Just a brief post. From time to time I express my ire over how Continental philosophy is practiced in the English speaking world. To be clear, I see this as an institutional issue pertaining to how English-speaking Continental philosophy graduate programs are organized, how our conferences are structured, and how our journals and presses are structured. It is a question of how power functions in these institutions and the impact of that power on thought. We are too attached to proper names. All thought, it seems, has to be filtered through certain privileged figures, rather than directly focusing on questions and problems.
I think the issue can be summed up with the simple question “could a continentalist write Naming and Necessity?” Would an English-speaking Continental philosophy program authorize such a work for a grad student? Kripke gave these amazing lectures at the astonishingly young age of 29. When I ask whether or not a continentalist could write such a book, I am not asking a question about the content of the text, but rather of a certain style that directly works through a problem or a question. We could just as easily ask where an English-speaking continentalist could write the Logical Investigations or Being and Time or Difference and Repetition? Here the question is whether the English-speaking world has created institutions and venues that are open to this sort of direct work. We can imagine what sort of forms these texts would take in an English-speaking Continental framework. Rather than Naming and Necessity simpliciter, we would get something like Husserl on Names and Necessity. Rather than Difference and Repetition, we would instead get Derrida and Kierkegaard on Difference and Repetition. Everything, it seems, has to be filtered through the proper name of some master-figure or father, and responsibility for authorship can never be directly claimed.
Where a Kripke can say “I am responsible for what I have argued and conceptualized, I am committed”, the English-speaking world seems to foster an environment where one can always say “well that’s just what Husserl says, I don’t know if I fully buy it or not.” It’s something closer to intellectual history than philosophy. If you doubt that English-speaking Continental philosophy is structured in this way, just look at the program for SPEP on any given year. In the English-speaking world we have debates between Deleuzians and Badiouians, whereas in Anglo-American thought we have debates between, say, connectionists and functionalists. The former makes the debate a debate between different masters, while the latter makes it a debate between different theories (and I realize I’m being a bit too black and white here).
I think there are two basic problems here. First, the continentalist approach is often an impediment to thought. Insofar as everything must be filtered through the voice of a master-figure, you’re not dealing directly with the problem and what the development of the problem dictates according to its own immanent logic as it’s unfolded. Instead you get a sort of interpretive scholasticism that is often more a matter of textual debates over just what the thinker meant and that all too often misses the field of the problem and is unable to follow it wherever it might lead due to allegiance to the master-figure: “The problem seems to lead in this direction but I can’t go in that direction because it would be contrary to what Lacan says in these other matters.” My ability to think through depression, for example, is stunted because certain dimensions of the malady are rendered outside the field of sanctioned discussion in a Lacanian framework due to these categories of that framework.
Second, I think this framework is deeply at odds with those political intuitions at the heart of continental thought when it’s at its best: anarchism and communism. Scholarship organized around the authority of master-figures is inherently Oedipal in character. It is not an-archistic, but mon-archistic. The master-figures are the monarchs and the job of the rest is to dutifully maintain allegiance to their thought. Yet genuinely anarchist politics must be communist in spirit. It can admit of no hierarchy of thinkers, no thinkers more privileged than others, no thinkers that would be masters, but must instead treat all thinkers as voices who do or do not prevail by virtue of the reasons and arguments they’re able to marshal for their case. Anarchist and communist practice ought reflect itself both at the level of worldly political engagements and at the level of a sort of style and ethics of thought. The young upstart like Kripke at the tender age of 29 with little in the way of extensive scholarship in the history of philosophy under his belt should, through the force of his arguments, the novel problems he poses, and the concepts he develops be able to stand on equal footing with Plato… Not in the sense that he has accomplished as much as Plato– of course not! –but in the sense that his concepts, arguments, and problems should count just as much. Instead what we seem to get is monarchial scholarship, where some voices count as others and the rest are lesser lords and serfs that obey those monarchs (monarchialism being one avatar of Oedipus and authoritarianism more generally). There thus seems to be a deep performative contradiction between the institutions we’ve actually formed and the sort of politics we advocate.