“The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct”: Sokal-Like Hoax Returns to Test Academic Left’s Moral (Architecture + Orthodox Gender Studies) and Cripples It.

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Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear…….Toxic hypermasculinity derives its significance directly from the conceptual penis and applies itself to supporting neocapitalist materialism, which is a fundamental driver of climate change, especially in the rampant use of carbon-emitting fossil fuel technologies and careless domination of virgin natural environments. We need not delve deeply into criticisms of dialectic objectivism, or their relationships with masculine tropes like the conceptual penis to make effective criticism of (exclusionary) dialectic objectivism. All perspectives matter.

The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

This paper should never have been published. Titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” our paper “argues” that “The penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.” As if to prove philosopher David Hume’s claim that there is a deep gap between what is and what ought to be, our should-never-have-been-published paper was published in the open-access (meaning that articles are freely accessible and not behind a paywall), peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences.

Assuming the pen names “Jamie Lindsay” and “Peter Boyle,” and writing for the fictitious “Southeast Independent Social Research Group,” we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what “post-structuralist discursive gender theory” actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.

This already damning characterization of our hoax understates our paper’s lack of fitness for academic publication by orders of magnitude. We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

Why did Boghossian and Lindsay do this?

Sokal exposed an infatuation with academic puffery that characterizes the entire project of academic postmodernism. Our aim was smaller yet more pointed. We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified.

In the words of Graham Harman,

We kind of deserve it. There is still far too much empty jargon of this sort in the humanities and social sciences fields. Quite aside from whether or not you find the jargon off-putting, it leads to very bad writing, and when writing sounds bad it’s a much more serious sign of bad thinking than most people realize. (Nietzsche was on to this a long time ago, when he said that the only way to improve you writing is to improve your thoughts. Methodologically, I find the converse to be true as well. It is through trying to make your thoughts more readable that you make them better thoughts.) And again, I was one of the few people in the environs of continental philosophy who deeply enjoyed the original Sokal hoax. Until we stop writing (and thinking) like this, we will be repeatedly targeted by such hoaxes, and they will continue to sneak through. We ought to be embarrassed by this, and ought to ask ourselves some tough questions about our disciplinary norms, rather than pretending to be outraged at the “unethical behavior” of the hoax authors.

Endless turf war….

The authors worry that gender studies folk will believe that, “…men do often suffer from machismo braggadocio, and that there is an isomorphism between these concepts via some personal toxic hypermasculine conception of their penises.” But I don’t really see why a gender studies academic wouldn’t believe this… This is NOT a case of cognitive dissonance.

As much as the authors like to pretend like they have “no idea” what they are talking about, they clearly do. They are taking existing gender study ideas and just turning up the volume and adding more jargon. As if this proves a point against the field.

The author’s biases are on their sleeve. Their arguments are about as effective as a Men’s Rights Activist on Reddit. By using a backhanded approach in an attempt to give a coup de grace to gender studies academaniacs, all they’ve done is blow $625 and “exposed” the already well known issue of pay-to-play. If they wanted to make an actual case against the “feminazis” writ large, I suggest they “man” up and actually make a real argument rather than show a bunch of fancy words can fool some people. Ah!, but far from being a meta-analytical multiplier of defense, quantum homeomorphism slithers through the conceptual penis!

Mania of the Revisionary Narratives. Note Quote.

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For if Lacan is either symptom or agent of a theoretical turn, it is far from the “care of the self” imagined by this proposition because the French return to Freud explodes any ready notion of self-care. It also removes the props for identity politics. Poststructural psychoanalysis has been the key provocation of a turn to the identity-destabilizing work of the unconscious that, along with an unlikely ally in historicism, has galvanized the transition from transparent to unstable, internally divided, and overdetermined identity categories. The tense debates of the 1980s and 1990s between feminism and poststructuralism have without much fanfare yielded to a tacit consensus that, rather than invalidating politically engaged analysis, psychologically and historically mobile conceptualizations of gender make intellectual and political alliances possible across previously hostile discursive terrains. As self-difference opens the door to other differences, theorizations that emanate from one racial or sexual or class turf are more likely to provoke new questions than old accusations from competing grounds. We are just at the beginning of a generative process that encompasses not only the particularization that results from historical refinement and nuancing but also the elaboration of revisionary narratives: what happens when the dark plantation son retells the story of the primal horde, or when the racial shadow falls across the mirror stage, or the queer encounters and reforms the melancholic? Fracturing the subject has also poked holes in the walls that have divided psychoanalysis and history, launching a potentially interminable analysis.

