Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: Great Lakes Glockenspiel

In brief? It's a good beer. But if you'll excuse me for being a bore for several paragraphs, I'd like to talk about philosophy.

Professor Brian Leiter, most famous for the Philosophical Gourmet Report, has just penned a blog entry declaring that "the game is up" for what he calls "Party-Line Continentalists." (Note the term "continentalists" rather than "continental philosophers," which is an important rhetorical point: the "continentalists" are not philosophers.) This is an attempt, all at once, 1) to eliminate the so-called break between anglophone and continental philosophies, chiefly by showing that the "analytics" are now perfectly capable of doing good scholarship on European thinkers, and 2) to criticize those who, in reading these philosophers, still cling to an outmoded and broadly post-Heideggerian style of "continental" reading. Leiter presents himself as at war against a politicized (but, happily, increasingly marginalized) bunch of ideologues who are simply out of touch with the status of contemporary philosophy.

All of this is in response to a rather careless reply to a recent podcast interview that Leiter did on Nietzsche. The anonymous poster writes:
Like many Analytics, Leiter's attitude towards the Continentals (and especially towards the Postmodernists) is of barely concealed contempt. With few exceptions, Analytics tend to reduce the thought of their Continental/Postmodernist foes to easily dismissed, facile generalizations, instead of sincerely engaging in dialogue.
(I myself would criticize a lot of this, but at the moment I'd rather focus on Leiter's response.)

Leiter replies, "I am not an 'analytic.' I do not even know what that means." In good rhetorical fashion, he then goes on to demonstrate that he is not doing what analytic philosophy did. He has, in fact, wider interests, so he shall not be hemmed in by the very narrow and specific term which the anonymous poster attaches to him. Even more than that, he cannot be an analytic because analytic philosophy has long since ceased to be: "'Analytic' philosophy as a substantive research program has been moribund for forty years or more." I would certainly disagree about the time frame - Lewis or Kripke, for example, would be surprised to discover that all their work after 1969 was "moribund" - but the more general proposition that analytical philosophy proper has been effectively dead for quite a long time seems to me basically in the right. (This is also increasingly true, as Leiter also rightly notes, of the continental traditions)

All of this is fine: we know what analytic philosophy is, and we know when it was. But of course, if analytic philosophy has been dead for decades it is difficult to explain the state of affairs which I now quote from another of Leiter's websites, the Philosophical Gourmet Report:
In the U.S., all the Ivy League universities, all the leading state research universities, all the University of California campuses, most of the top liberal arts colleges, most of the flagship campuses of the second-tier state research universities boast philosophy departments that overwhelmingly self-identify as "analytic."
How is this possible? These departments are manifestly not occupied by the very same kinds of scholars that were around a half-century ago, and yet contemporary professors still use the term "analytic" as their own. How can this be explained? Leiter's site offers an answer to this earlier on in the same page:
"Analytic" philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views.
What is "analytic" philosophy, in this sense? It is a tone, a stance, a method, a style. When a department self-identifies as "analytic," what it intends to say by this is simply that it is in the mainstream of philosophical research - and that means that it purports to be clear, rigorous, logically argued, and "scientific" in the broad sense. The Leiter of the Nietzsche Blog must surely object to this use of the term: how can these departments self-identify as analytic, when they clearly go well past the projects of Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, et al? How can this word be used, when there are pragmatists and metaphysicians and Rawlsians and Hegelians and, indeed, Nietzsche scholars running about? So, in effect, Leiter disagrees with himself. But he does make the hapless anonymous poster look like a fool in the process, and one suspects that was the whole point.

Anyways, clearly we must say that "analytic" philosophy is not analytic philosophy. Leiter is not an analytic scholar, but he is "analytic" in the sense of style. He surely sees himself as a clear, rigorous researcher. And this, so far as I can tell, is supposed to be in contrast to another style, one which is obscure and slipshod. Let us give this style the name of "Continental" or "Postmodern" philosophy - being careful to keep the quotes in place. In this sense, many continental and postmodern (without quotes) philosophers - namely the ones Leiter wants to save - in fact turn out to be "analytic," or may at least be understood by that style. And the reverse is regrettably true also for obscurantist, "continental" analytics, as the same page of the PGR hints (I remove a set of quotes to fit my terminology):
It is fair to say that "clarity" is, regrettably, becoming less and less a distinguishing feature of analytic philosophy.
So, to review. Neither "analytic" nor "continental" philosophy should be taken as having any specific content - they are methods, tones, styles. The former is good, while the latter should presumably be "exiled entirely to literature departments" alongside the so-called "Party-Line Continentalists." For Leiter philosophical rigor, as well as philosophical carelessness, transcends the boundaries of geography and even of content.

