Like the postmodernism generator, but funnier

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.


When he's not tired, ill or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.