Sokal, Alan. Fashionable nonsense: postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science First published in France under the title Impostures Intellectuelles by. Editions. Essay review of Sokal and Bricmont's "Intellectual Impostures" defending Bergson and Deleuze against the authors claims that they distort or are ignorant of science, in particular Deleuze's discussion of calculus. Metascience 01/; 9(3) Essay Review: Buffon Studies. Intellectual Impostures. By Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. By John von Neumann. Article (PDF Available) in.
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File:Sokal Alan Bricmont Jean Imposture intellettuali pdf Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont: Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers'. Intellectual Impostures, Profile Books ISBN 1 Intellectual Impostures has now been published in number of languages including. Intellectual Impostures: postmodern philosophers' abuse of science aydınların bilimi kötüye kullanmaları Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals'.
Just imagine, then, what would happen if someone came along and declared Lacan to be an impostor. Just imagine the relief and satisfaction!
This story is not just a story. It is a book in which the authors, both scientists, take issue with the way mathematical science is invoked in the works of a multitude of French intellectuals: Kristeva, Irigaray, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, Virilio, and Lacan.
Alan Sokal, professor of physics at NYU, in particular, has taken upon himself the task of defending an orthodox concep- tion of scientific discourse against an apparent assault originat- ing in the Parisian intellectual scene—an assault that has acquired hegemonic status in certain circles of Western academia.
In direct contrast with the work of Jacques Lacan, Intellec- tual Impostures makes easy, even entertaining, reading. The chapters, each devoted to a different French intellectual, comprise a string of excerpts joined together with short commentaries, often in the form of ironic interjections.
In this essay we focus mainly on their chapter on Lacan. But our aim is carefully delimited. We do not argue that Lacan is easy or fun to read.
We do not offer detailed explanations of Lacanian concepts. We do not show what new insights and ways of thinking he brings to bear on questions of mental processes except indirectly.
Nor do we offer reasons why Lacan is worth trying hard to understand. Of course, both targets are not always to be found in the work of each author they canvass.
The second target, for instance, is not to be found in the work of Lacan. Perhaps the best way to approach it is via the gap which separates the modern universe of science from traditional knowledge: for Lacan, modern science is not just another local narrative grounded in its specific pragmatic conditions, since it does relate to the mathematical Real beneath the symbolic universe.
In any case, this is evidence of the centrality Lacan gives to mathematical formalization in his attempt to establish the way in which psychoanalysis may be considered scientific. But in what way, exactly, does Lacan abuse mathematical ideas? The most common tactic is to use scientific or pseudo— scientific terminology without bothering much about what the words actually mean. If a biolo- gist wanted to apply, in her research, elementary notions of mathematical topology, set theory, or differential geometry, she would be asked to give some explanation.
A vague analogy would not be taken very seriously by her colleagues. Here, by contrast, we learn from Lacan that the structure of the neurotic subject is exactly the torus it is no less than reality itself. The goal is, no doubt, to impress and, above all, to intimidate the nonscientist reader. Some of these authors exhibit a veritable intoxication with words, combined with a superb indif- ference to their meaning.
We organize our comments around questions of style and questions of substance. As we have already stated, many people, indeed many Lacanians, would agree that much of what Lacan said and wrote is very difficult to follow.
This is true not only of his views on and use of scientific and mathematical ideas, but also of his analyses of literature in other fields psychoanalysis, the hu- manities, social science, etc. But is this really the case? Probably not. Although he sometimes obliges in this regard,3 he for the most part clearly implies that his audience drawn from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds ought to take the initiative and investigate his recommended direc- tions of research if they feel so inclined.
Would it make any difference if Lacan took a principled position against pedagogically styled discourse? In fact, it turns out that Lacan —70 took an ex- tremely critical view of pedagogically styled discourse, always cautioning his audience to resist understanding too quickly.
This does not mean that Lacan believed the obviously absurd view that pedagogy has no place in our society; only that he deliberately declined to adopt it himself in the delivery of his seminars and writings.
This is always worth keeping in mind. In a society structured by tight time constraints and imperatives of efficiency, it is natural to demand explanations that are quickly and easily digestible. It has become second nature to expect clear instructions or guidelines on how to accomplish tasks or live a happier life. But Lacan is concerned first and foremost with what happens in the clinic, and his seminars and writings are addressed primarily to analysts.
It is from these concerns that his statements on misunderstanding directly spring. Why should he go out of his way to caution his audience to resist understanding too quickly? Precisely because he is con- cerned that analysts are tempted to understand their patients too quickly. To under- stand something means to translate a term into other terms Postures and Impostures that we are already familiar with. Instead of accessing the patient in his or her uniqueness, instead of being open to something new and different, analysts effectively reinforce their own self-understanding.
