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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal. Jean Bricmont.
In , Alan Sokal published an essay in the hip intellectual magazine Social Text parodying the scientific but impenetrable lingo of contemporary theorists. Here, Sokal teams up with Jean Bricmont to expose the abuse of scientific concepts in the writings of today's most fashionable postmodern thinkers. From Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva to Luce Irigaray and Jean Baudrillard, the authors document the errors made by some postmodernists using science to bolster their arguments and theories.
Witty and closely reasoned, Fashionable Nonsense dispels the notion that scientific theories are mere "narratives" or social constructions, and explored the abilities and the limits of science to describe the conditions of existence. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published October 29th by Picador first published October 1st More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
To ask other readers questions about Fashionable Nonsense , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Sokal is best known for the Sokal Affair, in which he submitted a deliberately absurd article to Social Text, a critical theory journal, and was able to get it published.
Oct 09, Jimmy rated it it was amazing Shelves: general-science , philosophy-of-science. Assessing the usefulness or relevance of philosophy is a seemingly confounding endeavor.
It becomes even trickier when approaching a specifically nuanced trend or style of philosophy. Since endless question-begging thought cycles are the genesis of any given philosophy, there is understandable difficulty in posing additional ones that might trump the foundation of that given philosopher's logic or reasoning.
To add to that, there is the incessant theoretical backpedaling and earnest apologetics Assessing the usefulness or relevance of philosophy is a seemingly confounding endeavor. To add to that, there is the incessant theoretical backpedaling and earnest apologetics that are such a characteristic reaction to a critique of a particular philosopher's thought.
The reason this is complicated is because said apologetics typically entail claims that the philosopher in question was being misread, misunderstood, or read or understood in the incorrect context. They might also claim that the translation of the work in question was a poor one, or that their critics have a very particular axe to grind against them, whether it be political, racial, or class-based. Of course, people usually question philosophers with good reason.
These are, after all, academics that make a living out of composing texts full of "deep questions", ones that typically aren't steeped in methodologies that tend to provide reliable evidence or proof. So it's usually the soundness, logic, style, and originality of the philosopher's body of work and thought that tends to be revered or questioned in the end.
The point here is that the importance or relevance of philosophy tends to be found in the act of posing big questions in unique ways, all the while offering something new to the theoretical ground that has been covered since the time of Thales and the pre-Socratics.
Well, probably when philosophers purport to understand actual science and implement it as a tool for understanding less scientifically observable phenomena such as the aforementioned types which are so inimical to the concerns of philosophy.
Since the late sixties, postmodernity was and continues to be a vague moniker under which a variety of culture in general defined and questioned itself. As an intellectual, Sokal probably found the writings of these particular philosophers to be nothing more than a lot of shallow, erudite poetics that, when analyzed on a grammatical and syntactical level, meant relatively little. Yet as a physicist, he struggled with the fact that the level of understanding displayed in the math and physics that these thinkers were employing in their respective philosophies was flat-out incorrect, when it wasn't simply banal.
So in , Sokal devised a devilishly clever intellectual prank: he contrived his own parody of a standard sort of postmodern essay, using the names of the aforementioned French and Belgian thinkers as references and source material; it was aptly entitled Transgressing the Boundaries; Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Sokal submitted this essay to a prestigious American cultural studies journal by the name of Social Text. His fake essay was immediately lauded with praise from some of the intellectuals mentioned in it, as well as a number of American academics and philosophers who were influenced by the prominent postmodern thinkers.
In it, the two run through the list of names, with fully researched analysis of writings illustrative of particular instances in which erroneous claims about science are made. The two also attempt to explain, to a popular audience, some of the theoretical arguments and discussions that have occurred throughout the history of the philosophy or sociology of science; thinkers such as Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyeraband are taken into account. Much like Edward O.
Or rather, if social scientists were still needed, their services would be required in a more poetic context, rather than one of research, or merely that of developing theories and methodologies for use in the field. Certain aspects of Fashionable Nonsense offer complications for the general reader uninitiated in technical physics, math, and science. Not only would this be immediately revealed by even more outraged scientists, but what exactly would be the point?
Of course, things continue to seem even more complicated thanks to something called epistemic relativism. This is the school of thought that suggests that any mode of knowing — usually what people refer to as an objective truth — is just as good as the next.
In other words, what is commonly implied is that western science is just as solidly objective and reliable as tribal myth. Sokal discusses Feyeraband and his anarchic views on scientific method in discourse on the plausibility of epistemic relativism. Again, to the skeptical lay-reader, the entire argument might sound like two sides vociferously attempting to persuade and convince a neutral party.
