Friday, March 30, 2007

An old review

"Sokal and Bricmont: Is this the beginning of the end of the dark ages in the humanities?"

Maybe, maybe not. But Tallis' review of Sokal and Bricmont's (S&B's) book is nonetheless encouraging reading for those of us still wrestling with the phantom of postmodernism. It is an enjoyable and startling read, especially if like me you have never come across feminist readings of science.

At the end he writes:
... Recognising that 'interdisciplinarity is the order of the day', and acknowledging the advantages that might come from the incorporation of science into the humanities, they list some of the lessons that might be drawn from their investigation. They should be pinned on the wall of every humanities department where postmodern Theory is taught and there are resident worshippers of individuals like [Julia] Kristeva:

1. It's a good idea to know what one is talking about.

2. Not all that is obscure is necessarily profound.

3. Science is not a `text'.

4. Don't ape the natural sciences.

5. Be wary of argument from authority.

6. Specific scepticism should not be confused with radical scepticism.

7. Ambiguity may be a subterfuge.

To this one might add: do not lie to yourself or to anyone else; or -- do not betray the trust of your students, your peers, your readers and the intellectual community at large. Precisely because it is so easy to mislead your students and even your peers in the field of cultural criticism and the humanities and even easier in the field of interdisciplinary studies, one should be aware of it as a permanent temptation to be guarded against.

Academics intending to continue as postmodern theorists in the interdisciplinary humanities after S&B should first read Intellectual Impostures and ask themselves whether adding to the quantity of confusion and untruth in the world is a good use of the gift of life or an ethical way to earn a living. After S&B, they may feel less comfortable with the glamorous life that can be forged in the wake of the founding charlatans of postmodern Theory. Alternatively, they might follow my friend Roger into estate agency -- though they should check out in advance that they are up to the moral rigours of such a profession. At any rate, being an estate agent might be a little more comfortable than being a postmodernist for the next few years. For, after S&B, a spectre will be haunting the exponents of Theory: the Truth. Poor old Truth that the giants of postmodern Theory have so thoroughly rogered. It's set to make a comeback. So watch out.