Tuesday, September 25, 2007

English Major as a religion?

So what do you make of this, my droogies: 'Postmodernism Disrobed' by Richard Dawkins, Nature - RichardDawkins.net?


  1. I had forgotten about the Sokal hoax--certainly demonstrates that there are problems. And certainly the passages cited sound ludicrous, even considering they are out of context. I'd certainly hate to try and defend this postmodern speak to friends, family, or even colleagues.

    On the otherhand I have to admit that I had a wonderful experience reading Deluze and Guitarri in an advanced composition class with John Ackerman. It pushed me to reconsder many preconceived notions of self, agencey etc. I can't believe the experience was merely graduate student naivete and adoration.

  2. The writing is bad. Humanities professors do not help their cause when they write that way. That doesn't mean that some of arguments associated with postmodernism are wrong, but jeesh, how in the hell do you expect to persuade anybody when even other humanities professors can't understand you.

    I also think that one of the great errors and excesses of some postmodern theorists was when they sought to make claims about science.

    John Searle's "The Construction of Social Reality" makes many arguments that postmodernists would recognize as their own. But he's always careful to emphasize this: the argument that language shapes our perception of reality does not mean that there's no reality independent of our linguistic representations of it. The first argument is sane--even commonsensical now. The second argument is insanity.

  3. I think that is the key item that Dawkins glosses: they are not writing about science nor are they scientist. Ultimately they are making analogies to science, not doing science itself. I plainer terms, one does not have to live ones life in Plato's cave in order to understand the analogy.

    Somehow, however, I think scientists think we are all nuts at best or charlatans at worst. Dawkins, for that matter, is about the must unsubtle person I've ever read. There is no place for nuance in his world. His rejection of religion and postmodernism go hand-in-hand in that sense: he sees PoMo as mind trickery at best, the way he sees religion.

    He gives precious little creedence to the notion that what we make of the world is influenced (biased) by language and we use it and how it uses us. To him, the last statement I just made would be utter poppycock. I don't know what he thinks of language or how it shapes our notion of existence, but he doesn't much go for anything internal anyway.

    I am interested in why he has developed such biases. If I were a facetious bastard, I would point out that biologically we've evolved this ability to communicate and religion is yet another manifestation of that linguistic game we play. The essentialist Dawkins would argue that it is all biology. An essentialist linguistic philosopher would argue that it is all about language and how we describe things.

    As for the nihilism that Dawkins seems to proclaim that PoMo supports, that seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black: his science offers nothing but the fact that the external world exists and is. It doesn't say a damn thing that it means anything either other than it exists.


  4. And a further note: Dawkins states that people in Literature departments should give up all this nonsense and go back to writing about literature. How, exactly, are we supposed to do that? What would be an acceptable approach in his narrow view? The scientific approach was attempted and failed miserably. Does he really believe that the study of an objective text tells us anything without delving into the reader: the place where the text is brought to life?