MIMETIC CRITICISM: the descent into deconceptualisation

By their own admission Boghossian and Lindsay did not even try to fabricate a real hoax. They did make a half-hearted attempt with an obscure journal, their article was rejected, thus proving that scholarly standards were working correctly. So they settled for a vanity publication, which proved nothing much, except that vanity is vanity.

Their vanity prank was then blown up out of all proportion by its auratic association with its predecessor and model, the Sokal hoax.

In other words, form prevailed over substance, mimesis over critical thinking. Yet even in their imitation of Sokal’s gesture they debase it. Sokal’s article was a contribution by a physicist to a humanities journal, and talked critically about physics (one of Sokal’s areas of expertise). Boghossian and Lindsay’s contribution did not mobilise any expertise, and so did not purport to criticise their own fields.

Their gesture was doubly imitative and doubly empty. They imitated the form of Sokal’s original hoax (but only very superficially, as shown above) and they imitated the jargon and ideas of Gender Studies (also only superficially, as shown in the preceding posts).

This double-sided mimesis is governed by the same phenomenon of deconceptualisation on both sides. Boghossian and Lindsay do not read articles for concepts and arguments, they read for slogans and stereotypes. They do not even understand, or care about, the difference between their vanity prank and Sokal’s hoax, and they certainly do not try to understand anything about Gender Studies. Their prank « looks like » Sokal’s hoax, Gender Studies papers « look silly », and that is enough for them.

Let us imagine a prominent thinker in Gender Studies, Judith Butler for example, feeling the need to reply to Boghossian and Lindsay’s spoof. What is there to reply to? Nothing, a puerile prank does not constitute an argument. The authors do not even try to initiate a rational discussion. They are shadow-boxers, beating the air with what they think is a knockout punch and crying out that the adversary is KO. But there is no adversary, just a business transaction that is equally cynical on both sides.

Boghossian and Lindsay are also imitating themselves. They have been earning money and street rep by dealing out knockout blows to fundamentalist Christianity. It never even crosses their mind that Gender Studies might present a different type of adversary, one that is considerably more complex in its reasoning and more sophisticated in its concepts than their own atheist vade mecum.

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