May 14, 2004

W(h)ither “Social Text”? If you’re

W(h)ither “Social Text”?

If you’re anything like us, dear reader, you lost interest in the chi-chi neo-Marxist journal “Social Text” years ago. After all, this was the brilliant rag that unwittingly published physicist Alan Sokal’s vicious parody of postmodernist pseudo-science. In this infamous piece, Mr. Sokal opined, among other idiocies, that physical reality was a social construct. Somehow, this didn’t compel the “editorial collective” at “Social Text” to dismiss the article; rather, they blithely published the piece and were horrified to discover that Mr. Sokal had duped them.

As a result, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” figured that the game was up for the academic superstars who edited “Social Text”; previously a widely read magazine with great influence over international public discourse, “Social Text” would now become less popular than a “Noam Chomsky Sings the Blues” LP. We posited that the White House, which formerly had a direct line to Stanley Aronowitz and the other professorial eminences associated with “Social Text,” didn’t even bother sending the “collective” a holiday greeting card.

As far as we were concerned, “Social Text” had become the Jim Bakker of American higher education. The only reason anyone would grab a copy of the rag would be for kindling.

Recently, however, a correspondent from our Hackensack (NJ) office sent us an article from the Autumn 2002 number of “Social Text.” Immediately, we were aghast: Duke University Press still publishes this magazine? This must amount to the most expensive manufacturing of future toilet paper in the history of academic publishing. But, it is postmodern toilet paper, which means that it’s multi-ply.

The article in question deals with the American response to September 11, and bears the unsavory title “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots.” The piece is the handiwork of Ms. Jasbir K. Puar, an assistant professor of women’s studies and geography at Rutgers University, and Mr. Amit S. Rai, who teaches so-called “cultural studies” and so-called “literary theory” at the Eugene Lang New School for Social Research.

Right off the bat, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” were willing to admit that Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai came up with a catchy title—especially for an academic paper. It almost sounds like the beginning of a rib-tickling joke: “A monster, a terrorist, and a fag walk into a bar….”

But, alas, the article proved disappointing. Its first sentence asks: “How are gender and sexuality central to the current ‘war on terrorism’?” Gee, we don’t know; this query really grabs our attention. Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai continue:

This question opens on to [sic] others: How are the technologies that are being developed to combat “terrorism” departures from or transformations of older technologies of heteronormativity, white supremacy and nationalism? In what way do contemporary counterterrorism practices deploy these technologies, and how do these practices and technologies become the quotidian framework through which we are obliged to struggle, survive, and resist?

Hold on a second: Those are the queries that Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai believe that their original question, as they delicately put it, “opens on to”? Whilst we were perusing the first paragraph, a few other questions came to mind: What kind of strings did Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai have to pull to get this pseudo-academic drivel published? And how does their scholarly lucubration reflect on the prestigious universities these two charlatans represent? We guess those questions are too, in a word, quotidian.

Also, dear reader, note the obligatory use of scare-quotes around the word terrorism. This is an example of poststructuralist moral vacuity at its finest: After all, Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai undoubtedly opine, who’s to say that the killing of three thousand civilians is “terrorism”? How, in fact, does the destruction of the World Trade Center differ, from, say, an episode of “Cheers”? Touché, touché!

We know what you are asking yourself, dear reader: What do Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai aim to prove in their article? Well, they inform us that "indeed, as we hope to show, gender and sexuality produce both hypervisible icons and the ghosts that haunt the machines of war.” Oh. Okay. One Question: Do gender and sexuality also haunt the machines of wretched prose? From our cursory reading of this example of scholarship, we’d suppose so.

Essentially, Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai attempt to demonstrate that the American media after September 11 have helped to form “an aggressive heterosexual patriotism” that turns the unfortunate Osama bin Laden into a monster, a terrorist, and (you guessed it) a fag.

Personally, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” can understand Ms. Puar’s and Mr. Rai’s grievances. After all, we prefer our patriotism to be dainty and sexually ambiguous. “Aggressive heterosexual patriotism” is so 1980s.

As reasonable as all this is, the article still left us with a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. For one, it’s so sloppy. One sentence begins “For the past thirty years, since 1968, the Western academy….” Um, guys, you wrote this article in 2002. We hope you can realize that your math leaves a little bit to be desired. But mathematics is, we suppose, patriarchal and heteronormative anyway.

Then there’s their mention of “the lauding of national 'gay heros' [sic].” Do you mean as opposed to gay hoagies? Come on, Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai: You guys are coasting. If you want to offer an example of postmodern derring-do in this sentence, you should refer to “gay hero(e)s.” That way, you refer both to Superman and submarine sandwiches. Haven’t years of poring over the work of Fredric Jameson taught you anything?

Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai even inform their reader(s) that “LGBTQ” stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.” Geez: Everyone who’s spent a nanosecond on a college campus knows this! Why don’t Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai solve the hidden mysteries of TV (“television”) and TBA (“to be announced”)?

We also savored this phrase from the piece: “the very notion of the normal psyche, which is in fact part of the West’s own heterosexual family romance.” NB (“nota bene”) the use of “in fact”; Ms. Puar and Mr. Rai employ it as a synonym for “abracadabra.”

As if these inanities weren’t enough to rankle us, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag” ends “by offering readings from the terror episode of The West Wing.” Boy, they sure did put a lot of work into this piece. From the looks of the TV (“television”) program alone, it appears as if this article required at least a half-hour of painstaking research. Or is an installment of “The West Wing” a full hour? If so, you’re probably thinking what we’re thinking: Somebody deserves tenure.

Posted at May 14, 2004 12:01 AM | TrackBack