Sunday, March 29, 2009

More Literary Outlaws

While we’re in hoax-land, it’s worth mentioning the Sokal Hoax of 1996, where a physics professor submitted a spurious paper entitled, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to the humanities journal, Social Text. The paper was “structured around the silliest quotations [Sokal] could find about mathematics and physics.” (Needless to say, Social Text had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review.) On the same day it was published, Sokal published an expose in Lingua Franca, terming the paper “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense.” His avowed intention was to “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” Hilarity ensued. Lingua Franca (which is now sadly defunct, but in its heyday consisted of awesomely readable “literary journalism”) has an essay about it in its tombstone anthology, Quick Studies, which I highly recommend for examples of academic writing that do not have a punitive attitude toward its reader. Click here for another deconstructionist paper hoax, which includes step-by-step instructions on how to deconstruct almost anything. It also includes a homework deconstructionist list, graded by levels of difficulty:


Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
this article
James Cameron's The Terminator
issue #1 of Wired
anything by Marx


Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
the Book of Genesis
Francois Truffaut's Day For Night
The United States Constitution
Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock
anything by Foucault


Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene
the Great Pyramid of Giza
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
the Macintosh user interface
Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco
anything by Derrida

Tour de Force:

James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
the San Jose, California telephone directory
IRS Form 1040
the Intel i486DX Programmer's Reference Manual
the Mississippi River
anything by Baudrillard

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