‘Intellectual Impostures’ by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

A slightly unconventional choice for Monthly Recommendation #2:

A book, also published under the title of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, by two physicists: Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.  The beginning of the preface explains it all…

The publication in France of our book Impostures Intellectuelles appears to have created a small storm in certain intellectual circles. According to Jon Henley in The Guardian, we have shown that “modem French philosophy is a load of old tosh.” According to Robert Maggiori in Libération, we are humorless scientistic pedants who correct grammatical errors in love letters. We would like to explain briefly why neither is the case, and to answer both our critics and our overenthusiastic supporters. In particular, we want to dispel a number of misunderstandings.

The book grew out of the now-famous hoax in which one of us published, in the American cultural-studies journal Social Text, a parody article crammed with nonsensical, but unfortunately authentic, quotations about physics and mathematics by prominent French and American intellectuals. However, only a small fraction of the “dossier” discovered during Sokal’s library research could be included in the parody. After showing this larger dossier to scientist and non-scientist friends, we became (slowly) convinced that it might be worth making it available to a wider audience. We wanted to explain, in non-technical terms, why the quotes are absurd or, in many cases, simply meaningless; and we wanted also to discuss the cultural circumstances that enabled these discourses to achieve such renown and to remain, thus far, unexposed.

The hoax article wasn’t just crammed with silly quotes, it was completely nonsensical.  You can read more about bit by clicking here.  In fact, you can read the whole Intellectual Impostures book by clicking on this link.

Current Favourite Part:

The part where the English-speaking reviewers pretend that this is only a French problem.

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