Friday, August 7, 2009

Moved in, Weak humanism, and some thoughts on the Sokal Hoax

Well, I am finally moved in, and the place has shaped up nicely. Sarah has started orientation for medical school (I went with her and her parents to a parents night for the medical school, and it was seriously surreal. Basically, they have a PTA-esque organization for parents of, you know, grown students in medical school. Many of whom, it seems, still live with mom and dad. I don't have anything to add to that). I am amazingly behind on everything, but I have a friend flying in from california tonight, so it will be a couple of days still before I get around to anything I told anyone I would do (Personal note, from now I know that even with internet access, I won't feel like writing about anything than what I am thinking at the moment while moving, or doing some other stressful activity).

Meanwhile, Leigh Johnson (Dr. J. is her blogger name) has a dialogue with Christopher Philip Long on her notion of weak humanism. The discussion is both deeply problematic and also deeply interesting (at least for those interested in discussions of humanism, animals, rights, etc.). I plan to make a longer post (but again, who knows) on all of this later. Meanwhile, one of the strangest things is you have two people who are both advancing humanist projects who constantly keep returning to the question of the animal and the question of the environment. Now, it maybe that despite their humanisms, one of the subjects of the dialogue is deeply concerned with that question personally. But it is phrased in such a way that it seems to come up out of a perceived necessity. Long says his own work has come under critiques of anthropocentrism, and Johnson says that whenever she says humanism she is immediately asked "about trees and non-human animals." This is interesting to me. Because while the interviews with big names still seem to be immune to such questions (unless prompted by the big name, and even then often ignored), on the ground at conferences and things of that sort there is a growing tide of people demanding that animals and the environment be a part of ethical and political thinking. This matches up with my own experiences (fellow grad students always seem far more interested in what I am doing with animals than professors, who may like my work by find the animal part rather weird). Anyway, I'd suggest listening to the interview, and hopefully I might be able to write a longer response to the interview later.

Lastly, Graham Harman has a post on the Sokal Hoax, which gives me an excuse to talk about the Hoax here, briefly. What many people fail to realize is the article wasn't part of a blind review, the editors knew who Sokal was when they published the article, and knew he was considered an important scientist. They asked him to lower to the number of footnotes, to change much of the way the article was worked and sounded. Sokal refused explaining this scholarly apparatus was expected of him by his scientific peers, and the article remained at the social text offices until they decided to do a special issue on The Science Wars. His article was published not because it was good, or interesting, but because he was a scientist. What has always struck me about the hoax is that it reveals so little about postmodernism/anti-realism/social text/scholarly articles, but it reveals a lot about authority. Sokal's authority is what got him published. And in a journal that was dedicated to questioning that scientific authority in the first place, the editors still fell for the authority. We were given a chance to discuss the ways that authority play a role in academic publication, but that discussion never really emerged.