John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy (2013)

This I find fascinating. I don’t know that I’d go as far as to say that French philosophers enjoy “celebrity” status – the French media and privacy laws mean that they have an entirely different approach to fame and what is media worthy than we do in the UK, for example. But one difference stands out here – philosophers are household names in France and they are definitely not in the UK. There, they appear on mainstream news programmes and chat shows regularly. When France won the football world cup in 1998 the nations grandest philosophes gave appraisals of the event in newspapers and magazines. When the subsequently didn’t in the next world cup (I’m no football expert – can you tell?!) they led agonising, soul-searching philosophical inquiries into what went wrong – all in popular press publications like le Nouvel Observateur, l’Express etc. As a frequent visitor to the country – and to a particular small and unremarkable provincial town of 4000 people in an area dominated by agriculture, I can buy philosophy magazines in the local supermarket – not just the popularist digests but also specialist editions on Bourdieu, Aristotle or feminism (Butler, Kristeva and Cixous was the last one I saw): always something interesting to chose from.
So given that as a discipline, as a body of knowledge, it is so much more integrated into mainstream life and culture than it is in the UK (can’t speak for anywhere else), why is this question of obscurantism still relevant? If your people get it, and engage with it – why make it more obscure than you need to? Maybe this is a dated perspective, but there is a nagging intuitive feeling that it’s not. What do you think – emperor’s new clothes á la John Searle or are we just not smart enough to really get it because it’s not core to our educational tradition? Comments?

Foucault News

John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy
From the Open Culture site, July 1 2013

It is sometimes noted–typically with admiration–that France is a place where a philosopher can still be a celebrity. It sounds laudable. But celebrity culture can be corrosive, both to the culture at large and to the celebrities themselves. So it’s worth asking: What price have French philosophy and its devotees (on the European continent and elsewhere) paid for the glamour?

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See also Foucault On Obscurantism: ‘They Made Me Do It!’ on the Critical Theory site

Now, as Open Culture notes, Foucault admitted to his friend John Searle that he intentionally complicated his writings to appease his French audience. Searle claims Foucault told him: “In France, you gotta have ten percent incomprehensible, otherwise people won’t think it’s deep–they won’t think you’re a profound thinker.”

Editorial comment. A discussion to…

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About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
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2 Responses to John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy (2013)

  1. terenceblake says:

    Philosophy is far more integrated into ordinary life here, and one reason is that everyone who goes to the end of high school has classes in philosophy (several hours a week) in the last year. Every June the final exam, the Baccalauréat, opens with Philosophy, and on every major TV and Radio it makes headline news, they give the questions and ask students and philosophy teachers for possible answers. Every August Michel Onfray’s seminar Counter-History of Philosophy for that year (one class a week from September to May) gets broadcast every evening at 7PM so that a vast public can catch up with what he said during the year. Bernard Stiegler and Alain Badiou and Michel Serres get regularly invited to talk on TV and radio.

    Philosophy (in its “Continental” form) is a matter of interest for the general educated public and not just for one specialised sub-group, as in the English-speaking world. Further, the French expect a philosopher to be a “writer” in a literary sense, that occupies a wide spectrum going from Voltairian “clarity” to Mallarméan “obscurity”. So Searle and Chomsky with their criticism of “obscurantism” and “posturing” are misapprehending the French philosopher’s relation to his or her audience, and vice versa.

  2. terenceblake says:

    Reblogged this on AGENT SWARM and commented:
    I know I am reblogging a reblog, but Catriano’s comments are very useful reminders of the cultural divide between the context and the position of philosophy in France and in the Anglophone world. John Searles and Noam Chomsky attempt an “emperor’s new clothes” strategy, but Zizek explains that this tale describes a form of decontextualised rationality, in this case akin to “cultural profiling”.

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