Friday, July 09, 2010
In a book review five years ago (I just stumbled across it), Nina Power pointed out an asymmetry in anglophone philosophy discourse.
[Author Timothy Chappell] also exhibits that irritating tic that anglophone philosophers have when discussing those pesky European thinkers. Rather than refer to the not-insubstantial body of thoroughly sound translations (let alone the originals – unthinkable!) of writers such as Sartre, Hegel and Heidegger, the tendency is to rely on frequently misleading secondary readings. At one point, Chappell quotes Dennett quoting a character in a David Lodge novel to shore up his reading of Derrida as a proponent of 'the deconstruction of the self' (whatever that is). If 'continental' thinkers dared to quote, say, Quine, via the comic novels of American belles-lettristes, needless to say we'd all be (metaphorically) strung up with piano wire.
Someone (Zizek, I seem to recall) pointed out that the anglophone understanding of Hegel is rooted in Bertrand Russell's recollections of a lecture on Hegel that he attended, then used for his history of philosophy, and which had nothing to do with what Hegel actually wrote. Nietzsche also suffers from misleading readings. I gave up listening to the Teaching Company's course on Nietzsche when by the third lecture, they were still trying to clear up popular misconceptions about the man, and hadn't yet got down to philosophy. That said, David Lodge can be entertaining when I'm in the mood.
While writing a paper about a Heideggerian ethics, I realized that all of my comparisons to Kant were founded on some zany reductions of Kant that I'd accumulated over the years, sometimes from a lecture or summary and sometimes from my own lazy reading of him. It's kind of horrifying to think how much of this goes on, and that even if you're actively reading primary sources your reading can be violently colored by an outside suggestion.
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