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Reply to Pollitt's Nation Article

Andrew Ross

The Nation.

Letter to the Editor:

It's not surprising that the Sokal hoax has generated strong feelings. When the left deceives the left, no one expects a teddy bears' picnic. But some good will come out of the science wars once folks get beyond the caricatures and look at the science studies scholarship from a public interest perspective.

The same goes for the left, although Katha Pollitt's intemperate sketch of postmodern affinities among the academic left will not get us very far along that road. Sure, there exists something like a sectarian postmodernism. Like most sectarian left tendencies, it is marginal, its influence is overestimated, its insider language is open to ridicule, and its heyday is long over. That's not the whole story, however, at least if I have Pollitt right. There also exists at least two generations of committed scholars and activists who have, in some fashion, been influenced by postmodern thought. It's not so easy to dismiss this broad, and diverse, population.

They include many, myself among them, who share Pollitt's (and Sokal's) dislike of obscurantism, and who make it their business to write public journalism. They include many more who read both Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky: Cornel West and Adolph Reed; Judith Butler and Cherrie Moraga; Bruno Latour and Ruth Hubbard; Patricia Williams and Manning Marable; Nancy Fraser and Ellen Willis; James Clifford and Ward Churchill; Stuart Hall and Herb Schiller, just to name a few combinations. They include some who write philosophy and political economy in the tradition of Marx himself i.e. complex, learned analysis, not readily available to the general reader, but essential to the continuity of left theory. They include many more who have contributed passionately to the struggles for affirmative action, reproductive rights, sexual freedoms, environmental justice, and economic equity.

Many of them already read The Nation. Many more should, and probably would if they discerned a little more in the way of hospitality than Pollitt offered.

Andrew Ross

P.S. Those who wish to read the Social Text editorial response to the Sokal hoax, can go to our website, at http://www.designsys.com/socialtext, or write for a copy to Social Text, CCACC, 8 Bishop Place, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.

andrew ross 212-998-8538
american studies program, NYU
285 mercer st. 8th flr.
new york, ny 10003

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Last Modified: 24 November, 1997