Postmodernism as Gibberish



After 31 years at the bar I believe I am an expert on gibberish, being in a profession which takes great pride in being able to take relatively simple concepts and present them in an arcane gibberish which almost no one would read or write if they were not being paid to do so.  However, I think the postmodernists have us beat, judging from this post by Oregon Muse at Ace of Spades:

Last week in the comments, Pave Low John proffered this craptacular sentence from a post-modern book he is required to read:

“This three-part phallogocentric negation and sublation of history can be grasped easily. Yet even such a sublation, of history as timing through the mediation of law–the vanishing moment of sequential human temporality into a catachresis named Time, is not the final hortatory instrument of the text.”

Yeesh. My spell-checker just had a nervous breakdown. Into this grotesquely viscous, near-inpenetrable morass of verbal diarrhea waded FenelonSpoke, after first donning a hazmat suit. She miraculously survived and brought back the following as a translation:

The way the penis (men) has/have kept women subjugated and silent by unjust laws is both very bad and very apparent, and this theme transcends history as it is portioned off into neat linear, sequential segments.

The question is, if that’s what she meant, then why didn’t she say it that way to begin with? My theory is that postmodern obfuscation is a device used by incompetent authors to disguise their dreadful writing. My other theory is that the academic disciplines that have been ruined by postmodernism (i.e. the “soft” “sciences”) have gotten all puffed up and full of themselves and think that they’re somehow Serious You Guys Legitimate if they produce reams of text couched in indecipherable jargon just like, for example, those geeky guys over in the math building, what with all their fancy-ass equations with squiggly lines, Greek letters and stuff that look so awesome because we don’t know what they’re saying. So you shouldn’t be able to read our stuff, either, but you can take our word for it, it’s Totally Super Cool.

But see, here’s the difference: the postmodernists got punk’d real bad back in 1996 by physicist Alan Sokal.   He submitted his essay Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity to the peer-reviewed postmodernist journal Social Text, and they printed it. But hilarity ensued when Sokal admitted in another publication that it was a giant load of horse doots. As a hoax, he just strung together a bunch of gibberish using postmodernist lingo, and they bought it. But you couldn’t do this to a math journal (although I suppose you could try). They’d fact-check your butt back to square one and send you packing if you pulled something like Sokal did. As difficult as it can be, mathematics does make sense. I’m not sure that post-modernism does.

You morons might enjoy reading Chip Morningstar’s famous essay How To Deconstruct Almost Anything: My Postmodern Adventure, written in 1993 at the dawn of the internets. The gist of this piece is that the reason pomo analysis sounds like crap is that most of it is crap and this is because pomo crap is generated by pomo crap academics who’ve never had to talk to anyone other than other pomo crap academics, so they’ve developed this inbred little pomo crap language that’s all but unintelligible to anyone outside the pomo crap academic community. Actually, Morningstar’s phrasing was a lot more congenial than mine, but you get the idea. And he does say sometimes the pomo academics ask a worthwhile question, or try to get you to look at something in a way you perhaps wouldn’t have thought of yourself, so he doesn’t write them off completely. Like I just did.

And every time you reload this page, you get a new, randomly-generated postmodern essay.

Go here to read the rest.  The post modern essay generator is a hoot!  Go here to see a sample.  This brings to mind an episode in the first volume of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, where a treaty of alliance is negotiated.  The treaty is lengthy and filled with very baroque verbiage.  One of the characters does a painstaking analysis of the treaty and learns that it means nothing, neither party to the treaty ultimately agreeing to do anything.   Shakespeare’s phrase, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, came to my mind as I read that passage as a teen-ager.  In regard to post-modernism I think much the same could be said.



