Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Post-modernism

A friend recommended that I read an essay by Donna Haraway, the acclaimed post-modern feminist,: A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. I've read some Haraway before, and I'm smart enough to recognize that she's a widely respected thinker, but apparently I'm not sharp enough to bushwhack my way through her prose. Like the writings of most post-modernists, what she has to say goes right over my head. Why, in heaven's name, must post-modernists use 1000 words to say what might be better said in 10.

I'll jab my finger at a random paragraph:
The third distinction is a subset of the second; the boundary between physical and non-physical in very imprecise for us. Pop physics books on the consequences of quantum theory and the indeterminacy principle are a kind of popular scientific equivalent to Harlequin romances as a marker of radical change in American white heterosexuality; they get it wrong, but they are on the right subject. Modern machines are quintessentially microelectronic devices; they are everywhere and they are invisible. Modern machinery is an irreverent upstart god, mocking the Father's ubiquity and spirituality. The silicon chip is a surface for writing; it is etched in molecular scales disturbed only by atomic noise, the ultimate interference for nuclear scores…(etc.)
I'm sure this means something to Haraway, and may mean something to the many people who applaud her work, but to my simple, scientifically-trained mind it sounds like an Alan Sokal spoof.

I'm perfectly willing to concede that my bafflement results from my own intellectual shortcomings. Maybe I'm just not practiced enough in the language of post-modernism. So I'll stick with the two languages I undertsand: 1) that of simple, direct description of empirical observations; and 2) poetry. Let the post-modernists have their opaque prose. I'll stick with luminous language of Prospero:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.