To Joe: This is an old horse for you; I remember sparring on this issue with you some five-six years ago on Megabyte University, and I don't really see much difference in what you said then from what you are saying now. But since I do work in both literary theory and in literature and science I thought I might speak up once more and to challenge some basic assumptions that seem to be at work in your attack on what might be called "rich text format" academic prose. I've always believed that it is possible to talk about issues current in contemporary critical theory without too much obfuscation, and that a LOT of the problems that you and I both have about some of the prose of contemporary theory results from the rhetorical practices of the followers ofMartin E. Rosenberg
rather than <> him/herself. Even I think that a LOT of what passes for contemporary theoretical discourse is simply the manipulation of terminological swirls, when in fact, even the most froggish of theorists are trying mightily to be at least partly referential: theorists resort to terminology in order to place a name (pace the reference to Walter Benjamin and his term episteme-critical, which is an important one in literature and science right now...) on a "thing" of culture or discourse or..... that may remain invisible to the rest of us without the name tagging it. Of course there is another dimension to this that has a cultural context: contemporary critical theorists have read Emerson/Montaigne, and Nietzsche, and understand that part of the language game involving these very terminological swirls is to create a certain bewildering effect on the reader, in Emerson's nomenclature, to unmoor the reader from h/her preconceptions by disrupting the systems of received meaning that bear the names (positivist) logic and (aristotelean) rhetoric. There is a certain deliberate messing with the mind of the reader that is going on, and this involves both a sense of play, and a desire to act out certain strategic epistemological as well as ideological moves. These moves have a continental flavor and simply run counter to our anglo-analytic tradition practiced even by those, like Rorty, who are sympathetic to continental critical inquiry. On Sokal: Since I do literature and science, and since I know the work of Andrew Ross, I found Sokal's actual satire hilarious, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But Sokal's self-righteous justification of his actions actually run counter to his purported goal. First of all, by sending that essay to Social Text where no one knows science, he committed a strawman fallacy: the essay would NEVER have passed muster at Configurations, for example. Second of all, he demonstrates a positivist bias and justifies it by reference to a sloppy editorial policy (never mind that ross MIGHT have passed the essay on simply out of misplaced collegiality since they both work at the same u.!), when in fact the answer to his insistence on a certain privileging of scientific reasoning has been challenged irreversibly since the work of Poincare: in fact he is committing another fallacy of appeal to ignorance by refusing to mention that the epistemological critique of basic scientific practices has been already under way for over a hundred years FROM WITHIN SCIENCE ITSELF!!!! So as clear as Sokal is in his own defense of his satire by reference to a privileging of scientific thought, at the level of the sentence, that clarity actually disguises a murky set of assumptions, not to mention motives, that have "clarity" to hide behind. I'll stop here, but I really wish that we could separate the idea of clarity in terms of style from the question of clarity as an ideological stance in the culture wars a LITTLE more carefully. Assuming that we are really interested in discussing clarity.