FOM: hostility toward f.o.m. NOROP at
Fri Jul 24 17:50:04 EDT 1998

Date:          Thu, 23 Jul 1998 09:16:06 -0400 (EDT)
From:          Neil Tennant <neilt at>
To:            simpson at
Subject:       Re: FOM: hostility toward f.o.m.
Cc:            fom at, neilt at

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!
Neil Tennant
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 
definitely wrong).
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?

Ove Petersen
Aarhus University

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