Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Simulacra and Simulation (wikipedia.org)
139 points by geospeck on Sept 24, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 93 comments

I read the book in college decades ago. It's very famous and he predicted a lot of stuff about media and culture that has become true in the modern era of Internet / social media / YouTube e-celebs / etc.

However, his good ideas are cluttered up by the usual sloppy reasoning of postmodernists. He also has an unfortunate obsession with weaving Marxist far-left politics into everything, which is distracting. (Chomsky has the same problem for me.)

The book did not change my life, but it is a notable work of late 20th century philosophy.

I've been thinking lately about the "sloppy reasoning" problem of critical theory. I used to really love critical theory when I was younger, but now that I'm older I'm almost ready to dismiss it as entertaining crank writing at a time when western civilization was exploring new boundries and slightly adrift. It has more in common with artistic expression than critical methodology. Still valuable, but should not be taken as seriously as it currently is in academia - at least in my opinion.

I came to this opinion when I stayed at a friends' place recently who had a massive collection of critical theory, and I had not read any crit in years. I read a few of the books, and to my own surprise, my reaction was "what the hell is this nonsense?" The ideas were certainly interesting, but had no real provable basis, and just seemed to be the reasoned expression of one author's individual sense of alienation - more like artistic expression than any real solution to the dilemma of civilization or consciousness.

> The ideas were certainly interesting, but had no real provable basis, and just seemed to be the reasoned expression of one author's individual sense of alienation - more like artistic expression than any real solution to the dilemma of civilization or consciousness.

Why do you think all ideas that need to be taken seriously should be provable, provide solutions, or, indeed anything other than the author's own sense of alienation? This isn't science and doesn't purport to be. Those are works of literature, intended, like all literature, to give one an interesting perspective on life and the world. Shakespeare is taken very seriously in academia, and he provides nothing more than an artistic expression.

If anything, I think that the problem is that laypeople and academics speak different languages, and laypeople misunderstand exactly how academics view this literature. In short, they do not consider it to be in the same genre as Newton's law and the same kind of applicability to physical reality.

I don't think it has no value - I'm just saying it has more in common with art (like Shakespeare, as you mentioned) than Theory. Perhaps it's a confusion of terms on my part.

I disagree that it's an academic/layperson divide, because I have a background in liberal arts at the academic level. When I was at school, I was writing papers where I REALLY needed to make sure my points were concrete, well-expressed, and well-cited. It was all about transforming a hypothesis into a theory. A lot of new critical theory seems to meander into oblivion in contrast to the strict expression of other academic fields.

Maybe, like you said, I'm just not up on the academics of it.

> Why do you think all ideas that need to be taken seriously should be provable, provide solutions, or, indeed anything other than the author's own sense of alienation?

Because they're part of the Social Sciences.

> This isn't science and doesn't purport to be.

Well, it certainly purports to be.

> Because they're part of the Social Sciences.

Critical theory? No. It's more part of the humanities.

> Well, it certainly purports to be.

Absolutely not. Why do you think that? Even many actual social scholars (historians, anthropologists) would object to being called scientists, or, at least, would always emphasize that if you want to call what they do science, it is not science in the same sense as chemistry.

Them using the term "theory" while not doing any of the hard work of science is equivocation.

They're doing hard work, just not scientific work. It's not "better" or "worse" than science; it's just something completely different. Science doesn't have a monopoly on the word "theory". It's been in use long before science (at least as we know it since the 17th century) existed.

> They're doing hard work, just not scientific work. It's not "better" or "worse" than science; it's just something completely different.

It's amazing how much of this would apply to alchemy, or astrology, or religion.

So the question becomes, why would anyone pay attention to it?

Why would anyone pay attention to science? It all depends on what you want to achieve and what your values are. The difference between alchemy and literature is that alchemy purports to have the same goals as science -- at which it fails -- while literature has completely other goals.

I'm not talking about literature. I'm talking about critical theory, which is not the same thing, and is a much later innovation.

Literature has proven itself useful. Critical theory has not.

(Also, I notice you didn't distinguish what makes critical theory different from religion.)

> I'm not talking about literature. I'm talking about critical theory, which is not the same thing, and is a much later innovation.

The two, as academic disciplines, have a lot in common (at least those parts of critical theory that I think you're referring to).

