Renowned critical theorist Susan Buck-Morss argues convincingly that a global public needs to think past the twin insanities of terrorism and counter-terrorism in order to dismantle regressive intellectual barriers. Surveying the widespread literature on the relationship of Islam to modernity, she reveals that there is surprising overlap where scholars commonly and simplistically see antithesis. Thinking Past Terror situates this engagement with the study of Islam among critical contemporary discourses—feminism, post-colonialism and the critique of determinism.
Reminding us powerfully that domination and consensus are maintained not by the lack of opposing ideas but by the disorganization of dissent, Thinking Past Terror presents the empowering idea of a global counter-culture as a very real possibility. If the language of a global, radically cosmopolitan Left is not presumed but its attainment struggled for, if the Leftist project is itself this struggle, then democracy defines its very core.
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Susan Buck-Morss is Professor of Political Philosophy and Social Theory at Cornell University. She is the author of Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project and The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute.From Publishers Weekly:
In this volume of essays, the conundrum of opposing both terrorism and Bush's war on terrorism prompts a grand but murky project of "rethinking the Left." Buck-Morss, a Cornell political philosophy professor (Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West), approaches the task through a mannered critical theory that looks at the problems of language and "translation" in political discourse. She acknowledges the post-modern demise of coherent universalizing narratives (Marxism in particular), but deplores the left's fragmentation by divisive identity politics, wondering "in what language shall we speak to each other, if all languages exclude?" Her solution is an open, tolerant "global public sphere" where all voices get a respectful hearing. Crucially, this dialogue must include Islamism, which she considers through a survey of Muslim scholars who reconcile it with such Western intellectual traditions as feminism, the Frankfurt School and avant-garde art (the book also includes photos and cryptic catalogue notes from an exhibit Buck-Morss curated). Exactly what consensus might emerge from the global conversation remains unclear, but she assumes it will echo her own politics: feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, with a Chomskyan critique of American and Israeli "state terror," a civil-libertarian opposition to the "national security state" and a commitment to "global peace, economic justice, legal equality, democratic participation, individual freedom, mutual respect." Buck-Morss's argument is an uneasy balancing act, embracing both a multiculturalist suspicion of Western hegemony and an Enlightenment faith in the "cosmopolitan republic of letters," and her conviction that "radically open communication" will resolve intractable political conflicts can seem facile. And her own language tends toward academic jargon about "counter-hegemonic discursive fields"; her high-minded ideals deserve a more demotic and humanist rhetoric.
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