January 27, 2009

Continental philosophy is organized around texts and thinkers rather than problems and questions

Philosophy as an Institutional Practice
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

For me, Kant is not the real target, but rather social constructivists and linguistic idealists, whom I believe to be descended from a certain Kantian tradition. However, while there are real philosophical disputes in this issue, a lot of the things Mikhail is sensing have less to do with straight philosophy and philosophers, but with how Continental philosophy is taught in the United States and the Anglo-Speaking world. It would be no exaggeration to say that graduate students are literally terrorized by the history of philosophy over the course of their education. They are taught to be careful readers of texts in the history of philosophy, to write articles on thinkers in the history of philosophy, to present papers on the history of philosophy, etc. [...]

I believe that my book on Deleuze, Difference and Givenness, shows my bonafides where the history of philosophy and, in particular, Kant, are concerned. There I tried to show that the real hero for Deleuze is not Hume or the British Empiricists, but rather Kant’s critical philosophy. In short, I tried to show how Deleuze’s thought was a radicalization of Kant’s transcendental idealism, that went beyond this position while working through it. This required a close analysis of much in Kant (as well as a number of other philosophers from the tradition). But at a certain point one grows extremely weary in speaking through others.

This is not to say that my thought is original or new, that it isn’t influenced, or that it doesn’t reinforce the wheel, but at least it’s my piece of shit and tries to speak directly in my name. It’s better, after all, to have your own piece of shit than to always linger on about the shit of others. In other words, at least what I’m trying to develop addresses the sorts of questions I asked myself when I first began studying philosophy at the age of fifteen, rather than constantly trying to find other philosophers asking the sorts of questions and developing the sorts of answers that I would like. In other words, I can sleep at night, even if what I’m developing is facile through and through. And none of this precludes influence or taking the history of philosophy seriously. It does preclude writing books like Difference and Givenness. [...]

I’m proud of my decision to write on Deleuze, because it was pretty much career suicide and therefore marked a genuine interest. There is generally very little place for Deleuze in philosophy departments around the country... Because Continental philosophy is organized around texts and thinkers rather than problems and questions, potential candidates face a daunting situation in which they must be capable of explaining very singular texts and thinkers to an audience that is thoroughly unacquainted with that work [...]

I am not sure why this is so much more fulfilling, but minimally it seems that rather than maintaining tribal lineages (the Deleuzians against the Lacanians against the Badiouians) it’s a question of working through problems where some or all of these thinkers might be relevant and important in some respects, but where the issue is squarely focused on trying to make sense of the world and our place in it.

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