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09 January 2004 @ 05:30 pm
 
While today is my first full-on no-holds-barred rip-my-head-off may-contain-peanuts workday in a while, I had enough time on my break to find this article from Slashdot, which many of you may find interesting: "How to Deconstruct Anything".

It's interesting. It also seems to be memetically designed to throw people into fits of rage. Enjoy!
 
 
 
ninja in the shadows: samus_aranseiryu_16 on January 9th, 2004 04:38 pm (UTC)
Hm.

I suppose you knew I was going to comment on this, or at least suspected as much when you linked it. Or, I could be egotistical. Erp.

Anyhow.

I'm not enraged. The man has a lot of very good, very solid points. It makes me TREMENDOUSLY glad that I'm a New Historist and NOT a Post-Modernist, who I believe tend to throw themselves way off of the Reasonable Scale, to be perfectly frank. I have not yet heard a traditional Historist claim that everything in a given work is based on the historical time period and how it interacted with the author's life, instead of being spawned by anything within the author's mind, yet I have heard Po-Mo's claim that the historical time period in which a work was made makes absolutely no impact on the work itself.

My 19th Century American Literature class had - oddly enough - a very strong Po-Mo slant, which is perhaps one of the reasons that I found it so hard to get through (aside from the noxious subject matter that is... sorry, personal opinion. We had to read Walden, and I'd far prefer repeatedly smacking my head against something sharp than read it again). Once the professor asked if Moby Dick was a racist novel, and separated the class into "yes" and "no" camps regarding the issue. I was one of the VERY few people in the "no" camp. When asked why, I pointed out that one must consider, when asking a generalized question, the time period in which the book was written. Another student - in the "yes" camp - screwed up her face like I'd said something blasphemous and said "No you DON'T!" We also debated the entirely retarded point of whether or not Emily Dickinson was a lesbian. I consider that class day to be one of the most through wastes of an hour-and-a-half of my time since the time I watched The Postman (sure, the movie was TERRIBLE, but at least I could fast-forward and I wasn't compelled to participate in jack/shit).

I think the guy writing this article, like I said, has many valid points. Human beings do, in fact, have a desire to create jargon. It's ingraned in there somewhere, probably next to the human impulse to go "ooo!" at fireworks even though we've seen them skrillions of times before. What this fellow needs is a little more... erm, TACT. He needs to "pull a Josiah" (if my husband is not offended by my use of his nature in such a light) and stop being such an asshole, even inadvertently.

The difficult thing about someone in the sciences nitpicking on the nature of those of us in the humanties is that the sciences have a much more tangible output. You can make programs that fly airplanes, make serums that cure diseases, dig up a heretofore undiscovered species of dinosaur, and so on. We write papers. We STUDY things. We're professional studiers. And I'd be lying if I told you that occasionally, seeing what Josiah can produce with an idea and some typing about in Python doesn't give me in inferiority complex.

I'd call the humanties the most underappreciated area EVER. Too little value nowadays is given to the practice of communication, and wondering about the subtext behind what our society produces, from the smallest little advertisement to the largest, thickest novel. Who cares what a Madonna music video says about society? No paper there will cure cancer. It won't invent a new source of power. We're Americans: we want results.

While I can understand a lot of what the guy is getting at, and he DOES admit that looking at the subtext of works is important, and he IS right that many academians twist themselves up in their own lingo all too often, he owes it - I believe - to the humanities to be a little more considerate about an area he is only standing on the edge of. To assume that language and the complexities of human nature in literature don't deserve any kind of special terms to describe them is devaluing the whole process of communication. Or at least it shoots it right in the nut. I think so, at least.

For what it's worth. ::signs off::
masui on January 9th, 2004 07:46 pm (UTC)
i had five years of intense humanities and science training.
and i'm hear to tell you that the two of them have a lot in common.
one thing is the desire to discredit the other so as to boost self-worth. it's a classic case of the academic Other.

another thing is that they both have some area of utility.
but they both have vast amounts of "pointless" endeavors. see my other response.
ninja in the shadows: scary_annieseiryu_16 on January 9th, 2004 08:13 pm (UTC)
Remember in Evolution, when we'd have "class discussions" on some particular retarded topic from Palumbi's poo-rag of a book? And I always ended up in the group who - SOMEhow - always ended up going "wow biology is so teh best EVAR all other subjects are teh poopie and science is best and biology is teh BEST-BEST!" Every time I ended up in that dammed group, and every time I had to play the part of the cross English major pointing out how full of crap they were.

