Lawlor, Leonard. Early Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy.
We must "start with Bergson," Lawlor tells us, "because the idea of a qualitatively heterogeneous and temporal multiplicity is the guiding idea of all twentieth-century continental philosophy." Paradoxically, the book argues that what unifies the project of these continental philosophers is their common discovery that beneath the surface of any unity lies an originary difference: a multiplicity of disparate voices that presumably cannot be reduced to the univocal project of a constituting subjectivity (such as an author). This is what I would call the implicit productive tension that pervades and propels the book.
Other productive tensions are more explicitly addressed. These include the fact that, although the book itself consists of close readings of, and interpretive commentary on, a selection of texts, Lawlor warns us up front that, "At worst, ['continental philosophy'] refers to the exposition of the ideas of French and German philosophers." "What future can there be for continental philosophy," he rhetorically adds, "when it is nothing more than exposition?" Yet at every turn the book reminds us that the historicity of thought entails that the philosopher never starts from scratch, and that the future is critically and creatively opened up only by way of engaging with the past. Lawlor thus resolves this tension by conceiving of continental philosophy as a project which calls on us to reflect on its past so as to participate in the creation of its future.
The book is presented as a prequel to Lawlor's Thinking through French Philosophy: The Being of the Question, and the figures and texts treated in this book were selected in order "to show that a tradition can be constituted" that runs from Bergson, through Freud, Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty to "the great French philosophy of the sixties," which centers on Derrida and Deleuze as well as Foucault. Hence, the story Lawlor tells has an explicit telos, and yet that telos is defined by the idea that thought is no longer governed by "the telos of
univocity." Once again we hit upon the implicit productive tension that drives the book.
The project of continental philosophy is presented as oriented by the thought of originary difference, in other words, difference that is not derivative of a more primordial identity. In the Preface, Lawlor tells us that "we must not underestimate the importance" of three passages from Deleuze, Foucault, and Derrida, each of which suggest that, at bottom, at the groundless ground of thought, we find, not unity and logical order, but rather, as Deleuze puts it, "a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences." We find ourselves "enveloped in a nameless voice," or rather voices, addressed from beyond and beneath ourselves by the "clamor" or "murmur" of a polyvocal "continuous streaming of language," of which we are not the original authors and yet to which we must respond. Insofar as we do not violently resist this indefinite responsibility in the face of the groundlessness of thought and language by positing a metaphysical ground, our openness to this "hetero-affection" enables us to carry on "the indefinite work of freedom ... by means of which we transform our thinking and our lives." And this work is said to be "the very project of what we call continental philosophy. It is probably the only project worthy of the name 'philosophy.'"
In short, Lawlor argues that the experience of a supposed auto-affection (I hear myself speak) leads to the discovery of a deeper hetero-affection ("It" speaks in me); yet an openness to the latter enables the indefinite work of freedom (I am called on to participate in a speaking that envelops me, whose past I did not create but which I must take over, and whose future is uncertain but which I must help cocreate). Or again, an overturning of Platonic two-world metaphysics leads to pure immanence, but in the end it turns out that "the inside is the outside (or the outside contaminates the inside)." What was thought to be the outside (the transcendent realm of Ideas or a divine Being) turns out to be an inside (a projection of the subject who desires a stable ground to which it can defer responsibility). It is only by thoroughly pursuing immanence that we paradoxically arrive at the radical outside, which "withdraws" even as it "attracts," leaving us with nothing but a multiplicity of voices demanding from us the indefinite work of freedom and responsibility, that is, with the calling of thinking.--Bret W. Davis, Loyola University Maryland
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2014|
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