Catharsis

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One of the ways in which Freud was able to reveal repressed unconscious representations in discourse was through a technique popularly known as “the talking cure”. Coined by “Anna O” – a patient of Josef Breuer, Freud’s family doctor – the talking cure was considered by Freud to be effective in the treatment of hysteria. The technique, not unlike the notion of “free association”, requires the patient to say out loud whatever comes to her/his mind no matter how insignificant or superficial it may seem. By encouraging the patient to concentrate on putting neurotic or psychotic experiences into words, the uninterrupted narrative flow allows the psychoanalyst to reconstruct the patient’s unconscious mind. Focusing on unconscious representations revealed during discourse, the psychoanalyst is able to perceive lapsus or other manifestations of the unconscious which may escape the patient’s field of perception. At the discretion of the psychoanalyst, these unconscious representations are in turn brought to the patient’s attention who will ideally be able to understand the root of an undesired behavior. According to Freud, becoming familiar with the exact nature of these neurotic and psychotic behaviors makes it possible for the patient to suppress them.

The success of the talking cure, also known as the cathartic method, depends on the patient’s ability to put thoughts into words through the free assembly of signifiers. Through extensive research on the connection between the spoken word and the idea it represented, Freud argued that the organization of words, as well as their subsequent verbalization, have a direct link not only with cognition, but also with kinesthetics. In their analysis of the case of “Anna O.” – a patient of Breuer suffering from acute hysteria – both Freud and Breuer recognized the therapeutic benefits of the cathartic method. During the course of her hysteria, the patient essentially repressed the anguish of her father’s death into the unconscious mind, the cathexis of which resurfaced as a series of somatic manifestations. The patient’s symptoms, ranging from partial paralysis to severe coughing, completely disappeared toward the final phases of her treatment, much to the surprise of Freud and Breuer. They later attributed the patient’s cure to her verbalized reenactment of emotionally charged scenes associated with her father’s death, in the same manner as Aristotle remarked on the soothing effects of catharsis.

Further elaborating on Freud’s relationship between thoughts and words, Lacan perceived the unconscious mind. as being comprised of individual signifiers. Combining Saussurian linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis, Lacan’s perception of the unconscious mind expounded on the ‘word-presentations’ mentioned by Freud in The Ego and the Id. Whereas Freud conceived the unconscious mind as containing “thing-presentations” that could be verbalized in the conscious mind, only by their subsequent passage through the pre-conscious, Lacan demonstrated that these “thing-presentations” already behave like signifiers without first having to filter through the pre-conscious. Lacan points out that the unconscious is manifested not only in speech through unconscious lapsus, but also in dreams, qualified by Freud as “the via regia to the unconscious”.

Because dreams both contain verbal cues and take on characteristics of linguistic tropes such as metaphor and metonymy, Lacan reasons that the unconscious must be structured like a language. To support this theory, he likens metaphor and metonymy to two functions of Freud’s dream-work: condensation and displacement, respectively. According to Lacan, metaphor behaves like condensation in that a signifier belonging to a particular signifying chain can be substituted with a new signifier from a different signifying chain in order to be reassigned a new meaning. Thus, metaphor appears both in narration and in dreams when a signifier-word is attributed a meaning other than that which is normally associated with it. In this way, condensation acts as a censoring agent to protect the ego from images, drives or impulses that it has repressed. Closely related to metonymy, dreams can also be censored through displacement. Instead of compressing images, drives or impulses into a metaphor as is the case with condensation, displacement disguises unconscious representations by replacing a repressed signifier in a signifying chain with another signifier from the same chain. This implies that the signifier that has been replaced in the signifying chain is related to the new signifier, as is the case of metonymy which uses only one part of a thing to describe the whole thing.