> Literature has proven itself useful. Critical theory has not.

I'm not sure how you make that assertion.

> what makes critical theory different from religion.

The way I learned it back in grad school years ago, religion doesn't have a precise definition but it is almost always required to have a normative component (which critical theory lacks) as well as some transcendence over ordinary existence (which critical theory also lacks). It is therefore debatable whether belief in cryonics or AI singularity, or the Silicon Valley-centered Rationality movement constitutes a religion (they are all normative and transcendental), but I see no way how critical theory can even be considered a religion any more than knitting could; I see no point of similarity. And no, consideration of truths without scientific evidence is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a religion. I consider Dostoevsky a primary source of truth, yet Dostoevsky is not a religion. It's truth of a different kind than scientific truth, but so is the truth of critical theory (or, rather, those "mushy" parts of it, that I think you're alluding to). If it resembles religion in any way is in its goal to interpret reality, rather than examine it merely factually, but, of course, interpretation is nor a sufficient condition for a religion, and probably not a necessary one, either.

> It is therefore debatable whether belief in cryonics or AI singularity, or the Silicon Valley-centered Rationality movement constitutes a religion

If you think being rational is a religion, you've fallen prey to the "All Sides Are Equal" bias, in that you can no longer tell that some philosophies are straight-up more useful than others.

Or is Christian Scientist "No Blood Transfusions Ever" just as useful at surviving major medical emergencies as the rational modern healthcare philosophy?

> It's truth of a different kind than scientific truth, but so is the truth of critical theory

This "different kinds of truth" leads right off the cliff of being unable to evaluate truth claims, and that is the royal road to being an anti-vaxxer, or an AGW denier, or a believer in whatever other fashionable nonsense is in vogue.

> If you think being rational is a religion

Oh, no, I didn't mean that rationality is a religion. I was referring to a movement, mostly based in Silicon Valley, that calls itself "Rationality" (and is only ostensibly about rationality; if you read their materials you'll see), and might qualify as a religion.

> This "different kinds of truth" leads right off the cliff of being unable to evaluate truth claims

Absolutely not. Hamlet really does kill himself, but that truth is not the same kind of truth as Hitler killing himself. Call it different logical theories (i.e. sets of axioms) or different simulations if you're more drawn to a mathematical or computational description of different kinds of truth. Of course, it is possible to reduce all those truths to the same system, but doing so is not very useful.

> Hamlet really does kill himself, but that truth is not the same kind of truth as Hitler killing himself. Call it different logical theories (i.e. sets of axioms) or different simulations if you're more drawn to a mathematical or computational description of different kinds of truth.

Axioms give us truth, but truth is inaccessible to us in the real world. Reality gives us probabilities, and our ideas about how the world works are good or bad based on how well they allow us to predict the world.

So saying that "Hitler killed himself" is not a "Truth" in that definition of the word, in that it does not follow from axioms, which means it can, conceivably, be disproven. "Hitler killed himself" is, at best, a fact, and facts are statistical in nature; of course, some probabilities are so close to 1 that denying them, or pretending they're uncertain, is insanity.

For more context on what I mean about facts being statistical, read this review of "Surfing Uncertainty":


Hamlet's suicide is a fact about a fictional world, in that it's possible to interpret the text such that it didn't happen, and interpretation shapes meaning. Again, though, some interpretations have so little going for them, textually and logically, that they're non-starters.

So both come down to the same thing, a three-part summary where some people seem bound and determined to ignore, misinterpret, and outright lie about the third part:

1. Truth is only available to us from axiom systems, where it follows inescapably, such that it is impossible to come to any other conclusion within that system.

2. Real life isn't an axiom system. Real life is perceived exclusively as a statistical interpretation of incomplete and flawed sensory data. Compare this to quantum mechanics and I walk you through a mathematical interpretation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle with reference to waves and linear mechanics, I swear to God.

3. However, and this is the part some people refuse to understand and I mean screaming-match level refuse to get, just because we don't have absolute certainty doesn't mean we don't know anything at all. All probabilities are not 50/50, everything is not equally likely, and it is possible to know enough about reality to predict what's likely to happen. That is what the brain does on a moment-to-moment basis and most people live in the same reality as everyone else, and the same reality as inanimate objects. Reality isn't purely a figment of our collective imagination, it isn't purely a matter of opinion, and there's no way to walk on thin air.