No doubt it is unsettling when we are confronted with something we cannot immediately understand.
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No doubt it is comforting to believe that we understand each other and that we all share certain aspirations and standards of morality. But, Lacan wants to claim, this comes at a price. The price we pay for an undue reliance on immediate understanding is an unthinking acceptance of premises we have come to rely on and that cease to elicit the need for justification.
Think, for instance, of the ideal of pedagogy. This is often taken as an unquestioned ideal that requires no justification. And the strategy he chose to adopt in this regard involved systematically creating a margin of nonunderstanding.
He recognized in this strategy its potential productiveness— productive in terms of generating a desire for responsible understanding and in terms of generating re- search.
In short, Lacan is not celebrating misunderstanding. Rather, he is making an argument in favour of responsible understanding.
As Fink notes, Lacan is seeking to have certain effects on the reader other than meaning effects: he is seeking to evoke, to provoke, to unsettle us—not to lull us but to jolt us out of our conceptual ruts. To accuse Lacan of this, implying thereby that he has nothing of value to say about mathematics in relation to psychoanalysis, would then be to make a category mistake. It would be like ridiculing the work of an eminent physicist at the cutting edge of his or her discipline because he or she was either not willing or not capable of pedagogical delivery.
We all agree that one can better follow an advanced physics seminar by becoming familiar with relevant prerequi- site courses. From this perspective, each of his twenty-five seminars can be viewed as building upon even if sometimes in the sense of reacting against material produced in earlier seminars, not to mention the literature whether contemporaneous or not Lacan constantly engaged with.
Indeed, as is well known, his early papers on family complexes and criminology, or his early seminars, are very accessible, almost Anglo-Saxon in style see, for example, Lacan Though Lacan was often explicit in his references to past seminars, these references were also often implicit, obvious only to those who were familiar with his previous teachings.
In my opinion.
This process of reading Lacan is conducted with the utmost attention to detail, both because his seminars are a product of an editing exercise established from a collection of transcripts and from a non-French perspective because of the many problems that arise on account of the translation process. The scholar or trainee, in other words, develops a critical understanding and opinion of the text after a difficult and protracted period of study.
But then again, many may also drop mathematical physics after an equally arduous several- year struggle with that subject. They erect as the sole and unquestioned criterion of assessment a traditionally conceived pedagogical style, often using its ab- sence as evidence that Lacan abused well-established substan- tive knowledge.
The price they pay is heavy. For they do not know who Lacan is beyond the straw man they very entertain- ingly project. Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science Cover of the first edition.
Main article: Sokal affair. Lingua Franca. Retrieved March 5, Intellectual Impostures. Profile Books.
New Politics. Archived from the original on May 12, Fashionable Nonsense. New York: Retrieved 15 April Oxford University Press.
Event occurs at 3: Retrieved 25 June At Whom Are We Laughing? Lacan to the Letter. University of Minnesota Press.
London Review of Books. Retrieved The Knowable and the Unknowable. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Contemporary Cultural Theory 3rd ed. Paper Machine.
Stanford University Press. For all of these reasons, the publication of Intellectual Impostures is an event of first importance for the future of the humanities. Apart from its very great intrinsic merits, it has, on the back of the brilliant Sokal Hoax, attracted enormous publicity both within and beyond academe.
Never before has a critique of the Lords and Ladies of Intellectual Misrule been carried out so thoroughly or with such magisterial authority. And yet their patient, quiet examination has implications, and will have effects, that go far beyond their specific remit. It may even be that students will at last be aware of a universe of discourse outside of the dogma of their Theory-besotted teachers, that they will give the dissenting voices a fair hearing, and the game will truly be up.
They investigate with scrupulous care the things that Lacan, Irigaray, Kristeva, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Virilio, and others have had to say about mathematics, physical science, and technology, and more particularly the use they have made of concepts borrowed from mathematics and the physical sciences in their writings about language, literature, the human psyche, feminism, contemporary culture etc.
Their writings are littered with, and the apparent force of their arguments is heavily dependent upon, terms and concepts of which they have not the faintest understanding. So Kristeva uses terms lifted from mathematical logic and set theory, Lacan mobilises mathematical logic and topology, Irigaray broods on solid and fluid mechanics, Deleuze and Guattari plunder differential and integral calculus and quantum mechanics, Baudrillard uses Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries, and so on.
