Friday, March 13, 2015

intellectual sloppiness: PoMo caught with its britches down again

I have to thank fellow Twit @Neuroskeptic for this.

The article at Retraction Watch begins:

The world, it seems, cannot get enough of Sokal-type hoaxes.

Damn straight it can't. PoMo is the gateway to sloppy thinking and has made a mush of Western academe. It deserves every bit of mockery that comes at it.

A French journal, Sociétés, has retracted an article allegedly penned by one Jean-Marc Tremblay but actually written by two sociologists, Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin, who spoofed the work of the journal’s editor, Michel Maffesoli.

As the Crooked Timber blog explains, the article, “Automobilités postmodernes: quand l’Autolib fait sensation à Paris,”
is about the Autolib, an electric car rental service available on a subscription basis in Paris.

In the article, the “transgender” Autolib is described as the turning point for the modern episteme, as the return to the protection of the primordial matrix, and so on. Being well-versed in maffesolese, they know that “modern” is bad, faustian, promethean, and that “postmodern” is good, comforting and dyonisian. In less than 10 pages, they use half a dozen languages: French, English, German, Latin, Greek (in Greek and Latin alphabets), and various typographic affectations (italics, parentheses, slashes in the middle of words). The vocabulary is often complex—”glyschomorphous”, “phallogocentric”, “diairetico-schizomorphous”—but lacking any particular definition. At the center of the article lies a pun. “Essence”, in French, is both essence (as in essential), and gasoline (as in oil). Thus our fictional author writes that the Autolib is “an open car, but not in essence because it is an electric car”. They also insist that postmodernity is “gaseous”, because Zygmunt Bauman’s modernity is “liquid”. The Autolib reveals itself in conclusion as the origin of a “new directing myth for a new epoch (postmodernity)”.

A month later, on March 7, the two authors, who were former students of Maffesoli’s, disclosed their hoax, and an embarrassed Maffesoli retracted the paper, apologizing to the journal’s readers and citing Descartes. Apparently, one of the peer reviewers had said the paper was “a bit on the jargon-y side,” according to the notice.

The point of these Sokal-type hoaxes is to show how little actual intellectual rigor exists in postmodernist circles, where traditional analytical methods are rejected for superficial ideological reasons as somehow oppressive. This sort of thing happens again and again because of the relentless credulity and outright stupidity that PoMo thought inculcates, cultivates, and encourages. It's as if postmodern thought were Douglas Adams's prophecy come to fruition: humankind will eventually prove black is white and then destroy itself.

For me, this hoax never gets old. What keeps it funny is that the hoax's victims never fucking learn from their mistakes.



  1. Thanks for posting this. You know that I share your intense dislike of PoMo, so Sokalesque hoaxes always get a laugh out of me as well. There is, of course, more than a little schadenfreude in that laugh.

    (At the moment, though, the Crooked Timber page isn't opening for me. Hmm. The site as a whole seems to be down. Inadvertent DDOS attack by the frothing legions of Hairy Chasmites?)

  2. Crooked Timber just opened for me when I tried it. Not sure what's going on.

    Schadenfreude, indeed. And this won't be the last time that someone pulls such a hoax.



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