And another thing: it seems to me that academics involved in what has been known as "Theory," although they will almost unanimously sing the praises of diversity of thought, actually tend to look through a very narrow lens at the world. Do you know how many people live in France? Sixty-five million. That's less than one percent of the world's population. And yet: Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Lacan and their American interpreters have always been at the center of the discussion. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions.
But there seem to be unnatural/artificial boundaries in this discussion: does it matter what a famous zen master, say Suzuki Roshi, or an unknown shaman from Siberia think? Obviously, you may excuse overlooking the Siberian shaman by suggesting that most of contemporary Theory focuses on the modern; but wouldn't an un-modern view of modernity be a welcome contributor?
Certainly there is something to be gained by great and deep focus. If Emmanuel Levinas' words become the objects of study for a good number of academics, I have no doubt that some fruit will come as a result. But for a culture (liberal arts academia certainly qualifies as a culture) perpetually and convincingly espousing the importance of listening to the "other," I think we American academics cut a pretty shabby figure, collectively.
And I sometimes wonder whether the emphasis on diversity has not caused further social and cultural fragmentation (is this a bad thing?--well, hard to say). If white males entering academia are permitted/encouraged to study mostly French and American "Theory," aren't they going to see the world in their own image? The situation may in fact be similar in the case of African American intellectuals focusing deeply on African American literature, and gay and lesbian thinkers focusing on gay and lesbian literature, and so on. Do we benefit more from studying what we already are--what we already probably know? Or do we believe what we have been saying: that studying the ideas of people different from ourselves may be the best path toward the future?
I have changed a great deal, psychologically (and/or "spiritually") as a result of studying the world's holy texts and religious traditions. Obviously, I cannot say with certainty: perhaps if I had studied only Protestant Christianity as deeply as possible (I was raised Presbyterian/Methodist) I would have become a better person or a better teacher or a better citizen or something. But I feel that learning what the gurus and shamans and rabbis believe has been a giant source of growth for me, and I find myself wishing that my colleagues would join me in tracing or re-tracing these wider circles.