Monday, March 29, 2010

"Orientalist" Schoolgirl Effortlessly Crushes Gruesome Bloated Zombie Witch Creature.

Alaina Podmorow is 13 years old. She wrote this article in response to a masters' thesis by the University of British Columbia's Melanie Butler, Canadian women and the (re)production of women in Afghanistan, an eruption of "post-colonial feminist theory" that sets out to attack actually-existing feminists who do real work for their real, living sisters in Afghanistan.

A snippet of Podmorow: No one will ever tell me that Muslim or any women think it’s ok to not be allowed to get educated or to have their daughters sold off at 8 years old or traded off at 4 years old because of cultural beliefs. No one will tell me that women in Afghanistan think it is ok for their daughters to have acid thrown in their faces. It makes me ill to think a 4 year old girl must sleep in a barn and get raped daily by old men. It’s sick and wrong and I don’t care who calls me an Orientalist or whatever I will keep raising money to educate girls and women in Afghanistan and I will keep writing letters and sending them in the back pack of my friend Lauryn Oates as she works so bravely on the ground helping women and girls learn what it is to exercise their rights. I believe in human rights so I believe everyone has the right their own opinion, I just wish that the energy that was used to write that story, that is just not true, could have been used to educate a girl in Afghanistan. That’s what the girls truly want. That’s what the Women in Afghanistan truly want. I have a drawer full of letters from them that says just that.

Butler's thesis, which is sadly typical, could well have been produced by the software program Postmodernism Generator, which spews out random text from recursive grammars. Here's a snippet of Butler: In their bid to help Afghan women. . . some feminist groups have failed to distance themselves from the discursive mechanisms that manufacture consent for women’s oppression in the name of Empire. Building on Krista Hunt’s analysis of feminist complicity in the War on Terror (Hunt 2006), this essay draws attention to Canadian feminists’ role in (re)producing neo-imperialist narratives of Afghan women. Focusing specifically on the NGO Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), it shows how their use of feminist rhetoric and personal first-hand narratives, together with national narratives of Canada as a custodian of human rights, add to the productive power of the Orientalist tropes they invoke."

More on Alaina and her comrades here. How to support their work here.


Blogger Bill Horne said...

Interesting to read the POMO lingo loaded thesis (PDF linked from the UBC URL), e.g. "constructing women"? Sounds like androids, cyborgs or plastic surgery more than analysis or critical thinking. Poor Orwell.

I understand that Michel Foucault, cited early in the thesis, was rather enamoured with the Khomeini regime in Iran...

10:39 PM  
Blogger James O'Hearn said...

Damn. This got me all choked up. Especially since I found myself recently sliding into cynicism, reading the words of Robert Fowler, and nodding my head at what seemed to make a cold sort of sense.

“They say look at the number of little girls we have put in school – at a cost of 146 Canadian lives and an incremental cost of $11.3 billion. My, think of the number of little girls we could put in school throughout the Third World – particularly in Africa – with that kind of money. And without having to kill and be killed to get that worthy job done.”

But then I read what Alaina said, and I actually started to feel a little guilty, a little ashamed. I can see the point both sides are making, and am having difficulty reconciling them into a supportable position.

Now I don't know what to think.

10:42 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

This vile "thesis" is another example of what is rotten in the higher education domain. Some people have to have their faces rubbed into the reality they studiously ignore.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The work being done by CW4WA and LW4LWA is crucial - Kudos to Alaina for standing up for what she believes in.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


I get your point. But be confused no more:

10:26 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

13 eh? Founded an organisation aged 9? And cuts through the crap without a problem. Depressing the sophistry and intellectual masturbation that passes for comment in academia. Something has gone seriously wrong with large chunks of it. It only takes a 13 year old with a brain to point out that the emperor is naked and has a disgusting body.