With this distinction in place, then, let us read the anonymous poster again, but correct him with the appropriate quotation marks:
Like many "Analytics," Leiter's attitude towards the "Continentals" (and especially towards the "Postmodernists") is of barely concealed contempt. With few exceptions, "Analytics" tend to reduce the thought of their "Continental"/"Postmodernist" foes to easily dismissed, facile generalizations...
Is this now correct? Well, in Leiter's blog post we find not only "Derrida is a charlatan," "phenomenology is our 'modern scholasticism,'" and "Heidegger and (most) of the post-structuralists... were not...very good scholars or philosophical expositors," but also "most Anglophone normative theory is embarrassing" and "I think 'analytic metaphysics' is a seriously wrong turn in the field and ignore it." Well, to me at least, this looks a good deal like contempt. But perhaps we should allow Leiter this point. Perhaps, after all, none of those figures are really worth taking seriously.

Leiter closes his post by writing:
...we may really enter a period of philosophical scholarship in the Anglophone world in which "analytic" and "Continental" as terms of partisan battle are largely uintelligible to those drawn to the problems of philosophy.
In this way, the twin terms of analytic and continental philosophy (Leiter uses quotes where I wouldn't) can be forgotten. Especially since the one is dead and the other is dying. What, then, does Leiter see replacing these two? There are many lines about this, but my favorite is where he cites Europe as increasing in "rigorous historical scholarship...and Anglophone-style philosophical work." Clearly, of course, this is not to be confined to Europe: this is happening all over the rest of the world. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted something important about this: it does not suggest any specific content to philosophy, any specific project, but only (once again) a style, and indeed the style we have called "analytic." The future of philosophy is not a position, not any particular thought, but a style.

We need to nail down more specifically what "analytic" philosophy is supposed to be. For an example of this "rigorous historical scholarship," and an example of "analytic" philosophy in general, I use Leiter's own comments on Nietzsche in this essay. At the very beginning of the post he repeats a point made in the earlier Philosophy Bites interview, declaring:
Many postmodernist readers of Nietzsche (like Derrida and in a different way Foucault) misunderstand his views on truth and knowledge, in part because they rely too much on material Nietzsche did not publish, which expresses views it appears he rejected over time.
I take Leiter to conceive of the project of historical scholarship in philosophy in the following way. The important thing to do is to identify something like the historical philosopher's considered view on a topic. This view must be re-presentable as a clearly argued, plausible position, or at least as close to this as the philosopher ever came. But this poses a problem: what if the philosopher in question - here, Neitzsche - may have changed his mind?

There are certain situations where we must ascribe different views to the same author. For example, the pre-critical and critical Kant both have considered, precisely argued, and re-presentable views that can be debated and scrutinized, and then accepted, denied, or modified. There is no difficulty here, and both views will be philosophically legitimate. But if Leiter means to say something similar about Nietzsche's views in the Nachlass versus his later, revised views, this (it seems to me) would simply concede some legitimacy to those readers whom he is at pains to show as "misunderstanding" Nietzsche. Misunderstanding means not that they have understood a view that Nietzsche once held, but one that he never held. So now it looks like Leiter means to say that Nietzsche

A) held certain views (those written in his famous notebooks) on truth and knowledge
B) rejected these views over time
C) did not hold those views

This looks like a straightforward contradiction. It cannot be that Nietzsche held that P at one time and also never held that P. Of course, this is a rather uncharitable reading. Well then, is there another possibility?

The most charitable reading seems to me to be this, namely that Leiter believes Nietzsche never held (in a considered way) the views "expressed" in the unpublished notebooks. Rather, what we find there is (for example) an imprecise working-through of ideas, a free play of thought. They are merely bi-products, remainders left behind in the making of Nietzsche's real philosophy, and thus we should not take them seriously. Nietzsche's view is Nietzsche's view. This view is (or can be made to be) rigorous and clear, and the notebooks are not representative of it.

