Sunday, December 22, 2013

I am officially an intellectual masturbator

At a party a couple of days ago, I got into a verbal/intellectual sparring match with a colleague from political science. I'm not going to bore you here with the intellectual/philosophical details of the exchange: Suffice to say that he is a postmodernist, and I'm not (if you really want the details, email me, and I'll try my best to reconstruct our exchange).

The exchange did not last more than 15 minutes, but given the passion with which he and I both held our respective views, plus the lateness of the hour and the effects of a few drinks, the whole thing quickly became intense, in a not-so-good kind of way. From the beginning of the conversation, I sensed that he was pushing my buttons, and my grad-school training kicked in. Grad School 101: When somebody pushes your buttons, push back, and find a way to draw some intellectual blood. As you can well imagine, passions flared quickly. Objectively speaking, I was way out of my depth; the last time I read postmodernism was in grad school, when I read a little Deleuze, and maybe a little Derrida, so I am not exactly in the best position to go into a debate with somebody who actually wrote his doctoral dissertation on these guys.

But I wouldn't give in without a good fight. So I tried to play a game of intellectual aikido/taichi with him; whatever I didn't understand (which was a lot), I simply rephrased in terms of what I do understand (phenomenology/existentialism), and then threw back at him as intellectual projectiles. And whatever I couldn't convert into intellectual projectiles, I simply dismissed with a stockphrase like, "Well, it is all very well to talk about this, that or whatever, but you really don't understand that such-and-such-and-such..." and then quickly moved the exchange back to familiar terrain.  

An artist's impression of me throwing intellectual projectiles... well, just kiddin'
[Image taken from here]

As silly as the above strategy sounds, it must have worked, because I succeeded in seriously annoying him. I must have struck him as a seriously arrogant and pompous ivory-tower academic, because it got to the point where he simply pronounced everything that I was doing as intellectual masturbation. At this point, a friend who was standing by and observing the whole exchange must have sensed that things were on the verge of getting ugly, because she came up to me and said she was tired, and asked me if I could give her a ride home. I had to agree to her request, because I was the one who gave her a ride to the party earlier in the evening. So I turned to my interlocutor, told him that it was a pleasure speaking to him (was it, really? Hmm...), and that we should continue this conversation. He simply looked intently at me, and then pronounced, "This is not necessary. I am willing to stake my PhD on this."

Wow. Really? So after all this intense passion and name-calling, all he was willing to stake was a paltry piece of paper? Well, this shows us a few things, doesn't it? Ah well, what do you do?... As for me, I am now officially an intellectual masturbator. You know, come to think of it, this is not such an insult, after all: At least I get to orgasm...        


  1. Is it not a central thesis of postmodernism that there is no inherent meaning, that all understanding is constructed through one's individual, subjective viewpoint? Sounds kind of like masturbation to me.

    1. I don't know, but if what you say is correct, that would mean that masturbation is also constructed through one's individual, subjective viewpoint. So one's person's masturbation would be another person's... fornication?

    2. I'm also no scholar of postmodernism, but as I understand it Derrida and his folk say that a text is basically a collection of signifiers, the meaning of which differs depending on the reader. Thus a clever postmodern critique can pick apart a text and represent it as meaning whatever the critic wants (which is kind of like masturbation), whereas traditionally the reader accepts and is willing to attempt to understand the meaning that the writer intends to establish (more like fornication). :)

      Merry Christmas!