2:04 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

I love it whenever the subject of POMO-babble comes up because I get to reproduce this amazing column by Robert Fulford written 7 or so years ago. Here it is in full:

They should know better: Humanities scholars spend lots of time reading, so why can't they write?
Robert Fulford
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
The tortured prose common in academic writing often produces both unconscious comedy and literary scandal. It stumbles across my desk or my screen every day, but a particularly striking example showed up in Gail Singer's recent review of The Girl from God's Country, a University of Toronto Press book by Kay Armatage about a silent-era Canadian filmmaker, Nell Shipman.
Armatage, who teaches film, has made documentaries, organized festival programs and otherwise operated outside academe. Yet she writes an obscurantist style that seems directed only to other professors. Singer, a filmmaker who admires Shipman and would like to admire her biographer, directs our attention (in the June issue of the Literary Review of Canada) to what Armatage says about Shipman's attachment to the Canadian North:
"We can see a socio-sexual parallel between the geography of the wilderness and the topographies of narrative in this genre, which organizes a particular spatial itinerary and social anatomy."
Is there, anywhere, a reader brave or foolish enough to explain what that means? Probably not. And why is it there? How complicated can the story of Nell Shipman be? Armatage seems to be following the first rule of postmodernism: Make simple ideas complicated, and complicated ideas incomprehensible.
Sympathetically, Singer suggests that many scholars believe their peers will judge them harshly if they don't write that way. By implication, she raises what should be a pressing question in the universities: Is it now mandatory to write badly?
Well, in a sense it can't be. Good writers work in the universities, and university presses sometimes publish good books. Denis Dutton, editor of the online Arts & Letters Daily, says he knows many lucid and lively academic writers. But for every superb stylist, he believes, there are 100 who range from adequate to awful.
How could that be? Scholars in the humanities spend much of their time writing, and are forced constantly to read the work of superb writers. Yet they pour out streams of gnarled and barbarous sentences and don't even know they are doing it. Professors in English departments, after lives spent close to the best literature, usually produce the worst prose.
The perpetrators are by no means obscure hacks beavering away in the remote suburbs of academe. Dutton quotes Paul H. Fry, professor of English at Yale. He finds this in Fry's A Defense of Poetry: "It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness -- rather than the will to power -- of its fall into conceptuality."
Readers may imagine (as Dutton says) that they are too ignorant to understand "the absentation of actuality." Academic theorists take advantage of the innocent reader's natural humility. In this case, Dutton suggests: "The writing is intended to look as though Mr. Fry is a physicist struggling to make clear the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Of course, he's just an English professor showing off."
Mass culture now attracts the most bizarre theorizing. When moviemakers changed James Bond's brand of vodka, Aaron Jaffe of the University of Louisville wrote that this "carries a metaphorical chain of deterritorialized signifiers, repackaged up and down a paradigmatic axis of associations."

7:59 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

We can classify much of this prose as pomo-babble (a word first used, I think, by John Leo in U.S. News & World Report). In pomo-babble, being incoherent isn't enough. The best pomo-babble requires a high level of jargon density. One word or two won't get you there. You need four key words in any major sentence. In pomo-babble it's appropriate to praise, for instance, a transgressive challenge to the valorization of hegemonic narrativity.
In recent years leftist academics have been enraptured by Empire, a 500-page anti-globalization book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, published in 2000. Empire collects all possible criticisms of free trade and wraps them in prose like this: "In the logic of colonialist representations, the construction of a separate colonized other and the segregation of identity and alterity turns out paradoxically to be at once absolute and extremely intimate."
To commit a sentence like that is to subtract from the sum of human knowledge. But it is not really exceptional, and its authors are much admired for their fresh version of leftist "thinking."
This kind of academic writing has some vehement institutional enemies (the Times Literary Supplement is especially articulate) and a multitude of individuals it infuriates. In some ways, though, it's catching. Pomo-babble exhibits strong elements of paranoia, and so (sometimes) do its critics. That may be why they often depict bad prose as a plot by academics. Brian Martin, an Australian professor, invented the phrase "secret passwords at the gate of knowledge" and explained: "Jargon serves to police the boundaries of disciplines and specialities." It's like a toll collected from those crossing intellectual borders.
But conspiracy theory takes us only so far. We know that many outside academe, even some people who could never be accused of careerism, are devoted to precisely the same suffocating crit-speak.
No one knows quite how it arose, and no one knows what to do about it. Certainly there are now thousands of humanities professors (and their students) who believe polysyllabic gobbledygook is the best way to write, maybe the only way. You can't persuade them otherwise.
Crimes against language are not victimless, of course. Academic life has become a publish and perish world: Professors publish, literacy perishes. Students perish too. If they are unlucky (or not warned soon enough), they can find themselves oppressed by teachers who have no interest in demonstrating anything except their own command of an esoteric language and a few Parisian ideas.
What to do? The students fake it, usually. They pretend, for as long as necessary, to take it seriously. Northrop Frye used to say that if you don't care about being educated, a little animal cunning will get you a degree. My guess is that students confronted with pomo-babble go into animal-cunning mode, get an acceptable mark by hiding their opinions, and then find better teachers or escape to the outside world, somewhere beyond critical theory and cultural studies, somewhere that respects reality and art. All it requires is endurance, a light heart, and the ability to believe that this, too, shall pass.