The deluded party-liners and their ilk may simply reply that Nietzsche nevertheless wrote what he wrote. One finds, beyond the umbrellas, ideas that frequently exceed what is present in the published works. By what right does one deny that these, too, are not legitimate views? Leiter has a very good answer to this objection: he says that the illegitimacy of these texts is "the consensus view in the scholarly community."

Why must we not take seriously the unpublished notebooks, and by extension the commentaries written on the basis of those notebooks? Because the scholarly community has decided that this work is not serious. The scholarly community - that is to say, researchers in philosophy legitimized in their own way by various titles, institutional status, etc. - has chosen and delimited which texts and which positions can be officially considered under the name of "Nietzsche scholarship." Or, better put, they have established a hierarchy of such positions (ranging from the very plausible to the completely unacceptable) which any work must fall into and be scrutinized under. The unacceptable is pushed to the margins and ignored. These structures can of course be changed, and one can, for example, make good arguments that perhaps the Nachlass should be more carefully considered. But in the end, the decision as to the legitimacy of any such philosophical work must rely on a positive answer to the question: do the experts find it plausible?

Up until now I've mainly been limiting this exploration to historical research, but it can be easily broadened to any work in the academic field of philosophy. Trying to publish a paper on ethics? Then you'd better make sure you've read and carefully cited all the hot names, formatted your endnotes correctly, and written in the accepted style. Hoping to write a dissertation on Collingwood? Unfortunately, Collingwood was not a serious or important philosopher, so you probably can't. I might cite more examples, but this is probably enough. We are increasingly enmeshing ourselves in a situation where the deciding element of philosophical value is the opinions of professional philosophers. If it pleases the right sort of people - including, presumably, a certain UChicago law professor - then it is legitimate; if not, it falls into the damnable style that we have called "continental/postmodern." All of this strikes me as troubling.

Leiter has often praised the recent compartmentalization of philosophy into specialties. And he has a point: to name one example, we are finally beginning to get a sizable body of decent literature on Spinoza. This pleases me considerably. Even so, there's something questionable about this: is philosophy fundamentally about pleasing the tastes of scholars, each in their own tiny area? Is it about increasingly getting clear on "what Nietzsche/Spinoza/Kant/Frege really meant," or gaining agreement on the "plausible" approaches to metaphysics or ethics or the theory of science? Is it really all a matter of "the consensus view in the scholarly community"? Leiter would like the "party-liners" exiled to the literature departments, yet precisely what he is celebrating is philosophy itself having become a literature department. Serious "analytic" philosophy must be clear, precise, rigorous, scientific, etc., and it is a small cadre of professionals who decides whether a work has met or failed these criteria. "Analytic" philosophy is simply that which is approved by scholars of philosophy in the relevant area.

I may, of course, be accused of overreading Leiter, which is a fair enough point. I like to think he would say that there is of course more to academic philosophy than pleasing the prevailing orthodoxies, and that such orthodoxy is precisely what he is objecting to in the "party line continentalists" (which is a straw man if there ever was one - Leiter can't really believe, e.g., that anyone who takes Derrida seriously is simply a "careless reader and listener"). I like to think he would see a deep problem with any "philosophy" whose worth is gauged in such a way. But I am hard-pressed to find another criterion in his post by which we could say what work is philosophically interesting, aside from "the scholarly consensus says so."

Allow me to seem a bit naive. Perhaps it is not a particular "style" that makes some philosophy worth paying attention to (a personal letter, written in haste with many obscurities, may be more worthwhile than a referee'd journal article). Perhaps it is not the approval of today's scholarly tastes (need I list off the number of great philosophers who were "refuted" and even ridiculed in their own time and afterwards?). No, perhaps the whole question rides on just whether or not a philosophy is true, or at the very least, whether it helps us along the road to truth.