1. I don't understand what any of this has to do with what I said.

2. Beware of learning philosophy from slatestarcodex. What he writes may sound very smart and convincing to people who have not studied philosophy, but Scott Alexander is often very, very misleading and extraordinarily simplistic. Much of what he brings up has been debated intensely among philosophers, with more interesting insights than his. For example, the entire exposition you laid out, with its distinction between deductive proof and inductive/probabilistic extrapolation, had already been worked out, pretty much in full, but the 17th century (see, e.g. Leibniz). We've learned a thing or two since then. In general, Alexander (and, in fact, the Rationality movement with which, I believe, he is associated) represent more or less the state of philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries. The choice of stopping at the 18th century is, of course, one of the many ideological choices made by the Rationality movement, so take with a huge grain of salt anything you read by an author associated with that movement. Not that it's not true -- it's just very inaccurate and so, misleading. As you brought up quantum mechanics, the philosophy of the Rationalists, let's call them, amounts to Newtonian mechanics. True, but inaccurate and misses (or, in their case, chooses to ignore) some interesting and important phenomena. Of course, Newtonian mechanics just sounds better to most people, as it fits with their observations, and that is precisely what the Rationalists count on: that their 18th century philosophy would sound "common sensical" to their philosophically-lay readers, while more modern philosophy would sound, like qunatum mechanics, bizarre and foreign, and so likely to be discounted or even ridiculed by their readers.

1. We're discussing the nature of truth, fact, and how we distinguish them.

2. My philosophy has relatively little to do with Slate Star Codex, so attacking him does nothing to disprove it.

The whole point of postmodern thought is to be a reaction to and an exploration of the inadequacies of scientific, modernist approaches. That said, most of the people critiquing that sort of thing are at least a couple decades behind the current state of academia.

Completely agree. To me critical theory has always seemed to represent more of a societal counterfactual (counterfactual meaning a "what if" scenario, not an actual falsehood) than valid economic/political arguments. The worst part about it is that everyone seems to have some pet individual theory about the way things should work, but there's no real way to objectively verify if someone's ideas are correct (and if there are, then those countries were somehow corrupted or didn't fit criteria 56 and 81), so people who should in practice agree with each other all divide up into their little competing camps over relatively minor ideological differences.

It would be interesting (maybe even amusing) to see a work of critical theory with distributed authorship via pull-requests to a repository, so as to filter-out the sloppiness during PR reviews.

For an excellent example of sloppy reasoning, look no further than Ornament and Crime: https://faculty.risd.edu/bcampbel/Loos-Ornament%20and%20Crim...

It argues that all art is erotic, that if you have a tattoo it is only a matter of time until you murder someone, and expresses something about Negroes that I don't care to look for again. (It was written in 1900 or so. I wonder what people in 2120 will wince about when they read our important works?)

The frustrating thing is, I agree with many of the points in the essay. There's always something there: a grain of truth in the framework of obfuscation. But they dress it up. The essay even frames it as "Here is something I have discovered, which I now bestow upon the world." It's not a direct quote, but it may as well be; many philosophers share that air of fake importance.

If only he was relaxed, he could have gotten his points across to many more people. "I get over a fire much more easily when only worthless garbage has been burned." Interesting point. "Every age had its style, is our age alone to be refused a style? By style, people meant ornament." Great observation! Notice how we eschew ornament; HN is bare, Twitch is austere, Youtube is as minimalistic as possible. If you image search DaVinci, it's hard to find a single example of anything containing ornament. Coincidence? Works without ornament are timeless.

But something comes over people -- simple isn't enough. Me too. I wrote a downvote hiding extension for HN, and I was embarrassed that the v1 was only a few lines of code. "It doesn't even hide your karma if you look at your profile!" So I wrote a far more complicated v2 and shipped that. Surprise, HN shipped an update and now it broke. v1 works fine. You're certainly familiar with this phenomenon in almost every aspect of our profession. What is going on there? It's worth exploring.

But philosophers manage to obscure these observations in the most complicated ways. And unfortunately, those complications introduce mistakes that make it easy to dismiss the rest of the work, along with the good ideas.

Simple is robust is best.