But the appearance of erudition is entirely deceptive. And a recent commentator John Lechte, Julia Kristeva, has asserted that What is most striking about Kristeva's work No resources are spared: existing theories of logic are invoked and, at one point, quantum mechanics p. The rest of us might have some reservations.
Lacking the knowledge to check the validity of the terminology and its incorporation into the argument, and out of something between modesty and pusillanimity, we would hesitate to classify it as CMTP colonic material of a taurine provenance. It is only now that we can say that our instincts were justified.
For the first time, scholars with the necessary credentials to judge the claims of Kristeva -- and others like her who mobilise the advanced mathematics etc or the outer surface of it to back up their global assertions about language, literature, the self etc. And what they have found is that her concept-dropping cf name-dropping is totally inappropriate and betrays what are, to them, elementary confusions and misunderstandings.
For instance, the use of the Axiom of Choice has no relevance whatsoever in linguistics and cannot help to elucidate poetic language. The introduction of this axiom in mathematical set theory is motivated by the study of infinite sets, or of infinite collections of sets. Where does one find such sets in poetry? Their criticism moreover is linked to a luminously clear explanation of terms that are misused -- or at least the more fundamental concepts from transfinite set theory and mathematical logic.
A betrayal of trust seems an egregious way to a chair, but they order things differently over there. It would be interesting to know who was on her appointment committee and how much they understood of set theory and mathematical logic. The defence that this was all a long time ago and Professor Kristeva has moved on to other things won't of course wash.
If it was shown that I had arrived at my present chair on the basis of what in my own sphere of clinical medicine would be regarded as fraud, I should feel obliged to resign, however many years ago the work was done. Besides, Kristeva has moved out of her brand of quasi-mathematical poetics only to embrace the work of an out-and-out fraud, Jacques Lacan.
Lacan, whose groundless dogma on the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real Kristeva has advocated with uncritical passion over the last twenty years, borrowed, like Kristeva, concepts and terms from disciplines of which he had no real knowledge or understanding. For over a decade before his death, he was obsessed by the notion that certain topological figures might cast light on psychiatric illness and the human mind.
His disciples too, therefore, believed in the torus -- in the ever-deferred hope, perhaps, that belief might bring understanding. Credo ut intelligam. At any rate, they listened in awe to his day-long seminars on such things as the Borromean knot and continued to do so even in his pathetic last years, when, as a result of multiple strokes, his speech was mangled by dysphasia and his cognitive functions were somewhat intermittent. By then even his silences, as dysphasia gave way to aphasia and his mind emptied, were attended to and subjected to lavish reverential interpretation.
It is not only empty glitter but also internally flawed.
Lacan's writings, in addition to being bad or lunatic psychiatry, are also bad mathematics. Nothing is more compact than a fault, assuming that the intersection of everything that is closed therein is accepted as existing over an infinite number of sets, the result being that the intersection implies this infinite number.
That is the very definition of compactness One wonders what they thought as they listened to this stuff for hours. So when Lacan argues that Structure is the aspherical concealed in the articulation of language. There are many others: order structure, vector-space structure, manifold structure etc.
And the lack of relevance of the flaunted erudition is a constant finding in Intellectual Impostures: it is there merely to impress and terrorise. The appearance of relevance is sometimes sustained by treating metaphors as if they were literal truths.They investigate with scrupulous care the things that Lacan, Irigaray, Kristeva, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Virilio, and others have had to say about mathematics, physical science, and technology, and more particularly the use they have made of concepts borrowed from mathematics and the physical sciences in their writings about language, literature, the human psyche, feminism, contemporary culture etc.
Lacking the knowledge to check the validity of the terminology and its incorporation into the argument, and out of something between modesty and pusillanimity, we would hesitate to classify it as CMTP colonic material of a taurine provenance. Think, for instance, of the ideal of pedagogy. From this perspective, each of his twenty-five seminars can be viewed as building upon even if sometimes in the sense of reacting against material produced in earlier seminars, not to mention the literature whether contemporaneous or not Lacan constantly engaged with.
He takes Sokal and Bricmont to task for elevating a disagreement with Lacan's choice of writing styles to an attack on his thought, which, in Fink's assessment, they fail to understand. So Kristeva uses terms lifted from mathematical logic and set theory, Lacan mobilises mathematical logic and topology, Irigaray broods on solid and fluid mechanics, Deleuze and Guattari plunder differential and integral calculus and quantum mechanics, Baudrillard uses Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries, and so on.
It is a book in which the authors, both scientists, take issue with the way mathematical science is invoked in the works of a multitude of French intellectuals: Kristeva, Irigaray, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, Virilio, and Lacan. We organize our comments around questions of style and questions of substance.
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