OPEN LETTER TO BRIAN LEITER: from one just a “guy with a blog” to another

Dear Professor Leiter,

I see that you have devoted two paragraphs to me in a blog post, so I feel that I must respond however briefly. I must admit that I have no idea who you are, despite having visited your blog very occasionally, so I have no particular opinion about your work, of which I am totally ignorant.

I must admit I was a little surprised by your introducing me as “Some fellow … who teaches English in France”. It seemed a little disparaging, as if I had no right talking about Continental Philosophy or anything else much (except the present perfect and infinitive clauses?). I am not totally ignorant of philosophy, as I have a First Class Honours Degree in Philosophy from Sydney University, and a Masters in Philosophy from the Sorbonne.

While it is true that I “teach English in France”, I do so in the French National Education System, as I have the Agrégation in English, and I teach principally at the tertiary level. I have been living in France, and thus on the European continent, for 34 years now, and done extensive traveling and reading, so I know where it is, and that France is not the whole of it. For the first seven years here I attended the courses of Lyotard and Deleuze at St-Denis, Jean-Toussaint Desanti and Michel Serres at the Sorbonne, and also (until his untimely death in 1984) Michel Foucault at the Collège de France, unfortunately all ” late 20th-century French obscurantists” in your eyes).

You call my defence of Zizek “silly”, and Zizek a “charlatan”. You declare:

the charlatans and their apologists want to convince others that they exist in a different philosophical, indeed intellectual, universe from everyone else, and thus are entitled to a kind of intellectual and philosophical insulation from regular criticism.

So I can only conclude that in your eyes I too am a “charlatan” or one of their “apologists”, and that you are a practitioner of “regular criticism”. You go on to criticise “philosopher Justin Weinberg” (he at least you refer to as a philosopher and not just as “some fellow”) for having posted a link to “Mr. Blake’s silliness”. These are harsh words indeed!

You take me to task for my list summarising a series of  a dozen posts of mine defending Zizek, a philosopher whose opinions and point of view I do not share (as I am careful to point out), from unjust criticism by Noam Chomsky. Yet you do not seem to have read the actual posts, where I give the argumentative context and specify that I am talking about contemporary French Post-Structuralist Philosophy. You seem to have just read the title of the list, and skimmed the contents. You even repeat back as if it were an important criticism of my post something that I clearly say, both at the beginning of the series and accompanying its various posts:

Mr. Blake’s post has a bit to do with the last of the ten (post-modernism or post-structuralism)

I suppose I should feel angry or upset or something, but as I explained at the beginning I have really no idea of who you are. This is not some sort of inverted snobbish swipe at you, but a mark of the same ignorance (which I think is mutual) that you discuss in your post. I must say that I have been trying to engage with people who self-identify as “Continental Philosophers” (in fact mostly British and American “speculative realists”, but this could explain in part my choice of title) and the vast majority of them continue to ignore me, writing as if I, and more importantly my arguments, did not exist. So I am very grateful that you devoted two paragraphs to refuting my title. Strange as it may seem I feel I have come up in the world.

Like you I combat ignorance, and that is the source of my series of blog posts. I found Noam Chomsky culpably ignorant of the tradition in which Zizek was writing and which accounts, at least partially, for his style. I even considered entitling my series “Zizek for Chomskies” (on the analogy of “for Dummies”) but I chose a more sober, less ad hominem title. “20 traits of some contemporary French post-structuralist philosophy” seemed too much of a mouthful, although I am guilty of far worse titles. I figured that those who read my posts would also situate them in the context of the whole blog, which context is precisely the one designated by the discarded “mouthful”.

I liked the democratic way you undercut what could have seemed like condescension when you began by refering to me as “some fellow who teaches English in France”. I noticed that you modestly referred to yourself as just “a guy with a blog”, which is as good a description for me as any.


Terence Blake

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15 Responses to OPEN LETTER TO BRIAN LEITER: from one just a “guy with a blog” to another

  1. dgolumbia says:

    this is unbelievable, even for someone I find as obnoxious as Leiter. what a colossal ass. his post is obnoxious in so many ways–just think of the fact that he claims that Western philosophers have “no opinion at all” about non-Western philosophers, as opposed to inherently thinking they are bad (a judgment which in my experience is frequently true), while then referring obliquely or even directly to the current philosophy he doesn’t like as “charlatans” and “obscurantists,” and then ranting about identity politics. And the only point in adding “East Asian philosophers to the curriculum [would be] to satisfy the consumer demands of Asian students rather than because these philosophers are interesting and important.” No, there’s no inherent belief in the moral superiority of one’s own subject position there at all. Let alone characterizing you as “silly” based on a what is clearly nothing more than a passing glance at a blog with a long, detailed, and substantial history (I wonder if he considers your posts on Feyerabend “silly”?). I disagree with a great deal of Leiter writes, and the fact is that he is the one giving philosophical blogging a bad name at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    The two paragraphs about me have not the slightest rational relation to the rest of his piece. He seems to have been moved by some vague Stimmung.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just read it. He seems very ignorant & totally not cosmopolitan!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Philip says:

    A wonderfully restrained riposte! The ‘argument’ presented by Leiter does a disservice not only to blogging but also to philosophy. It’s amazing how high powered academics at the top of their professions still manage to see themselves as rebellious outsiders. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. Just another egocentric professor defending the status quo while adding a veneer of radicalism by occasionally and randomly denouncing ‘bourgeois liberals’ (whoever they are). To my mind the first things that a philosophical education should instil are self-awareness and the capacity for self-criticism. Unfortunately, these seem to be precisely the qualities cast out by the modern philosophical profession, of which Leiter is only the loudest and brashest example.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Up the Continentals! (as Beckett nearly wrote).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pete says:

    Thank you for this. Insist on a right of reply in 3am too!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. skholiast says:

    Congratulations. As we say in computer games, You just leveled up!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. landzek says:

    Whoa this is a great response. I don’t know anything of Lieter beyond a few things Harman posted on his OOO blog (is that even the same guy? Lol) but one can tell who’s got the bigger investment in identity. Bigger head, smaller world. Perhaps the end of philosophy (the end of history) is really the exposure of how Big philosophy fails in the light that multimedia allows for transparency. But perhaps I over generalize. In any case, your gaze is inspective (is that a word?) and challenging. If I had any invested philosophical identity to speak of I might be afraid ! (Maybe not).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s a good thing we have upstanding philosophers like Leiter around to explain to poor “Terrence” that Continental philosophy is diverse and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Non-Manifestation and commented:
    Terence Blake gives Leiter’s idiotic ramblings on “identity politics” in philosophy a far better response than they deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. John Appleby says:

    With regards to your list of ‘late 20th-century French obscurantists’ – Oddly enough, Leiter claims to quite like Foucault. I’ve never managed to work out how he squares this with his constant references to Derrida as a charlatan. After all, if Foucault didn’t always get on with Derrida, he certainly respected him intellectually.


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