Study Guide

Julia Kristeva - The Big Academic Sham, in Theory

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The Big Academic Sham, in Theory

When two theoretical physicists took aim at the loosey goosey use of science by bigwig French intellectuals, they stirred up a real tempest in a teapot. In Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers' Abuse of Science, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accuse theory luminaries such as Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, and Gilles Deleuze of playing fast and loose with science in order to "prove" their arguments. Sokal and Bricmont claim these folks don't know diddly about science and math and should stick to their own theoretical territory—which is, in fact, theory.

What really chaps the hide of Sokal and Bricmont is that readers and theory-heads buy these intellectuals' nonsensical extrapolations because they know even less than the theorists who are foisting the ideas on them.

The examples are legion—and you can see this site for more detail, but here's one rich quotation from a review of the book:

They investigate with scrupulous care the things that Lacan, Irigaray, Kristeva, Latour, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Virilio, and others have had to say about mathematics, physical science, and technology, and more particularly the use they have made of concepts borrowed from mathematics and the physical sciences in their writings about language, literature, the human psyche, feminism, contemporary culture etc. (Source.)

What about Kristeva? Well, these physicists look at her extensive use of mathematical axioms to prove her case for the very formation of poetic language. Among many other indictments, they say of Kristeva that "she makes no effort to justify the relevance of the mathematical concepts to the fields she is purporting to study—linguistics, literary criticism, political philosophy, psychoanalysis." Ouch!

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