Tag: Sokal’s hoax

Kind of Genealogy

My friend Robert asked me to pass over “the materials and bibliography I give to my students”, because he has to renovate his introductory lecture about cultural history. When I pieced it together I realized how subjective it is, how limited: It’s from a German point of view and West-European centered.
I realized (again?) that history is always the history of history writing – a little like wine: Grapes alone are no wine, it’s made in the cellar.
(In the following I link to the english wikipedia only, the specialized literatur I gave to Robert is mostly in German, and who wants to read a foreign Literaturliste on a blog?)

I always begin with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and give the students the introduction of the Deutsche Mythologie. From here it starts. All their work – and the science they founded from the beginning onwards – is closely connected with the idea of “Nation”, that rules the debate in one way or another throughout the entire 19th century in Central Europe, until today. Of course there are predecessors and sooner or later one has to mention Vico and Herder. A direct scholar of the Mythologie is Mannhardt, whose publications have had some influence. One must have a glance at the historic mainstream of the 19th century to understand the reaction to it. Mainstream means Historismus, historism, and this is inseparable connected with Leopold von Ranke.
Two famous erudites must be mentioned, who come from the side of art history and wrote lasting works: Burckhardt with his Kultur der Renaissance, and Huizinga with his Herbst des Mittelalters.
At the beginning of the 20th century a certain unease with the historical science and its predominant historism lead to new views and trys. In Germany this is connected with the name of Lamprecht, in France it’s Berr. At the same time we see a new science forming, the answer to the modern times is sociology, as history was the answer of the romantics to the changing world. Lamprechts Deutsche Geschichte stands at the beginning of a fierce controversy that only ends with his death and because of WWI. The very sad thing about all this is, that he was one of the few German erudites with international connections, to France, to the UK, to America, who actually started a program of exchange. The war and Lamprechts untimely death put an end to this efforts, its one of the missed chances of the German, even the European Gelehrtenrepublik.
Lamprecht met Berr once at a congress, further contact was not possible. Berr is the founder of the Revue de synthese, and early authors of this magazine were Febvre and Bloch – the founders of Les Annales.
Les Annales and the group around it, the Annales school, started as outsiders and became fully accepted over the course of their history. Its the most important group in the field of social history in 20th century Europe.
This side of the Rhine the Frankfurter Schule started to grow in the 1920s, only to come to an end 1933. They emigrated, some came back after 1945, some not. After Lamprechts death this is the second catastrophe for the German Gelehrtenrepublik, the terrible Herrschaft des Hausknechts, a desaster for the German university. Again international contacts were cut, an exchange took not place, and an appropriate critical acclaim of Les Annales and all other developments in theory and cultural studies was delayed until the late 1960s, when a new generation loudly rised their voice, the generation of 1968 (May 1968 see here).
The major developments as structuralism, post-structuralism and post-modernism, ideas of Foucault, the modern sociology, semotics, the two-cultures-debate etc.etc. – whether there is humbug involved or not (think Sokal !) – it all was received or absorbed in the last 40 years only, no major German players on the field.
This is a very rough outline of the historical development of European Ethnology, rooted in German Volkskunde. I throw at my students Kaschuba‘s Introduction to European Ethnology, Scharfe‘s Menschenwerk (but that may be a little too sophisticated for a beginner, its a fine read) and the Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften, 3 volumes, 2003 (Rezension here).
I know of no comparable English work, but would very much like to learn about a comparable description – any ideas?

Sokal

This Friday Sokal’s hoax was the theme. It’s now around ten years ago that Alan Sokal published a nonsensical text in a journal to expose the postmodern sensefree jargon to the intelectual world.
It is a good example for explaining to students that they should not believe in “holy” authorities: Science is not a religion, it is science. And there are no sacred, holy texts. A good friend started to study (again) in the beginning of the ninties and in the sociology-seminar they were meditationing about texts by French heavy-weight Lacan. Lacan once wrote, that the aim of his writing is not be understood – well, he made it.
The postmodern nonsense became unbearable – at least for Sokal – when they started to put mathematical or physical theories in their theories as explanations for human behavior and other humanities. To make it worse, these mathematical and other theories were not understood by the people that borrowed them. Recommended literatur is Sokal/Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsens. The german edition is not longer available.