FOM: hostility toward f.o.m.
NOROP at hum.aau.dk
Fri Jul 24 17:50:04 EDT 1998
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 09:16:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Neil Tennant <neilt at mercutio.cohums.ohio-state.edu>
To: simpson at math.psu.edu
Subject: Re: FOM: hostility toward f.o.m.
Cc: fom at math.psu.edu, neilt at mercutio.cohums.ohio-state.edu
Steve and Thomas might agree between themselves to use the word
with the sense accorded it by Thomas; but they should be aware that as
by literary critics etc. it does not mean "to prattle endlessly about a
subject of which one is ignorant". Doesn't it mean something more like
"to take the wind out of someone's intellectual sails by revealing the
'sub-text', or the 'hidden agenda', or the peculiar set of biases
in their writings"? That, at least, is how I get the smell of the term
being a little downwind from an English department. If this is in gross
by all means enlighten me!
PS In the sense that I think is correct for the term, fom-ers could set
*deconstructing* the specious arguments of core mathematicians against
value of fom as an intellectual enterprise!
The irony of the debate about deconstruction is that Stephen Simpson and
Thomas Forster are both "prattling endlessly about a subject of which
both are ignorant", so they are indeed deconstructing deconstruction.
Neil Tennant is closer but not close enough.
Originally in the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida
the term "deconstruction" is an elaboration of a term "Destruktion"
found in the German philosopher Martins Heidegger's writings and in both
instances the term denotes a specific conception of the way texts are
produced and read.
Very shortly the meaning is this: whenever one tries to think and write
coherently (systematically, structurally, etc.) one is at the same time
repressing (I am not sure if this is the right English word?) a lot of
things. This is not an error on the part of the writer or a coincidence
but a structural necessicity: this repression is a condition for
coherently, etc. Therefore a real writer/thinker must reflect on this
repression at the same time as writing "normally" or directly about the
subject matter, if not the writing and thinking will be too naive. As a
reader one is particularly interested in the way the repressed things
return (they cannot be kept outside the system) in the text and fracture
it: this is the "destructive" part of the reading: the system always
breaks down at some point (which it sometimes may be hard to find). But
as this breaking down is caused by an underlying and often unreflected
tension one must (the "constructive" part) try to elaborate a better set
of concepts, notations etc. which by the "double reflection" (the
"normal" reflection and the reflection on the repressed and its return
etc.) tries to move the thinking a bit forward.
I think this "double reflection" is the reason why so many people find
Heidegger and Derrida so difficult and obscure (I am NOT saying that
they are right, but that to throw them out as "irrationalists" etc. is
One can then say that if a mathematician is one who produces new
theorems (etc.) a deconstructor is one who (de)constructs new concepts
(etc.) - and about how many of the American academics who believe they
are deconstructors can you say that?
As noted above I have written this as information (Neil Tennant asked
for it) and I will not in this posting be giving my own opinion about
it. But intellectual honesty demands that you investigate the texts
themselves at their strongest and I wonder if Stephen Simpson, Thomas
Forster etc. have ever read a single line of Heidegger or Derrida. What
would you call a person writing about FOM without ever having opened a
book on mathematics?
More information about the FOM