Date: Tue, 24 Mar 98 23:48:43 CST
Subject: France: Philosophical Phonies on the Left Bank
Article: 30743
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>Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 11:49:07 -0500 (EST)
>Subject: SHK 9.0234 Philosophical Phonies on the Left Bank

>Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 15:01:38 -0500
>Sender: The Shakespeare Electronic Conference
>From: Hardy M. Cook <>
>Organization: Bowie State University
>Subject: SHK 9.0234 Philosophical Phonies on the Left Bank

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0234 Tuesday, 17 March 1998.

From: Lee Gibson <>
Date: Saturday, 14 Mar 1998 15:38:52 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Philosophical Phonies on the Left Bank

Furor on the Left Bank: Philosophical Phonies?

By Jon Henley, The Guardian (London), 1 October 1997

Only in France do postmodern structuralists and relativist post-structural modernists become television stars. Only in Paris can people seriously state their profession as thinker. And only on the Left Bank could a slim but plain-speaking volume written by two foreign scientists cause such an uproar.

American Alan Sokal and Belgian Jean Bricmont have dared to say what no one else would: Modern French philosophy is a load of tosh. Our aim is to say that the emperor has no clothes, the pair write in the introduction to Les Impostures Intellectuelles (Intellectual Imposters, available in French only, published by Editions Odile Jacob). Even before publication, the book was a topic of furious-and unfathomable-debate in Latin Quarter cafes. We want to ‘deconstruct’ the reputation that these texts have of being difficult because they are deep, write Sokal and Bricmont. If they seem incomprehensible, it is for the very good reason that they have nothing to say.

The authors—a physics professor at New York University and a theoretical physicist from the University of Louvain in Belgium—slaughter the sacred cows of contemporary French thought one by one, from the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the semiotician Julia Kristeva to Bruno Latour, the scientific sociologist, and prominent left-wing philosopher Regis Debray.

They talk abundantly of scientific theories of which they have, at best, a very vague understanding. They display a superficial erudition by throwing words at the reader in a context where they have no relevance. They demonstrate a veritable intoxication with words, combined with a superb indifference to their meaning, Sokal and Bricmont write.

Quoting extensively from some of France's greatest minds, Sokal and Bricmont set about systematically demolishing their writings as deliberately obscure, excessively convoluted, pseudo-scientific claptrap.

Jacques Lacan, one of the best-known psychoanalysts of the century, is criticized for arbitrarily mixing key words of mathematical theory without in the least caring about their meaning. The authors take particular exception to one of Lacan's lesser-known theories, in which he argues that the erect male organ, not as itself, not even as image, but as the missing piece of the desired image, is thus equal to the square root of -1 of the highest produced meaning.

In attempting to construct a mathematical formula for poetic language, Kristeva, too is guilty of trying to impress the reader with scientific words that she manifestly does not understand.

The works of Gilles Deleuze, a leading contemporary French philsopher who died recently, are principally characterized by their lack of clarity ... stuffed with very technical terms used out of context and with no apparent logic.

And of Jean Baudrillard, an influential sociologist and regular columnist for [the leftist daily] Liberation, the authors conclude: In the final analysis, one could ask what would actually remain of Baudrillard's thoughts if one removed the verbose veneer that cloaks them.

Unsurprisingly, the unprecedented attack has inflamed the Left Bank, home to the cream of France's intellectuals since the days of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and prompted outrage in the press. This is war, the daily [conservative] newspaper Le Figaro proclaimed, while the cover of the [leftist] weekly Le Nouvel Observateur demanded: Are our philosophers imposters?

Stung, thinkers have hastened to respond: What's the point of such a polemic, so far removed from present-day preoccupations? asked Kristeva. It's an anti-French intellectual escapade. Writer Roger-Pol Droit saw the broadside as part of a sinister new vogue for scientific, as opposed to political, correctness.

It is clear the philosophers have been shaken. In the words of another of the book's targets, the psychoanalyst Felix Guattari:

Existence, as a process of de-territorialization, is a specific inter-mechanic operation that superimposes itself in the promotion of singularized existential intensities. It is barely livable.