Paul Ennis, who was recently interviewed at Figure/Ground, has posted some clarifying remarks that address some ambiguities in his interview. Specifically, they address some of the things he had to say about speculative realism as a movement, its threat to the hegemony of antirealism in continental philosophy, and the seriousness of its work.
Levi’s got some nice reflections on philosophical style up at Larval Subjects. I symptahize with the majority of his points, including this one:
The frustrating thing I encounter among continentals again and again is that all too often (a statistical claim), it seems impossible for there to be a genuine disagreement over positions. If one says “I disagree with X on Y because of Z”, the general response is “you’ve misinterpreted X.” In other words, it seems as if the texts of figures are endlessly transformed into Midas’ labyrinth, where the figure being discussed is granted sovereign authority and is the only one permitted to articulate positions and where any evaluation of positions is infinitely deferred behind interpretive disputes.
I’ve met this ‘misinterpretation’ rebuttal recently, with pretty serious consequences. Not only does the strategy described neutralize dissenting interpretations of continental philosopher X, they also neutralize or invalidate dissent from the secondary accounts of continental philosopher X given by continental philosopher X’s adherents. So much of continental philosophy gets filtered through translations and ‘reading guides’ and introductions, that something like an interpretive barrier gets erected around continental philosopher X’s reception in the Anglophone world (assuming that continental philosopher X writes in French, German, Italian, etc). When that barrier is guarded by a body of well-established exponents and expositors, it can become nearly impossible to breach the interpretive barrier and enter the fortress.
This is not where Levi goes with his discussion (which you should look at for yourself), but it got me thinking about how difficult it can be to ‘break into’ the continental publishing world when your interpretations or positions cut against the grain, and when it’s the grain that decides whether you sink or swim.
Today I went back to the comment thread on Eric Schliesser’s post on the continental/analytic divide, which I commented on here. Generally I avoid comments sections because they are often just time-sucking, inefficient ways to have debates. Plus, there are inevitably (and I mean that in the strictest sense) wild non sequiturs, offensive, and infuriating remarks made that only serve to reinforce the notion that rational dialogue (and ultimately, if I can be permitted a hyperbolic moment, democracy) is doomed to fail. The comments on Schliesser’s post are mostly tolerable, but I want to highlight a series of comments made between Mohan Matthen, John Drabinski, and Daniel Nagase.
At comment 23, Matthen chooses a difficult, presumably impenetrable passage of Derrida’s Of Grammatology. This passage, on its own, is supposed to demonstrate the very problem with continental writing. (Incidentally, if it did perform in this way it would serve to reinforce Schliesser’s point that a lot of ‘continental’ philosophy trades in such performativity.) This is precisely the kind of game that is often initiated at Leiter’s blog and to which I alluded in my earlier post. Drabinski chimes in at comment 61 to say that the Derrida passage makes perfect sense, and then at 67 Matthen asks Drabinski to unpack the passage for him, although you can tell right away that a trap is being laid. Before Drabinski replies, Nagase (comment 77) asks Matthen to defend the legitimacy of his tactic, and largely, I think, succeeds in deflating Matthen’s tactic (Drabinski thinks so too).
Matthen pushes Drabinski at 82, but instead of taking the bait, Drabinski precisely lays out the game that Matthen is playing. What is so helpful about Drabinski’s reply at 89 is how he shows that what Matthen is trying to do is to get Drabinski to ‘clearly’ articulate the obscure Derrida passage only so he (Matthen) can then reply, ‘Now why didn’t he just say that’?, in which case Drabinski would look like a dupe and Derrida would be exposed as the charlatan that ‘analytic’ philosophers believe him to be. Read Drabinski at comment 89 for yourself; Matthen concedes the game at 92.
I found Eric Schliesser’s short critique of a recent piece in the NYT by Gary Gutting to include a number of new ways of conceiving what continental philosophy is up to and why it cannot be easily (or completely) translated into analytic philosophy. It’s also refreshing to hear someone express a reservation about the supposed clarity of Anglo-American philosophical writing. For someone with a background in the history of philosophy, rather than the ‘standard’ analytic undergraduate training, I often find analytic writing difficult. Yes, it’s partly because I’m more comfortable reading continental thought, but it’s also because there’s a certain affected casualness that permeates a lot of analytic writing, a casualness whose rhetoric suggest that what is being said is communicable in ‘plain English’, but which often ends up remaining opaque (Schliesser’s term) and elusive/allusive.
