Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leiterite Hysteria and the Protevi Journal Experiment

John Protevi works on Deleuze. He's good, and often goes to SPEP. He corresponds with "analytics" like this New APPS thread. The thread is started out as an empirical attempt to see where Continental thinkers have been covered in "mainstream" journals. So far, the disparity hasn't really been commented on or explained.

There has been a point of impatience from more mainstream philosophers (to call them analytic philosophers now might be to belabor the point) that Continental philosophy has not been victimized. An anonymous poster by the name of Bizarre wrote this full length comment on Lance's "Queering the Analytic/Continental Distinction" thread.

I find sk's and Shelley Tremain's interpretation of the tenor of the discussion here rather tendentious. Being a party-line continental is not in itself at all like being a woman in philosophy, or a gay person in philosophy, or a person of colour in philosophy, or a disabled person in philosophy. For any criticism of party-line continentals to "sound like blaming the victim" it would have to be plausible that they are in any reasonable sense victims qua party-line continentals. But they are not. There is a crowd whose egos are apparently in such need of Brian Leiter's approbation that they will raise all hell if they don't get it (cf. Michael Fray, who writes on another blog "I take special offense at [Leiter's view of SPEP departments] because I am studying at one of the programs Leiter impugns in that post. I have been absolutely infuriated ever since. It is TOTALLY untrue that my professors are 'inferior' or that I am receiving sub-par training; Leiter should be ashamed of himself for saying such things."). But having Leiter (or any other philosopher) think you are an intellectual mediocrity because of the kind of work you do (as opposed to because you are a woman, or gay, or a person of colour, or disabled) is not in and of itself being oppressed. Party-line continentals have for a while now had a much broader influence across the humanities than party-line analytics (and some of their defenders readily admit as much; cf. John Drabinski complaining how "far behind" the other humanities philosophy supposedly is). This overall intellectual climate makes cries of continental oppression sound rather hollow. Someone uncharitable might even compare the situation to astrologers complaining about not being respected in astronomy departments - never mind how many millions of dollars more are globally spent each year on astrological services and merchandise than on astronomical research.
Likewise, it would be cavalier to dismiss party-line continentals' facing the prospect of being "out of a job" if what was being discussed was in fact unemployment simpliciter, with all the difficulties it brings ("visiting the food-bank (again), making decisions whose alternatives are paying rent or purchasing a much-needed prescription drug, going on welfare, eating a steady diet of boiled potatoes, becoming a sex worker, committing suicide"). But it is not. Rather, the discussion merely touched upon the fact that they may not be able to get a job in philosophy departments ranked (highly) in the PGR. And while it's reasonable to think that everyone is entitled to gainful and non-dehumanising employment, it's surely not reasonable to think that everyone is entitled to being a philosophy professor (much less a philosophy professor in some select group of departments).
The academic job market is abysmal for everyone. Many departments train many more PhDs than there are available jobs. This is not limited to philosophy, either, as we all know. One of the roles the PGR (or any alternative) has to play is to give prospective graduate students some sense of how professionally risky it is to undertake a particular course of study (of course, mentors have a much larger responsibility to do this). Ideally, all philosophy students would be aware of their almost universally dismal academic job prospects. But this is all orthogonal to the continental/analytic divide and what we ought to think of it. Mark Lance, and Brian Leiter, and Rebecca Kukla, and Lee Braver, and some others in this thread, have made a number of useful suggestions as to how the divide should be understood and overcome. All of these suggestions centrally depend on the intellectual merits of pluralism, and intellectual demerits of anti-pluralism. None depend on the idea that party-line continentals are somehow victimised in the profession

I do not think anyone would say that systemic discrimination against sexual orientation or race is analogous to the often felt boundary policing on the part of Party-Line Analytics against the internal achievements of Continental philosophy. Again, boundary policing is not the same as discrimination, but it is a form of powerplay. In my own experience, I've seen it happen firsthand and it's embarrassing. At a national conference, I've heard a famous analytic metaphysician once claim that one avoids Foucault as a matter of "intellectual hygiene." I once heard an up and coming Descartes historian laugh off Continental philosophy as he proceeded down the hallway. At the University of British Columbia, it is so bad that an UNDERGROUND group of students met in secret to read Continental authors. I have no knowledge if they continue to meet. I met one of them in Point Grey at a cafe. The group member was so happy to know that I was leaving SFU to study Husserl. Somehow, this confirmed they were not crazy.

