Pearcey: Postmodern Jargon

“To adhere to the dictates of political correctness, students often have to master a complex new vocabulary. One father was stunned to find that he could not understand his daughter’s textbook on film studies – despite the fact that he was a professional film critic. The book was densely packed with terms such as heterogeneity, narratology, and symptomology. The father picked two of them – fabula and syuzhet – and asked his daughter if she knew what they meant.

‘They’re the Russian formalist terms for “story” and “plot”,’ his daughter replied.

‘Well then, why don’t they use “story” and “plot”?’

‘We’re not allowed to. If we do, they take points off our paper.’

The jargon is so thick, jokes Andrew Delbanco of Columbia University, that eventually people talking about Romeo and Juliet will not be able to say: ‘They fell in love and got married.’ Instead they might say something like this: ‘Privileging each other as objects of heterosexual desire, they signified their withdrawal from the sexual marketplace by valorizing the marital contract as an instrument of bourgeois hegemony.’

In fact, a physicist named Alan Sokal did say something like that in a notorious hoax. In 1996 he composed a paper made up entirely of nonsense phrases couched in postmodern jargon. Under the title ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Mechanics,’ he submitted the piece to a humanities journal. Completely taken in, the editors published the piece. They have yet to live down the infamy.”

– Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo (p. 241)

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