Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

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 be taken with a grain of salt perhaps. More contributions to that well-worn and highly problematic trope of the clarity of Anglo-Saxon and Analytic philosophy versus ‘continental’ obscurity.

Link via Philippe Sabot

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

  1. terenceblake says:

    I think it strange that Foucault told Searle precisely what he wanted to hear, if we are to believe Searle. I think that he didn’t realise the degree of humour present in Foucault’s rather uncharacteristic remark. Foucault was probably sending him up, given the equation he establishes between clarity and childishness. Clarity is not the same when you have an ontology of multplicity and incommensurabilty and when you don’t. My reply to Searle is here:

  2. catrionao says:

    Reblogged this on Cat's eyes and commented:
    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 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 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?

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