It would appear that, like language, the unconscious is governed by the relationship between individual units, in much the same way that words are governed by the rules of grammar and tropes to create meaning. In this respect, not only are unconscious and conscious signifiers similar to one another, but Freud’s cathartic method further corroborates their equivalence. With the assistance of a psychoanalyst, the “talking cure” brings unconscious drives, impulses and the images they create to the conscious realm through psychic discharge, which in the context of psychoanalysis, takes on the form of verbalized discourse. Instead of remaining confined to the unconscious and surfacing in unexpected or undesired ways through psychotic or neurotic behaviors, unconscious cathexes are channeled into language which, as Freud pointed out in “Words and Things”, is closely related to somatic activity. If unconscious cathexes can be converted into speech instead of into debilitating behaviors, then the connection between elements of the unconscious and those of the conscious can be clearly established.

But, for Freud, art is (as is love) an attenuated and inhibited form of sexuality that has a “mildly intoxicating quality of feeling.” The full power of human affects is exhausted and satisfied only in sexuality, “the prototype of all happiness.” For Lacan, the deepest passions are not localized or limited to genital sexuality, but engage the entire corporeal being in many, unpredictable forms of jouissance. Art is a way into jouissance. By doing violence to its own structural and meaning-making properties, art bewilders, perplexes, shocks, or enraptures, causing a “resonating of the body” that the speaking being (‘parlêtre’) wants and enjoys, even at the price of pain or anxiety. It has techniques and ways of making interventions that psychoanalysis can perhaps adapt for producing an encounter in the analysand with his or her own wordless real. By contrast, though Freud praised art for preceding psychoanalysis in understanding our psychic constitution, he did not see it as having any kind of direct application or usefulness for analytic practice. For the late Lacan, psychoanalysis is no longer the Freudian “talking cure” but a search for new paths to accomplish a kind of tuning of the jouissance that underlies all thought and discourse.

Lyotard and Disruption at the Limits of Reason

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Delegitimation shook the centric stronghold of authority and legitimacy, while dedifferentiation sought out to shake the foundations of hitherto known differences between centers and margins by erosive action within these differences themselves.

Initially, Lyotard made an attempt to fuse the Freudian libido, the fictional/theoretical energy with philosophy, through which he understated the transformations wrought out in the social-political realm, that he managed to free himself of the totalizing aspect of Marxism. His commitment to ontology of events that mingles with the multiplicities of forces and desires at work in any social, political and economic scenarios.

Lyotard’s main thesis revolves around the fact that representations always lag behind events, and this is where he tries to establish the relationship between reason and representation. He has always doubted reason’s efficacy for it operates within the confines of structures, wherein sensual perceptions and psychological factors like emotions and sentiments are always ostracized. The fact of the matter is that one could never work with reasons with such factors stringently kept aside. What is discursive is reason and representation, and what is figural is rational representation. The figural is what encompasses sensual perceptions and psychological factors like emotions and sentiments. Furthermore, he gets metaphorical with flatness and depth mapping onto discourse and the figural respectively. Subsequently, what is aimed at is the deconstruction of the two categories of discourse and figural that happen to be opposites, since, doing this would break the shackles of logic of discourse and strip the status of prerogativeness from discourse. With difference corresponding to the figural, the difference between discourse and figural is measured in difference rather than in opposition. What distinguishes difference from opposition is that in the former, the binary is characterized by strict opposites, whereas in the latter, two terms in the binary are mutually implicated, but ultimately irreconcilable. Disruption at the limits of reason is what characterizes difference implying that no rational system of representation can ever enjoy the status of being closed or complete, and cannot escape the impacts of the figural that it tries so hard to keep out.

Ideology

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For Žižek, we are not so much living in a post-ideological era as in an era dominated by the ideology of cynicism. Adapting from Marx and Sloterdijk, he sums up the cynical attitude as “they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it”. Ideology in this sense, is located in what we do and not in what we know. Our belief in an ideology is thus staged in advance of our acknowledging that belief in “belief machines”, such as Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses. It is “belief before belief.”

One of the questions Žižek asks about ideology is: what keeps an ideological field of meaning consistent? Given that signifiers are unstable and liable to slippages of meaning, how does an ideology maintain its consistency? The answer to this problem is that any given ideological field is “quilted” by what, following lacan, he terms a point de capiton (literally an “upholstery button” though it has also been translated as “anchoring point”). In the same way that an upholstery button pins down stuffing inside a quilt and stops it from moving about, Žižek argues that a point de capiton is a signifier which stops meaning from sliding about inside the ideological quilt. A point de capiton unifies an ideological field and provides it with an identity. Freedom, i.e, is in itself an open-ended word, the meaning of which can slide about depending on the context of its use. A right-wing interpretation of the word might use it to designate the freedom to speculate on the market, whereas a left-wing interpretation of it might use it designate freedom from the inequalities of the market. The word “freedom” therefore does not mean the same thing in all possible worlds: what pins its meaning down is the point de capiton of “right-wing” or “left-wing”. What is at issue in a conflict of ideologies is precisely the point de capiton – which signifier (“communism”, “fascism”, “capitalism”, “market economy” and so on) will be entitled to quilt the ideological field (“freedom”, “democracy”, Human rights” and so on).

Žižek distinguishes three moments in the narrative of an ideology.

1. Doctrine – ideological doctrine concerns the ideas and theories of an ideology, i.e. liberalism partly developed from the ideas of John Locke.

2. Belief – ideological belief designates the material or external manifestations and apparatuses of its doctrine, i.e. liberalism is materialized in an independent press, democratic elections and the free market.

3. Ritual – ideological ritual refers to the internalization of a doctrine, the way it is experienced as spontaneous, i.e in liberalism subjects naturally think of themselves as free individuals.

These three aspects of ideology form a kind of narrative. In the first stage of ideological doctrine we find ideology in its “pure” state. Here ideology takes the form of a supposedly truthful proposition or set of arguments which, in reality, conceal a vested interest. Locke’s arguments about government served the interest of the revolutionary Americans rather than the colonizing British. In a second step, a successful ideology takes on the material form which generates belief in that ideology, most potently in the guise of Althusser’s State Apparatuses. Third, ideology assumes an almost spontaneous existence, becoming instinctive rather than realized either as an explicit set of arguments or as an institution. the supreme example of such spontaneity is, for Žižek, the notion of commodity fetishism.

In each of these three moments – a doctrine, its materialization in the form of belief and its manifestation as spontaneous ritual – as soon as we think we have assumed a position of truth from which to denounce the lie of an ideology, we find ourselves back in ideology again. This is so because our understanding of ideology is based on a binary structure, which contrasts reality with ideology. To solve this problem, Žižek suggests that we analyze ideology using a ternary structure. So, how can we distinguish reality from ideology? From what position, for example, is Žižek able to denounce the New Age reading of the universe as ideological mystification? It is not from the position in reality because reality is constituted by the Symbolic and the Symbolic is where fiction assumes the guise of truth. The only non-ideological position available is in the Real – the Real of the antagonism. Now, that is not a position we can actually occupy; it is rather “the extraideological point of reference that authorizes us to denounce the content of our immediate experience as ‘ideological.'” (Mapping Ideology) The antagonism of the Real is a constant that has to be assumed given the existence of social reality (the Symbolic Order). As this antagonism is part of the Real, it is not subject to ideological mystification; rather its effect is visible in ideological mystification. Here, ideology takes the form of the spectral supplement to reality, concealing the gap opened up by the failure of reality (the Symbolic) to account fully for the Real. While this model of the structure of reality does not allow us a position from which to assume an objective viewpoint, it does presuppose the existence of ideology and thus authorizes the validity of its critique. The distinction between reality and ideology exists as a theoretical given. Žižek does not claim that he can offer any access to the “objective truth of things” but that ideology must be assumed to exist if we grant that reality is structured upon a constitutive antagonism. And if ideology exists we must be able to subject it to critique. This is the aim of Žižek’s theory of ideology, namely an attempt to keep the project of ideological critique alive at all in an era in which we are said to have left ideology behind.

Žižek and the Disintegration of the Big Other and its Return. Note Quote.