>The ideas were certainly interesting, but had no real provable basis, and just seemed to be the reasoned expression of one author's individual sense of alienation - more like artistic expression than any real solution to the dilemma of civilization or consciousness.

An example to what you're referring to would strengthen your case, though my own experience has been almost exactly opposite; although many works are certainly difficult to read not only for the obscurity of the terms and the form of content used but also for their disturbing and socially challenging content, I don't think they rely on sloppy reasoning; take Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man for example; he speaks in terms the reader can identify with, not using formal logic.

For example, an enlightening passage on freedom under the idea of freedom of enterprise:

>Freedom of enterprise was from the beginning not altogether a blessing. As the liberty to work or to starve, it spelled toil, insecurity, and fear for the vast majority of the population. If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization. The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world's imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own. If the productive apparatus could be organized and directed toward the satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be cen-tralized; such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible.

As we can see, he uses no historical examples (at least not yet), he uses no logic or even dielactic. It's philosophy which prompts the reader to think about their own situation and what that freedom means to them.

Ultimately all action begins with the thinking subject; if we restrict ourselves to strictly empirical forms of knowledge then I think we throw out too much as it relates to how people actually live. I would much much much rather than we and academics continue to search and define boundaries, as almost everybody recognises the relevance of critiques delivered by the likes of Debord, Marcuse and Baudrillade on the social side of the Marxian coin.

It's funny you dislike Chomsky because of Marxist tendencies, because Chomsky himself has stated that he strongly disagreed with many leftist (Marxist) groups on the issue that led Marx and Engels to diverge from anarchists.

Chomsky disagrees with them (Marxist doctrinists, Leninists, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Hoxhaists, etc.) on the same grounds of statist antidemocratic rule as he does with fascists, meritocrats, theocrats, anarchocapitalists, nationalist socialists, etc..

That's his reasoning for being an anarchosyndicalist, rather than some flavor of progressive reliant upon the rule of a small cadre of enlightened revolutionaries

> Chomsky disagrees with them (..., Trotskyists, ...) on the same grounds of statist antidemocratic rule as he does ...

As I understand it (Based on an admittedly rudimentary understanding of the relevant philosophies), Trotsky advocated that everything be decentralized -- i.e. not controlled by the state -- at least in the traditional sense, but by the people, locally to the people. Thus it seems weird to me that Chomsky would disagree with him on this matter.

Personally, I'm still searching for the holon system that was used in Suarez' Daemon series. Although I suspect that I might be remembering it to be less capitalistic than it was described to be.

Ah, interesting. For some reason I had the sense that Trotskyism was like dictatorship rule by vanguards (like Stalinism I guess), but it seems that it's more like dictatorship by the proletariat by means of a dash of anarchism according to wikipedia, and in that way pretty much completely different than how I perceived it. Although wikipedia does also say that "permanent revolution" has non-identical uses; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_revolution

All I know for certain is that Chomsky is no Posadist, lol.

Trotsky opposed centralised technocracy, and he was right - this was what ultimately killed the ussr, as corrupt and incompetent centralised bureaucracy could not respond rapidly enough or appropriately to external conditions. Production was a mess, goods would be in dire shortage in one oblast and vast excess in another. Those who held the central reigns of power funnelled everything into their own pockets - cf. the incumbent oligarchy.

Had Trotsky succeeded Lenin rather than Stalin, the world might be a very different place today. But he didn’t, and it might not have made any damn difference.

I guess we need to run another experiment.

I would recommend Walter Benjamin if you find the politics distracting. Also D.W.Winnicott (http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/winnicott1.pdf). A reconciliation of these two strands are being explored currently by Bernard Stiegler... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technics_and_Time,_1

I have written about it in relation to Facebook here: https://iainmait.land/posts/20170201-transitional-object.htm...

Which Benjamin?

I've read some of his more famous articles (i.e. - "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"), but I remember them being very political. Sort of an art-historical and aesthetic-theory application of Marx.

Which, personally, I enjoyed. But was surprised to see Benjamin's work referenced in that context. Could be that I'm missing something, or mis-remembering, though. This was years ago, now. =)

Benjamin is famous for arguing that in an age of mechanically reproducible art, what mattered was the idea in the art which he saw as a method of communication for political purposes.

Thank you for the suggestions. I will definitely study these.

I think Marxist alienation more broadly understood is what drives the simulation dynamic. I don't think the two should be separated.

