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.

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The five best Police Academy Films


Police Academy

I had a sur­pris­ingly busy day today so here’s the meme I’ve been work­ing on: The Five Best Police Academy films.

1) Police Academy 2 — Their First Assignment
Jerry Paris, the genius behind other social com­ment­ar­ies like Happy Days took the director’s seat for this one. There were mut­ter­ings from the stu­dio that the title shouldn’t have been Police Academy 2 at all, given the rad­ical depar­ture from the pre­vi­ous film. Using 1980s America as a meta­phor for 1960s optim­ism Harris cre­ated an uncom­pris­ing and bit­ing satire of the American action in Vietnam — the cli­max being the “police action” against an enemy who can barely be under­stood but one who stands against America as embod­ied by the Police Academy. Steve Guttenberg’s tor­tured per­form­ance as Cary Mahoney reaches new heights when, out of the force, he is required to become what he has fought against and engage in sub­ter­fuge. This cli­maxes in an emo­tion­ally trau­matic scene where he takes on the per­sona ‘Jughead’ to loc­ate the enemy. It also includes a hil­ari­ous scene where two officers acci­dent­ally enter the Blue Oyster Club and are engaged in a dance.
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The Little Professor is being Critical


The Thinker
Le Penseur. Photo by Mark Paciga.

There have been two inter­est­ing posts on the sub­ject of the­ory in lit­er­at­ure stud­ies, but which are prob­ably rel­ev­ant to many of the social sci­ences. The Little Professor has a long but reward­ing post Critical which tackles an art­icle by Lindsay Waters in the Chronicle of Higher Education Literary Aesthetics: the Very Idea. The ori­ginal is access­ible for a fee of $45. For those of us who don’t think in dol­lars — that’s just over twice as much as the com­plete works of William Shakespeare (leather bound). But hope­fully the pre­view of the art­icle makes the point clear.

Trying to fig­ure out what’s up with American lit­er­ary schol­ar­ship — I mean the writ­ing com­ing out of col­leges that relates to lit­er­at­ure — is dif­fi­cult. This stuff can­not be under­stood by the norms of healthy lit­er­ary cri­ti­cism as it has been prac­ticed from Aristotle to Helen Vendler.

Ever since it became pro­fes­sional and, for the most part, lost touch with the read­ers who have fostered the little-magazine cri­ti­cism that reaches back to The Spectator, today’s aca­demic schol­ar­ship has become sep­ar­ated from its ground­ing: It is no longer con­nec­ted to the very medium that gave it rise, literature.

I recom­mend read­ing the whole of the Little Professor’s response but her reply to this:

At the risk of sound­ing like Ophelia Benson (not, I’d add, that I con­sider that at all a bad thing): “norms”? Which “norms”? What sort of his­tor­ical nar­rat­ive eas­ily encom­passes every­one from Aristotle to Vendler?

The obvi­ous answer is “a shonky one”.
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Shopping for Philosophy II: This time it’s personal


The Road to Hell
Is this where I lose the plot?

One reason for reject­ing crit­ical the­ory as used by many archae­olo­gists is that I can­not take it ser­i­ously. A help­ful book I read was Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont. Not because it gave me an excuse to ignore a large body of work, but rather because it gave me the con­fid­ence to be able to say that some of this stuff was inco­her­ent. It wasn’t a blanket rejec­tion of philo­sophy. Around the same time I was get­ting inter­ested in Singer’s work, because I could see what the prob­lems he wanted to solve were. And any philo­sopher that has to have an armed guard must be doing some­thing right. But by and large I’ve been able to com­fort­ably ignore much mod­ern the­ory not simply because it’s bad, but worse – it’s irrel­ev­ant. I sup­pose with Ophelia Benson skew­er­ing crit­ical the­ory and with the launch of Theory’s Empire*, a book I haven’t read yet, I could fos­sil­ise in my views with no real injury. Indeed yes­ter­day I showed that it would be par for the course in archae­ology to select a the­or­et­ical school and squeeze snugly into it.

It would be a little dull though and rather paro­chial.
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