0451: "Impostor"

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0451: "Impostor"

Postby joee » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:01 am UTC

Image

Alt text: If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction.

http://xkcd.com/451/


I hated analysis of books and articles in high school. I would make stuff up, and get the highest mark in the class randomly.
Last edited by joee on Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:03 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
Hi glasnt.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Linux0s » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:02 am UTC

For the WIN!
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby TheHand » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:04 am UTC

I would give this comic a most discerning eye and literary critique...

but somehow I have lost the nerve. :(

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Drake Zure » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:08 am UTC

Hopefully someday we can make language a complete impediment to uderstanding.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby aeiss » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:09 am UTC

You can find many many things from anything.
For example, that candle. It symbolizes passion. That table. Stability.

woo .

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby GodShapedBullet » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:10 am UTC

joee wrote:I hated analysis of books and articles in high school. I would make stuff up, and get the highest mark in the class randomly.


Yeah, curse those English teachers for giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that you actually meant the criticism you wrote.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby toysbfun » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:11 am UTC

Reminds me of a paper Calvin wrote: The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes

I'd love to do that. The problem is my hair, weight, and casual dress make me look more like a hacker from the 1970s than any sort of art critic.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby GodShapedBullet » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:13 am UTC

I think the key to impersonating grad students of another discipline is not knowing the subject material. Rather, it is knowing the jokes about the subject material. Because most grad students don't sit around all day discussing their thesis.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby syckls » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:14 am UTC

aeiss wrote:You can find many many things from anything.
For example, that candle. It symbolizes passion. That table. Stability.

woo .


Of course an untrained commoner such as yourself would "find" such mundane explanations. The candle on the table is an obvious symbol of the abusive but fleeting power of man over woman.

Joking aside, this is a well deserved smackdown of what I have always thought to be pure apophenia.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Bullislander05 » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:14 am UTC

Cue the vandalism and locking of the wikipedia article for deconstruction in 3...2...1...
Last edited by Bullislander05 on Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:16 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby toad2000 » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:15 am UTC

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction

For those that don't want to waste the time typing.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby skyo » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:16 am UTC

Sounds like a very Feynman-inspired hobby. Reminds me of this story.
Last edited by skyo on Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:17 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
floop.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:17 am UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:This is unfortunately too true of lit. My teacher last year, while wonderfully engaged in her subject, and a great person, could be fooled completely. Especially since she had one of those "every view is right" attitudes.


That's a flaw in teaching more than anything, though. Certainly that kind of relativism isn't part of, say, deconstruction. Derrida wrote some of the most vicious "tear people apart" essays I've ever read.

The biggest problem that literary criticism tends to face is the assumption people have that anybody can do it. If you're a physicist, people tend to assume you know tons of stuff they don't, and must be smart and talented. If you read literature and talk about it, people tend to assume that they can do that, so they must be able to do your job as well as you. When the occasional cranks come up, they get shot down quickly.

The problem is that way too many people in literary criticism have gotten themselves horribly paranoid that this might be true, and so they're nervous about denouncing someone as a complete idiots for fear that everybody else might turn on them and call them a complete idiot.

Which is depressing, because good literary criticism is actually difficult and subtle and complex, and not everybody can do it. It's just that most of the field is too cowardly to actually stand up for this fact, and so we get flooded with various cranks at every level because we can't be bothered to take the risk of shouting them down.

Bleh. XKCD fills me with depressive rage today.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby toad2000 » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:18 am UTC

I considered adding an "In popular cuture" section to the wiki, but then got lazy and knew it was only a matter of time before somebody else did, then it got changed back.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:18 am UTC

toad2000 wrote:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction

For those that don't want to waste the time typing.


Though to be fair, the problem there is more that the article is a piece of crap than that Deconstruction is.

Which isn't surprising. Though there are certainly a lot of stupid deconstructionists in the world, there are an even higher percentage of stupid Wikipedia editors. :)

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby pyroman » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:20 am UTC

As an engineering major I would have to fully agree with this comic. It doesnt take us long to figure out that you dont know jack = ) on the other hand I have been able to carry on higher level conversations with my friend who is an english major in his field where as he would never be able to do the same.


