Criticism of Pomo Feminism
Over at K’s blog, she writes:
Bitch responds: Is Cultural Feminism Pomo Feminism?
But, anyway, Iâ€™d say that, no, cultural feminism is rather different from postmodern thought. And I will warn you: While I wouldnâ€™t say Iâ€™m a postmodernist, I certainly didnâ€™t spend my time studying it and in fact mostly wrote criticisms of it, I do have a big problem when I read dismissive crits of their work.
Since I posted recently about the Sokal prank and the uncharitable (and inconclusive) attack it represents, the above jogged my memory of an interesting paper by Gabriel Stolzenberg, a mathematician at BU, in response to the attacks on postmodernism by various physicists and philosophers (Sokal, Weinberg, Nagel, to name a few). The paper is Reading and Relativism (PDF) and is a wonderful read and includes this section, a quotation from Luce Irigaray by Thomal Nagel, which Nagel then goes on to criticize:
Is E = Mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary tous. What seems to me to indicate the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes thefastest….â€
Stolzenberger comments on Nagel’s response:
This may send Nagel into convulsions but how does he know that it is her problem not his? How can he possibly know unless he knows what Irigaray means by â€œsexedâ€ and â€œprivilegesâ€ and that her reference to speeds is not an ironic metaphor? If he does not know these things, he is kidding himself. But if he does know, why does he not tell us, so we can join in the fun of mocking Irigaray? Instead of fulfilling his obligation as a philosopher to give us a reason to believe what he says, Nagel encourages us to trust that whatever Irigaray means is refuted by the authorsâ€™ â€œcomically patientâ€ observation,
Whatever one may think about the â€œother speeds that are vitally necessary to us,â€ the fact remains that the relationship E = Mc2 between energy (E) and mass (M) isexperimentally verified to a high degree of precision, and it would obviously not be valid if the speed of light (c) were replaced by another speed.
This shows especially poor judgement. If Sokal and Bricmont think that something privileged can easily be replaced, there is little reason to suppose that they have any idea of what Irigaray is talking about. And by mocking her instead of giving us an argument, Nagel makes it appear that neither does he.
As Stolzenberger points out elsewhere, a kinder reading of the text might produce other interpretations which make a lot more sense than the narrow sense in which Nagel uses it.
I am reminded of Heidegger’s famous “science does not think” essay. One reading of Irigaray’s text may yield a point similar to the one Heidegger makes.
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