Philosophy is not the study of what is plausible to journal referees. And philosophy is not the study of philosophers and their "positions," but rather of what the philosophers themselves were interested in. Strictly speaking, I do not think we should care whether what is written in Nietzsche's manuscripts is his considered position or not, for we are (strictly speaking) not interested in Nietzsche himself. The rather banal fact is that these writings provoke us; they surprise and astound us; they force us to think anew the matters at hand. They can and do teach us something, whether rejected by Nietzsche or not, whether approved by the scholarly community or not. Even if I disagree with these writings, the fact that they instruct me, force me to respond, and (most importantly) prod me into looking again into the truth of the matter is of sufficient weight. I submit that this is all that is required for good philosophy.

The picture I'm proposing is, of course, considerably messier than a philosophy which is valued according to its approval by a consensus. Perhaps it is even a bit romantic. And yet: I think it is the only real standard. So the question that should fall upon us as philosophers should not be whether we are enlarging our field or satisfying our colleagues. The question that should matter most is "Is what we're saying true?" - and if we cannot fully affirm that, then we must at least be able to answer, "Are we teaching anyone anything?"

(What's rather odd is that if you read them closely, many of the hateful "continentals" and "postmoderns" - several of the ones I study, at least - are actually quite concerned with these questions. They are not unique in this, obviously, but most others of this sort are not much willing to doubt the concept of truth itself even as they chase it. So do these "continentals" subject truth itself to interrogation in spite of a concern with teaching the truth? Or - more paradoxically - do they do so because of it?)

I leave the question for others to consider. All of that out of the way, then, what is there to say about Great Lakes' Glockenspiel?

This thing is a weisenbock, which is not a style I've ever had before. So far as I can tell, a weisenbock is a wheatbeer that does benchpresses - whereas most of the wheats I've had have happily moved about around the 5%-6% alcohol range, this clocks in at a hardy 8%. That's well into high gravity lager territory, which is not the sort of place I expect wheatbeers to be happy at. And I should mention that I've never been a big fan of wheatbeers. That's not to say that I don't like them - when forced to put one down I usually enjoy it. However, when it's been a long day and I just want something to relax with I'm usually happier with a bock or a porter or somesuch - the sort of beer that's like a faithful old couch you just flop into. I need to be in a very special sort of mood to buy a sixer of wheatbeer: the complexity of the malts and the general fruitiness doesn't lend itself quite so well to taking it easy.

Nevertheless I was curious, especially since (as I've mentioned before) the Great Lakes Brewing Company seems constitutively incapable of making a bad beer. So, now lighter by $3.19, I'm ready to give it a try.

A very easy pour produces a slightly murky deep amber beer with a one-finger white head. The scent is very sharp, and actually quite boozy as well (you can definitely gauge the strength of this one by smell alone). Beyond the edge, the most dominant presence is banana nut bread and yeast. It's pleasant, but powerful.

The first sip. Hmm, the texture is lighter than I expected, it's actually pretty smooth. You can tell it's a strong bugger, though - no danger of this stuff sneaking up on you. It's oddly tart on the front end, like a slightly unripe cranberry - not unpleasant, just striking. Beyond that, the beer is very much a "middle-range" puncher (if I can be allowed that expression). There are no real extremes to the taste; think of a Handel oratorio or something. Actually, yes, that's exactly what this beer is, a Handel oratorio. The main flavors are of wheat, berries, banana, and some of the yeast I found in the smell. The aftertaste, as you might expect, is quite fruity (there's the banana nut bread again), but clean and easy to live with.

Once again, you can definitely sense the 8% alcohol in this. After all the stouts, I'd forgotten what it was like to drink a beer that was open about being a little hot. And I can even say that it's a very warming beer - perfect for a chilly autumn night, for instance.

Is it something I'd buy again? Probably not, unless my tastes change dramatically. But it's instructive, and that's what I enjoyed more than anything. This has a very different taste profile from all the stouts I've been quaffing lately - everything I've had in the past month, really. Where the stouts have been bittersweet, this has been fruity, and where they've been thick and creamy this has been boozy (pleasantly so). It's given me a lot to think about, this big cloudy wheatbeer, and that's more than I can say for most of the beer I've had recently. Or most of the approved, credentialed, well-praised articles and books I've recently read, for that matter.

Grade: A-
Summary: A hot but delicious (and surprisingly drinkable) wheatbeer. Pricey, though.

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