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Saturday, 8 October 2016

A sketch of a Manifesto for Polystylism in Philosophy (in its very first draft)

When speaking in an International Colloquium on Philosophy and Anthropology in October 1968 Derrida started bringing into question the politics of any international colloquium as such. The idea of the colloquium was to think the human through together with the anthropologists and therefore Derrida moves quickly towards what he takes to be the contribution he could give to the event: address the question of the human as it was conceived and discussed in France at the time (his contribution was called "Les fins de l'homme" and was published in Marges de la philosophie)). The idea that was behind his choice of subject - and it is interesting that his main concern is the insufficient and inattentive reading of German philosophers in France - was that he was going to provide some kind of account (not a report, but still a piece of news) about how philosophy has been done in the country where he comes from. It does sound as if the philosophical endeavor, in its most basic level, takes place in a national arena (or, perhaps, in the arena of a linguistic community). Much has taken place since 1968 - including the establishment of the Collège International de Philosophie by Derrida and others - and national borders have, in many senses, have become become less robust, especially when movement of anything but people is concerned. However, how is philosophy done today?

I believe it is done mostly in a rather parochial way. The standards of importance and relevance of an issue and those concerning what is the appropriate way to argue for an idea, to write a text, to propose an alternative, to defend a claim or to state a point of view remain often attached to single tradition Indeed, traditions are often very watchful of their borders. It is rare that a journal or an editorial house allow authors from a very different tradition to appear in the references of the texts they publish. Mostly, analytical traditions are kept separated from continental ones by means of the authors they allow their texts to think with while continental traditions reinforce the presence of their authors in their authors as the appropriate thinking companions. To be sure, there have been attempts to change this state of affairs, at least since the creation of the Collége in 1983. I have in mind some of the efforts to bridge the analytic-continental gap around Rorty and the pragmatists in the 1990s, the more recent ABC efforts about which I hope to find out more soon, and the speculative realist movement which started around 10 years ago and calls for a new time for philosophy where the different traditions become things of the past. Within this last effort, I commend the call for papers of the New Metaphysics Series under Harman and Latour which is "equally impatient with nail-filing analytic critique and the continental reverence for dusty textual monuments" and rather favor "the spirit of the intellectual gambler". This call was instrumental in the composition (and recet publication) of Being Up For Grabs in the collection. In fact, I have been fighting parochialism in philosophy by trying to make philosophers of different traditions converse around a topic or a theme or an atmosphere. I have found few partners in this bridging enterprise - almost enough to make for a small community of resonance, but they are far from being enough to cater entirely for one's philosophical needs. Partners include my mentor and metaphilosophical guru Julio Cabrera. Still, I feel we're still doing isolated efforts that can find no more than limited echo in the general directions philosophy take.

I find this generally parochial state of affairs deplorable. Not only it spells a limitation for philosophy as it important dialogues rarely take place (they are as occasional and scarce as the international colloquia in 1968) but it also makes philosophy inflexible and therefore unable to integrate different modes of thought that were either absent or disregarded in the past. In other words, it makes it for Feminist, Indian, African, Amazonian or Andean, as well as for nonprofessional philosophers very hard to be part of the ongoing conversation unless they fashion themselves in the existing traditions of thought. The maintenance of firm borders in the different traditions in philosophy strikes me therefore as colonial. I'm convinced that philosophy would do much better if it could genuinely welcome different forms of thought and different thinking companions. It will help getting different stories told - as Donna Haraway often stresses - and those stories would provide different points of departure for thinking. Also, philosophy should encourage different accents - I'm thinking again of Derrida who, in "Violence et Métaphysique" describes Levinas as thinking in Greek but with a foreign, Jewish accent. The plurality of accents would make conversations more polyphonic, less parochial, and more hospitable. It will really become an exercise of cosmopolitism for our times.

I guess we can model ourselves in polystylism. I'm thinking of Schnittke's (and to some extent Pousser's) music and everything that they inspired. The idea was to embrace a polyphony of styles in the form of a tapestry where music from different origins were woven together and would sound different from their original sound context. Schnittke once said he wanted to break the separation between popular and concert music even if he had to break his neck in the process. It helped him to compose both for cartoon films and for concert houses. Polystylism in philosophy would bring together in the same text different sorts of arguments, reference to different traditions and appeals to different tonalities. As in music, it will make it sound better, there will be more to listen/read in a piece - and more to respond to. It is time to abandon the idea of a philosophy with a single tool (be it a calculator or a hammer) and realize that the variety of instruments already explored in its history is available to us enhance thinking and welcome thinkers. I would like to see training in philosophy that will encourage texts (and conversations in the form of colloquia or general discussions) that intertwine together the kind of inspiration provided by the writing of Donna Haraway, the precision we find in Kit Fine, the broadness of connections present in Steven Shaviro and the attention to history championed by Pierre Hadot.

1 comment:

  1. Bruno Latour's poly-tonal style can be seen as exemplifying the sort of poly-stylism you are calling for: