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.


While the comic is ostensibly about grad students, it is really Randall's way of poking fun at different fields. Given that engineers can detect his bullshit quickly suggests he regards engineering with some respect. In other words, he thinks engineering has a low bullshit quotient. Similarly with linguists. He clearly thinks less of sociology, since his bullshit can go undetected for considerably longer. And the field of "Literary Criticism" is something he considers mostly, or entirely, BS, since he claims his BS 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, 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 bullshit 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 BS 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 BS, no-one notices, because literary criticism is pure BS itself. 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.

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.


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.
Student: Our big problem is heat dissipation
Cueball: Have you tried logarithms?
48 seconds
Cueball: Ah, so does this Finno-ugric family include, say, Klingon?
63 Seconds
Cueball: Yeah, my latest work is on ranking people from best to worst.
4 Minutes
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)

I find the claim "Since Klingon is a constructed language, designed to sound "alien" and to avoid sounding like any human language, it cannot be part of any real linguistic family."- specifically the "since it's constructed, it can't belong to a real language family"- to be rather dubious. Now, full disclosure, I have absolutely no formal education in Linguistics- the closest is that I'm in my first year of learning German- but there's no reason a conlang can't belong to a language family.

For example:

  • Anglish, English's form of linguistic purism that aims to remove all foreign influences (or at least romance influences) from the language is arcane and distinct enough from normal English to the degree that it can be considered a separate language almost (about the same difference as between English and Scots). Anglish is pretty obviously constructed (a lot of vocabulary was mangled together to talk about modern concepts that didn't exist prior to foreign influences), but it's not a stretch to say it belongs to the Germanic language family.
  • Esperanto is probably the world's most famous Conlang, but it was greatly influenced by the author's experience with language. It takes its grammar from Slavic languages and its vocabulary from Germanic and Romance languages; while it might not be an obvious member of any language family, I wouldn't call it a stretch to classify it in one (or more!) based on its influences.
  • The biggest issue is that "real language family" is a dubious term- a group of related-but-distinct conlangs could be said to belong to the same language family, and it would be a real language family- if they're real languages, they form a real family.

Now, the given example of Klingon probably doesn't belong to any earthly families since it was meant to be alien, but the cause-and-effect statement is just a little fishy. Hppavilion1 (talk) 21:35, 30 March 2017 (UTC)

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