MORE CONTEXT AND A 17TH TRAIT OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY: ANTI-ESSENTIALISM

I do not defend bad style, such as poor use of footnotes or unfair summaries of others’ ideas, or overly abstruse language, but much of Continental philosophy is called “obscurantist” because it has a different approach to style. A transformative approach is not the same as an informative approach. I have discussed the matter a little: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/clarity-depends-on-ontology-foucault-and-searle-critics-of-derrida/, https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/chomskys-conversation-argument-non-conversational-non-cognitive/ and https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/was-foucault-a-closet-gricean-notes-on-the-obscurity-of-contnental-philosophy/.

The context of my text was Chomsky pandering to a common stereotype of recent (“post-structuralist”) French philosophy as obscurantist and empty. I wanted to give an impressionistic, intuitively understandable sketch of what that stereotype might be neglecting and that might help people get their bearings in a literature that I find very valuable and enriching (after all I left my own country for the love of it), and that sometimes makes me throw up my hands in exasperation. On my blog I try to take difficult thinkers and ideas and make them easier to understand, but for that purpose I don’t usually translate them into plain language, as I think that is not always good method and I have explained why. I gave it a try at Justin ‘s request, so I think I deserve thanks rather than abuse, or people parading their superior knowledge. If I put things in plain language, it was for those who wanted clarification, not for those who have a lot of knowledge in the field. I think it is only fair to take into account the pragmatic context of my original piece (a desire to defend recent French post-structuralism from a set of unjust stereotypes) and of my clarifications (a desire to reformulate one phrase in “non-elitist language”, to see if that would help people wondering about my meaning). I certainly have no intention of providing an objective criterion of demarcation between continentals and analytics.

As I have said a few times, Zizek is not “exemplary” for me, but he does exemplify many typical traits of contemporary Continental philosophy. My own exemplary figures are Lyotard, Deleuze, Serres, Foucault and amongst the living and still going strong Laruelle, Stiegler, Latour. I actually regretted that I had originally based my list around Zizek, but I found Chomsky’s dismissal so cheap, ignorant, stupid, and in bad faith that I wanted to show that even Zizek could be subsumed under a rational style that Chomsky affects not to be aware of. I have recently considered applying the same list to Bruno Latour’s recent AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, which I consider to be one of the most important books of Continental philosophy that I have read since Deleuze’s demise. My categories have been also very much influenced by Bernard Stiegler’s on-line seminar that I have been following for the last 4 or 5 years.

I have given a sketch of an argument as to why certain types of jargon that may be initially “obscure” may be transforming our meanings and problematics, and so become clear later, after the transformation. As to obscurantism, if you read French you can see on my blog several recent posts defending Michel Onfray’s critiques of Heidegger, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Foucault, Badiou for their “hyperconceptual” style and obscurantist jargon.

Following a remark from John Protevi I think I can now add a 17th trait to my list:

17) “nominalism” in the sense of “anti-essentialism”. I think it it implicit in all the other traits taken together. I reject the idea that we must confine ourselves to using only familiar language and concepts, as that amounts to enshrining a principle of meaning invariance, which must be discarded in any domain including philosophy if progress is to be possible. Note however that this is not a wholesale advocacy of the use of unfamiliar language and concepts, as this objection presupposes that unfamiliarity is a stable property and not a relational predicate predicate containing social, geographical and temporal aspects, as my example of the concept of “problematic” being a familiar concept in French lycées since the 70s shows.

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2 Responses to MORE CONTEXT AND A 17TH TRAIT OF CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY: ANTI-ESSENTIALISM

  1. Hans Radder published an article in Review of Metaphysics some years ago which you might find interesting – he uses the idea of non-locality to explain how ‘unfamiliar’ concepts work. Here are the bibiographical details. If you cannot access the RoM, I could send you a copy. http://philpapers.org/rec/RADHCB

    I would prefer the word ‘interlocal’ however, as nonlocal suggests a dualism with the world. Concepts travel (or are handed down) through space and time, that is the key issue, and they thereby change, just like cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    Thanks Angela it sounds very interesting. I have got hold of a copy and will read it soon.

    Like

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