Marxist critique of capitalism is very solid. It doesn't have any good prescriptions for alternatives, but the critique is well-founded.

Its not well-founded because modern financial instruments such as retirement savings blur the line between those who labor and those who command capital.

Not so much once you don't put the distinction at "owns at least one share and owns nothing". If you plot the amount of ownership, there are very clear clusters.

"Newtonian physics is not well-founded because relativity blurs the lines between matter and energy."

Marxism is an ever-developing field.


Also, yes, Newtonian physics isn't well founded for exactly that reason. Although in its original formulation E&M wasn't described.

By your reading, no theory can ever be known to be well founded, as there is always the possibility of another discovery finding phenomena that aren't explained by the theory. I believe that most people would view science (in the wide sense, not limited only to disciplines that apply the scientific method) as a continuous process of abstraction and refinement. Newtonian mechanics is pretty accurate if you limit yourself to objects of a certain size and a certain speed, a limitation which is reasonable considering those are the sides and speeds we encounter most often in our senses.

Capitalism is global and the number of labourers in the world with retirement savings that could be considered as capital is a tiny minority

That may blur the line between proletarian and bourgeois, but it does not invalidate the idea of class conflict within Marxism nor Marx's other critiques of capitalism such as commodity fetishism and alienation. Although you are very correct that Marx didn't anticipate modern financial phenomena, there has been active work within Marxian economics for the past 30 years about this, most importantly Anwar Shaikh takes it upon himself to do a semi-Marxist analysis of it in Capitalism, Conflict and Crises as does Kliman.

I'm constantly nodding my head when HN down-votes a well referenced comment.

Actually, as Baudrillard himself readily admits, most of the ideas are not his - he formalised and presented to the academic world the philosophy of Philip K Dick.

As to the Marxist tendencies - i think it’s more of a reaction to the totalitarian worlds he and dick foresaw. It’s certainly what’s pushed me leftwards over the years.

I agree. I would try to sum as a couple very original ideas that are more solid, combined with a great many loose associations that are tenuous, but according to the french style, given much weight and pomp; it actually makes the the writing style more inspiring/entertaining, but the ratio of claims to justifications is quite low. I also remember going though a great number of paragraphs without grokking anything at all, but i was also a bit younger then and perhaps able to focus less.

Nevertheless, it inspired me to pick up a few of Baurdrilliard's other books (e.g. Cool Memories) which are even less rational, so S&S was probably his best work.

Baudrillard was on the left but was absolutely scathing about Marxism. He thought was a total theoretical dead end and a flawed reflection of the systems of capitalism it sought to overthrow. See his The Mirror Of Production.

This is the book Neo has in his home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6R94keJcHk

It also comes up through the Laughing Man in Ghost in the Shell. He cites Baudrillard as an influence, and the plot closely follows the ideas the book.

P.S. I found this amusingly profane and ribald translation ("from English into American") a while ago. http://continentcontinent.cc/index.php/continent/article/vie...

Excellent read.

Not only that one scene, but a lot of the ideas in The Matrix are inspired by the writings of Baudrillard. That's presumably why the Wachowskis put the book in that scene, a subtle joke.

In [0], Baudrillard himself: "The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to produce."

[0] http://www2.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol1_2/genosko.ht...

I wonder if that quote by Baudrillard is an endorsement or a very opaque dismissal. To me it sounds ambiguous. Having slogged through the text I’ve always felt that The Matrix is not so much inspired the actual arguments enshrined within Simulacra and Simulation as much as by what one might reasonably expect the book will argue judging by the title alone.

The Matrix misses the point in a very important way.

In The Matrix the characters could easily tell apart the real world from the simulation, but the point of Simulacra is that you can't tell it apart from reality, not because there is a conspiracy that conceals it from the masses, but because simulacra replaces reality, conceals that there wasn't really anything "beneath" the simulation in the first place.

Indeed, that’s my feeling too: knowing Simulacra and Simulation I had expected that at some later twist it would have become apparent that ”the real world”/Zion/whatever would be somehow revealed to be itself unreal (in some ’indistinguishable and irresolvable manner) — and some have argued that Neo’s supernatural powers extending into the real world actually are ’proof’ of this — but that’s dissatisfying from a narrative standpoint. It’s almost as if the Wachowski brothers (later sisters) used the allusion of Simulacra and Simulation as a hint of stand-in for a ”brain in vats” philosophical work (which it most certainly is not) on the basis of the ”simulation” part of its title and relied upon their viewership to have no clue what a ”simulacrum” is to keep the in-joke viable.

