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.