The worst part was whenever Tim came by all cheery and asked "so how's everything going?" I wanted to grab him by his rumpled blue short-sleeve button-up shirts and yell "IT'S MADNESS, MAN! MADNESS!! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!"

And so.
masui on January 9th, 2004 08:23 pm (UTC)
weren't we in a group together at one point?

i remember those discussion. i treated them as i treated all discussions my senior year: i sat back and listened to all the assinine comments before exploded with a lecture on reason.

as much as i would love to be in college again, i would only like it if i was the only student.
grad school, let me in you fuckers.

i also remember spend a while talking about how psychology is the bastard love child of the sciences and the humanities and how neither group wants to pay alimony
ninja in the shadows: evil edseiryu_16 on January 9th, 2004 10:36 pm (UTC)
Indeed. I'm scratching at the Grad school door too, m'dear. By the way, where ARE you applying (because I will give you OOOOOOOONE guess where I'm trying to get in ::wink::)?

I remember that quote about psych. It made ME laugh, and I've taken several classes in it. Yep, it was you, me, and Annie B. against the rest of the group, and I think we gave them what-for. Go us. ::grin::
masui on January 10th, 2004 06:57 pm (UTC)
UC berkeley
UCSB
U of Oregon
UofM
U of Michigan
COlumbia
U of Washington
ninja in the shadows: maxseiryu_16 on January 10th, 2004 07:10 pm (UTC)
Scrumptulescent. Needless to say, I hope you end up roundabouts. Hee. ::grin::
masui on January 10th, 2004 07:17 pm (UTC)
that first one there is number one on my list.
but it is also number one in the country.
oops/
Hoc Est Qui Sumus: The Wandering Agediscoflamingo on January 10th, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC)
This won't hurt. Much. I promise.
The difficult thing about someone in the sciences nitpicking on the nature of those of us in the humanties is that the sciences have a much more tangible output.

As a Math/CS major, and a software engineer, I thoroughly disagree. Pure mathematics is some of the most useless crap you will ever see in the world - Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology is a classic text wherein he apologizes for how little number theory will ever be able to give back to the world. And he has yet to be wrong about that.

For crying out loud, I spent most of my studying at Mac in specialties of combinatorics, which is a fancy way of saying "I count things good. Lots of things!"

At the end of this year, my group at work will have the most powerful piece of a flight management system assembled, tested, and guiding planes. But to a non-engineer, we have a magical black box which makes planes fly. Take some cardboard and hit RadioShack and anyone with a modicum of adaptability will have a similar box, although not nearly as useful for inertial navigation.

We write papers. We STUDY things. We're professional studiers. And I'd be lying if I told you that occasionally, seeing what Josiah can produce with an idea and some typing about in Python doesn't give me in inferiority complex.

You and me both.

I'd call the humanties the most underappreciated area EVER. Too little value nowadays is given to the practice of communication . . .

I disagree. If my job is about anything, it is about forcing people from extremely diverse areas of knowledge (who hate the idea of our job, I might add) to fucking talk to each other in a fucking common language; when they refuse to be forced, translating their ideas into a semi-universal language; to get ideas written down so that people twenty years from now will be able to read them and understand them; to make it so that the suits can read the work and come away from it feeling like they know enough to move ahead.

I gave up on the last part because I care about societal subtext, it's just not part of my job description right now. If I was writing multi-lingual tech documents (like some people at other sites), I would have to care about it.

(cont'd)
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on January 10th, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC)
The CS Major's pain is continued, below:
We're Americans: we want results.

While I can understand a lot of what the guy is getting at, and he DOES admit that looking at the subtext of works is important, and he IS right that many academians twist themselves up in their own lingo all too often, he owes it - I believe - to the humanities to be a little more considerate about an area he is only standing on the edge of.

To assume that language and the complexities of human nature in literature don't deserve any kind of special terms to describe them is devaluing the whole process of communication. Or at least it shoots it right in the nut. I think so, at least.

I don't think this is his goal. I think his goal is to state that jargon in the field does not seem to be created to express new ideas in ever-narrowing fields of inquiry (which is about par for the course in science); he seems to say that deconstructionist/postmodern lit-crit deliberately pollutes the way existing words interact in an unreasonable fashion for no reasonable gain. In my opinion, he is not entirely wrong.

