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How did Alan Sokal attack postmodernism?

New York University physicist Alan Sokal wrote a spoof of postmodern scholarship titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” which was published by the postmodern journal Social Texts in its 1996 spring/summer “Science Wars” issue. When his article came out, Sokal simultaneously confessed his hoax in the academic gossip journal Lingua Franca. He referred to his Social Text article as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense,” which was “structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics” that recent postmodernist academics had written. Why did Sokal do this? He explained it this way:

I’m an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class. And I’m a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover some of them.

In other words, besides thinking that, and showing how, postmodern thought was of poor intellectual and scholarly quality, Sokal did not believe it served a worthy political purpose. Sokal, along with Jean Bricmont, a physicist professor and philosopher of science, further developed the critique implied by Sokal’s article in their book Fashionable Nonsense (1997).


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