To be fair, it did turn out that Zion was in a way artificial. A rebellion carefully cultivated by the Architect and the Oracle to maintain a cycle of destruction and rebuilding of the Matrix.

"The Matrix’s value is chiefly as a synthesis of all that. But there the set-up is cruder and does not truly evoke the problem. The actors are in the matrix, that is, in the digitized system of things; or, they are radically outside it, such as in Zion, the city of resistors. But what would be interesting is to show what happens when these two worlds collide."

This happens in the sequels, and it doesn't make for as compelling a story.

I highly recommend Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. It’s a much more accessible and quite frankly more entertaining (amusing?) than Baudrillard’s work. It was written in the early 80’s but is so relevant it could have been published two weeks ago.

+1 to this. I read Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1999 and it changed the manner I view the world, and have been recommending it ever since.

+1 for Postman. Is Simulacra adding something, or is it really basically the same message?

It adds something, but the massage must be extracted from reams of throughly baffling postmodern critical theory.

Fun fact: in the opening scene in The Matrix, this is the book from which Neo produces the hidden memory card.

The Wachowski brothers loved Baudrillard and he was part of their inspiration for their story about a whole society trapped in simulation.

For people completely unfamiliar with these concepts(at least the former) and into cars Mr. Regular from Regular Car Reviews explains them beautifully(with some added profanity):


The Simulacra and Simulation part starts at about 4:10.

I picked this book up years ago, and it was a terrible slog to get through. The ideas were absolutely fascinating, but the writing is one of the /worst/ I've ever seen. I had to read and reread every single sentence to understand what on earth it was talking about. And once decoded (through reading or supplementary resources), the ideas were not as complex as the text.

I've been through this as well, but I think that while for example Focault and co. use complex writing to hide their lack of ideas, if you can look past Baudrillard's complexity he's unmatched visionary. Probably the best critic of capitalism I've ever encountered.

> Probably the best critic of capitalism I've ever encountered.

Comparing to who else?

He didn't dare criticize Socialism.

Did you read it in English? The French writing is very... French (flowery, circuitous, full of references to obscure works) so I can see how someone reading a translated version would have a hard time with it (a translation is always a diminished recreation of the original, and the average French person has many years of studying French literature in school to get used to that particular kind of writing).

Yeah, it was a translation (my French is not nearly good enough to tackle philosophy). I found my copy, it's the umich press one, translated by Glaser. Though I don't think it's the translation per se, it really was the writing. I agree that it might be a cultural thing, but I've read Montaigne, for example, and it's much clearer even though he predates Baudrillard by 350 years. :-)

I'm looking through this again, and there were just so many places where he makes dubious but absolute statements without backing it up at all, and we're to take him at his word. "It is simulation that is effective, and never the real". OK, man. Or the way he throws in vague sentences for effect. I mean, I can't start a chapter with the sentence "The apotheosis of simulation: the nuclear" while keeping a straight face.

Anyway, like I said, I think eventually it builds into something cool and tangible it you stick through it, but it takes a lot of digging.

It’s so funny that you say that translations are always diminished recreations of the original... I think Derrida would disagree.

READER: I didn't like your story at all.

JAMES THURBER: Did you read the French translation?

READER: No, I read it in English.

THURBER: That explains it. It suffers greatly in the original.

[This was told me by my father. I can't find a published source, and a web search doesn't turn up anything similar. My father interviewed Thurber once, but this isn't from the version that was published, and it doesn't sound like something Thurber would have told about himself. Epistemic status: probably apocryphal.]

"You've not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon." -Chancellor Gorkon


Lol nice

Welcome to graduate school in popular culture studies.

This really touches on some themes that I've been thinking about. Bought the book immediately.

I read it last year. It is a foundational tract in postmodernism; you WILL see the world differently.

I believe everyone should give critical theory a fair shot. But I find the majority of the thinkers to have pretty simple ideas that are heavily dressed up and typically exhausting to get through, with little personal benefit, except perhaps social cachet in certain communities. I personally think you're better off grappling with the dead philosophers who critical theory seems to be predominantly in conversation with, like Kant and Hegel. And then add in Marx and Freud.

