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Good news for pomophobes, Julian Baggini has a new game poking fun at certain critical postures in academia: Žižuku. I much prefer this to the postmodernism generator as a satirical tool.

The postmodernism generator is something that follows language rules to produce gibberish. This is funny, so long as you don’t read the sort of material that it purports to send up. I’m not saying that a lot of postmodernism isn’t twaddle, but it’s a recognisably different sort of twaddle. The reason Sokal’s hoax was funny was that it was indistinguishable from some of the straight material in Social Text. Essays from the postmodernism generator aren’t going to pass muster with another journal, even if the references are altered. Comparing the output of the Postmodernism Generator with postmodern scholarship is like comparing a Lorem Ipsum generator to a Latin text. Superficially similar, but not close enough.

What I do think is interesting is that if you loaded it with genuine references, and a bit more thematic connectivity then v2.0 might produce genuine pomo text but that’s another matter.

Žižuku requires a bit more work, but I think it’s a lot funnier because I can foresee this having serious potential. It’s from Baggini’s review of Slavoj Žižek’s Violence. In it Baggini notes a constant.

Žižek arranges his book like a piece of music with different movements, with chapter subheadings such as “allegro moderato”. This is fitting, because Žižek is something of a virtuoso, but as a player of paradoxes. His great riffs take one of a finite number of forms. There is the simple psychoanalytic trope of claiming that however something seems, its true nature is the precise opposite. Then you have the repeated claim that a certain position entails its opposite, but that both sides of the paradox are equally real. Then again, there is the reversal of common sense, in which, whatever the received wisdom is, Zizek postulates the opposite.

And that really is it: Žižek simply repeats these intellectual manoeuvres again and again, albeit brilliantly, supplementing them with Lacanian embellishments such as the objet petit, the Other and the Real.

It’s a good review and I recommend reading it all, because Baggini recognises that it can be a helpful way of seeing things from a new perspective. Yet while psychoanalysis might be rooted in the idea of humanity, applied ad infinitum it’s clearly every bit as mechanical and dehumanised as the postmodernism generator.

That’s Žižuku!

You win by taking any widely accepted idea and inverting it to reveal a paradox, so in the case above I was aiming for postmodernism as mechanistic method. Assertions without evidence count. For more examples read the review.

They’re discussing the rules at Talking Philosophy. One addition I’d make is that a statement which can be backed up with evidence should score more than an assertion. The point is that while it’s a satirical game which illustrates a limited repertoire of imagination, it doesn’t mean that the findings are valueless. Drugs trials for example attempt to follow an established furrow of methods, but it’s that adherence to method which allows the validity of their findings to be judges. Similarly Žižuku at one level clearly undermines the authority of Žižek’s method and reliance on Lacanian tropes. Yet it also embodies the essence of postmodernism in being by its very nature playful and contradictory. By rejecting the normative approach of orthodox academia it thus constitutes a suitably subversive tool for critical enquiry.

…and that’s Žižuku!

Now supposing I want to write a paper of Žižuku and get it published, where should I submit it to? There would be a key difference between my paper and Sokal’s. Sokal knew his paper was nonsense when he submitted it. I in contrast, like Baggini says of Žižek, wouldn’t really be able to tell whether my paper made sense or not. If academics accepted it anyway, would that be validation enough?

I worked out where I could send a paper to, using Žižuku to illustrate something which I genuinely believe, which would blur the lines between satire and scholarship further. In the end I’ve decided that I really don’t need to make extra work for myself right now.