Schliesser’s post also works to undermine the standard criticism of continental philosophy used often by Brian Leiter, who is always taking the easy shot at the style of continental writing. Schliesser makes some plausible suggestions regarding the reason, if not the necessity, of continental ‘jargon’. This is not to excuse that writing which is truly terrible, which exists, of course. It is to challenge the critics to make their complaints a bit sharper by saying something specific about the deficiencies of a particular continental author, rather than just quoting that author out of context and at his/her weakest stylistic moment.
Found this CFP in my electronic mailbox today.
Varieties of Continental Thought and Religion
June 15-16, 2012
We invite submissions from scholars and graduate students based in Canada and abroad on the topic of Continental Thought and Religion. The general theme of the conference is meant to reflect the variety of articulations of religion that have emerged in contemporary European thought. While the focus of the conference is continental thought, we nonetheless conceive the latter in an interdisciplinary manner (including literary theory, social and political thought, psychoanalysis, and religious studies). We also encourage submissions from people interested in exploring possible connections with analytic philosophy.
Confirmed Speakers: John Caputo (Syracuse U.), Bettina Bergo (U. de Montréal), more to be announced in the near future.
In addition to our keynote speaker, John Caputo, we will have four commissioned workshops comprised of two papers and a response, and a series of themed panels. We invite submissions of three-page proposals for essays for the following themed panels with included possible topics:
Phenomenology of Religion
The thought of Chrétien, Henry, Lacoste, Levinas, Marion, and Ricoeur
Topics: the gift; the work of art; appearance and transcendence; call and response
Religion and Politics
The thought of Agamben, Asad, Connolly, Derrida, de Vries, Girard, Habermas, Schmitt, and Taylor
Topics: political theology; the post-secular; sovereignty; religion and violence; pluralism
Religion and Speculative Realism
The thought of Brassier, Harman, Laruelle, and Meillassoux
Topics: materialism; correlationism; nihilism; the things themselves; divine inexistence; ‘future Christ’
Beyond Theism and Atheism
The thought of Caputo, Kearney, Kristeva, Milbank, Vattimo
Topics: kenosis; anatheism; weak theology; a/theology; radical orthodoxy
Continental Thought, Religion, and Aesthetics
The artwork of Bresson, Caravaggio, Celan, Chagall, Dostoyevsky, Dumont, Artemisia Gentileschi, Kahlo, Kapoor, Kiarostami, Kiefer, Malick, Newman, O’Keefe, and Stevens
The thought of Cavell, Cixous, Critchley, Irigaray, Marion, Nancy, and Rancière
Topics: transcendence in art; image and icon; creativity and creation; representation and idolatry
Immanentism and Religion
Agamben, Badiou, Bergson, Deleuze, James, Foucault, Keller, and Žižek
Topics: self-organization; the event; plurality; bio-power; polydoxy
History of Continental Thought and Religion
Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Heidegger
Topics: death of God; reason and faith; scripture and philosophy; religion and fantasy; onto-theology
Please send only one three-page (double-spaced) proposal on one of the above themes and any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com> by December 31, 2011. We intend to notify authors about our decisions by February 28, 2012. Other conference details (registration fee, preliminary program, etc.) will be announced in new year.
The VCTR Conference is organized by John Caruana (Philosophy, Ryerson University) and Mark Cauchi (Humanities, York University).
Leon has posted a generous reply to my questions of yesterday. One thing I should say straight off is that I think Leon is doing important work bringing Peirce into the continental discussion, so I’m eager to learn from him. I’m reading more Peirce because of him! For now I’d like to pull out two quotes from his post and push him to say a little bit more. In the following quote I feel like there’s a bit of sleight-of-hand going on, a rick that is familiar in theophenomenology:
In a Scholastic manner Peirce basically states that its “fetishism” to say that God “exists” like a stone or tree “exists.” He is rather interested in how the natural world and its processes can lead one to find the hypothesis of a divine creator a compelling one, and once one adopts that hypothesis, to see what its practical effects upon conduct might be. There is also a phenomenological sort of reportage here: what is it like to experience the suggestion of such a hypothesis? In being awestruck, why is deity the most compelling hypothesis that the cosmos itself seems to suggest?
The trick is the transformation of religious sentiment into evidence for the divine, with the qualification that this is no irrational leap of faith, but something completely natural. There are books out there about a ‘faith instinct’, which isn’t really what Leon is talking about here. But if we want naturalistic grounds for religious faith, perhaps a faith instinct theory could buttress Peirce’s firstness-feeling for God in the NA (“Neglected Argument”)?
