Friday, July 18, 2008

“Gibt es gegebene Wahrheit?” “Non, en vérité ça c’est désormais la différence . . .”

Cutrofello’s Continental Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction, about which I’m blogging this summer, is divided into four major sections, each of which concerns a particular strain of influence within the twentieth-century Continental tradition. The first section, on phenomenology and its aftershocks, is titled “The Problem of the Relationship between Receptivity and Spontaneity: How is Truth Disclosed Aesthetically?” (Cutrofello assiduously maintains parallelism in his section titles; for instance the section on existentialism is called “The Problem of the Relationship between the Empirical and the Transcendental: What is the Meaning of Philosophical Humanism?”) Now, six weeks into the project, I have only reached the 2/3 mark of that first section, the point at which phenomenology gives way to its aftereffects.

Up to this point, each of the six thinkers I have addressed (Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, Bachelard, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty) are in some sense phenomenologists (though Bergson’s early work slightly predated the discourse-founding writings of Husserl, we have seen that his concerns overlap a great deal with those of the official phenomenologists). For each of these six thinkers, truth is givenness, a notion elaborated in the earlier blog entry “A Kantian Interlude.” From now on, though, things will be different.

For the next few weeks, in fact, things will be différence. As phenomenology gives way to whatever it is that grapples with its legacy, the phenomenological notion of truth as givenness gives way to various notions of truth as difference, exemplarily represented by the philosophies of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze.

Before starting this project, I was more familiar with each of these three figures than with any of the thinkers about whom I’ve so far posted (with the possible exception of Kant). Indeed, I learned what little I did knew about most of those thinkers of givenness through reading the thinkers of difference. To get all cozy and familiar, I could say that Gaston, Jean-Paul, and Maurice were largely unkown to me; that I knew Edmund and Martin principally through Jacques; that Gilles had introduced me quite amiably to Henri; and that I my connection to Friedrich had been established through Jacques, Gilles, and (to a lesser degree) Michel all together. (Of the three, Michel expended far and away the least verbiage in explicit engagement with his predecessors.)

As a result, I plan to take a somewhat new tack when approaching the next few posts. Rather than attempt a précis of each thinker’s main ideas, I’ll behave in a less naïve manner, reading and rereading some of the thinkers’ primary works as well as commentaries that operate on a more advanced level, and, I hope, producing my own commentaries along the same lines.

This means I’ll be working more slowly, and therefore will not make up lost time rapidly enough to complete the project this summer. This reduction of pace will only be exacerbated by my plan to read, alongside these other shorter texts, a longish (350-page) book, published in English only a couple of months ago, with the patently germane title French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. And I’m going to be further distracted in the next couple of weeks by three side projects: an essay on John Updike and post-WWII American art; a couple of posts on the Italian Marxist movement known as Autonomism; and a joint-reading experiment with a good friend, in which I’ll tackle Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel Chronique des sept misères.

Hang on . . .

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