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What was Gilles Deleuze like as a person?

He did not like to furnish autobiographical information, claiming: "Academics' lives are seldom interesting." His fingernails were extremely long, but when it was suggested that this was a sign of eccentricity, he replied, "I haven't got the normal protective whorls, so that touching anything, especially fabric, causes such irritation that I need long nails to protect them." In the same interview he said that the fact that he did not travel did not mean an absence of "inner journeys."

Gilles Deleuze collaborated with Pierre-Felix Guattari to write several philosophy books that often used recondite terminology (AP)

Gilles Deleuze collaborated with Pierre-Felix Guattari to write several philosophy books that often used recondite terminology (AP)

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).

What do Deleuze and Guatarri mean by their bizarre terminology?

Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Pierre-Felix Guatarri (1930-1992) took pride in using new terms that they did not define, but which they thought readers would understand. "Mutant universes of value" seems to refer to new systems of value that are unconventional and popular. Examples in our time would be interests in vampires in entertainment, the growing importance of electronic communication, and the change in household pets from mere pets to members of the families with whom they live.

The importance of townhall meetings in the United States would be an example of "micropolitics." "Schizoanalysis," which suggests contradictory meanings, was used to refer to Deleuze and Guatarri's project of getting rid of the idea of the Freudian idea of the unconscious as a way of explaining human behavior. "Becoming-woman" refers to the fact that contemporary women are actively involved in defining their own social roles.

The question left by Sokal's work is this: "Does such political condemnation of an entire field of thought respect hard-won principles of academic freedom? And if standards of political worthiness are being applied to postmodernism, is that application fair, given over two and half centuries of philosophy that has been largely irrelevant to its immediate political contexts?

While it's true that much postmodern work was sparked by widespread student protests in France in 1968, so has much politically ineffective, if not irrelevant, work in the history of philosophy been inspired by instant political events. Moreover, political criticism of postmodernism requires some understanding of its intellectual, post-structuralist context, which Sokal seems to lack. Finally, the issue of political relevance is separate from the question of whether a body of work is nonsense.

 
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