8:00 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Oh and yes, that 13 year old really stuck that dose of reality very deep into that pompous, sorry excuse for an intellectual. If I were her (the intellectual) I'd be licking my wounds and hoping nobody noticed.

8:04 PM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Worse, it conceals barbarism.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

From George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

Full text here:

And in many other places online

3:26 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Aye, Plump.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey I was commenting about this issue on another blog and thought I'd jump in here as well. Leaving aside whether or not you agree with Butler's argument, why is her use of pomo-terminology inherently wrong? Every discipline has its jargon but nobody jumps on mathematics or biology students for writing papers that are incomprehensible to the average reader. Butler wasn't writing for a public audience, she was writing an MA thesis for an academic audience to whom her "pomo-jargon" would be completely understandable.

I think people are unfairly criticizing Butler for her admittedly dense writing and turning her into a strawman for everything they think is wrong with liberal academia. While Butler may not be the best writer, she does not deserve the level of criticism that is being directed at her Master's thesis.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


Her "argument"? Why is her use of pomo gibberish "wrong"?

Since you don't say (because you can't) why there is anything wrong with the criticism she's getting, then let me just observe that her essay is a discursive mechanism of "anti-imperialist" tropes explicitly intended to (re)produce the hegemonic narrative at sites of academic discourse so as to manufacture consent for tenure in the racket known as post-colonial studies. And you will not be able to tell my why I'm wrong, either.

So fine. Have it your way.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


As I said before what's wrong with the criticism she's getting is that her language is perfectly acceptable for an academic audience.


6:13 AM  
Blogger kellie said...

From reading comments elsewhere, I think Ned has his own difficulties in comprehending Butler's writing.

Here is a rather more useful presentation on the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan, from those neo-imperialists at the BBC.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Ned: Butler's language is not "perfectly acceptable" for an academic audience (if it were, her critics would not be "wrong", but would be on even more solid ground). Butler's language is required of a narrow and useless subset of the discipline of the humanities. It is gibberish. It is intended to conceal rather than reveal, and Butler conceals a reactionary, cynical attack on the progressive material solidarity that CW4WA provides Afghan women by masking her attack in the pseudo-leftish jargon terms of the post-colonial, post-modernist lexicon.

8:26 AM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Wow, terry, talk about blazing saddles, using so few words to obliterate Ned's silly contentions. Had Ned read (or is that Red Ned, doesnt matter) the Fulford Pomobabble posts, he might have twigged to the problem with Butler's "prose" and wouldn't have made false and silly analogies between Pomobabble and science writing.
Best, VC

9:23 AM  
Blogger Don Sharpe said...

V - "The best pomo-babble requires a high level of jargon density". Well said!
Ned, I work in Emergency Medicine, with it's own unique, critical jargon. We work to simplify it everyday so that patients, families, students and even we can understand each other.
Pomo-babble is simple logorrhea, an 'excessive flow of meaningless words' and one of many mental disorders we see in ER.
Nurse, Get a psych bed ready for Ms. Butler, she's completely delusional.

8:12 AM  
Blogger ModernityBlog said...

Whilst thinking of post modernist waffle I am reminded of this quote:

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. "

Albert Einstein

1:59 PM  

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