To Joe:

This is an old horse for you; I remember sparring on this issue with you
some five-six years ago on Megabyte University, and I don't really see
much difference in what you said then from what you are saying now.

But since I do work in both literary theory and in literature and
science I thought I might speak up once more and to challenge some basic
assumptions that seem to be at work in your attack on what might be
called "rich text format" academic prose.

I've always believed that it is possible to talk about issues current in
contemporary critical theory without too much obfuscation, and that a
LOT of the problems that you and I both have about some of the
prose of contemporary theory results from the rhetorical practices of
the followers of  rather
than <> him/herself.

Even I think that a LOT of what passes for contemporary theoretical
discourse is simply the manipulation of terminological swirls, when in
fact, even the most froggish of theorists are trying mightily to be at
least partly referential: theorists resort to terminology in order to
place a name (pace the reference to Walter Benjamin and his term
episteme-critical, which is an important one in literature and science
right now...) on a "thing" of culture or discourse or..... that may
remain invisible to the rest of us without the name tagging it.

Of course there is another dimension to this that has a cultural
context: contemporary critical theorists have read Emerson/Montaigne,
and Nietzsche, and understand that part of the language game involving
these very terminological swirls is to create a certain bewildering
effect on the reader, in Emerson's nomenclature, to unmoor the reader
from h/her preconceptions by disrupting the systems of received meaning
that bear the names (positivist) logic and (aristotelean) rhetoric.
There is a certain deliberate messing with the mind of the reader that
is going on, and this involves both a sense of play, and a desire to act
out certain strategic epistemological as well as ideological moves.

These moves have a continental flavor and simply run counter to our
anglo-analytic tradition practiced even by those, like Rorty, who are
sympathetic to continental critical inquiry.

On Sokal:

Since I do literature and science, and since I know the work of Andrew
Ross, I found Sokal's actual satire hilarious, and it couldn't have
happened to a nicer guy.  But Sokal's self-righteous justification of
his actions actually run counter to his purported goal.

First of all, by sending that essay to Social Text where no one knows
science, he committed a strawman fallacy: the essay would NEVER have
passed muster at Configurations, for example.

Second of all, he demonstrates a positivist bias and justifies it by
reference to a sloppy editorial policy (never mind that ross MIGHT have
passed the essay on simply out of misplaced collegiality since they both
work at the same u.!), when in fact the answer to his insistence on a
certain privileging of scientific reasoning has been challenged
irreversibly since the work of Poincare: in fact he is committing
another fallacy of appeal to ignorance by refusing to mention that the
epistemological critique of basic scientific practices has been already
under way for over a hundred years FROM WITHIN SCIENCE ITSELF!!!!

        So as clear as Sokal is in his own defense of his satire by
reference to a privileging of scientific thought, at the level of the
sentence, that clarity actually disguises a murky set of assumptions, not
to mention motives, that have "clarity" to hide behind.

I'll stop here, but I really wish that we could separate the idea of
clarity in terms of style from the question of clarity as an ideological
stance in the culture wars a LITTLE more carefully.

Assuming that we are really interested in discussing clarity.
Martin E. Rosenberg