lost in the fun house. How would you know whether a narrator is omniscient or partly-blind if not from the “universe of the story” (the text) itself? Is there any other way?

          As for the musical score, it is never extrinsic to a movie. John Williams’ score is as integral to Star Wars as the visual narrative itself. Still “non-diegetic” by your definition?

          A purely arbitrary yardstick of bamboozlement.

          • jason kennedy says

            That’s not really correct. Non-diegetic music would be music not heard by the characters. There is a joke in a Mel Brooks movie where two people in a car are driving on the freeway and the score is some dramatic classical music. A bus then overtakes them; it’s filled with classical musicians performing the music we are hearing. That this joke is readily understood shows that diegetic and non-diegetic are meaningful terms.

          • Benjamin Buckley says

            Oh wow. Are you actually not familiar with the term “omniscient narrator”?

            Okay, back to high school English. In a novel, sometimes the point of view is first-person (“I went to the store…”), and sometimes it’s third person (“Johnny went to the store…”) Often, when it’s third-person, the narrator knows things that none of the characters do (e.g. “Little did Johnny know, a meteor was about to collide into the Earth.”) In this case, unless the text specifies otherwise, we *usually* assume that the narrator does is not a character that exists within the universe of the story (e.g. Johnny cannot go up and talk to the narrator). Surely you’ve read at least one novel in your life that is narrated like that.

            Yes, a lot of the musical score in Star Wars is non-diegetic, because it is not heard by the characters. There are some exceptions (e.g. the band in the Cantina, or the band in Jabba’s palace).

      • James Payne says

        I’m glad to illuminate you. Here’s a concept: you can read both Marx and Homer as, I don’t know, every graduate student in literature should. This isn’t complicated: reading something, like RTs, doesn’t endorse it. Neither is reading a zero-sum game. I would recoil at the thought of any graduate student in literature who hasn’t had to read Stendhal, and Orwell, and Marx, and Homer. It’s not the canon of Western Civ versus Marx as, wait for it, Marx is in the canon of Western Civ – wild, right?

        Your comment about “diegetic” is just wrong.

        • Reading IS a zero sum game. If I read something, that is time spent not reading something else. Marx? Isn’t that political theory? What is that doing in the study of literature? (Please don’t answer that, I don’t think I could stomach the answer).

          • jason kennedy says

            The simplest answer is that, following Marx, works of art are seen as being specific to the conditions, economic, social, political, that existed at the time of their creation, and the critical reception/valuation of a work is similarly specific.

            This theory is useful for explaining why Shakespeare, for example, went through centuries of critical neglect, before being revived; this theory is also a counter to the notion of works of art as ‘timeless’, ‘universal’, and so on.

          • James Payne says

            It is literally not a zero-sum game. If you gain knowledge of one book, you do not necessarily lose knowledge of another, as you have the option of reading both. I don’t know man, maybe you should Marx and found out.

        • S Ahmad says

          That’s a very, very tall order for a graduate student to embark on – read both Homer and Marx?

          Is this just for the sake of argument or you really mean it? Did you ever read Das Kapital while in graduate school? All three volumes? And Iliad and Odyssey as well?

          I was in graduate school once and, happily, went through it successfully, all the way babbling about Barthes over beer. But much as I tried, I managed to plow through only the Communist Manifesto, and a few other minor works like The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State, mostly by Engels.

          Your prescription sounds more ominous than the ailment.

          • James Payne says

            What are you talking about? Graduate students should be reading at least 50-100 pages of text a week. I’m glad you “plowed” through the Communist Manifesto pamphlet, a text of some 60 pages depending on how you space it out. The modern editions of the Odyssey and Iliad are not particularly arduous, I read both in undergrad outside of school. Why is someone even pursuing a graduate degree in literature if they think reading Marx and Homer to be a “very, very tall order”? My prescription, which is “read,” is “ominous”? Who is the anti Western Civ, anti-canon, anti-intellectual in the conversation here?

  13. I love the bracing honesty of this essay, and I love that the author is still out here teaching.

    I’ve noticed the habit of proposing contradictions, or paradoxes, across thinkers, and it’s obnoxious and dangerous, I think, fundamentally inegalitarian. Logic is socially egalitarian because as long as everyone in the room agrees on the premises, which can be justified by other premises, then conclusions follow – for everyone.

