I don't want to get sidetracked from science poetry to Sokal--Jeremy's "why
Lucretius? Why now?" questions are more interesting and fruitful to me (I'll
get back to you on that, Jeremy!)--but I do want to point out that Peter's
quoting from the later book by Sokal and his coauthor (whose name I've
forgotten), while my own reference was to what Sokal did and said at the
time of the original hoax, an act of bad faith if ever there was. Since
then, Sokal has proved that bad faith can be a good career move, but he
hasn't put a dent in science studies because the scholars and theorists from
both the sciences and the humanities who work in that important area are
simply smarter and better-informed scientifically as well as
crit-theoretically. And they are doing serious, sophisticated work
together--in good faith.
The editors of _Social Text_ (which is published by Duke, so I was there
when all this was going down) weren't "lazy ignorant and smug" (IMHO), but
they weren't savvy either. While Sokal acted knowingly in bad faith, they
took a good-faith risk on him as a hopelessly confused physicist who--they
thought--was genuinely trying to engage with the theory he so obviously
didn't understand. I think they acted in the spirit Peter and I have been
sensing when they bent over backwards to try to help this clown bring his
article into something more than laughable shape. But when he refused to
make the revisions they'd requested (in a good-faith effort to make him look
less idiotic), they should have rejected the article even if they still had
no suspicions of Sokal's bad-faith-motivated actions. It was extremely poor
editorial judgment to publish his goofball article, as they themselves
realized when the balloon went up, but poor editorial judgment isn't a moral
issue, while bad faith certainly is. If we assume that integrity or the lack
thereof goes all the way down, then a scientist who would do what Sokal did
is a disgrace to and a menace in his own field, not a threat to anyone
If he's publishing quotes out of context like the Baudrillard one in order
to ridicule what he still doesn't understand (the now large literature on
event theory, for instance), then he's acting in the same scholarly bad
faith way that he did when he perpetrated the _Social Text_ hoax. And, with
all due respect, Peter, I think you implicitly endorse that bad faith when
you do the same to Baudrillard here by repeating a quote out of its context
of serious, fairly smart work (I'm not gung-ho Baudrillard myself) in order
to say that it's funny. It's only funny out of context and to those who,
knowing nothing of the event-theory work to which Baudrillard is gesturing
by analogy with such terms as "multiple refractivity" and the
"non-Euclidean" space of war, read those terms only in their literal senses.
The same sort of shoddy number could be done on one of your poems, Peter, if
some critic quoted a line in isolation and in a bad-faith effort to smear
But--jumping off my soapbox now--I also want to say that I loved the
strategy of your post, footnotes included (footnotes especially), and
thought it both sincere and savvy!
on 1/11/02 5:51 PM, domfox at [log in to unmask] wrote:
> Re Sokal, I am a great lover and sometime practitioner of theory-bollocks of
> all varieties, and I personally love what he did to Social Text who bloody
> deserved it for being lazy ignorant and smug, although I don't love him
> because he is also lazy ignorant and smug. The Baudrillard quote *is* funny,
> and Baudrillard himself is funny, and it isn't just a joke but it is also a
> joke. I don't think Kristeva was joking, but who knows? I like it that they
> couldn't find anything to pin on Derrida. And the background politics is
> sucky, because it makes your good faith as one who wills the social good
> dependant on your metaphysics, whereas in fact you can believe in bloody
> fairies and still be a solid pacifist and union organizer (or whatever your
> version of willing the social good entails) - the irritating thing about
> political questions is that they are quite askew from questions of technical
> or intellectual competance, and even stupid and deluded individuals can be
> politically decent, just as some of the cleverest bastards that there ain't
> half been have also been right-wing arseholes of the first order. I dislike
> it that this is the case, but what can you do?
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Peter Howard" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Friday, January 11, 2002 10:15 PM
> Subject: Re: A Responsibility to Awe
>> I'm very glad my comments were useful, Gerald.
>> Candice, I'll be more than happy to take a look at your poem whenever
>> it's ready to be looked at. But don't expect too much - it's a long time
>> since I studied physics properly, so my knowledge is somewhat rusty. I
>> bet you know more about neutrinos than I do at the moment.
>> As for good stuff, the book I was most recently impressed by was Neil
>> Rollinson's "Spanish Fly", which contains several poems that use
>> scientific imagery effectively and accurately. Mario Petrucci and Danny
>> Abse both know what they're talking about when they use science. The
>> grand-daddy of science poets is Miroslav Holub, of course, but you
>> probably knew that.
>> But I was meaning more that there seem to be fewer scientific blunders
>> in poems that aren't principally scientific in intent, but stumble
>> across some science along the way. I playfully have a "S.T. Coleridge
>> Horned Moon Award"  that I mentally present to poems that drop a
>> scientific clanger, and I seem to be dishing it out less frequently of
>> late. Poets seem to be more careful and/or better informed these days.
>> As for Sokal, I don't agree that:
>>> _Social Text_ hoax began with his own inability to penetrate the language
>>> critical theory and his assumption on the basis of his own limitations
>>> that it wasn't comprehensible or substantive at all.
>> He specifically says: "We are not attacking philosophy, the humanities
>> or the social sciences *in general*; on the contrary, we feel that these
>> fields are of the utmost importance..." His main target isn't the
>> language of critical theory per se, but those occasions when it imports
>> the language of physics or mathematics and doesn't use it properly. You
>> might argue that critical theory has a perfect right to appropriate
>> physics or maths language and use it for its own purposes; after all,
>> those two disciplines are particularly noted for pinching their
>> vocabulary from other sources (energy, force, set, charm, flavour etc.
>> Physics nicked "quark" from Joyce.) But when the grammar as well as the
>> vocabulary has the same look and feel, there's a stronger expectation
>> of a similarity in meaning. Wittgenstein  aside, is it very likely
>> that a sentence that looks to have some relevance to one field of
>> discourse, but is written in the context of another, isn't making some
>> sort of reference to the first? At the very least, when Jean Baudrillard
>> (quoted by Sokal in Intellectual Impostures) says: "It is a sign that
>> the space of the event has become a hyperspace with multiple
>> refractivity, and that the space of war has become definitively non-
>> Euclidean." then even if this has a precise meaning within the discourse
>> of critical theory, can you seriously expect anyone with any knowledge
>> of science or mathematics (and who is unaware of the meaning in the
>> discourse of critical theory) not to snigger?
>>  "The horned Moon, with one bright star/Within the nether tip." -
>> Within the moon's crescent is the rest of the moon, in shadow. It would
>> therefore block out the light from any star behind it. This is the most
>> notorious scientific blunder in poetry.
>>  I included this because a reference to Wittgenstein always gives a
>> post a bit of intellectual Úlan, don't you think? I was thinking of the
>> references to Wittgenstein in Tom Stoppard's  "Dogg's Hamlet,
>> Cahoot's MacBeth."
>>  And if you're going to mention a playwright in a post, you can't do
>> better than Tom Stoppard, especially if the reference is to one of his
>> more recondite works.
>>  That's enough footnotes, ed.