Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Canadian “radical cyberfeminist”

"Quantum Feminist Mnemotechnics: The Archival Text, Digital Narrative and the Limits of Memory"

Thanks to David Thompson in "Peddling Stupidity" we learn that the above string of characters is the title of the doctoral dissertation written and presumably defended by Carolyn Guertin to earn her PhD at the University of Alberta. Dr. Guertin is now a Senior McLuhan Fellow at the University of Toronto.

Her thesis is an outstanding example of the kind of postmodernist nonsense passed off as serious scholarship in humanities faculties in universities across the western world. A few representative samples of the verbal mayhem:

From the Overview: "Evolving out of the evocative echoes between three countercultural discourses, hypertext, cyberfeminist theory and the Canadian feminist school of writing known as fiction-theory, my dissertation undertakes a study of the function of memory in digital narrative.......Quantum feminist mnemotechnics incorporate the archival nature of the database into the text's structure and interface, privileging self-reflexive narrative and the spatio-temporal elements of postmodernism."
From Chapter 1: "The digital archive is a model well suited to our times and to a cyberfeminist agenda precisely because it is an efficient tool for inclusive dealings with large quantities of disparate information. The archive, as defined by Jacques Derrida in his book Archive Fever , is born equally of the compulsion to remember and of fears of forgetting. .....
.......Cyberfeminist embodiment, as a 'database of intensities', is an exploration of the senses and of hybridity (as opposed to simple dualisms or binary oppositions) in the suspended present moment, which engender a new awareness of the body--not a loss of body boundaries as Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" advocates."
From Chapter 2: "These are what I call quantum feminisms. Quantum feminisms are the new visual perspectives--or, more accurately, orientations--of the age of the matrix."
And in Conclusion (this is good): "The whole concept of reaching a conclusion or drawing conclusions is, of course, antithetical to the nature of this kind of literature as much as to my aims in this work as a whole. However, it is perhaps appropriate to tuck in some of the loose threads and tie together all of this as some kind of a patchworked piece.........
.........I have explored matrices, folds, knots, all of them, perhaps only adding to their complexity rather than managing to unravel them. The only way to truly unsnarl irreconcilables of course is to twing, as Óh-T'bee demonstrates. I have twinged? Twung? Twisted? Danced as hard as I could through raising arguments, shapes and states--probes, McLuhan would have called them--that cut across and through these constructions in space and time: the quantum, browsing, becoming, agency, noise, flow, différance , interface, objects, events, duration, intervallic space, topology, complexity, ecstasy, incorporation, inscription, translation, heterotopic space, hierophanies, hysteria, hybridity, chora, translation, transformance, interference, entanglement, chaos, Hilbert space, speed, resonance, rupture, rapture, wanderlust, subjectivities, all kinds of systems, including the circulatory one of the body itself.....
.............In mnemonic space, there is no past or future, only intertwined intervals. The twing, however, is irreducible. Transformance is the only door out."

Aarrrgghhh! Guertin’s dissertation consists of over 120,000 words of sustained bafflegab. It’s densely packed with loopy jargon; names are dropped by the dozen, and; there are many vague references to mathematical and physical concepts such as Hilbert space, fractals and, of course, quantum physics and relativity - all with little or no discernable justification.

There’s much more in David Thompson’s post. It’s a great critique with additional insights in the many comments and in this follow-up post.

What I find absolutely fascinating is the utter brazenness. Preparing and presenting such gibberish requires extraordinary "chutzpah" (to quote Mr. Thompson). There’s not much doubt Guertin is an intelligent woman; and it’s unlikely she’s completely deluded (nuts). So perhaps her intelligence resembles that of a sophisticated con-artist, passing off (successfully in her own radical milieu) incomprehensible drivel as genuine scholarship. It must take monumental nerve (and a six-figure salary doesn't hurt) to do this with a straight face year in and year out - to her students, her colleagues and her conference audiences. It’s really quite an astounding phenomenon!

But Carolyn Guertin and many thousands like her have been taught to think and express themselves this way. They submit their doctoral dissertations for review and earnestly defend them to win their PhDs (ie other PoMo flakes nod their agreement). They are hired to teach and fill prestigious scholarly positions. Entire faculties in nearly every university in North America and Europe are dedicated to spreading their postmodernist pathology as far and wide as possible.

You do have to wonder how this loony business got started and how and why it continues. As David Thompson observed:
"There are simply too many incompetents, ideologues and charlatans in the PoMo humanities to dismiss them as anomalies. That so many of them survive, even flourish, suggests a dysfunction of the academic environment they inhabit."
At best it’s a fraudulent waste of time and billions of taxpayer dollars. At worst it’s a kind of intellectual anarchy that does serious harm - to young student minds and in the longer run to society in general.


PGP said...

Could be summed up as Gobbledygook!

The problem is that there are so many so called academics in the system who have passed this kind of piffle off as learned writing that there remains virtually no one to call BS on authors like the distinguished (ahem!) Dr. Guertin......

Good Post!

Blazing Cat Fur said...

This is so sad. Were I a parent I would have to think long and hard about the value of a University education for my child. Exposure to this type of nonsense is simply a waste of money.

Brad in Waterloo said...

blazing cat: As a recent grad from a humanities program (Marriage and Family Therapy, M.A., '06) I feel like it's worth defending at least the concept of a university education, if not the actual institution as presently constituted. I consider myself a critical and conservative thinker. Having immersed myself in po-mo thinking and moved on, I am grateful for the many (but dwindling in number) sane minds remaining in academia who continue to fight the good fight so that those who follow in THEIR footsteps, like myself, can stand against the like of this nut Guertin.