Here’s the second quote, on Spinoza:
Spinoza. With Spinoza’s God, there *is* no real difference between nature naturing and natured natured. And, there is no real freedom in his system, either. Parallel modifications of the one divine substance. But with Peirce (and others such as Heidegger or Schelling) we get ontological difference and also freedom, or spontaneity and variation from law. Feeling is the medium of communication between the generative conditions of the world where this freedom originates, and the world. Yes, potency takes on special significance. And I’d say, on this point, if anything, its Deleuze (not Spinoza) who comes closest, actually, to developing a theistic naturalist metaphysics (unbeknownst to him!) Why? For one, its the conditions of generativity – the abstract machine, as it were – that is the divine nature. This positions the ground as a unique *transcendental* ground empowered with an ultimate feature: the power of creativity. And so Tom asks: why tack back on terms such as God or Spirit if we would like a thoroughgoing naturalistic metaphysics? We don’t. This ground is fully part of nature, yet supercedes nature’s ordinariness. It is “super” natural yet contained *within* the natural. A “natural supernaturalism,” if you willl.
Leon’s right to point out that Spinoza’s monism dictates that there is no ontological difference between nature naturing and nature natured for Spinoza. It is crucial that he does not make such a distinction, because if he would have, then it would be quite easy to construe nature naturing as divine–which is what Leon and Corrington have done, it seems. Why make that move? It seems that the impulse for the latter is to preserve real freedom and real chance (Peirce’s tychism). This can only be done, it seems, if a real ontological distinction is drawn between the two aspects of nature. This seems disallowed for Leon because it runs the risk of fracturing nature in undesirable ways. The way to avoid this fracturing, it seems, is to say that potency (and spirit) are fully natural; they’re what bring chance, spontaneity, and freedom into the deterministic order of nature. So is chance/freedom simply posited as existing? Spinoza would say that when we believe in chance/freedom, we fundamentally misunderstand (or fail to imagine) all of the links in the causal chain of nature. Someone like Althusser, in his “Underground Materialism” essay, would like to replace chance into the materialist tradition (Spinoza too). But Althusser is trying really hard to pinpoint the locus of chance in each of the figures he considers. It seems that with Peirce, it’s a matter of being compelled to believe in the divine by virtue of being overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the cosmos. This, however, is a passive affect for Spinoza, not the kind of thing that rational belief is built upon. So, is the religious Peirce giving up his earlier rationalism in his later work and the NA?
Again, why can’t we just see the transcendental ground of nature–potency, nature naturing, plane of immanence, abstract machine, what have you–as nature (or matter)? Why call it God or the divine? Is there compelling reason to divinize the ground, or is it simply a viable hypothesis? If it’s just a hypothesis, then it’s merely one amongst many and it would seem that the law of elegance (Ockham’s Razor) would be applicable here. In any event, I think my point is clear enough.
Dylan Trigg has announced on his blog that his new book, The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, is set to be published by Ohio University Press in January 2012. The book has a glowing endorsement by Ed Casey (who has a new website, by the way), the leading figure in the phenomenology of place tradition that Trigg is working in.
In anticipation of reading some stuff by Andy Clark and Alva Noe, I picked up George Herbert Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society. Only a few pages in, the connections with Merleau-Ponty are already emerging. This is not surprising, given that both Mead and MP (in The Structure of Behavior) are setting up their psychology in opposition to the behaviorist method. In Mead’s case, he’s interested less in rejecting or supplanting behaviorism than amending/extending the behaviorist approach to behavior. I hope to make some posts on what I find in Mead. It was nice to see a few books already extant on the connection between Mead and continental philosophy, as well as this one by Sandra Rosenthal and Patrick Bourgeois, called Mead and Merleau-Ponty. Like I said, if you’ve read Merleau-Ponty, it only takes a few pages of Mead to get the idea to write a book on their similarities.
The schedule for April’s 21st-Century Idealism Conference at Dundee is here. This should be a great event. I am not attending, but my friend and fellow Duquesne student, Dave Mesing, will be giving a talk on Kierkegaard and politics.
This would be a great addition to the personal library: Chicago UP’s The History of Continental Philosophy. Only $800!
There are a bunch of names included that I don’t recognize. Incidentally, I’d love to hear what Leiter thinks about this set, published by his home press and everything.