What is a Philosopher? (whiny edition)


Look, Simon Critchley wouldn’t be my first choice either, and it wasn’t perhaps the best of invites on the part of the gray lady (if it was an invite at all), but gatekeeper of the profession, Brian Leiter is very upset:

They create a blog forum related to philosophy (“The Stone”), and then choose a complete hack as its moderator.  Simon Critchley?  Even among scholars of Continental philosophy (his purported area of expertise), he’s not taken seriously, let alone among philosophers in any other part of the discipline.  (When Michael Rosen [Harvard] and I edited The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, the idea of inviting Critchley never came up–how could it?)  If the APA weren’t fatally compromised by its need to pander to everyone, it would launch a formal protest.  Unbelievable.

I would urge readers to send a short note to the public editor, Clark Hoyt, stating, roughly, that you are pleased to see increased attention to philosophy in the NY Times, but are concerned that someone who is not taken seriously as a philosopher or scholar has been invited to serve as “moderator.”  Keep it short and sweet.  If they get a couple thousand e-mails to that effect, maybe they will wake up to the spectacular mistake they’ve made.

I don’t know.  This just sounds bitchy and somewhat petty to me.  Am I wrong?  What was that comment from Socrates Critchley cited?  Something about the philosopher’s clumsiness in day to day affairs makes him appear stupid or, “gives the impression of plain silliness.”  Hmm…

14 thoughts on “What is a Philosopher? (whiny edition)

  1. I agree about Leiter’s pettiness in this case. Sure, Critchley is something of a hack, but maybe this is a helpful characteristic (hackishness?) if you want to make philosophy accessible to more folks. I’m not sure that his writings are nearly as awful as Leiter thinks they are; even that short introduction to continental phil that so incensed Leiter wasn’t as bad as he made it out to be.

  2. Where did this Critchley-as-hack meme come from? The Ethics of Deconstruction was, for a time, fairly definitive of the Levinas-Derrida conjunction reading, and some of his recent essays on Heidegger are rather good as well – see the volume with Schurmann’s lectures on BT for the best of these.

    Is it that he is willing to do popular writing that gets everyone so upset? I just don’t understand.

  3. Critchley didn’t make it into Leiter’s bible of continental philosophy, but he shouldn’t feel to bad. Levinas doesn’t make it into the index of the 824 page book either. As far as I can tell, Leiter’s version of continental philosophy began with Kant and ended not too long after Nietzsche’s death.

  4. Full City, agreed. I don’t know where the “everybody thinks Critchley sucks” thing came from. I thought his work on Levinas/Derrida/Blanchot in the 90s/early 00’s was interesting. Perhaps his “hackishness” (nice w.c. Corey, I’m going to try to use this word as much as possible) is a backlash (from whom?!) to his, in my opinion, er..obsession with Obama and his latching onto Badiou over the past few years. Or perhaps it’s because for some reason he seems to be a “go-to” philosophy guy for a good deal of media outlets. I don’t know. All I can say is that I read his latest, Infinitely Demanding, and found it to be a monstrosity in the Aristotelian sense, e.g. a little bit of Levinas, a bit of Badiou, add some Kierkegaard etc. Harsh? Perhaps, but that’s still no reason to poo poo his column in the NY Times, whine about not even considering citing him in an edited volume (which as we know are single author works at bottom and moreover, does that mean by extension all people that Leiter didn’t consider consulting are then by extension not qualifed to moderate and write a blog for the Times? ) and suggest sending angry letters to the NY Times. Kind of assholish I think.

    bjk, it’s good to contextualize such things…

    • If academics were not arrogant who would even notice them?

      Never heard about Simon Critchley, but a book on humour is on his publication list. Humour is a good keyword.

      At the good old times of postmodernism there was one form of officially allowed humour, namely irony. We were smart and understood that high and low culture penetrated each other. Thus irony. Then after 9/11 postmodernism and irony starved a sudden and cruel death and the tale goes that we went pathetic, patriotic and serious. We now live in a totally different age due to the ontological difference that makes the displacement of the decade and we are in fact less patriotic, pathetic and serious but humour never fully recovered.

