Phalluses, Assholes & Dawkins' favorite book

Ingrid Multhopp zippycat at
Thu Dec 3 11:45:26 PST 1998

Hey all!

Well, it looks like I'm going to have to take the Henwood challenge and read at least 100 pages of Lacan before I get to have my fun with "Fashionable Nonsense." That's prob. a good thing, since I sometimes fear I've become hopelessly middlebrow in my reading tastes since college, preferring authors like Dawkins & Henwood whose prose styles are suspiciously lucid and unchallenging on a sentence by sentence basis. And someone else on this list has assured me that Lacan is not in fact jargonistic or impenitrable (and how could he be, with all that handy phallus talk?) :0)

Still, after having eyed and pawed over "FN" yesterday in a bookstore, I just don't get it yet what all the fuss and irritation is about. From my quick skim it seemed that S&B are pointedly not trying to trash Lacan's entire psychanalytic theory, but merely "Lacanian mathematics," which are garbage as mathematics and at least arguably bombastic, obfuscatory and inapt as psychoanalytic metaphors. Now just a few words in defense of myself and other "assholes":

Sam Pawlett wrote:

Dawkins is an asshole too. In his introduction to the latest edition of Maynard Smith's(ex-marxist, ex-CP'er) Theory of Evolution, he praises the use of game theory in evolutionary biology as a bulwark against the "political correctness" that has invaded the discipline. I suspect this is a cheap shot at Levins&Lewontin's work as well as others like Sandra Harding. Says a lot about the background assumptions of game theory too.

Asshole Ingrid: I too reflexively become annoyed any time the phrase "political correctness" is applied, but I sympathisize with Dawkins' use of the phrase with respect to his own discipline. Natural selection "hardliners" like Dawkins, Dennett, Maynard Smith are constantly being blasted, not because their theories don't make empirical or theoretical sense, but because of the bogus metaphors (social Darwinism) or reductio al absurdium conclusions that certain simpletons might draw from them. And the disagreements between Dawkins and Lewinton, Levin, Gould, etc. are both overstated in the press and addressed quite openly by all involved. I have no idea what you are talking about regarding the "background assumptions" of game theory. I've just reread a chapter from "The Extended Phenotype" regarding game theory and I remain as dull and clueless as ever.

"Frances Bolton (PHI)" wrote:

> I particularly like the way Dawkins shows his complete ignorance of
Lacan by talking about "erect penises" instead of "the phallus."

Yes, but in the direct passage he is citing involving the lovely imaginary number proof Lacan does not refer to "the phallus," but (if I recall correctly--I didn't buy the book yet) instead "erect organs" (or was that "erectile organs")--in any case, I was able to forgive Dawkins his translation and his failure to connect to Lacan's important contributions..

Dennis R Redmond wrote:

Critique isn't simply about disagreeing with other thinkers, it's using their own insights to further the critical impulses

buried in their own works. Bricmont & Sokal just don't do this, their attitude is, "These folks know nothing about the sciences" and basically

slam the post-structuralists for not being MIT logicians.

Well, I must admit that I didn't realize that critiques need always be so positive and helpful. I still believe for now that B&S were quite measured in their "slam" on post-structuralists; and I still think it's perfectly valid to point out where certain posties misapply and misuse mathematics and the natural sciences in their arguments.

Alec Ramsdell wrote:

Steve Perry wrote:

>In other words, a cigar is never *really* just a cigar.

At least we know that within Freudian and Lacanian pyschoanalysis a phallus is not a clitoris or a penis, erect or otherwise. I don't read any epistemic relativism in the quote from Lacan. It's about, broadly, a psychoanalytic theory of signification.

Yes, but (aside from the point that Lacan was at least being unclear in cite mentioned) the discussion of that quote had nothing to do with "epistemic relativism"--which is addressed in another section of the book. That quote was simply used to point out that Lacan's use of mathematical metaphors, whatever their value in putting forth a psychoanalytical theory of signification--and if it works for you, then great!--are complete garbage as mathematics.

Anyway, I really don't mean to dismiss postie analyses (how could I, given my ignorance?), but I suppose I've just come out as a flaming "left conservative" with possibly crypto-fascist tendencies.


Ing, the singing sphincter

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