    When everyone in the room is asked to accept paradoxes and contradictions as its first principles, the analyst who gets everyone to do this becomes a clever seer who must be relied on ex cathedra for wisdom, and basically whatever conclusion that person wants to advance, follows.

  14. Nietzsche says

    It is troubling that you overlook that most of the texts you refer to are translations, and that the style of their writing is meant to be “philosophical” and not written like a blog post. Did they teach the term “philistine” in graduate school?

    • andrewnwest says

      The author didn’t overlook it, half the point of the essay is to decry the ‘philosophical’ writing style.

    • David Turnbull says

      ‘Philosophical’ should imply clarity of thought, something which is totally missing in the originals as well as the translations.

    • Kris says

      “That which can be said can be said clearly, that which can’t be said clearly must be passed over in silence” –Wittgenstein.

      • TarsTarkus says

        Whenever I write anything, be it as mundane as a repair work description, I always try to keep in mind that if I can’t understand what I just wrote, chances are no one else will.

    • If an author who writes meaningless drivel it will be translated as meaningless drivel. If the author writes meaningful prose it will be translated as meaningful prose. E.g., the great Russian novels compared to the writings of the post-modernists and the rest of that ilk.

  15. Michael Makovi says

    I managed to get through my entire undergraduate education taking only a single writing / literature course. It just so happened to be a course on George Orwell. After reading this blog post here, I feel even more blessed than I did before.

  16. ga gamba says

    Like many of the other commentators I enjoyed this essay very much.

    How did we arrive at this sorry state? Good intentions run afoul I think. After WWII and the GI Bill tertiary education expanded greatly. Advanced education is good thing. Look at census data of 1950 and you’ll see that only five counties in the entire country had about 20% of the population age 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Also note the number of counties that had large populations of people who hadn’t completed secondary school. All these GI’s were pursuing advanced degrees (over ten million veterans took advantage of this opportunity) in understaffed schools and they were followed by the baby boom with many more, including women, seeking tertiary education. BTW, during the ’50s and early ’60s teacher shortages were so acute in primary and secondary schools that certification requirements were greatly relaxed to put teachers in the classroom. One wonders what detriment this had on students entering university and how these schools coped. How many new and unique dissertations about Shakespeare and Homer can be written? Genuine creativity is rare, and much of the western canon had been covered.

    Critical Theory, which had entered the US academe’s elite universities (first Columbia’s Institute of Social Research, then Dialectic of Enlightenment written in LA, and Horkheimer at Chicago often in the ’50s), with asylum-seeking professors in the ’30s, offered a new way to examine the texts. Further, it had the attribute of examining “who’s missing?”, to put it broadly. This is a simple counting of sexes and races, yet Critical Theory makes the analysis of culture feel like a revolutionary act in and of itself. What could be more enticing to young adults? Writing about the erasure of women in Moby Dick, which I recall only has two women in it, becomes viable. Add the context of the civil rights era and de-colonialism, toss in the French postmodernists, and growing universities have a way to satisfy the demand for post-graduate degrees. It’s a lot easier to tear down, i.e. to deconstruct, than it is to build.

    By 2006, 25.5% of sociology professors in the US self declared themselves Marxists. One wonders what would the academe have thought had 25.5% of biology professors declared themselves creationists.

  17. Fabulous (and highly amusing) piece.

    And a shout-out to Graham Peterson for identifying, I think correctly, the regressive, authoritarian potential of obscurantist forms of “scholarship”.

    A great deal of effort is made in mathematics, a similarly abstract subject, to simplify expressions to their most elegant, most transparent form. Critical theory needs that, at intravenous doses. Published papers, including those nominally written in English, should be provided electronically in plain-English translation; and, as in the example given in this article, it would be interesting to see the impact on the word count. If it drops by say a third or more without loss of meaning, then that would provide a dispositive indictment of the original style.

  18. DiscoveredJoys says

    A snippet from the “Sturgeon’s Law” on Wikipedia:

    In 2013, philosopher Daniel Dennett championed Sturgeon’s law as one of his seven tools for critical thinking. “90% of everything is crap. That is true, whether you are talking about physics, chemistry, evolutionary psychology, sociology, medicine—you name it—rock music, country western. 90% of everything is crap.”

    The study of comparative literature is only unusual (but by no means unique) in that people can make a career from piling the crap higher and deeper.

  19. Shannon Scott says

    This is too relatable, and it hurts.

