Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left

Susan Buck-Morss, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (148p) ISBN 978-1-85984-585-1
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.
Reviewed on: 07/01/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 146 pages - 978-1-84467-562-3
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