Regardless xkcd for the win!!
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby mordacil » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:21 am UTC

toad2000 wrote:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction

For those that don't want to waste the time typing.

I actually did my senior project in high school on deconstruction.

Worst. Decision. Ever.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby JCCyC » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:27 am UTC

syckls wrote:
aeiss wrote:You can find many many things from anything.
For example, that candle. It symbolizes passion. That table. Stability.

woo .


Of course an untrained commoner such as yourself would "find" such mundane explanations. The candle on the table is an obvious symbol of the abusive but fleeting power of man over woman.

Joking aside, this is a well deserved smackdown of what I have always thought to be pure apophenia.


(Looks up "apophenia") That is the cold, hard truth. I believed so when I was forced to write "interpretations" in school, I believe it now, and I will believe it the day I die. And thanks for giving me a neat way of saying "bullshit."

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby agavegoose » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:28 am UTC

A nicely timed comic (#451) to comment on literary criticism...

On Bradbury -- from the journal of "Literary Criticism" itself (found by a quick google search):

"It is about the deconstruction of our chronological sense of time, which has now become meaningless as the material imagination of fire--"

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby WhyBother » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:30 am UTC

mordacil wrote:
toad2000 wrote:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction

For those that don't want to waste the time typing.

I actually did my senior project in high school on deconstruction.

Worst. Decision. Ever.


Not quite the worst. A friend of mine is getting his MA in Philosophy, studying almost exclusively deconstructionism.

The really sad thing is, I've spent hours listening to him talk about his studies, and it sounded like complete and utter bullshit. The Action Philosophers comic on Derrida cleared it right up.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Timequake » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:31 am UTC

This reminds me of http://xkcd.com/435/, except that here the linguists figure it out more quickly than sociologists.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:33 am UTC

agavegoose wrote:A nicely timed comic (#451) to comment on literary criticism...

On Bradbury -- from the journal of "Literary Criticism" itself (found by a quick google search):

"It is about the deconstruction of our chronological sense of time, which has now become meaningless as the material imagination of fire--"


That's a bit unfair. I just found the article you're talking about (http://books.google.com/books?id=rnWY_t ... &ct=result )

The paragraph in question is completely coherent and sensible. My one quibble is that it uses a popularized notion of "deconstruct" that is fine when some cooking show talks about a deconstructed salad, but is a bit problematic to use in actual literary criticism. But the passage makes sense and does a fine job of describing the story in question. There's plenty of crap ramblings to be found in literary criticism, but that passage isn't bad at all.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Kwiz » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:38 am UTC

GodShapedBullet wrote:
joee wrote:I hated analysis of books and articles in high school. I would make stuff up, and get the highest mark in the class randomly.


Yeah, curse those English teachers for giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that you actually meant the criticism you wrote.


There's a distinction to be made between "giving students the benefit of the doubt" and "treating every bit of commentary seriously." English teachers shouldn't be feeding academic parasites or encouraging useless sophistry.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Shay Guy » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:39 am UTC

The TV Tropes article is clearer than The Other Wiki's, though I imagine it's something of an oversimplification.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby laranzu » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:40 am UTC

I have to say, post-modernists are a very easy target for mockery.
(Google 'my postmodern adventure' for a classic takedown by an online virtual worlds designer & coder.)

But hey, they deserve it.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:44 am UTC

HAHA! I show to my Art History/Philosophy grad student buddy.

Also, I present:
http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

Random philosophy paper generator. Fooled a number of queer theorists.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby synthgene » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:45 am UTC

Reminds me of my highschool years, all the papers I wrote were essentially randomly generated by markov chains. I got A's on all of them. Teacher never figured it out.
Hey, why does the chemistry lab smell like almonds?

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:46 am UTC

Shay Guy wrote:The TV Tropes article is clearer than The Other Wiki's, though I imagine it's something of an oversimplification.