  20. Daron says

    It’s obvious the author hasn’t spent a lot of time in a room full of scientists or policy makers. As a scientist i can easily say, we desperately need the humanities. We need complexity of thought, we need to see beyond that which is measurable.

    • andrewnwest says

      It’s obvious the commentator hasn’t read the article.

    • David Turnbull says

      As a scientist you should know that we don’t need complexity for complexity’s sake. Occam’s razor can be applied to literary criticism as well as science.

  21. Brian Bosworth says

    This witty article confirms what I’ve long suspected, reflected in a twit I saw not that long ago:
    “I cannot be the only one who now thinks that all that a PhD really suggests is that the possessor simply hung around school for way too long.”

    The writer’s experience reminds me of a company report I was once forced to write regarding my supposedly sub-par conduct an acting manager was out to use against me. He’s dead now.

    Armed with only a BA, a 3-word buzz-phrase generator and my wits, I successfully obfuscated any and all issues the report covered into ontological meaning/meaningless at the same time.

    If challenged on any individual point from any point of view, I could therefore argue successfully from any diagetic perspective. In the end, no one questioned a damn thing. It was a complete success.

  22. David J says

    “I don’t know what this means. But I wrote it and I was rewarded for it.”

    Perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read on Quillette but also probably the most disappointing, as it epitomises much that is wrong in the humanities.

    As this article makes clear, too often we see language which is needlessly convoluted in its effort to give an impression of complexity and, through that, of authority.

    As for a fixation with paradox being paramount in the work of many postmodern intellectuals: if you define the same thing in two radically different ways and then pit them against each other, you can remain immersed in a mental construct in which all is relative, there is never any obligation to strive for truth, but simultaneously build a whole career around the assumption something vital and interesting is being said.

    This is a more recent Sokal-style scam:
    https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal-style-hoax-on-gender-studies/
    https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311886.2017.1330439

    This is an entertaining article about humanities writing:
    https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/how-not-to-write-fourteen-tips-for-aspiring-humanities-academics

    Orwell wrote some very useful things in his essays about writing and language. My view of him though has recently been changed by an excellent short piece by Will Self. I’m not a fan of Self as a novelist, but he often shines doing non-fiction. He makes a very good case against what Orwell said about writing.

    Downloadable MP3:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04fchmd

    • random_randomo says

      The Will Self (piece) [http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28971276] left me remarkably unconvinced– here’s the gist of Self’s argument:

      >> 1. Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently, duh!

      I’m not sure if Orwell’s takes on the colonial enterprise support the above conclusion.

      >> 2. Moreover it’s a style that along with its manifest virtues has a hidden, almost hypnotic one. Reading Orwell at his most lucid you can have the distinct impression he’s saying these things, in precisely this way, because he knows that you – and you alone – are exactly the sort of person who’s sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the very essence of what he’s trying to communicate. It’s this the mediocrity-loving English masses respond to – the talented dog-whistling calling them to chow down on a big bowl of conformity.

      Sure, people might love Orwell, because, amongst other reasons, he sounds like them. But, as Self identifies this is but a “hidden, almost hypnotic” reason, and probably, not the main reason for Orwell’s popularity.

      >> 3. Any insistence on a particular way of stating things is an ideological act, whether performed by George Orwell or the Ministry of Truth. Orwell’s ideology is ineffably English, a belief in the inherent reasonableness, impartiality and common sense of a certain kind of clear-thinking, public-school-educated but widely experienced middle-class Englishman – an Englishman such as himself.
      It’s by no means as pernicious an ideology as Ingsoc and its attendant newspeak, but it’s an ideology all the same.

      Again, not sure if “inherent reasonableness, impartiality and common sense of a certain kind of clear-thinking” (whether created by English public schools or not) are really as terrible as Self asserts.

  23. Joe Rigby says

    Ok then, all you brilliant minds (that have been trained so profoundly in “diegetics” ) that disagree with the author of this piece please simplify this sentence

    “The Althusserian ‘ideological interpellation’ designates the retroactive illusion of ‘always-already;’ the reverse of the ideological recognition is the misrecognition of the performative dimension.”

    There is only one, simple, unalloyed response to this phrase and it is ROFLMAO truly,truly.

