Some detractors of Continental Philosophy affirm that when you take the time to read its works, and to figure out the main idea, it often reduces to empty verbiage or to platitudinous ideas. I disagree.

I have taken the time to read many French poststructuralist philosophical texts, including the time to do the necessary background reading, and to ruminate on them in a wide variety of life-situations. Many, but not all, of these Continental texts are rich and demanding conceptual feasts. True, they are not scientific texts, but they do not even claim to be, and that fact alone does not make them verbiage.

To take a specific example, reading Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS, was a breakthrough for me, because I could not bear the limitations of the lacano-althusserian synthesis. The book contains a well-argued sustained critique of this synthesis, but expressed in a wild language, and containing many references that require much work on the reader’s part to catch up on the discussion. It is not a book for beginners, so I can recommend it to almost noone, but it changed my life.

Despite containing many arguments ANTI-OEDIPUS plunges you from the beginning into Deleuze and Guattari’s way of seeing things, making use of language in a way that highlights and dramatises the incommensurable leap that one must make to properly understand the book. In other words their method of exposition is exactly the opposite of the analytic method, they begin with the conclusion, and this conclusion is also presupposed by the very style used to write the book.

This way of writing can make hard reading, but there is nothing irrational or “wrong” about wanting to foreground one’s differences, as long as one has arguments to back it all up. This conceptually provocative or counter-intuitive style is a common Continental way of writing, and to appreciate it one must overcome one’s insular prejudices that Continentals should “do it like us”.

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  1. Robert_C says:

    Isn’t there something wrong though with asking your reader to presuppose your conclusion with you, before he has had a chance to critically analyse it? I’ve only read a few continental philosophy essays and books, but every time I took the time to, it seemed that the arguments could be reconstructed in an analytic premises/conclusion form.


    • terenceblake says:

      The argument of the Continentals would be that the analytics presuppose the paradigm in which the conclusion makes sense. Rewriting the arguments in premise /conclusion form is OK for particular argumentative sequences once the paradigm is established. Contienetals privilege the paradigm-changing, and thus meaning-varying, work but they do not disdain argument. I have been to seminars by Deleuze and Lyotard, they were very skilled arguers, but their books aimed at plunging us in the appropriate world.


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