Monday, December 10, 2012

The Galloway Affair: Sokal 2?

One Alexander Galloway has a piece in Critical Inquiry, a top-tier lit crit journal, in which he takes certain philosophers to task. Some of those philosophers, and their allies, have gotten upset with the critique as it unceremoniously dumps them in bed with Ewww! capitalism. I’ve not read the article myself, but I have read a long post in Galloway did which covers similar philosophical ground, A response to Graham Harman’s “Marginalia on Radical Thinking.”

Boy, did that ever kick up a fuss! 105 comments, some quite long, and who knows how many posts on other blogs. This Galloway fellow seems to have his pulse on something or another.

If it IS Galloway who wrote it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

* * * * *

It’s early 1969 and I’ve just read The Pooh Perplex: A Freshman Casebook, by Frederick Crews. Crews satirized literary criticism by writing a bunch of articles about Winnie the Pooh, each in the style of a different critic. Though, in most cases, I didn’t recognize Crews’ target, I thought the whole exercise was wonderful.

And so I decided to try my hand at it. I wrote a learned and somewhat florid analysis of this little ditty:
In days of old when knights were bold
and rubbers weren’t invented
They wrapped a sock around their cock
thus babied were prevented.
My college’s student newspaper published it and the result was a minor one-day scandal. I’m told it was the talk of the table in the faculty dining room that day.

You can find a smoke-damaged photo-copy of the piece, Bold Knights and Ramses Trojans, here. Yep, it was so hot the paper started smoking.

The process of writing that piece raised a question in my mind: What’s the difference between legit criticism and such satire? Is there a clear and sharp difference or is it one of those vague I’ll know it when I see it kind of deals? Ultimately the question becomes: IS there a real difference between the two?

So, THAT question, in various versions with various targets, has been kicking around in my mind for my entire career: Is it real or is it nonsense?

* * * * *

So, along comes Galloway with his take down of speculative realism, which is, I assume, for real. So, following a link from Levi Bryant’s joint I arrive at the blog, Philosophy in a Time of Error, where I find this statement:
First, Galloway stamps all over the place in terms of the link between realism and materialism, between morality and politics, the philosophy of mathematics, the link between poststructuralism and Marxism, set theory and contemporary computer, the debate between Sartre and Heidegger on humanism, leaving quite a lot on the table in terms of vast literatures that have taken these on–all in one article.
Says I to myself, sounds almost like the Sokal affair. That’s a lot of ground to cover in one relatively short journal article.

The Sokal affair, you may remember, involved the cultural studies journal, Social Text, which published a hoax article by Alan Sokal, a physicist. The article drew emancipatory consequences from current physics and mathematics. Some of the physics was real, but the consequences drawn from it were absurd. When Sokal then revealed the hoax in Lingua Franca, all hell broke loose.

Sokal was and remains at New York University. Guess where Galloway is? That’s right, New York University. Different department, but same school.

It’s settled then, isn’t it? Either Galloway is Sokal in intellectual disguise, or they’re two different guys who once had lunch, or something. But Galloway’s Critical Inquiry piece just has to be a hoax. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. If you go to Bryant’s blog (see link above) you’ll see that one Philip has the same idea.


* * * * *

Let’s go back to the post at Philosophy in a Time of Error, where we find this trenchant observation:
It’s all window dressing to what can seem a shallow ideology critique: your system has this surface similarity to some X in capitalism…. QED. But this can be done–as Zizek himself humorously notes somewhere–to anyone and anything.
Yes. It CAN be done to anyone and anything. That’s how Crews wrote those satires of classic mid-century literary critics—and he’s written a more recent volume satirizing the postmoderns.

Given that any clever person can play this game to whatever end he or she pleases, how deep can the intellectual enterprise be? Does it have any intellectual value beyond the sporting fun of taking potshots at your intellectual foes? Is that all this is, a high class game of shooting fish in a barrel?

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