Continental/Analytic Divide: sociological, experiential and imagistic

The DAILY NOUS has a new post up on the Continental/Analytic Divide, citing a very interesting article by Bill Blattner claiming that “The so-called Continental-analytic division within philosophy is not a philosophical distinction; it’s a sociological one”.

I am very sympathetic to Blattner’s stated position (the sociological thesis) as personally I was first trained as an analytic philosopher, but by following through on my theme of ontological and epistemological pluralism as exemplified in the work of Paul Feyerabend I discovered very interesting developments being carried out by French thinkers (Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Serres, Derrida). I taught myself French to read them, as there were few translations available then (in the late 1970s). I then moved from Sydney to Paris, without feeling that I was changing anything very much philosophically except moving from an environment hostile to pluralism (on both the analytic side dominated by British empiricism, Popperians, and Kripkean realists, and the Continental side dominated by Althusserians and Lacanians) to one favorable to pluralism. So I can say that there is an experiential level where I did not even notice the so-called Continental/Analytic Divide. Lyotard, who i interviewed, read my work on Feyerabend and the philosophy of science and was very favorable, and declared his enthusiasm. Michel Serres, who I also interviewed, affirmed the convergence between his work and Feyerabend’s. Foucault at the Collège de France alluded to Feyerabend’s work in order to distinguish his approach from Feyerabend’s, comparing his archeology to a possible “anarcheology” (1980). Deleuze was in his post-Thousand-Plateaus phase, talking about multiplicities and pluralism and minority struggles. The sociology was different, but the themes were the same in many respects. So I can empirically confirm Blattner’s idea.

However, I find that this approach misses something, and is too “rational” in a sort of analytic way. The style of these thinkers discourse, both oral and written, was very different from all that I was used to (the stylistic or imagistic thesis). It was during these first seven years in Paris that I made many of the observations that I later condensed in my attempted defence of Zizek from Chomsky’s critique with my list of 20 traits of Continental philosophy. This is where I came to understand the central importance of image for Continental philosophers, as not just serving to convey an independent content more intuitively, but as being an integral part of the content. Factually the Divide may be only sociological, but imagistically it exists and is important. We are in a totally different noetic ecology in Continental philosophy, and it is useful to have several rules of thumb to guide us, hence my list.

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