When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 80s there was the huge fad of philosophers making fun of professors in other departments who had appropriated philosophical thinking for their own projects.
Honestly, it's pretty easy work for people who spend their lives just studying philosophy to beat up on our brothers and sisters in humanities departments when they enter into conversation with a philosopher. The trick is to bracket the dialectical context of the appropriation as well as treat the norms relevant for engaging in those debates as if they are the same as writing good philosophy. With literarature department deconstructionism, this meant completely ignoring the context of New Criticism and the contribution that the appropriation of Derrida and De Man's writings made with respect to this background.
As a result of the kind of methodological stupidity the revolution very quickly began eating its own,* culminating perhaps in the 1992 petition against awarding Jacques Derrida an honorary Cambridge doctorate. By this point it was clear that American philosophy had completely squandered a very real chance of retaining a role as queen of the humanities. If during theory's heyday, a critical mass of us had actually taken the time (a couple of years hard work in each case) to actually immerse ourselves in the relevant history and canonical texts of other departments doing "theory," philosophy would today widely be viewed as a helpful discipline, as opposed to this weird thing where we spin our own wheels.**
One of the most depressing things to me as a student of continental philosophy is to see how the worst aspects of the the analytic/continental rift are now being replicated within continental philosophy.
This makes for exciting work for philosophers. Graham Harman, for example, gives over fifty papers a year, a strong plurality at non-philosophy departments (English, Art, Architecture, etc.). My own recent work in this area has seen me in the last two years present papers firmly in this continental speculative tradition at Theology, Theatre, and Narratology conferences. In each case I've had wonderful conversations with non-philosophers at very good Ph.D programs who are in various ways making use of current and historical figures from speculative metaphysics in the continental tradition.
But there are dangers.
Even when one is sympathetic to non-philosopher humanists, there's a real temptation here to try to present oneself as the philosophical expert in a way that precludes actually learning from people who work in other fields. That is, one can take one's job as a philosopher to just be lecturing at the unwashed masses from other humanities departments. Now, this is obviously just the opposite of that gelassenheit where true philosophy begins and ends. And equally importantly, it's a short step from this to the high church analytic philosopher's view of the philosophy professor as the cognitive policeman, or (more apposite) mullah issuing fatwas against first non-believers (humanities professors in other fields) and then believers (philosophy professors) who are deemed heretical in some manner.
Now, anyone who has followed the blogosphere over the past ten years, has seen evidence of what I'm describing with respect to humanists who situate there work with respect to the continental speculative tradition. It really has been an orgy of fatwas. Unlike Ray Brassier***, this has never bothered me very much, because there's a big difference between the blogosphere and actual academic conferences and publications. It's slightly more bothersome when one hears it at real academic conferences over drinks, but still, everyone is allowed their own views, and there's a vast difference between bloviating over alcohol and what we actually write in our papers and books.
But, with the publication of Nathan Brown's recent jeremiand against what he calls "object-oriented ontology" I'm starting to see a horizon where we reach a kind of John-Searle-versus-literary-theorists nadir. I don't now want to go into too many details now about how Brown so catastrophically misreads the target of his critique (a highly relevant paper by Mark Ohm and me is about to be published in Speculations and at the point where I can refer people to that paper, I'm going to do a post substantively correcting Brown's misunderstanding of Object-Oriented Ontology).
The amazing thing about Brown's paper is that both moments of the analytic/continental split are compressed into one. While the entire paper is a Philosophy professor putting an English professor in his place for daring to appropriate philosophical themes in a way that does not match up to our high standards, this very appropriation is used to distort and malign the appropriated philosophers along the way.****
The distortion is arrived at in the traditional way, divorce the reading of both the humanist and philosophers from the dialectical context by which one must make sense of their views. I'm not an English professor, so I won't correct Brown here, but his distortion of the philosophy is so breath-taking that I can't see how the thing was published. Everything rests on one passage from Harman's Tool Being, when the position being considered (Harman's view on relations) is independently motivated at several places in his oeuvre, in particular his various detailed critiques of reductionism, causality, and aesthetics (the latter at least mentioned, but only for misleading condescending mockery). Levi Bryant is only discussed in a footnote, with no awareness that his Cartwrightean capacity metaphysics appoach to object-oriented ontology is motivated both these independent arguments and inconsistent with Harman on the very position Brown considers. The same holds with respect to Tristan Garcia (no slouch on the French scene), who is not cited or discussed by Brown.
Again, I don't want to defend Morton because I don't want to honor the attack, and thus reinforce the destructive view of the academic philosopher as a sort of a priori cognitive mullah with respect to other disciplines. Rather, I think our experience of the analytic/continental split and how ultimately injurious this was to both philosophy and the study of theory in other humanities departments, should motivate more general precepts about how philosophy professors ought to view their task via humanists.
Mostly I"m just appalled that Parrhesia accepted an article that ends thusly:
“OOO” seems to be relatively popular at the moment. But obscurantism usually gleans the sort of popularity that does not last. Despite the present popularity of “OOO” the conceptual weakness, the scholarly irresponsibility, and the rhetorical desperation of Realist Magic offer ample evidence that it is not aging well. Academic theory will shortly try out a new flavor of the month—and the sooner the better, I suppose. It could not be more tasteless.
How do you get to conclude that an philosophy is "obscure" when you've reduced it to one paragraph of one book by one of the people working in that framework? How can you police other's critical engagements while yourself intoning this way? Does "OOO" have a good beat that one can dance to? As Jonny Cash would say, "fooey."
Though, honestly, if the choice is between "obscurity" according to the norms operating in this article and this kind of ham-fisted, condescending superciliousness, I'll pick the former. All of us who went through the vicissitudes of the analytic/continental divide know this in our bones already. It should not be a lesson that has to be relearnt.
**I realize there are huge counterexamples, especially with respect to the declining fortunes of "General Philosophy of Science." I'm going to do a blog post about this soon. I think there is some sense in which analytic philosophy as anything both distinctive and worthwhile is completely fading away as a result of the fortunes of GPS, or rather the inability of philosophers in other "core" areas to responsibly help themselves to distinctions and hypotheses from GPS.
***Friends of mine who know him have told me that when he made his now infamous (quoted both on wikipedia and approvingly by Brian Leiter) quip about there being no "movement" of Speculative Realism he actually meant to be primarily voicing frustration about the very possibility of doing philosophy on the internet, frustration brought about in part by people attacking speculative realism. For his quote to be recycled on the internet as part of such attacks is far more ironic than anything in the eponymous song.
****I want to speculate on the motives for doing this kind of thing, but I won't. Besides Marx's insight into their possible irrelevance in cases such as this, I think that motives for being a jerk to humanists and then applying this jerkiness to philosophy professors must be quite different with respect to the analytic/continental split and the continental/continental split. This is because continental philosophers recycling the old analytic tropes are themselves to some extent victims of those very tropes. Consider the recent supreme court decision in India re-criminalizing gay sex. The motives of Hindu nationalists appropriating aspects of colonial oppression (here Victorian attitudes about sex) and making those things paradoxically central to an understanding of what it is to be authentically Indian is of necessity interestingly different from those of the original oppressors.]