We are the XContinental Philosophy Collective, and we are starting this blog in an attempt to create a space within the discipline of philosophy for the work we do, for the work we find politically and philosophically valuable. Certainly that work will involve critique—this is philosophy, after all, and what is philosophy without critique? However, critique is not our main aim. It’s not about tearing other people or other institutions down, but about building our own. (Or: It’s not about you, it’s about us.) Institutions will likely have to change somewhat to include or accommodate this work, but (a) institutions always change, and (b) as an institution, philosophy needs to change, to become more inclusive, less constantly threatened by defunding, etc. Institutional change is a long-term goal, and we’re just starting out, focusing on the short-term.
This is our manifesto.
XContinental Philosophy Collective:
“XContinental Philosophy”: “X” means both “trans-” and “extra-” continental (or perhaps even ‘mutant’ continental, after the X-Men…). We are a bunch of scholars trained in continental philosophy, but whose work speaks to and is motivated by questions and issues outside the tradition proper. We are trained in continental philosophy; we chose this training for a reason, and as much as we want to trouble this tradition, we identify with it and find value in it. However, we’re just as influenced by black, Caribbean, mestiza, PoCo, and transnational theorists as we are by the European canon. We put continental philosophy to work in extra-European and sometimes extra-”philosophical” situations, and we’re less concerned with fidelity to the tradition than with producing rigorous analyses of the questions and phenomena that motivate our inquiries. We’re interested in feminism, queer studies, sexuality, race, PoCo crit, transnationalisms, disability, cultural studies, critical ethnic studies, history, political theory, art history, sound studies, performance studies, pop culture, ethics, social justice…you know, doing theory across and beyond the close reading of texts by Europeans. In philosophical contexts, we often feel out of place, but when we step outside philosophy into other disciplines, we are made aware of just how strongly rooted we are in the discipline and traditions of continental philosophy. So, we are XContinental Philosophers. What follows are some tenets of XContinental Philosophy.
A. We aren’t necessarily all from the US, but we were trained in the US. We’re sort of like second-generation immigrant kids, who have the traditional, “old world” upbringing, but we intuitively combine with our new American milieu. So, we’re well-versed in the continental canon (Kant, Hegel, Freud, Marx, Heidegger, Foucault, Adorno, Derrida, Deleuze, …u.s.w.), but we lack interest in an “originalist” approach to this tradition. This is not Europe, and it’s also not the US at the height of the theory wars. We have little interest in reproducing the canon for its own sake and only through exegetical work. We want to put it to work for us here, now–which actually is quite consistent with the motivations of many of these canonical thinkers, after all. This willingness to hybridize and “dilute” the tradition probably makes our first-generation immigrant “parents” really nervous, especially because their generation was the one that fought the theory wars in the late 20th century.
B. The theory wars are not ours; we arrived in grad school in the 21st century (well, at least most of us did), by which time the War on Terror superseded Cold War analytic/continental politics (e.g., as McCumber details) and the Theory War front of 80s culture wars. So, traditional analytic/continental rifts read to us like a boomer thing. It is still really formative and sometimes raw for our more senior colleagues, but it’s just not our fight.
C. We worry about the ways current discussions of the “overcoming” of analytic/continental divides actually continues to privilege certain kinds of already-privileged work (and thus certain kinds of already-privileged people). It’s pretty clear that philosophers of gender, race, and sexuality have LONG been crossing, straddling, transcending, and rejecting the traditional analytic/continental rifts–just read the Hypatia archives. So, when people herald current work in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, and Philosophy of Science as evidence of a paradigm shift, as evidence that analytics and continentals are newly, just now, in 2012, able to work together and read one another, we take issue with the framing of this claim for several reasons. First, it erases decades of work in feminist, queer, critical race, PoCo, and other areas of critical political philosophy, suggesting that it isn’t really philosophy. Second, why is it that tradition-bridging happens only in apparently apolitical areas of scholarship? Or rather, why is it that tradition-bridging work is taken seriously only when it is apparently apolitical? So, it seems to us that ongoing conversations about inter-traditionalism or “pluralism” will only continue to privilege already-privileged areas of inquiry.
i. Framing “pluralism” JUST as an analytic/continental issue erases all the feminist, queer, Africana, Caribbean, Latin American, Indigenous, PoCo, transnational work that is outside both Anglo-American and European traditions, and sometimes geographies. This body of work is hugely important to us.
ii. If making friendly with “analytic philosophy” (our scare quotes are meant to separate “analytic philosophy,” the disciplinary norm, from philosophers trained in the analytic tradition–this is an institutional issue, not an issue with individual people) means “passing” on their terms, we’re not interested. Most of us are more interested in and engaged with “extra-philosophical” work in gender studies, cultural studies, critical ethnic studies, critical philosophy of race, queer studies, etc….all the “studies” disciplines so often derided by analytics in the theory wars. We are already friendly with analytic feminists and queer theorists, critical race theorists, Africana/Asian/Indigeneous philosophers, and queer scholars–people interested and invested in troubling disciplinary hegemonies within philosophy.
iii. This is an institutional issue, not an issue with individual people. We are all guilty of collaborating with the institutional structures and practices we’re critiquing here…yeah, us too–we’ve had to get jobs, keep jobs, defend dissertations, get published, etc. Our aim is to change the institution, not to shame or confront specific people. We are NOT trying to turn this into an “Us vs. Them” issue, because it doesn’t actually break down that way–we’re all screwed by these institutional problems. So, for example, mainstream analytic and continental research is actually impoverished by ignoring the power relations we address in our work, and in this manifesto. These disciplinary norms prevent everyone from doing the best work they can possibly do.
D. We refuse to prove our worthiness, rigor, value, or “philosophicalness” by demonstrating that we too can meet the standards set by the philosophical mainstream, analytic or continental. We want to critique these standards, because they reinforce the very relations of privilege we’re trying to attack more generally (racism, sexism, Eurocentrism, ableism, etc.). Often, for marginalized groups, it’s attractive to prove the hegemon wrong–you, too, can do it (e.g. black women’s club movement, first wave white feminism). We are more interested in critiquing these very standards as mechanisms by which hegemony is maintained.
E. We want to use our training in continental philosophy to say something about matters outside continental philosophy proper–things like politics, history, economics, current events, policy-making, pop culture, the arts, etc.– and we want bring these matters to bear on continental philosophy proper. We eschew the dead figureism that often pervades continental circles. We question the notions of “philosophical rigor” that really just limit continental philosophy to an in-group of specialists (who have needed a lot of privilege to get the training necessary to participate in that in-group). Work can be both rigorous and accessible, rigorous and applicable to, you know, life, the universe, and everything.
F. It is also important for us to point out a de facto requirement that marginals be extra-charitable in their approach to the mainstream, whereas mainstreamers need demonstrate little such restraint. So, even when we write in collegial, professional, charitable ways, we know we’ll be read as “angry” or “aggressive.” And we sometimes do get really frustrated and upset about all this stuff. We reserve the right to express anger at injustice. On the one hand, as they say in the feminist blogosphere, if it’s not about you, it’s not about you. But on the other hand, as we are professionals, we will endeavor to check our personal feelings. We expect that the favor will be returned.