Not even that, really. Deconstruction has entered the popular lexicon as a term, basically, for disassembly. It's used all over in foodie circles, where a "deconstructed salad" is a piece of lettuce, a thin slice of radish, and a dollop of salad dressing all spread out and separated on a plate, or some similar thing. The TV Tropes entry basically gets at that meaning - taking something apart and then presenting it splayed out.

Deconstruction as a philosophical concept is a horrifically complex thing that I, someone who has a Derrida chapter in my dissertation, couldn't come close to a good encyclopedia entry on. But, at its most basic, it suggests that language is complex and imprecise, and that a text never conveys its meaning straightforwardly, but that it always undermines and quietly conflicts with itself. And that closely reading a text will lead to the text falling apart - not in the "doesn't make any sense" sort of way, but in the "makes a conflicting and confused sense."

Which is still a massive, massive oversimplification, but it's at least describing the academic concept.

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Books and Cats

Postby canadrian » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:47 am UTC

This reminds me of an email signature I wrote and have been using ever since I deleted my English minor and went strictly into History:

"Dissecting literature is a lot like dissecting a cat; it's a grisly, meticulous, and above all, tedious operation, at the conclusion of which one is left with a repulsive mess where once there was an unadulterated and altogether much more desirable whole."

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby krynd » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:47 am UTC

Carl Sagan wrote:Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.


Is it safe to assume we can add "Literature" to the list?
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby GodShapedBullet » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:48 am UTC

Kwiz wrote:
GodShapedBullet wrote:
joee wrote:I hated analysis of books and articles in high school. I would make stuff up, and get the highest mark in the class randomly.


Yeah, curse those English teachers for giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming that you actually meant the criticism you wrote.


There's a distinction to be made between "giving students the benefit of the doubt" and "treating every bit of commentary seriously." English teachers shouldn't be feeding academic parasites or encouraging useless sophistry.


I don't think English teachers are as concerned about creating the next generation of literary critics as they are trying to teach their kids to write well. And treating every bit of commentary seriously is part of that. If a student wants to fill their paper with a bunch of garbage they don't mean but they are good enough at writing to defend it well, then they sort of deserve high marks.

It's silly to assume that high school English papers are anything like actual, graduate level literary analysis. It's been a while since high school, but I don't remember any of my book reports being sent to academic journals.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby voyou » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:50 am UTC

Random philosophy paper generator. Fooled a number of queer theorists.


No it didn't.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby ATCG » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:54 am UTC

The Sokal hoax is the classic example of passing off random noise for profundity. It's easy to gloat over the gullibility of social scientists, but even hard scientists aren't immune to falling for nonsense.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:59 am UTC

GodShapedBullet wrote:
I don't think English teachers are as concerned about creating the next generation of literary critics as they are trying to teach their kids to write well. And treating every bit of commentary seriously is part of that. If a student wants to fill their paper with a bunch of garbage they don't mean but they are good enough at writing to defend it well, then they sort of deserve high marks.

It's silly to assume that high school English papers are anything like actual, graduate level literary analysis. It's been a while since high school, but I don't remember any of my book reports being sent to academic journals.


Well, and this opens a whole 'nother can of worms. Because the humanities are terribly understood by the state legislatures, who basically understand (or at least think they understand), say, chemistry as a field that makes stuff. English departments are thought of as writing instruction departments. This has a very, very poor correspondence with what English departments do in their research, and only a moderate correspondence to what happens in any English class that is not basic comp.

This is a real tightrope that I walk when I teach a low level English class like Intro Film Studies, which is somehow simultaneously supposed to serve as, well, an intro to film studies and a composition class and a general critical thinking class and... gah. It's a mess. That, combined with an obnoxious view that grading papers is somehow "wholly subjective" and that there "are no right answers" makes teaching these classes a real pain. Hold a hardline view and tell students that they're wrong and you get crucified for "grading students on whether they agree with you." Which is a problem that physics classes rarely have.

So somehow we end up trying to simultaneously teach how to write, teach actual content and facts, and teach a general sort of critical thinking that involves a respect for nuance and complexity and subtlety. It's a bizarre juggling act, and because the budgets and legitimacy of the field are already under such heavy fire, it's one where if you screw it up, you get hammered fast and hard.