In CS, we will deliberately re-define words on the gross semantic level if we want to fuck with a reader's head-space on a context vs. meta-context vs. meta-meta-context . . . ad infinitum level. We make it a point to draw lines about where this is happening, and not just throw it about with wild abandon, as some literary critics are wont to do.

If you are familiar with the type of academics who will write diatribes on why HTML is sexist, blogging is anti-Marxism, and Perfect Dark is an undercover race dialogue, then you understand some of the shit that we (this author and myself) have to deal with from the lit-crit crowd. When you try to explain to one of them that HTML mark-up is written the way it is so that it can be effectively parsed by a computer, they will dismiss your statement as hetero-centered {add bullshit rationale here}. They are not interested in the way things work - they are interested in how literary criticism can, from its ivory tower, tell the world why things are the way there are. And that's pretty fucking stupid to me.
The past is prologuenemoren on January 9th, 2004 05:55 pm (UTC)
Yessir
"In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment."


That's what I signed up for.
masui on January 9th, 2004 07:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Yessir
hear hear
masui on January 9th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
i'm sorry i had to be ocd and fix it.
lots, but I don't have the desire to string them together.
list time! (oh oh oh oh, oh oh, oh oh)

-There are many pieces of this man's opinion that I share, and could widely be considered as "true."

-It is a mistake on his part to treat Deconstruction and Postmodern as the same thing. Likewise, although he begins his article by tackling the humanities as a whole, he basically focuses on lit crit. I mean, sociology is a humanity, and we could all have a field day with that one.

-The humanities, often victimized, should not be singled out as the only self-perpetuating self-fulfilling brotherhood that uses it's own jargon for masturbatory enhancement. Although he does say that other fields use "jargon" as a sometimes necessary rule, he does not say that every field uses jargon that cannot be understood by those who have never dabbled in the field. Which is the case. He also makes the timeworn error of enforcing the science/humanities duality. Although I can in no way speak for anyone other than myself, I am a representative of both fields and I can say , with gusto even, that a large part of science is also comprised of a self-perpetuating self-fulfilling brotherhood that uses it's own jargon for masturbatory enhancement. (I really like that phrase, can you tell?)
All his arguments to deconstruct the facade of literary criticism can be used against biologists, computer programmers, number theorists, chemists and especially astrophysicists.
Sure, for all of these scientific degrees you can make claims for practical functionality, but so can you for the humanities. For biology you have, among others, the medical industry. For English you have, among others, journalism. Journalists have their own jargon and grammar, are praised for exercises of politics and cleverness, and are widely celebrated for disseminating fiction. And yet, journalism can be understood by non-journalists and are considered to be pretty handy. Doctors are pretty handy too, but they get off on speaking over their patients' heads.
But I digress. In biology you may very well have "useful" practices, but you also have people who are working on labelling each and every gene...just because they can. Just as analysis of Kafka is hardly palatable, so is the Journal of Microbiology. Those guys aren't talking to anybody but themselves. Fancy terminology doesn't even begin to cover it. Those people speak in fucking acronyms. And although it may be true that eventually some information may trickle down into something for the masses, so do book reviews.
I'm also not sure about the utility of discovering new stars in far off galaxies. Or discussing theoretical uses of the "number" zero.
I think the most important reasoning behind academia, whether it be the sciences or the humanities or, hey we never even touched this one, the arts is that people do it because it is interesting.

-I found this bit amusing. After bashing academia for its use of creating verbiage and exercising cleverness, he writes later, "The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks."
snort.

-also, he uses "genetic drift" incorrectly.

-lastly, he ignores that there is a check and balances system in the humanities. Academics don’t let eachother get away with spouting meaningless bullshit. It is a highly competitive field full of bickering and backstabbing, just like anything else. No one is going to get away with overuse of jargon without substance without getting torn to shreds. Part of critique is critiquing eachother.
The past is prologuenemoren on January 9th, 2004 08:23 pm (UTC)
*sniff*
gosh I miss you.


though isn't sociology was a social science?
masui on January 9th, 2004 08:26 pm (UTC)
Re: *sniff*
meh, what's a social science after all?
The past is prologuenemoren on January 9th, 2004 08:37 pm (UTC)
Re: *sniff*
When you come back to the states, you should visit Pennsylvania. Here you will enjoy the beautiful sylvan scenery (the autumn leaves are beautiful) and defend my career choice to my mother.

