Philosophical Divides: a little story
Picture the following. Camps of philosophers cordon themselves off from one another by drawing lines in the still sands of a breezeless desert. There they entrench, staring each other down from opposite sides of the line for a decade or two. Eventually they tire of looking across the divide, and so begin to fraternize with only those philosophers in their proximity. Later they forget about the philosophers on the other side of the line, and when the occasional hawkeyed upstart or pesky defector announces the existence of a whole country of philosophers not too far away, they retort that those on the other side of the line are not ‘real’ philosophers. They are, the upstart and the defector are told, philosophical poseurs at best, or philosophical perverts at worst. The language that is used, in fact, is exactly that contemptuous and contentious.
After a generation or two, nobody remembers why the line was drawn, or what function it serves. But it is defended as vigorously as ever. Sometime soon thereafter, newly-indoctrinated apprentices begin asking questions that the old guard can barely comprehend, let alone answer. “Why don’t we read Deleuze here? Have you read him? He’s really interesting to me. And what about Foucault?” “Why do you insist that Quine is dry and unimportant? Have you read him? He’s really quite interesting to me. And what about Dewey?” Soon the old guard abandon their fortifications though of course they continue to talk only to those philosophers in their immediate proximity.
The apprentices, meanwhile, begin building bridges over the lines in the sand. For even though they are merely lines in a breezeless desert, nobody knows how to cross over them in the familiar manners of walking, and the only way the apprentices can manage to muster a conversation is to carefully artifice direct means of passage from one camp to the other. These bridges mediate. They are avenues of conversation, transaction, and mutually-informative intervention. Eventually, it is hoped, the bridges will begin to seem unnecessary, and philosophers will effortlessly walk across those lines, eventually rubbing them out with their footprints, as they stare up in wonder at the spectacular sculptures above that stand as a memorial to a not-too-distant time when philosophers were afraid to walk paths that are now frequently trod by just about everyone.
This little story describes, in the very rough sense that is the best that can be achieved by such a depiction, the past, current, and possible future state of professional academic philosophy. The entrenched impasse between ‘Anglo-Analytic’ and ‘Continental’ philosophy is now more worthless than ever. It is positively inimical to productive philosophical work on the critical problems we face in the present, as a culture and society, as a discipline and profession, and as an ethical challenge which we face in rather intensely personal ways. Those who continue to insist on the importance of the impasse, including by cause of their unwillingness to satisfy their curiosities about takes place on the other side of the line, are bound to fade into the antiquated furniture of those bridges that shall soon begin to provoke wonder amongst those of us who pass between traditions with all the virtue and intellect requisite for the work of thought.
[This is excerpted from a draft introduction I am writing for a special issue of Foucault Studies I am guest-editing. The issue title is "Foucault and Pragmatism". Comments welcome as always. I always wonder, for instance, if I am being too polemical. Emphasis on the "draft" in submitting this for critique because I realize my first drafts are almost always too polemical. This in fact was just written in the Fleet-Foxes-playing-cafe I have been frequenting since the New Year.]
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