The relationship between the high school and college level of this is an even thornier pit, but suffice it to say, I think this is one of the many areas where literary criticism needs to grow a pair.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby bennyprofane » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:04 am UTC

Sad face.

I think the ability to deduce BS for people with more relative fields depends on the person. Some pomo people are easy to mislead, but I don't think you could, for instance, fool someone like Harold Bloom. Now, granted, he's done his grad work and all, of course, but still. I think it's just a reflection of how little the people in question actually know about their own fields.

Oh well. Maybe I'm just sad and insecure. That's most likely it.
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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:06 am UTC

ATCG wrote:The Sokal hoax is the classic example of passing off random noise for profundity. It's easy to gloat over the gullibility of social scientists, but even hard scientists aren't immune to falling for nonsense.


For what it's worth, I find the Bogdanov Affair by far the more troubling of these two for a couple of reasons.

1) It involves an actual crank as opposed to a hoax. Academic peer review is designed to deal with cranks, but there's a general assumption of good faith that makes it more vulnerable to hoaxes.

2) The Bogdanovs published in multiple peer-reviewed journals. Social Text, where Sokal published his paper, wasn't a peer reviewed journal, and it openly sought to publish provocative papers - in other words, it actively sought high risk publications.

3) There's a depressing lack of evidence that the Bogdanovs received any serious scrutiny or skepticism from the journals they published in. Social Text nearly rejected Sokal's paper, and only accepted it because they were doing a special issue on the science wars, and felt that Sokal's paper, as problematic as it appeared (from a humanities perspective, as opposed to from a science perspective), provided an interesting perspective.

Which is not to say that Social Text were not a bunch of idiots to not have a math or science guy look over the paper before they published it. They were, and the paper should never have seen print. But it's often represented as a much bigger screw-up than it frankly was.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby voyou » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:07 am UTC

GodShapedBullet wrote:I think the key to impersonating grad students of another discipline is not knowing the subject material. Rather, it is knowing the jokes about the subject material.


I think there's a lot of truth in this, although it might go rather further than this. I wonder if the jokes told by people working in a particular area are a particularly complicated form of the ways of thinking characteristic of that subject, the kind of tacit knowledge involved in studying that subject.

This, incidentally, explains why the post-modern generator is so impressive to computer scientists (or anyone else approaching it from outside of critical theory): because postmodernist writing (like any other writing) depends on a lot of tacit knowledge that doesn't appear in the text itself, something assembled at random will look, to someone without the relevant tacit knowledge, indistinguishable from something assembled intentionally. It's not unlike my inability to tell the difference between a legal move and an illegal one in a game of American football - I can't see the rules, but someone who knows the rules can see a rule being broken.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby kriel » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:08 am UTC

"Holy crap, 5 minutes since it's been posted and 35 replies already?!"

... oh. Stupid timezones ><

And strangely, wikipedia hasn't locked it yet. Though, you know. There have been at least 3 times the link has been taken out.

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby PhilSandifer » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:11 am UTC

voyou wrote:
GodShapedBullet wrote:I think the key to impersonating grad students of another discipline is not knowing the subject material. Rather, it is knowing the jokes about the subject material.


This, incidentally, explains why the post-modern generator is so impressive to computer scientists (or anyone else approaching it from outside of critical theory): because postmodernist writing (like any other writing) depends on a lot of tacit knowledge that doesn't appear in the text itself, something assembled at random will look, to someone without the relevant tacit knowledge, indistinguishable from something assembled intentionally. It's not unlike my inability to tell the difference between a legal move and an illegal one in a game of American football - I can't see the rules, but someone who knows the rules can see a rule being broken.


Yes. Exactly. I could easily be taken in by a particle physics generator. It's just that there's not enough overlap between "people who could write a good particle physics generator" and "people who would find it funny to do so."

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Re: "Impostor" Discussion

Postby Lunch Meat » Fri Jul 18, 2008 5:13 am UTC

Hmm, I wonder how long it would take to fool a theology student...


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