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One key aspect of the universalization of reflexivity is the resulting desintegration of the big Other, the communal network of social institutions, customs and laws. For Žižek, the big Other was always dead, in the sense that it never existed in the first place as a material thing. All it ever was (and is) is a purely symbolic order. It means that we all engage in a minimum of idealization, disavowing the brute fact of the Real in favor of another Symbolic world behind it. Žižek expresses this disavowal in terms of an “as if”. In order to coexist with our neighbors we act “as if” they do not smell bad or look ridiculous. The big Other is then a kind of collective lie to which we all individually subscribe. We all know that the emperor is naked (in the Real) but nonetheless we agree to the deception that he is wearing new clothes (in the Symbolic). When Žižek avers that “the big Other no longer exists” is that in the new postmodern era of reflexivity we no longer believe that the emperor is wearing clothes. We believe the testimony of our eyes (his nakedness in the Real) rather than the words of the big Other (his Symbolic new clothes). Instead of treating this as a case of punctuting hypocrisy, Žižek argues that “we get more than we bargained for – that the very community of which we were a member has disintegrated” (For They Know Not What They Do). There is a demise in “Symbolic efficiency”. Symbolic efficiency refers to the way in which for a fact to become true it is not enough for us just to know it, we need to know that the fact is also known by the big Other too. For Žižek, it is the big Other which confers an identity upon the many decentered personalities of the contemporary subject. The different aspects of my personality do not claim an equal status in the Symbolic – it is only the Self or Selves registered by the big Other which display Symbolic efficiency, which are fully recognized by everyone else and determine my socio-economic position. The level at which this takes place is not that of “reality” as opposed to the play of my imagination – Lacan’s point is not that, behind the multiplicity of phantasmatic identities, there is a hard core of some “real Self”, we are dealing with a symbolic fiction, but a fiction which, for contingent reasons that have nothing to do with its inherent structure, possesses performative power – is socially operative, structures the socio-symbolic reality in which I participate. The status of the same person, inclusive of his/her very “real” features, can appear in an entirely different light the moment the modality of his/her relationship to the big Other changes. (The Ticklish Subject: the Absent Center of Political Ideology).

Besides the construction of little big Others as a reaction of the demise of the big Other, Žižek identifies another response in the positing of a big Other that actually exists in the Real. The name Lacan gives to an Other in the Real is “the Other of the Other”. A belief in an Other of the Other, in someone or something who is really pulling the strings of society and organizing everything, is one of the signs of paranoia. Needless to say that it is commonplace to argue that the dominant pathology today is paranoia: countless books and films refer to some organization which covertly control governments, news, markets and academia. Žižek proposes that the cause of this paranoia can be located in a reaction to the demise of the big Other: Paradoxically, then, Žižek argues that the typical postmodern subject is one who displays an outright cynicism towards official institutions, yet at the same time believes in the existence of conspiracies and an unseen Other pulling the strings. This apparently contradictory coupling of cynicism and belief is strictly correlative to the demise of the big Other. Its disappearance causes us to construct an Other of the Other in order to escape the unbearable freedom its loss encumbers us with. Conversely, there is no need to take the big Other seriously if we believe in an Other of the Other. We therefore display cynicism and belief in equal and sincere measures.

Schizoid{Entropy:Particle Physics :: Political:Negentropy}. Drunken Risibility

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In my philosophical and physics studies, negentropy (entropy in reverse engineered mode) was always pitted against entropy, and smuggling one notion of order and disorder into the other discipline was always a matter of convenience, rather than coming to terms with the inconvenient truth. In sum, entropy, randomness, disorder or stochasticity of the universe always increases, and alas! my dream of correlating the entropy of the astrophysics with the illusory negentropy of the political theory often finds denominations in dreams and abstruse generalisations. This has been a contention I have been flirting over with for a quite a few number of years, where the idea of capitalism is likened to a crossing the threshold as in event horizon of a black hole. I have in the past dabbled with politics and black holes and similarities, if not congruence. Somewhere, like a narcissist, I am aware of brutal sense I make, albeit in no accordance with any affiliations. Thats in accordance with turmoiling. Talking of the turmoil, its the media that makes the schizoid of me in tune with working the grassroots, protest movements, the vacuous and increasingly disillusioned left. We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life. The young have seen their “activist” participatory democracy turn into its antithesis – nihilistic virtues, and nothing is more vicious than this. This is the extension of the practice of “murketing” to political action itself. Pop fascination with the role of social media in protest movements only strengthens this development. Sartre had said “Hell is the OTHER People”, but WE have convinced ourselves of Schizophrenia. QED.