It'll be great.
masui on January 9th, 2004 08:40 pm (UTC)
Re: *sniff*
I was actually planning on it. well, the former, not the latter.

despite my most recent lj entry.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on January 10th, 2004 11:30 pm (UTC)
I happen to like this paper a lot, but you really don't seem to.
it is a mistake on his part to treat Deconstruction and Postmodern as the same thing.

Explain to me what the difference is - is deconstruction a part of postmodernism, or are they entirely separate?

Likewise, although he begins his article by tackling the humanities as a whole, he basically focuses on lit crit.

He states specifically at the beginning that he is looking at po-mo lit crit.

self-perpetuating self-fulfilling brotherhood that uses it's own jargon for masturbatory enhancement.

What, exactly, is literary criticism attempting to enhance or advance? I think lit crit (like comm studies) are unique disciplines because they take rigidly inflexible stands on the power of language to do anything, while saying it does everything.
"The test has no meaning by itself, but {insert a bunch of criteria} give it meaning."
"There is no truth, everything is relative."
"Actually, that was shit. The truth is ironclad.
. . .
Ha! Gotcha!"

He also makes the timeworn error of enforcing the science/humanities duality.

C.P. Snow is surely spinning in his grave.

All his arguments to deconstruct the facade of literary criticism can be used against biologists, computer programmers, number theorists, chemists and especially astrophysicists.

Your punning wit is still laced with irony.

Sure, for all of these scientific degrees you can make claims for practical functionality, but so can you for the humanities.

Biology : Medicine ?:: English : Journalism

Journalism uses English, but is an entirely separate field, with different rules, even on the academic level. It's like comparing physics to engineering - they look the same, but are interested in two fundamentally different things.

In biology you may very well have "useful" practices, but you also have people who are working on labelling each and every gene...just because they can.

Knowledge and technology do not move in lock-step. There is pure as well as applied knowledge. We don't necessarily know why we'd want to know if a 76 Impala would make a good inter-shuttle transfer vehicle in space, but I want John Ashcroft to find out. This is a very good example of "pure science".

-also, he uses "genetic drift" incorrectly.

He uses it correctly in a computer science context.

-lastly, he ignores that there is a check and balances system in the humanities.

I don't think he does - I think he is wondering out loud why these people still have jobs.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on January 10th, 2004 11:58 pm (UTC)
Re: i'm sorry i had to be ocd and fix it.
Also, he specifically singles out History, Literary Criticism, and Cultural Studies for his wrath, not the entirety of the humanities.
lyght on January 10th, 2004 11:44 am (UTC)
Well, *I* liked it....
...even if I am a biologist.

Honestly, I think the real distinction to be made here is the difference between working inside and outside academia. Every field, regardless of academicity (or somesuch) has its own jargon, fine. But things are always brought to a whole new level if you're in academia. It's a completely different world on the inside, really.

I've sat through far too many unintelligible plant biology seminars not to believe it. If you can only talk about your studies to your peers, you're in trouble. And by peers I mean, people who automatically know what your chosed alphabet soup gene/protein/whatever stands for. The dozen or so people on the face of the planet who start on the same page as you when you mention the akd complex. Personally, I'd rather be intelligible to the people I talk to this stuff about. I'd rather avoid requiring that someone have a biology degree to be able to understand what I'm doing with my life.

At the same time, that ultimately depends more on individuals as communicating people than on the works they actually produce. And any decent discussion on output would have to include not just the pointless but the problematic things that arise out of different fields as well. CFC's anyone?

Personally, I liked that the guy points out that deconstruction actually is formulaic on some level, because it explains what these people are actually *doing* with their lives, whether I agree with its utility or not. And I give him credit for bothering to get involved at all. No, he's not an expert in lit crit, but he was interested enough not to just chuck it all and keep laughing at people who are certainly as intelligent as he is. He's got his own job...it's not even as if he's taking this for a grade like some of us did, he's really doing this of his own volition here.

And yeah, I'm still confused about where the social sciences fit into this....
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on January 11th, 2004 12:01 am (UTC)
In what way are you confused? I sure as hell don't know where they fit in - I thought we were strictly on humanities turf here.
masui on January 11th, 2004 08:02 am (UTC)
Re: Well, *I* liked it....
except that he goes into the experiment with the hypothesis that it's full of crap.

and i really can't respect whatever comes out of that aim all that much.
I mean, a little, but it's going to effect the way he thinks about it the whole time.