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