The success of Continental philosophy in the humanities is an indication to them that they have not been victims of intellectual censorship from more analytic heavy weights. However, the success of a worldview or thinker to have an effect on other topics not covered by "mainstream" philosophy is logically independent as to whether or not mainstream philosophy has been discriminatory to Continental philosophy. When you consider that analytic philosophy has strictly confined itself to a narrow focus on matters largely epistemic, then what goes on outside of their attention is completely unknown to them. Continentals did have a large impact on more humanistic and historically-centered disciplines, but analytic philosophy could have never known that it did have this effect all the while discriminating against this type of "other."

Of course, it is healthy for this silly distinction to go away. Yet, it has to go away for the right type of reasons, as I've said. There must be equal respect and command of hermeneutic attention to central Continental thinkers in a way that engages "Continental" philosophy for what it says in its own way. This means an enlargement of philosophy that accepts in principle that art, literary works and creative expression can also be ways to share ideas inasmuch as logical dialectic. Given this, I very much sympathize with Babette Babich's heated comment from the same thread above.

Analytic philosophy remains and will always remain closed to ‘continental philosophy’ of any but the ‘analyticized’ kind (i.e., the kind of continental philosophy that eliminates all the continental bits like style and like authors referred to in favor of analytic bits).
The reason for denying the distinction between the two, for arguing that such distinctions should be abolished, is the logical consequence of this closed approach. Thus one speaks of “philosophy” just philosophy – which is coincidentally the method of choice in analytic philosophy to exclude or banish whatever one does not wish to engage, one argues that the refused is simply not doing philosophy.
Q. E. D.

She's right. I hate to say it. In my short experience (10 years of schooling, or half a decade between studying analytic and Continental philosophy), it is never that analytics were interested in collaboration or integration with the exception of the Davidson / Gadamer correspondence about the Philebus. It has always been from those, like myself in question, that see merits in being philosophically ambidextrous.

However, it is hard to accept that philosophical ambidexterity will result any time soon. If typical Party-Line analytics continually insist that philosophical analysis consists in providing causal explanations, and these explanations must be made consistent with science, even if the consistency is speculative on the basis of science, then those philosophers have a different ideas altogether of what philosophy is from someone like me. I agree with Gadamer or Heidegger that philosophy is about the hermeneutic engagement with the various strands of philosophical history that enable us to talk to each other. I won't spell out what this means right now, but these are two very different and incompatible metaphilosophical and methodological commitments. Someone needs to analyze these moments of methodological differences before pluralistic analytics want to dissolve "Continental philosophy" and engage it analytically. This is easier said than done.

Even I am at odds within my own soul on this point. When I do "ethics", I am attempting to describe moral reality, arrive at a non-foundational account of morality, while trying to eschew charges of relativism. I stand firmly against consequentialist approaches and find Bernard William's assessment of utilitarianism persuasive. When I do this, I am certainly not at all consistent with the previous claim of favoring the hermeneutic style of reflection I often engage in. Then again, philosophy requires an encounter with cognitive dissonance. It is about shaking the ground of one's soul to enter the depths. It's not easy. I'm still trying to figure this all out, and probably won't for a while. Then again, that's the whole point. Part of the solution might rest in the following article:
Glendinning, Simon (2010) Argument all the way down: the demanding discipline of non-argumento-centric modes of philosophy. In: Reynolds, J. and Chase, J. and Williams, J., (eds.) Postanalytic and metacontinental crossing philosophical divides. Continuum, London, UK, pp. 71-84
Again, engaging Continental philosophy means at least understanding why it is that analytics did not engage with it in the first place and I haven't really heard any honest explanations on that point. Undoubtedly, this will be a principle explanation as to why Continental thinkers haven't been taken up in "mainstream" journals.

I wonder what the consensus will be empirically, yet I dare not remind everyone on Protevi's thread that interpretation of empirical results is just another form of hermeneutics.

1 comment:

N.J. Jun said...

You might find the following interesting:

The one good thing to come out of l'affair du "Pluralist's Guide" is that it has provoked so many important and needful discussions about "the divide."