    • Steve says

      I’ve been trying to reword this for a while and it’s remarkable how well it actually condenses a complex concept into so few words. My attempt is less elegant but might make the point clearer:

      Althusser’s idea of “ideological interpellation” refers to the process by which a person is made to think that things they encounter in the world “just are”–that they plainly exist as we see them in their immediacy, which is actually an illusion that disguises their pre-existing socially and historically specific origins. In other words, things that are artificial and constructed appear natural. A person can recognize and point out the disguised, deceptively natural-looking ideology, but sometimes, if they have been successfully “ideologically interpellated,” they will not realize that this performative, illusory ideology is not what it appears to be.

      I’m on the side of those who think this author is dumb.

      • K J Aldous says

        Sorry Steve, you’re not making any more sense – just more words.

        I wonder where Althusser gets the remarkable idea that he can say anything whatsoever regarding what a person thinks about “things they encounter” unless, of course, that person happens to be himself.

        Mind you, he does give some intimation that things such as “illusory ideologies” may exist, but they probably are what they appear to be

        • Steve says

          I’m not really following you.

          I’ll give an example– Joe walks down the street, a copy yells at him “Hey, you!” and Joe turns towards the cop and waits to be addressed. By reacting to the cop, Joe has unknowingly positioned himself as a subject to the law, the state, democracy (all held together by ideology). To Joe, these systems all appear to be justified, and his place in them does too. Joe feels this way because he has been interpellated by ideology and can’t see the historically contingent circumstances that led to the creation of the state, democracy, and the law. So he accepts things as they are, and has a conversation with the cop.

          The example is far away from the original quote and my paraphrasing of it, but maybe it will help illustrate both of them; they’re all saying essentially the same thing.

          • Joe Rigby says

            Thank you. I am actually impressed and humbled in a strange, disquieting way that you would even attempt to simplify the Althusser statement. It actually seems to make sense.

      • random_randomo says

        >> Original sentence: “The Althusserian ‘ideological interpellation’ designates the retroactive illusion of ‘always-already;’ the reverse of the ideological recognition is the misrecognition of the performative dimension.”

        >> Interpretation/ Unpacking: Althusser’s idea of “ideological interpellation” refers to the process by which a person is made to think that things they encounter in the world “just are”–that they plainly exist as we see them in their immediacy, which is actually an illusion that disguises their pre-existing socially and historically specific origins. In other words, things that are artificial and constructed appear natural. A person can recognize and point out the disguised, deceptively natural-looking ideology, but sometimes, if they have been successfully “ideologically interpellated,” they will not realize that this performative, illusory ideology is not what it appears to be.

        Hey Steve,

        Appreciate your ‘unpacking’ of the sentence above. A few comments follow:

        1. I recognise that the first half of the sentence is meant as a short-hand definition for the phrase “ideological interpellation”, and thus might not make sense without prior familiarity with that phrase. But, I think, you were trying to show that the sentence the meaning of the above sentence could be parsed in a straight-forward, and consistent (across multiple independent unpacking) manner without prior familiarity. My comments below hold you to this (imputed) objective.

        2. Let’s first consider the clause “retroactive illusion of ‘always-already’ “, and your interpretation of this clause. Below, I map each term of this clause against parts of your interpretation.

        (a) “a person is made to think that”: unpacking of the term “illusion”
        (b) “things they encounter in the world plainly exist as we see them in their immediacy”: unpacking of the terms “already”
        (c) “disguises their pre-existing socially and historically specific origins”: unpacking of the terms “retroactive” + “always”

        I have no quibbles with (a)– the interpretation is presumably consistent and straightforward.

        Regarding (b), it’s hard to understand how the term “already” can contain so much context and information– specifically your interpretation of “already” uses additional assumptions about the domain/ universe in which the illusion is active (material world, as opposed to the world of ideas), and the agents under the illusion. Additionally, it is certainly possible to anticipate several competing interpretations for the term “already”, if only because the original sentence imposes no semantic constraints on such interpretations.

        Now, about (c). The word retroactive literally means “taking effect from a date in the past”. The phrase “retroactive illusion” seems to suggest that the illusion’s effects of “always-already” are created from a period prior to the encounter. However, there must certainly be some dimensions where the ‘always’ illusion is harder to achieve– for example no one believes that the middle-aged policeman they see on the street was always a policeman, even 40 years back. This suggests that further refining of the dimensions of the ‘always’ illusion is required– however, no guidance on this refinement is given by the original sentence. To compensate for this lack of guidance on choosing the dimension of the ‘always’ illusion, your interpretation arbitrarily selects “social and historical origins” as the dimensions subject to the illusion.

