Samstag, 19. Juli 2008

Labov's Test

Im Lichte von A und B, hier noch ein wunderbarer Test:

This ... reminds me of a parlor game that a colleague of mine claims to have played, back in the day when it was easier to find academics who took Derrida seriously.

My colleague would open one of Derrida's works to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it down, and then (above or below it) write a variant in which positive and negative were interchanged, or a word or phrase was replaced with one of opposite meaning. He would then challenge the assembled Derrida partisans to guess which was the original and which was the variant. The point was that Derrida's admirers are generally unable to distinguish his pronouncements from their opposites at better than chance level, suggesting that the content is a sophisticated form of white noise. On this view, as Wolfgang Pauli once said of someone else, Derrida is "not even wrong.".

... und ...

(My interpretation of) Labov's claim about Derrida and similar writers is that all of his readers will fail the test (statistically speaking) all the time. If this were true, then we could conclude that everyone who claims to have understood Derrida (for example) is a bullshitter, or at least is in some sense deluded. This universal obscurity would certainly raise the suspicion that there was no suitable object of understanding available, for instance because the work is simply (or rather, complexly) nonsense.

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