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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Obviously it’s not just those whole label themselves postmodernist who speak in ridiculous lofty terms to feign intellectual superiority. Chesterton captured the mentality – and those who are drawn to it – in what I would consider the best part of The Man Who Was Thursday (1908). Hilarious stuff, IMO. 🙂

    A man assumed the identity of a famous professor. Here’s part of his explanation of what happened when he and the real professor encountered each other:

    “I need hardly say there was a collision. The pessimists all round me looked anxiously from one Professor to the other Professor to see which was really the more feeble. But I won. An old man in poor health, like my rival, could not be expected to be so impressively feeble as a young actor in the prime of life. You see, he really had paralysis, and working within this definite limitation, he couldn’t be so jolly paralytic as I was. Then he tried to blast my claims intellectually. I countered that by a very simple dodge. Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I replied with something which I could not even understand myself. ‘I don’t fancy,’ he said, ‘that you could have worked out the principle that evolution is only negation, since there inheres in it the introduction of lacuna, which are an essential of differentiation.’ I replied quite scornfully, ‘You read all that up in Pinckwerts; the notion that involution functioned eugenically was exposed long ago by Glumpe.’ It is unnecessary for me to say that there never were such people as Pinckwerts and Glumpe. But the people all round (rather to my surprise) seemed to remember them quite well, and the Professor, finding that the learned and mysterious method left him rather at the mercy of an enemy slightly deficient in scruples, fell back upon a more popular form of wit. ‘I see,’ he sneered, ‘you prevail like the false pig in Aesop.’ ‘And you fail,’ I answered, smiling, ‘like the hedgehog in Montaigne.’ Need I say that there is no hedgehog in Montaigne? ‘Your claptrap comes off,’ he said; ‘so would your beard.’ I had no intelligent answer to this, which was quite true and rather witty. But I laughed heartily, answered, ‘Like the Pantheist’s boots,’ at random, and turned on my heel with all the honours of victory. The real Professor was thrown out, but not with violence, though one man tried very patiently to pull off his nose. He is now, I believe, received everywhere in Europe as a delightful impostor. His apparent earnestness and anger, you see, make him all the more entertaining.”

  2. Roger Kimball does a nice takedown of pomo gibberish in Rape of the Masters. It focuses on fine art, but I found the same strain of thinking in my other humanities classes in college. By graduation, I actually became pretty competent at writing pomo essays. If you realize you speaking total nonsense, it’s a fun creative exercise. The only thing it really taught me was how to spot a pomo bulls—er.


  3. I started college in 1985, and graduated in 1994 after taking a lot of time off for military and family duties. By the time I left it was beginning its takeover of my alma mater’s philosophy department. Today, it is complete, and that’s a really sad thing. Instead of teaching people how to think, they teach people what to think. The misuse of language to obscure rather than elucidate is a real tragedy in higher education. This sort of thing has strong origins in Marxism and in Nietzsche’s nihilism. I guess they figure that by talking in code so that no one can understand them they can better pull down existing society and remodel it the way they want. But they sure sound stupid doing it. I remember back in the 90’s watching Living Color on TV where they poked fun at post-modernist gibberish. It was hilarious. Now-days if you say “hilarious” they’ll accuse you of slandering Hillary Clinton because the butchering of language has diminished the ability to understand English.

  4. I am reminded of Pascal and the “proximate power.”
    “This was a new and unknown word to me. Up to this moment I had managed to understand matters, but that term involved me in obscurity; and I verily believe that it has been invented for no other purpose than to mystify. I requested him to give me an explanation of it, but he made a mystery of it, and sent me back, without any further satisfaction, to demand of the Jansenists if they would admit this proximate power. Having charged my memory with the phrase (as to my understanding, that was out of the question), I hastened with all possible expedition, fearing that I might forget it, to my Jansenist friend and accosted him, immediately after our first salutations, with: “Tell me, pray, if you admit the proximate power?” He smiled, and replied, coldly: “Tell me yourself in what sense you understand it, and I may then inform you what I think of it.” As my knowledge did not extend quite so far, I was at a loss what reply to make; and yet, rather than lose the object of my visit, I said at random: “Why, I understand it in the sense of the Molinists.” “To which of the Molinists do you refer me?” replied he, with the utmost coolness. I referred him to the whole of them together, as forming one body, and animated by one spirit.
    “You know very little about the matter,” returned he. “So far are they from being united in sentiment that some of them are diametrically opposed to each other. But, being all united in the design to ruin M. Arnauld, they have resolved to agree on this term “proximate,” which both parties might use indiscriminately, though they understand it diversely, that thus, by a similarity of language and an apparent conformity, they may form a large body and get up a majority to crush him with the greater certainty.”

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