If you believe I am off base, I welcome suggestions of thinkers who are an anti-pattern here.

I'm of the opinion that critical theory is a brain-trap. It seems deep, but only because it's been dug so far, and in this analogy there's a much deeper dive a ways off but once you've gotten into the hole that Critical Theory has dug it's very hard to get out.

I don't think critical theory is particularly insightful, or internally consistent except by which it's proponents fit it. It makes many predictions, but most are true only through the lens of critical theory. Looking in from outside, there's other explanations of all the predictions.

Much like Marx: it's an interesting, intriguing theory. But it breaks down at some point, except that people already attached (and it's easy to see why it's an attractive view of the world, simplifying things into a constant struggle against the "oppressor"; the classic narrative) will do great contortions to explain why it's still true, rather than going back to the drawing board.

Of course, you can level the same criticism of libretarian ideals, and they do break down. I think libretarians have a more consistent view of why the break down and where, but it's imperfect and I greatly await a more grand, unified theory.

As the other commenters: florid prose often hides a paucity of real critique.

He isn't considered "real" critical theory, but a lot of the most interesting elements in postmodernism -- questions about language, identity, randomness, representation vs. reality -- are present in Borges, whose work is the opposite of exhausting.

If you haven't read him, I'd recommend the "Labyrinths" collection as a great place to start.

I would agree with this.

FWIW, the most concise and straightforward critical theorist that I've read is Vilem Flusser: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vil%C3%A9m_Flusser

There's a short compilation of his essays called "Writings" that is a great place to start, for anyone interested. Most essays are < 15 pages long, IIRC.

Very simple, elegant arguments, with little fluff. One of the few philosophers I know whose writing is absent the usual obscurantist cruft.

Having read it many years ago (and by read I mean suffered through) I feel the Wikipedia entry is sufficient for understanding the concepts. The book (my copy at least) has no primary sources. You do not need the book.

What other books would you recommend?

The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord

Partially Examined Life podcast did an episode recently on the book. The ideas are related, not quite the same.

Contra another commenter, I don't think it's easy to separate Marxist critique of capitalism from spectacle / simulation replacing reality - I do believe that capitalism is responsible for the alienation, the alienation doesn't just apply to the labourer and his output, but also to consumers and what is consumed.

Not really. I'd say that although unorthodox Marxists the situationalists would see themselves as following on from Marx. After all, the whole of The Society of The Spectacle begins with a reformation of the opening to Marx's Capital!

> The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord

Very much this, though I must also recommend his Comments on it, for the reader who has a hard time penetrating the critique. I have a short list of related books at the bottom of this comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15299592

Michel Foucault's "This is not a pipe" is very similar in theme to Baudrillard's work. Deleuze and Guattari (recommended by another commenter) are another pair of giants. I'm currently reading "Deleuze and Guattari for architects" and would strongly recommend it. Actually, most of the Thinkers for Architects [1] books are excellent and accessible. Despite being for architects, I would expect most engineers to benefit from them.

[1]: https://www.routledge.com/Thinkers-for-Architects/book-serie...

i'm not vippy but the capitalism and schizophrenia series is really good (anti-oedipus and a thousand plateaus).

Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. I also recommend Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology, but it's dense, so his film The Pervert's Guide to Ideology is a good stand in.

Agree on everything except Zizek. He's an entertaining provocateur, but there's no way he's at the level of Hegel and Kant. His interviews in the British news media are hilarious though.

Hofstadter's book is brilliant, funny, delightful - a real treasure.

I'll throw a line to Zizek. In his serious works, he does set out a systematic ontology of reality. I don't fully understand it, if there is even something to fully understand, but along the way he without doubt makes you think, and gives relatively accessible interpretations of a ton of other thinkers.

He's not a major philosopher like Kant, but he is much more than a charlatan or provocateur.

To his credit, I probably wouldn't have picked up his serious work if his antics hadn't first put him on my radar many years ago.

perhaps copies of 90's era Mondo 2000 will suddenly become collectors item. i know i'm not parting with mine!

RU Sirius has started posting old issues as well as new stuff at http://www.mondo2000.com/

Please elaborate, what about the 90s era version?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact