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August 04, 2004


Timothy Burke

I wince when I read that excerpt. Because I think I probably wrote some paragraphs like that in grad school and maybe even after, and I don't honestly think it was because I was a dumb guy or a bad writer at that point. It really is about how hermetically sealed off the norms of academic writing and academic reward systems can be.

It's also, I think, about a kind of laziness that I personally trace all the way back to Said's Orientalism and to the way that Foucault's ideas about "discourse" got glossed into working practice in the humanities, allowing many scholars to ostentibly write about types of cultural work or about social practices but to actually be writing only about how others have written about those things, and then from there, to write about how others have written about others who have written about those things, and so on. All of which can be done without leaving the library.

Ralph Luker

" ... can be done without leaving the library" and, maybe even, you know, actually thinking.


Sure, you won't find nonsense like that in analytical philosophy. You'll be too busy considering brains in vats, and a train with Hitler on it, and shit like that.

Anthony Smith

On a serious note, what do you think the main differences are between the analytics and the continentals?


"Existatai gar pant' ap' allelon dicha."
-- epigraph, At Swim Two Birds

Des von Bladet

Accordians and Oompah bands. The Sudetenland. "I won't even insult your intelligence by connecting the dots."

Des von Bladet

Accordians and Oompah bands. The Sudetenland. "I won't even insult your intelligence by connecting the dots."

Adam Kotsko

The difference between analytics and continentals is that analytics are rigorous and continentals are not. In continental philosophy, you can say just about anything you damn well please.


That's not quite true, Adam.


Analytic philosophers write about extremely useless things in a pointed and direct manner. Continental philosophers write about extremely important things in an obtuse and impenetrable manner.


Political theorists say nothing of good consequence in a direct manner about very important things. Social theorists are where it's at, these days, I think.

Adam Kotsko

So would literary theorists be the ones who talk about extremely useless things in an obtuse and impenetrable manner?

(I find it interesting the Deleuze and Badiou, two figures from the continental tradition who are quite indisputably "real" philosophers, at least most of the time, also tend to work a lot more with math-oriented type of stuff, or in other words, stuff that might fit in among analytic philosophy. Simon Critchley has remarked that if you go back to Husserl and Frege, the two main figures of the contemporary division, you'd notice a different approach and emphasis, but not the radical break that seems to have followed since then. Someday, I will read Husserl and Frege -- in fact, why not make it today?)


Who's talking about literary theorists? Might as well talk about the guy working at McDonald's. Sheesh. Usually the straw men that anti-theorists attack take the form of the foolishly eclectic literary theorists who are guilty of writing the most impenetrable prose.

Better to describe Deleuze as a formal philosopher, not necessarily a real one.


You intrigue me, anonymouse. An ingenious form of dialectical defense would seem to follow from your last comment. By perpetrating the most impenetrable prose - thereby transforming oneself into a straw man, in effect - one is immunized from attack. For any attacker can be soundly disparaged as attacking a complete straw man, which we all know is a kind of fallacy. As I have suggested in another context, perhaps we could then consider attacks on literary theorists to be straw dog arguments instead. The ritual destruction of hollow objects brings peace of mind.

Russell Arben Fox

"Continental philosophers write about extremely important things in an obtuse and impenetrable manner."

"Political theorists say nothing of good consequence in a direct manner about very important things."

As someone to whom both of these labels apply, I find myself in general disagreement with anonymouse's proposed definitions. However, even if his descriptions are frequently accurate in particular cases, I would suggest that a strong moral defense can be made of centering one's vocation on "very important" and "extremely important" things, even if one's approach to such is often obtuse, impenetrable, or of little real-world consequence.

Scott Martens

Well, I've always figured that if you can't find something obtuse and impenetrable to say about something then it can't be too important.

The most shameful grade I got in college was an essay on the quantum mechanical properties of Algonquian languages that earned me a B without anyone - me included - having the slightest idea what I said. Constesting the borders of the Canadian with hip-hop seems positively crystal by comparison. So I'm afraid the cited paragraph only seems moderately winceworthy to me. Except for the last sentence, which merits all the abuse you can heap on it.

"As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances." - if you have to voyage in a multiverse with only a contested identity to cover your naked ego, you could do worse than Canada. Hey, at least our state administrative practices are actively managing our blackness, instead of wasting it willy-nilly on folks like Michael Jackson and J-Lo. No, we take our blackness seriously in the True North, strong and free. We consider it a national resource to be conserved, like our water, oil, natural gas and finite reserves of biting comedy, donuts and Alanis Morissette.

Our blackness is fully protected by Canadian sovereignty, and we can't allow American hip-hop to come over and contest it. No siree, bob! I expect my state administratiuve apparatus to shelter and support our distinct Canadian blackness if it can stand up to the Yanks on its own. I pay taxes, I have a right to enjoy Canadian blackness instead of cheap imported blackness that you can just pick up at Walmart.

Why, if we let them contest our blackness, it'll be our socialised medicine next!


I read that essay when it was still real cool underground shit, not some wack jive-ass compilation.

I would also tentatively argue that the Dream Warriors sucked.

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