        3. Now onto the final clause in the original sentence: “the reverse of the ideological recognition is the misrecognition of the performative dimension.”

        I’ll briefly point out that you have somehow selected ‘ideology’ as the object hidden by the illusion, whereas, earlier you had identified ‘social and historical origins’ as the targets of the illusion. Either way, there’s nothing available in the original sentence to adjudicate your final choice.

        • Steve says

          Thanks Joe, glad I could be of help. I hope this gesture might make you reconsider the author’s other points. As someone in academia right now, surrounded by a lot of brilliant people doing important work in the humanities, I find the article to be irresponsible and in bad faith based on the current climate of the education system in our country which vastly favors STEM over the humanities. In every discipline, there are people with (even high-level) degrees who coast by without ever being truly invested in their field. The author seems to be one of them. But just because they are incapable of understanding theory that many, many other people do understand, doesn’t mean that the writing itself is the problem. As the author said, they never even properly read Marx, foundational for just about all of the other theory they mentioned. Having a graduate degree doesn’t give them any real authority on the matter (you might say its an ideological illusion), because I’ve had conversations with undergrads who have a better grasp of the material. It seems wrong to me for one person to use their illusory authority to feed the anti-intellectual fires and give theory a bad name; just because this author is a pseudointellectual doesn’t mean everyone in the humanities is.
          Random-randomo—
          Thanks for the feedback. I don’t have a ton of time to go into detail on this but I think most of what you said is valid. To clarify, in (b), “Always-already” is kind of an overdetermined phrase—some people like the author of the article might put it in the category of jargon, but I find it equally evocative and informative. You point out here that I make some assumptions on what register ‘already’ is operating on here—which is true. I would say it operates simultaneously on a material and ideological level, as the two are constantly interacting. As you point out, it is technically possible to read the term ‘already’ in different ways, but I would argue that I am simply engaging in the minimal amount of interpretation that any comprehension of discourse requires.
          For (c), I think the phrase “retroactive illusion” is doing a little more work than you’re giving it credit for, as in context it goes slightly beyond the dictionary definition of ‘retroactive’ that you offer. I think you’re missing the concept of the cop example. This is happening on the ideological scale—it doesn’t matter how old the individual, middle-aged policeman is, the illusion is created by his symbols of authority (blue uniform, badge, gun, etc.) and he is merely a vehicle to deliver them. The illusion is not that this guy was always a cop, it’s about the institution of the state/federal police as legitimately embodying the concepts of law & order, part of what Althusser called the Repressive State Apparatus (which operate primarily on violence and secondarily on violence).
          I’m not sure where I indicated ‘ideology’ as the object hidden by the illusion—if you could point this out I would be grateful. I would specify that the contingent social and historical origins are what the illusion of ideology covers over/mystifies.

      • If your interpretation of that paragraph is correct (I have to take your word for it) you are 100 times a better writer than the guy who wrote the original paragraph. It is possible to understand what you wrote. It is not possible to understand the original, which is why I’m not sure you do, either.

  24. Hilarious. I recently read Scruton’s Fools and Firebrands, very enlightening. In fact you could call today’s lit-crit the anti-Enlightenment.

    Abandon hope all who something something…

  25. Whilst the texts the author dismisses may in fact be works of obscurantist charlatanism (and many are – I’m looking at you Slavoj), the vast majority of his points are little more than expressions of exasperation at his own incomprehension. (Words like “diegetic” do have a meaning that we can come to some sort of consensus about.) Not understanding something is scant ground for dismissing those who do claim to understand that thing, the off-side rule being a case in point.

  26. Misthiocracy says

    Diagetic is not that hard of a term to understand. I don’t have a masters in comparative literature, yet I understand the difference between diegesis and mimesis. These aren’t new terms. They go back to Aristotle and Plato.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diegesis

    • The author’s point, as I take it, is that throwing such words at the professor guarantees a good grade even if neither the student nor the professor knows what the hell any of it means.

  27. Jericurl says

    Congratulations on decluttering your shelf, you can make yourself anew.

    I am embarrassed to show what I wrote for my thesis in art school, so I am in awe at how you exposed your own. It’s one hell of an ego death to realize how so many college students are being immersed in this cross-eyed and obtuse writing. Word salads being revered like the scriptures.

