A Fantastikal Voyage

It’s been out a little while already, but I only just got around to checking out the latest edition of Fantastika journal.

Fantastika Issues – FANTASTIKA JOURNAL

It’s especially gratifying to see oneself mentioned, not only in Chiara Crosignani’s conference report about “Fantastic Religions and Where to Find Them”, from Genzano a couple of years ago, but also in Derek Thiess’s imaginative and very current article about preppers and the apocalypse.

As always, there’s a bumper smorgasbord of non-realist writing to be enjoyed, from the Gothic to SF, from Britain’s haunted forests to Stanislaw Lem. Over 280 pages in fact!

I’m personally saving up, like a child hoarding his easter egg, their review of the Korean SF anthology Readymade Bodhisattva for after I finish reading the collection.

Fantastika is always an excellent read, and in these days of outrageous access charges for academic research, it’s delightfully free to read.

So go read it!

The Grapes of Wolf

When it comes to lost works of literature, John Steinbeck’s unpublished werewolf mystery amounts to five words I never imagined I’d ever write in that order together.

Werewolves and Wildness: The Open Graves, Open Minds special issue of  Gothic Studies - Edinburgh University Press Blog

Okay, it perhaps might not carry the same cultural weight as rediscovering Aristotle’s volume on comedy, or Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Won, or Gerard Manley Hopkins’ early poetry, or James Joyce’s lost stageplay.

But in terms of sheer unexpectedness, it’s on a par with hearing of the existence of Ernest Hemingway’s secret gay erotica, Franz Kafka’s rediscovered techno thriller, or Sylvia Plath’s long forgotten shopping and fucking chicklit.

Actually, it’s even less likely than all of those. But, we are assured, nevertheless, it exists.

Publish it now, dammit!

Tiktoking about invented languages

Our invented languages blog/project got a shout out today from Grammar Girl on Tiktok, which I have to say is new for us.

Such is the proliferation of social media platforms nowadays that I kind of gave up some time ago trying to keep up. I don’t do Twitter, or Insta or Tiktok. I’m on Facebook largely out of habit and because it’s where I can find a lot of the people I often need to find relatively quickly.

I’d love to say I got burnt by Bebo or something, but really it’s just a combination of laziness, and a desire for order. It’s also one of the reasons why I’ve finally (after a decade of owning the domain) launched this site.

I can tell by the stats that having one’s own webpage, especially as an academic, is probably not the most effective outreach methodology. But it suits me, as it gives me a degree of control, and allows me to archive things.

Am I a luddite? Perhaps (definitely in many ways, only perhaps in this though.)

Therefore I have great respect for those, like Grammar Girl, who have embraced the changes and the platforms and found successful ways to communicate with new audiences.

And I have great gratitude when such people share the love with those of us who don’t have their magical powers.

Sokal Squared come out fighting

The so-called ‘Sokal Squared’ collective who effectively trolled a series of journals a few years back with spoof articles intended to satirise the methodologies, findings and content of social science journals, have been defending their work.

By way of aide-memoire for anyone who doesn’t recall the ‘Grievance Studies’ debacle, in 2017 and 2018, three academics submitted a range of papers for submission to academic journals primarily dedicated to topics such as cultural, queer, race, sexuality and fat studies. The academics – Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose – contended that the level of scholarly standards in these journals, and indeed in those fields, was low and eroding the reputation of academia generally.

Thumbnail of video Academics expose corruption in Grievance Studies.jpg
Lindsay and Pluckrose, chuckling over the content of one of their bogus articles

When some of their articles were published, they went public to condemn what they saw as poor academic standards in these fields, and critique what they termed the prioritisation of ‘social grievances’ over rigorous academic scholarship. Their contention was that certain fields were underpinned by the assumption of certain grievances, and the scholarship which took place within those fields amended and adapted theories and findings to reinforce those grievances.

The reaction was varied; they received praise from some quarters, including some of the journal editors themselves, but they were also on the receiving end of serious criticism for what many perceived as unethical behaviour. After the debacle reached the pages of the New York Times, Boghossian was even investigated by his own employer in relation to academic ethics.

This current paper, some years on, in the journal Sociological Methods and Research, suggests that the Sokal Squared authors are still not happy about how their experiment was received. In response to a journal article supporting them last year, they have come out with this latest attempt to explain their methods and motives. I expect likewise that there are many people working in those particular academic disciplines who remain unhappy with the ‘Grievance Studies’ papers experiment in the first place.

Mostly, I’m noting this because I cited most of these papers in one of my own, an article which also aimed to highlight what I perceived as a shoddy corner of academia engaged in dubious practices, which could best be highlighted by actually engaging with the process of submitting a paper.

My target was, I think, much less ambiguous than that of Boghossian et. al. I took aim at the predatory open access journals which have sprung up in recent years, looking to prey on primarily emerging academics and academics from developing nations by charging sky-high article processing fees. In order to highlight that my article was a hoax, I cited not only the Grievance Studies articles which had made it into print, but also Sokal himself, the granddaddy of the practice, whose 1996 spoof of postmodern cultural studies led ultimately to a book, and an argument with Jacques Derrida.

I think I was able to categorically demonstrate the shoddy and debased academic practices, if you can even call them that, of these journals. I’m not entirely convinced that the Sokal Squared team made their case as definitively, but in this latest article, they do manage to convince that theirs was a serious attempt to expose what they felt was of serious concern.

In short, it wasn’t a hoax, folks.

Another Israel is Possible

Once again serious trouble and violence has erupted between Israel and Palestinians. Elswhere there is no end of discussion and commentariat media and social media prepared to offer their speculations and insights into why this is currently occurring.

Also prevalent are the ideas many people have about how to resolve this seemingly intractable problem. Two-state solutions, Eretz Israel solutions, walls… all these and more are being argued across the web.

I’m not intending to replicate any of that. Instead I will simply offer a solution that would work and yet at the same time will never take place, except of course, in another timeline, where it already has.

Next month at the SFRA 2021 conference, I’ll be talking about the Jewish states that Zionism pursued and failed to implement, for one reason or another, and how that has manifested in alt-history literature.

For now, though, all I can do is offer you the frontispiece from my talk: