451: Impostor

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If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction.
Title text: If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction.

[edit] Explanation

While the comic is ostensibly about grad students, it is really Randall's way of poking fun at the relative merits of different fields, reminiscent of 435: Purity. In the comic, Cueball attempts to pose as an expert in a given field (a recurring pastime of his) and sees how long the real experts can detect his bullcrap. The fact that engineers can do it quickly suggests that engineering has a low bullcrap quotient. He thinks similar of linguists, as it takes them only slightly longer than the engineers to recognize his bullcrap. He clearly thinks less of sociology, since his bullcrap can go undetected for considerably longer. And the field of "Literary Criticism" is something he considers mostly, or entirely, bullcrap, since he claims his bullcrap has repeatedly been published.

The first panel shows Cueball discussing an engineering problem with Ponytail. Logarithms are a mathematical tool used for expressing an exponential relationship as a linear one. While this has many uses in a variety of fields, including engineering, it is not a suitable tool for dissipating excess heat[citation needed]. It might have value in plotting temperature change over time, or temperature over distance, however.

Since Klingon is a constructed language designed to sound "alien" and which explicitly avoids sounding like any human language, it cannot be part of any real-world linguistic family. Any linguist who knows what a Klingon is would instantly recognize his statement as a joke, so the detection time should be only a few seconds. His assertion that his bullcrap went undetected for over a minute either suggests he does not expect linguists to be familiar with Star Trek, or that the panels indicate the moment of detection rather than the beginning of the conversation.

The third panel is a bit more subtle. While sociology can certainly use ranking as an analytical tool, the trouble lies in the complete lack of meaning in the tags "best" and "worst". Detecting this as bullcrap requires a bit more effort on the part of the sociology grad students.

Literary criticism, on the other hand, is almost completely written in buzz words and jargon, so when Cueball only tells some bullcrap, no one notices. His quip at "deconstructing the self" may be a veiled insult at how the field itself, when analyzed, makes no sense and is pure bullcrap. His assertion that he published 8 papers and 2 books could also be his way of saying that he doesn't believe anyone actually reads any of the stuff published in the field, and/or that the people who would read it are credulous and inept enough to not notice it's garbage.

The title text challenges the lenient, forgiving souls in the audience to take a look at the Wikipedia article for literary deconstruction and attempt to understand just what the heck the article is trying to talk about. The article in question is almost constantly flagged for "cleanup" on the grounds that it's a jumbled mess. An archive of the article as it was when this comic was published is available here.

[edit] Transcript

[Caption above the panels:]
My Hobby:
Sitting down with grad students and timing
how long it takes them to figure out that
I'm not actually an expert in their field.
[For all four panels below there are two frames crossing the border of each panel. The ones at the top left has a caption, and the one below right has the result of the timing.]
[Ponytail and Cueball is sitting across from each other in office chairs.]
Ponytail: Our big problem is heat dissipation
Cueball: Have you tried logarithms?
48 seconds
[Cueball is sitting in a chair at the center of a table looking left at another Cueball-like guy. To the right is a long black haired girl.]
Cueball: Ah, so does this Finno-ugric family include, say, Klingon?
63 Seconds
[Cueball is standing with his hands up talking to another Cueball-like guy and Megan who has lifted her arm to palm her face.]
Cueball: Yeah, my latest work is on ranking people from best to worst.
4 Minutes
[Cueball is sitting in a armchair with another Cueball-like guy sitting attentively in front of him on the floor.]
Literary Criticism:
Cueball: You see, the deconstruction is inextricable from not only the text, but also the self.
Eight papers and two books and they haven't caught on.

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It could be that no one understands the literary criticism, even if they read it. The panel shows a student listening to Cueball. A fun, alternative explanation is that Cueball has found his real niche! A natural genius in literary criticism! (I know that's not what he's driving at. Stick with my first explanation.)Theo (talk) 13:22, 13 August 2013 (UTC)

I know this is easy to find, but the wikipedia article on deconstruction is very relevant. There should be a link in the explanation. 01:05, 30 April 2014 (UTC)

I believe the multiple issues listed in the Deconstruction Wikipedia article speak for themselves:

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. 20:10, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

I'm wondering how anyone can make enough sense of that article to notice bias. :) NealCruco (talk) 17:24, 31 January 2015 (UTC)

I think that, on the literary criticism explanation, Randall wrote "Eight papers and two books and they haven't caught on" to mean that he talked about eight papers and two books, not that he has already had a literary criticism writing career consisting of eight written papers and two books and no one has noticed. 04:19, 16 July 2014 (UTC)

I disagree. A 'paper' usually means an academic paper, not literary work. Then, the books part follows suit. --NeatNit (talk) 06:52, 3 August 2014 (UTC)
Could also be a reference to the Sokal Hoax...implying he did the same thing over and over but without the "reveal." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Given the "Eight papers and two books" that the narrator has written on literary criticism, could this actually be talking about impostor syndrome, where the author believes that they're frauds and that they're not as good as people think they are, but in actual fact are knowledgable in their field? --Sophira (talk) 04:13, 23 November 2015 (UTC)


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