  28. It’s not the words Zizek uses I have a problem with.

    It’s the order in which he puts them that render them meaningless.

  29. Faded says

    S.A Thanks for the essay. It was a refreshing to hear someone say, “Look the emperor has no clothes!”

    You also made me do something that does not happen often. I laughed out loud.

  30. Jayne Korzeb says

    “Incomprehension 501: Intro to Graduate School– Fantastic. About time someone spoke of the pretense in education. Any given work of literature holds within it endless worlds that can be constructed by each reader to learn all the more of our human condition. All the reader needs to do is go in through a single detail…. And the beauty/truth: that’s all we need to know (reference to J.K.’s “Ode on Grecian Urn”).

  31. Zizek summarized in three sentences:
    Throughout the history of philosophy there has been a struggle to define truth, since Descartes that struggle has been to discover how we might have access to the truth given our limited perspective as humans. We’re all of us limited by what’s called our subjective position, that is by when we’re born, what our ideas are, and even how our eyes and ears work. Zizek argues that the division between our subjective experience and what we take to be out there in the world is itself the foundation of our reason and that this gap between subjects and objects is actually objective, it’s out there in the world just as much as it is inside our heads.

  32. I came on this piece while exploring, and though my first impulse was to dismiss it and travel on, I have some thoughts you might find useful. Or not.

    You said:

    “I see pretentious prose masking empty thinking in my high school students’ writing. I often read sentences like this: ‘The persistent continuance of racially prejudiced ideologies in the minds of many Americans has only diminished to small degrees or some might think not even at all.’ Clearly, the student meant to write ‘racism is still a problem in America,’ but, realizing the banality of this statement, injected it with prepositional phrases and multisyllabic words.”

    Perhaps. This seems a very uncharitable approach, although possibly justified with the average high-school student.

    Let me refer you to the Principle of Charity, as discussed by a true philosopher, John Wilkins (http://evolvingthoughts.net/2011/09/06/the-principle-of-charity-qualia-and-philosophy/):

    “This policy calls on us to fit our own propositions (or our own sentences) to the other person’s words and attitudes in such a way as to render their speech and other behavior intelligible. This necessarily requires us to see others as much like ourselves in point of overall coherence and correctness—that we see them as more or less rational creatures mentally inhabiting a world much like our own. [Donald Davidson]

    “In its simplest form, it holds that (other things being equal) one’s interpretation of another speaker’s words should minimize the ascription of false beliefs to that speaker. [The Oxford Companion to Philosophy]

    “This [P of C] says that if interpreting as reasoning a passage which is not obviously reasoning yields only bad arguments, assume it is not reasoning. (The rationale for this approach is that we are interested in finding out the truth about things rather than in scoring points off people.) [Alec Fisher]”

    If I had written the sentence you quoted, and you treated it thus, I would justly accuse you of straw-manning me.

    The words and semantics of that sentence convey a specific meaning much more precise than your shmushy rephrase. The phrase “persistent continuance of racially prejudiced ideologies” is much more limited than “‘racism is still a problem”.

    Racism can come in many forms, and this sentence specifies the IDEOLOGICAL form: i.e. a formal ideal based on assumptions of racial difference. It can be distinguished, for instance, from REFLEXIVE racism, which could have been ingested from peer groups (or, less likely, parents: https://twitter.com/RamblingAK/status/968155399592513536) without any conscious awareness of racist characteristics.

    The phrase “in the minds of many Americans” is a little “shmushy”, but manages to avoid any detailed commitment to how the mind works, a highly debatable topic. And there is a distinct, albeit slight, difference from “in America”. (The latter includes, and will probably be inferred to mean, COLLECTIVE ideologies rather than individual influences.)

    In the proper context, IMO, a better approach would have been to challenge why the focus on “racially prejudiced ideologies” vs. other types of racism? (I’m CHARITABLY assuming the student didn’t actually address other types/sub-classes, as the meaning would then have been clear.)

    This would have worked for either interpretation: if the student had been spouting “pretentious prose masking empty thinking” they would have been faced with the need to actually consider the meaning of what was written.

    OTOH if the student had actually meant the specific meaning, they would have been faced with the fact that picking one sub-class out of a class of problem should either be justified or accompanied by discussion of the other class(es).

    Of course, you haven’t really included much context, and it may well be that context, or your knowledge of the student, made it plain that there was no intent at precision.

  33. Michael Jefferis says

    I did an undergraduate major in English in the 60s; then in 1980-85 I took some classics and religious studies coursework to beef up my repertoire. None of it, merciful God, was infected by POMO.

    However, The Miseducation of American Teachers: James D Koerner, 1963 has a wonderful chapter on the abuse of language in the professional teaching journals and textbooks of the time, 55 years ago. The desire to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse through the vigorous deployment of bullshit was not invented by the current crop of academics. Though, what Koerner was complaining about doesn’t compare with the horrors that S. A. Dance had to do battle with.

    Good piece, Dance.

  34. Alex says

    The English language, is an uncomplicated, practical language. It’s made to builds ship, to sail the oceans, to raid the neighbouring town or to found nations.

    What the author describes is what happens when a language is contaminated by the bloody French. The French language commands to first solve everything and anything on paper. From that point on, Elites are isolated from the consequences of their decision, and everything falls apart in murderous revolutions.

    • KDM says

      @Alex
      This is the best comment I’ve read on here yet! It mirrors my thoughts exactly. It’s very Toquevilleian (but so am I), he lamented the French bureaucracy way back in the 1830’s and 40’s. They’re still going strong today with the paper pushing!

  35. Celeghorn says

    A very good article, making a very necessary point. It always jolts me when searching for Orwell’s essay on Politics and English Language (following the author’s link), to find a Russian site providing it first. I feel a quiet birdsong warning from history about the fragility of free thought, and clear words.

  36. Brad Romans says

    I dunno, man. My experience in exactly the kind of doctoral program you describe was troubling for all of the reasons you list here. But a couple thoughts spring to mind:

    1) Between ‘quit lit’ and ‘I thought about going for more schooling, but never did’ essays of this type, academe has taken a thrashing. Probably deserved. Consider that you can level similar criticisms at any sector/field—it’s just that this particular one is incredibly vulnerable because it doesn’t land anywhere on the ‘gainful employment’ continuum. I moved from faculty to administration, and the number of theoretically bankrupt phrases you hear from corporate ‘partners’ and, honestly, from other administrators seems much more dangerous and damaging than growing peoples’ capacity for paradox and Derridean gymnastics. Both are bad. Most of what is out there is bad. My point is that you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I also thought that most criticism was very silly, but:

    2) It’s our job to make our own meaning. I made it a habit to ask for clarification rather than contributing to obfuscation while in seminars. I speak pretty plainly; I write pretty plainly (at least compared to the folks I studied under and with). The claim that literary criticism is really a hunt for an eggheaded shibboleth is partially true, yeah. But if the focus is on absorbing and internalizing some of the greatest sentiments of the greatest minds we’ve ever produced—work passed down through centuries or millennia, even—then we can innoculate ourselves against dumb nonsense. One might even say that’s the point. I’d encourage you and others to not treat the study of literature as it currently stands as a monolithic summary of what’s accepted. It’s just what’s happening right now. And it’s fairly recent development. If you want to study grest works, as you suggest, you’re probably tuned in to a search for truth and meaning. I’d argue that philosophy doesn’t do this—it’s trying to clarify the conditions of reality, not to provide a body of work that we might live by. Contentious, maybe, but I feel fairly qualified to hold that opinion by dint of being a person. And:

    3) Most academics (myself included) are so tortured by these paradoxical poles of thought that we paralyze ourselves. We’re very easy to target because there are faster-moving folks in the world who view decisiveness and action as infinitely more worthwhile than thoughtfulness and contemplation. I disagree; I think these qualities reflect a need that we don’t see realized anywhere else. There is no better ‘thoughtfulness training’ than training in the Humanities. While I agree that the readings are often garbage, perhaps that means you can take it upon yourself to find better material. Subservience to grad school professors won’t carry you far, anyway, and that’s the only reason this cycle perpetuates.

    tl;dr: I’d hoped that—after internalizing our greatest lessons, the ‘moral philosophy’ of literature would create a more just, humane kind of person. That’s not usually true in my experience. What we get instead are arguments like the one this article espouses (and the cruelty and sniping in the comments). This is why people hate us. We’re arguing about things that appear to others as slightly varied flavors of minutiae—why the impenetrability of Melville is morally superior or less abjectly grotesque than Lacan. It all looks like worthless nonsense to people who reject the value of both of them (being ‘studies in aesthetics’). How much more successful would we be if what we learned from literary study was to develop our processes of edification rather than our processes of critique?

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      A favourite phrase of one of my past bosses was ‘Paralysis of Analysis’. I guess it applies wherever ‘action’ and therefore possible blame can be put off by calling for more information, another study, another report.

      People commonly don’t seem willing to try something and if it doesn’t work try something else. I guess people see the costs of failure outweighing the benefits of success.

  37. Joe Rigby says

    So basically all this mental intellectual specialisation is a modern equivalent or arguing about how many angels will fit on the head of a pin? Completely and inarguably a useless waste of time!!

  38. Quadrivial says

    I find it illuminating to compare the differences between science and humanities. Read any book directed at lay readers written by a scientist: they are at pains to define terms unambiguously and explain theoretical conclusions with clarity. Scholars from the humanities, on the other hand, seems to take pains to obscure the poverty of their thoughts behind thickets of ambiguity and obfuscation.

  39. Nicole says

    I am of two minds here.

    I agree that there is a lot of gobbledygook going on in the academe. Zizek is a prime example of linguistic calisthenics obscuring a poverty of ideas.

    However, I believe there is room for complex writing to convey complex thinking. Difficult and verbose language does not necessarily equate to empty navel-gazing.

    An intelligent person will see right through the smoke and mirrors.

    Unfortunately, I might have to agree with some of the posters here who claim that the author of this piece isn’t THAT intelligent to begin with. How can someone with an advanced degree have trouble understanding what “diegetic” means?

  40. Evan says

    This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain
    -Randall Munroe

  41. you should read the reply to Sokal by the editor of the journal
    iirc, the editors thought the article sucked, but they were of the opinion it is from some young person; lets publish it and let the readers decide..an attitude held by many eminent molecular biologists (iirc, S Brenner, or A Kornberg or someone like that)

    Also, if you had really wanted to do a PhD in lit, you could have found a dept to your liking
    why didn’t you ?

  42. Ein Sof says

    “the editors thought the article sucked, but they were of the opinion it is from some young person; lets publish it and let the readers decide”

    The best that can be said about that is that it’s lazy and irresponsible. What’s the point of being an editor if this is one’s attitude?

  43. Lyndon says

    I have entertained Zizek as a person of interest, but this article succinctly put in to clarity what I had felt. He’s full of bullshit. He rambles on incoherently, talking about nothing. He’s the ultimate intellectual con artist and all his apologists and supporters, with their paper tiger theories just have nothing to offer. If anything, he is a parody of an intellectual. Vapid and abusive.

  44. Pingback: Leftism is Conspicuous Consumption | Rotten Chestnuts

  45. Santoculto says

    Most self-declared philosophers are

    teachers

    teachers of HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

    Philosophy must have a philosophical method, but…

    Most people who towards philosophy fail miserably to grasp the primary concept of this matter, what philosophy is…

    if philosophy is the love/passion of WISDOM, so most them are mostly wrong specially when they defend ideologies with a criminal past and surprise most of human ideologies have…

  46. sea otter millionaire says

    Elizabeth Kantor’s Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature provides a good overview of what’s lacking in contemporary academic lit programs. Rather than just make fun of scholars, she explains some of the profound insights and beauty in the great works before saying how the postmodernists dismiss these works as tools of oppression or whatever. I also recommend Stephen Hicks’s Postmodernism, which paints a much darker picture. The goal of the postmodernists, whatever individual scholars may think they’re doing, is the destruction of the institutions themselves. A great way to destroy our trust in institutions is to stock them with corrupt and/or incompetent people.

    • Santoculto says

      Post modernism IS NOT completely wrong about opression or that science has been recruited to attend the interests of the powerful /and often dangerous people than to the general well being…

      Sociology and other disciplines are so atomized from other very relevant ones that they look like a body without a head.

      Post modernists just push too much to their own side instead trying to stablish a factually reasonable approach about human societies. They are just like most people ”even” here in this blog, too much into binary mode thinking, a always selfish approach and always with someone’s who must pay for their comfort. What they to do it’s basically what most people do all the time, if the art of thinking was gastronomical, the food would be horrible, too salty, too sweet, very too, too out of the point. People high order thinking to serve their lower order thinking, reason is/has been a prisoner of instinct.

      • Santoculto says

        People use their high order thinking…

        trying to correct some too fast writing, lol

  47. Pingback: What We’re Reading #5 — March 12th, 2018 - Areo

Comments are closed.