Such is the essence of discussion and argument really. Or to put it rather bluntly, the Strong Programme basically states that there is no such thing as observable rationality or reason. In a sense, epistemic relativism lies at the heart of what Sokal and Bricmont are criticizing. The two physicists are very much aware of the apologetic arguments that might keep philosophical hucksters theoretically safe, but the basic question of why one would bandy about a very technical and specific scientific language to meet the ends of their philosophical means, remains inadequately answered.
It most likely will for some time. Along with this, accusations of right-wing politics and conservatism were made. In the face of such abysmal intellectual denial, scientific reason can only repeatedly make the claim that there are such things as facts, and that they are observable.
Fashionable Nonsense is polemical, but only in the sense that Sokal feels an obligation to his notions of truth and fact as a scientist. He repeatedly mentions the point that these writers willfully chose to include specifically scientific terminology in their writings.
Sokal set out to reveal how one aspect of postmodernism was fraudulent, and in doing so seemed to invariably reduce that particular style of thinking and writing to what it truly is: superficial erudition garnished with a lot of fancy-sounding technical language.
He wasn't arguing against the usefulness or relevance of the social sciences, rather, he was arguing against pretentious nonsense promulgated as fact under the guise of science. View all 33 comments. Jul 08, J. Keely marked it as to-read Shelves: lit-crit , science , non-fiction , to-buy-or-borrow.
Why is it that whenever a theory of social science is found to be flawed, and loses the respect of the scientific community, it manages to find new success as a branch of literary criticism?
Freud's theories are by this point laughable, and yet they persist as viable modes of literary analysis. Marx's tautological economic theories have gone the same way. If I had to predict, I'd say Chomsky is up next. There is a point at which ahistoricism and structuralism are willing to accept any method, any Why is it that whenever a theory of social science is found to be flawed, and loses the respect of the scientific community, it manages to find new success as a branch of literary criticism?
There is a point at which ahistoricism and structuralism are willing to accept any method, any idea, any theory, and clasp it close, independent of whether it has any worth. Many literary critics seem to judge an idea good not due to its merit, but its novelty and outrageousness. Alan Sokal would go further and say that the upper echelon of Literary criticism, the tenured professors, the peer-reviewed journals, and the most successful critics are more interested in vague, garbled nonsense than in really sound or revolutionary ideas.
Which is why he famously submitted an essay filled with jargon terms, popular ideas, and quotes from the right people, but comically nonsensical and scientifically childish, and of course it was accepted, printed and lauded. This book, like much of Sokal's work, is aimed at debunking the modern powerhouses of literary criticism, by the simple act of pointing out that their rhetoric, definitions, and understanding of the scientific principles they invoke are entirely flawed and amount to nonsense.
Even to those of us without Sokal's scientific background, it quickly becomes clear that Lacan and Derrida and to a lesser extent, Foucault and Barthes are just sensationalist, erudite nonsense, and that they are only quoted so often because little they say has any foundation in reality, and hence, they can be used to support or refute anything.
Hopefully the bloated, meandering heads of academia will soon be shamed into doing real work by the efforts of men like Sokal. It would be nice to return to some semblance of reason and rhetoric in the Lit Crit field. Hopefully I'll find a copy of this book to go through, myself. Though Dawkins isn't my favorite, I have to thank him for cluing me into Sokal , and to the Postmodernism Generator , which creates random postmodernist papers whenever you hit refresh, and which are surprisingly difficult to tell from the work of real postmodernists.
View all 10 comments. It was part of an elaborate hoax and parody that Sokal was perpetrating on those who subscribe to "epistemic relativism," i. Sokal, a renowned physicist, by filling his article with scientific balderdash and liberally citing the editors of Social Text David Lodge's Law of Academic Life says "It is impossible to be excessive in flattery of one's peers.
Fashionable Nonsense expands the revelations behind the parody and thoroughly reveals the emperor's nakedness. The authors, by analysis of several postmodernist French philosophers, show how they misuse, misrepresent, and misunderstand basic science. Sokal and Bricmont disclose how "deliberately obscure language" is used to hide confused thinking, that often if something is difficult to understand in the writings of these philosophers it's because they aren't saying anything.
What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content. The chances are that you would produce something like the following: We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.
Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
Sokal is best known for the Sokal affair , in which he submitted a deliberately absurd article  to Social Text , a critical theory journal, and was able to get it published. The book was published in French in , and in English in ; the English editions were revised for greater relevance to debates in the English-speaking world. According to some reports, the response within the humanities was "polarized". Responses from the scientific community were more supportive. The stated goal of the book is not to attack "philosophy, the humanities or the social sciences in general