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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Noah Smith on academic BS


Well, I got my micro exam done. I pretty much sucked for the last month of stuff, but since I had a 95 going into the exam I'm not too concerned. I'd need to get more than 23/90 wrong to get less than an A. I doubt I sucked that bad.

Today is my macro exam, so I'm basically stuck trying to cram Mundell-Fleming and the Phillips curve for the next few hours. But why not a bit of news first?

Noah Smith - academic BS as barrier to entry. He wonders if the newspeak of critical theory serves as a barrier to entry. The idea is that since the US turns out an insanely high number of Ph.D.s who have no job prospects except to compete for university teaching positions, something must be used to select out most of that crowd, and critspeak does the job.

As far as pomo is concerned, btw, I was at university during the grand old days of Andrea Dworkin and Helene Cixous. I can quote verbatim a hilarious passage from Lyotard, even today:

It is once more around the anus that the revolution of the disjunctive bar will grow furious to the point that the president's arse will glow like the sun.

Yes, that was 80s postmodern scholarship! And this is from the same guy who formulated the most intelligible and succinct definition of postmodernism, "an incredulity toward metanarratives".

I'm back at uni doing a second degree now, and it really does look to me like much of the silly French academy excesses of the old pomo have been stripped away, and nowadays you can do pomo without sounding like a fruit.

"Post-modernism" is really just a rejection of the modernist way of thinking (yes, I can explain what I mean, and yes in a way that would make sense to you). The silly blather associated with the 80s-90s era writing wasn't specifically pomo: it was specifically bourgeois French academy bullshit. Heck, 100 years ago Emile Durkheim fled the French education system for Germany because he actually wanted to study sociology and not just spend a career trying to sound clever. The French academy has always had a reputation for vacuous bourgeois bullshit. Pomo is just yet another field that they corrupted.

I'd agree strongly that obscurant critspeak is just a way of trying to sound clever without having any real ideas. This was what the Sokal affair threw into the spotlight 20 years ago. So maybe it's not so much a selection mechanism as it is a coping strategy?

I bet all the pomo profs who were given tenure 25 years ago because every faculty needed a token pomo (though, and because, nobody could understand a bloody word they were saying) are probably on selection committees now, and so they want to take on new faculty who make them look less stupid and useless.

But here's an idea: pomo, without the bullshit, is actually immeasurably important to understand if you're in the humanities or social sciences (except in economics where you're still stuck in the modernist, rationalist, non-self-reflective fucking mid-19th century). Social constructionism is important, post-structuralism is important, seeing the author behind the narrative is important, paying attention to power structures is important. Fuck, all this stuff was invented by Nietzsche in the 1880s, and for damn good reason.

So maybe understanding of pomo is necessary to be a professor: but since most Ph.D.s are coddled bourgeois children who've never had to work for a living in the real world - and are thus stuck at an adolescent level of development with a few severe psychiatric disorders on the side - they just can't understand how to do pomo sensibly, and so they instead try to ape the writing of the 80s French pomo brigade, and thus they end up sounding like bullshit.

1 comment:

  1. What, no mention of the simulacrum? I'm disappointed.

    ReplyDelete