April 19, 2016
Fake philosophical paper lands cosmic joke
by Chad Felix
Somewhere in the latest issue of Badiou Studies, a multilingual, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the thinking of the philosopher Alain Badiou, lives an article entitled, “Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non-) Being-Queer.”
The article was written by one Benedetta Tripodi of Alexandru Ioan Cua University—and it is a joke.
Let me explain: Benedetta Tripodi the writer does not exist. The paper— “Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non-) Being-Queer”—does exist, but it doesn’t make much sense (and not just to laypeople as myself). Here’s a sample from the paper’s appropriately-titled “Abstract”:
After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the“many” that is negatively referred to through the “count-as-one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman. Maintaining the openness of this “many” is an interweaving philosophical endeavour. It is also a political task for any theory receptive to the oppressive load proper to the institutions of sexuation, as deployed through modern capitalism–that is, any queer theory. In its second step, the paper will therefore exposes the adequacy of the Badiousian ontology to provide theoretical resources for articulating the field of a genuine queer nomination.
Now, as a non-academic unfamiliar with the details of Badiou-brand thought, I am perfectly comfortable having no idea what to make of the above and whether or not it is or is not consistent with contemporary studies of the Frenchman. To be sure, Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse—the philosophers responsible for the gag—could’ve fooled me. But I am not in charge of furthering Badiou’s philosophical project, so it’s not a big deal. What is a big deal, however, is when those who are in charge do not (or cannot) determine a brilliant entry to their journal from a send-up of their philosophical enterprise. And that’s exactly what happened here.
Now, one of the critiques on display is perennial: academic writing is a protracted nonsensical burst of exclusionary, impenetrable jargon, and no one really knows what anyone is saying. But, according to Justin Eric Halldór Smith, a colleague of Huneman and Barberousse who also doesn’t seem to like Badiou all that much, the duos’ criticism may have more to it than that. In a blog post written in response to the hoax, Smith notes that:
My laughter on first reading Huneman and Barberousse’s text quickly gave way to two concerns. One is that the joke is not so much on the abstruse theory-heads, as had surely been the case in the Sokal incident. The joke isn’t on anyone who is committed to any particular ideology or style of thinking at all. The joke is, rather, on the folks running these pop-up online journals with their ludicrously low editorial standards.
[M]any people who submit to journals are not in a position to know of their own work whether it is crap or not, and for this reason alone a journal that does not have the resources to weed out crap would be doing scholarship a far greater service by simply not existing… It seems to me in other words that what this hoax exposes is not so much Badiou, or his gullible acolytes, but rather the dismal state of publishing today.
Smith is making clear that the hoax’s success is at least partly due to publishing’s failure. Perhaps, if the editorial staff at Studies had had more time and more resources, “Ontology” would have been sniffed out. A statement given to Retraction Watch from the journal supports Smith’s belief: “In an age when the pressures on independent Open Access publishing include underfunding and time-pressured staff, Sokal-style exposés become easier to perpetrate even as their philosophical payoff becomes less and less.”
That said, a response from Huneman and Barberousse (also given to Retraction Watch) reveals the hoax’s intent was specific to Badiou Studies, though its broader criticisms are no less valid:
The aim of the Badiou Studies hoax was to disclose a certain way of doing philosophy, mostly exemplified by Badiou, whose fame and philosophical reputation appear to us illegitimate. Therefore, the first target of the spoof was the specific legitimizing strategy that allows Badiou to appear as the “most important French philosopher” (as he often says), whereas all indexes that consider mainstream academic journals and textbooks in philosophy could not support such an assesment. This legitimizing strategy actually relies on a fame elaborated in anglo-saxon context, and then is imported into the french context in order to provide this author with the status of an internationally praised thinker.
Our point is that our paper has been written in a way that is rhetorically much too close to standard Badiousian, Badiou-centered or Badiou-friendly (or friends-of-Badiou-friendly) writings, to easily believe that its acceptance in such a journal is just a fluke. Rather, its publication in a supposedly serious journal (e.g. not a predator journal, etc.) sounds problematic. Thereby, given that such a journal is one instantiation of Badiou’s status as a world-famous thinker, our hoax invalidates (or at least, jeopardizes) the legitimacy of such status.
Whether or not the hoax succeeded due to insufficient resources, negligent editors, or the opaque nature of academic writing, the message it delivers is comparatively cogent: if those maintaining the projects of possibly important philosophers are unable to call fraud or foul, fools will be made.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.