A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the differences between Anglo-American and Continental thought. Are Anglo-American and Continental thought merely discussing things in different vocabularies and do they share far more in common than we normally think? Can the divide be bridged? Is there an irreconcilable difference in the questions and problems of these two traditions? In other words, these discussions tend to be situated at the level of the discursive or content.
I really have nothing profound to add to this discussion. Because of the idiosyncrasies of my professional career since getting my position, I haven’t had much of a stake in pledging allegiance to either of these traditions. For that matter, I haven’t had much of a professional stake in having to restrict myself to philosophy, ignoring work in other disciplines such as literary theory, media studies, psychology, sociology, media studies, and so on. This is one of the benefits of being a community college professor. No one really cares whether I’m a Continentalist or an Anglo-American thinker, whether I’m bridging the divide, or whether I restrict myself to a canon strictly recognized by academia as philosophy. As a consequence, I’m able to take up whatever theory, in whatever discipline, I find valuable without worrying about the networks of power that inhabit departments and professional organizations. I doubt it would have been possible to write The Democracy of Objects in a department with a graduate program; at least, not at this point in my career.
Setting all this aside, one thing I find interesting about the entire divide discussion is that it almost always seems to be approached at the level of the discursive or content. In other words, I seldom see discussions of the so-called divide in terms of geography and sociology. Oh sure, we all recognize that the divide has a geographical dimension. Continental philosophy is primarily philosophy that arose out of Germany and France from the 19th century on, while Anglo-American philosophy arose during the 20th century out of Great Britain and the United States.
When I say that we don’t discuss this divide geographically and sociologically, what I mean is that we really don’t raise the question of the degree to which this divide might be an accident of both media networks of communication between different regions of the world, as well as linguistic barriers. The lack of communicative connections between different regions of the world leads to geographical isolation or the formation of isolated linguistic/conceptual communities. These isolated communities then develop along distinct conceptual routes. I really have nothing to say in response to the questions with which I began this post, but I do suspect that as we become ever more globally connected we’ll see that it becomes more and more difficult to talk about something like distinctly Continental thought or distinctly Anglo-American thought. This divide can only sustain itself in and through the isolation of social communities. That implies the absence of communications media quickly linking these communities. As that changes it will become more and more difficult to maintain those conceptual unities.