      The thesis is that insult has replaced irony. We have gone crackpots, trolls, hacks, bores, thugs and energy suckers for each other. The new age of insult reflects an unwanted proximity, the onerous social condition of living on the web. Since we cannot apply genuine violence as an ordering force to establish a new social equilibrium, we use insults as their lowered form. The love & peace attitude from many ages ago resulted from the insight that we were not all that different as warmongers, racism and class struggle wanted to make us. Now we realize that we also don’t want to live together and people are annoying. The strength of annoyance is comparable to the one we sometimes feel about colleagues or people in our neighbourhood but this time it is less existential but virtual and we simply can’t prevent anyone from being omnipresent, despite not having access to our homes. When social exclusion cannot be successfully practised, why not at least try to invalidate peoples attention stock using insults?

      In that sense,
      unkindful regards

  5. You kids best be looking over your shoulders as Leiter is most likely reading this and is soon to google all of your names in order to establish whether you all are worthy of being called real human beings.

    Wasn’t there some hilarious beef between Leiter and Harman some time back? Talk about irony! Maybe they should do a joint column for a rival newspaper? “Advices from the REAL philosophers” – I would read that!

    • Justin, you are jesting, but you’re probably also correct. He eventually shows up everywhere his names does. I’m sure he will pop up here soon to make vague threats and to tell everyone here how shallow and unphilosophical we are, and how we should read more poetry like the weekly verses that have appeared on his bloggy blog.

      The day Leiter returns home to his maker is the day his books close to eternity as well, never to be picked up again by any student or scholar. His influence is based on terror, like any would-be tyrant.

  6. I think this is a “moment of truth” sort of thing – yes, it’s petty to post about it on a popular blog and ask people to write to the editor and say that philosopher X was a bad choice for position Y, but we all (or most of us) do it in private anyway, even if it is just a conversation at the coffee shop (“did you read X’s essay? it’s complete bullshit, how does he get this stuff published?” – “yes, he is a total hack, we, on the other hand, are real philosophers!”) – humans are petty by nature, why should philosophers be any different?

    I do find it ironic though, Kay…

    • I do find it ironic though, Kay…

      Bullying for the love of wisdom. When subjective irony vanishes, objective irony increases. In this particular case philosophers have given up the former, the ironic style, only to become subject of the latter. I’m not a pessimist though and believe in equilibrium – in another age.

      • I find this particular squabble to be the least philosophical one, so I’m fine with the squabbling itself (I hope Critchley strikes back), it would be silly to pretend that we are all above it somehow (my point stated yet in another way), but I think I’m with you on the way it is done. Not sure if this is an apt analogy, but having been recently exposed to a large number of very high-quality (or so I am told) modern works of art in a very prestigious (or so I’m led to believe) museum or two, I couldn’t help but, in addition to enjoying it, wonder if it would be better if it was a bit more funny, you know?

        Take this famous Marini sculpture. If you read the text on the linked page, it’s all good and correct, but in addition to this – “Later, the rider becomes increasingly oblivious of his mount, involved in his own visions or anxieties. Eventually he was to topple from the horse as it fell to the ground in an apocalyptic image of lost control, paralleling Marini’s feelings of despair and uncertainty about the future of the world.” – there is also obvious: “Look! The guy’s dick is erect! Hilarious!” I think this dimension of “Look! This is ridiculously funny!” is missing from contemporary philosophical discussion, no?

      • I think this dimension of “Look! This is ridiculously funny!” is missing from contemporary philosophical discussion, no?

        Indeed. Lots of people got excited with the likes of Zizek because he cracks jokes that aren’t ironic like say, Derrida’s, but frankly, at this point it’s sort of like that Smith’s song, “That joke isn’t funny anymore.” I guess we’ll just have to settle for awkward pettiness! Though I seem to recall somebody reading his or her own manuscript and thinking it was hilarious. It was a philosophical ms. wasn’t it?

      • I do remember that, but I also remember that the same unnamed person was concerned that others didn’t think it was as hilarious as he thought they should think – a bad sign in my book. Of course, nothing is universally hilarious, but laughing at your own jokes has always been a rather hilarious thing in itself, but in a mean kind of way.

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