Graham Harman, an American Heideggerian and a key participant in philosophical movement, speculative realism, that has been around since the second half of the previous decade and has yet to lose its steam, has posted a useful review of a new translation of a book, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, by a French philosopher, François Laruelle, whose reputation has yet to cross from the French-speaking world to the English-speaking one.
The review is useful for readers like me because it answers a pressing question: Is there something there? This question is pressing for the lovers of theory because books by French philosophers usually demand a big investment in time and effort. Harman, whose own books are very readable, as he has the ability to disentangle brilliant ideas from difficult prose, makes it clear: There is nothing there. What a relief. We can avoid the trap of Laruelle's defining promise: That he has discovered a "non-philosophy" philosophy.
The review is generally sour on Laruelle but it does have this entertaining digression, which concerns the two main traditions (analytic and continental) of 20th-century Western philosophy:
The continued dissonance of these traditions is best understood through the marvelous 1894 lecture "The Four Phases of Philosophy and its Current State," written and delivered in typically acerbic fashion by Franz Brentano. In this lecture Brentano notes that in some respects philosophy is like the sciences, showing a largely constant development, but in other respects is more like the fine arts, with their alternating periods of ripeness and decay. Analytic readers of this lecture, bolstered by Brentano's youthful claim that the method of philosophy is the same as that of the natural sciences, downplay or ignore the "fine arts" side of the equation, though Brentano himself makes no effort to erase it.
Just as the arts advance more through a punctuated series of epoch-making figures than through the collective piecework of progress-in-detail (à la Kuhnian "normal science"), continental philosophy is committed to a model in which the history of philosophy consists of the rise and fall of major figures. Its continuing series of new star thinkers is not a display of fashion models, but of candidates for durable importance — and here as everywhere else, not all candidates succeed.