More driving time
No raillery and idle japes today—there’s real work to do! I’m driving down (well, over and then down) to the University of Delaware, where I’ll be speaking tomorrow about cultural studies and the post-9/11 left. Also about blogging, literary studies, and undergraduate curricula (but not all in the same talk—at other events). Some of my remarks on the post-9/11 left are going to sound something like the essay Sasha Abramsky published yesterday in OpenDemocracy.net, because, you know, that’s just the way I am about these things. But oddly enough, some of my other remarks are going to consist of elaborations on my responses to Thomas Frank’s critiques of cultural studies. And still other remarks are going to revisit the whole “cultural left/ reformist left” debate of the 1990s. So it’ll be like delivering three talks at the same time! Will it work? We’ll find out tomorrow!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a really contentious subject for debate, check out this item from today’s Inside Higher Ed.
John McGowan will drop by tomorrow. And it’s a good thing, too, because this increasingly loopy blog hasn’t published anything judicious and/or discerning and/or even-tempered all week. Remember, as Henry Farrell put it in his decisive anti-Tribblerian essay on academic blogging,
Literary theorists who lament the problematic public image of their field should look to the example of Bérubé and McGowan, who are happy to weave discussions of critical theory and its significance into their more general blogging.
Thanks, Henry! We won’t let you down. Even when we’re wasting our time (and everyone else’s) creating things like “Future Search” websites.
I would hope that somewhere in your discourse tomorrow you might address that one stickler point that so many like Sasha seem to want to ignore--personal Fear. She glosses over it entirely, albeit with a slight waving of her hand when she typed--"A politics beyond fear.” If i were to sit with her i would ask her just what it is she fears; of what is she so afraid???
The right tells us all the time what it is afraid of: loss of their lives, loss of their economic stability, loss of their personal property, loss of their way and standard of living. The left seems to be unable to form any consensus on their common fears. Some seem to feel much like the right, as Sasha intimates, but cleverly avoids stating; some probably would love to see the fall of civilization as we know it ( and thus increase fear rather than decrease--but certainly this moves beyond it too); some are afraid for their children or future generations and would accept militaristic interventions that interdict these threats; these and other views are never fully expressed, either in the texts of the material, or in the expressions of those who voice their concerted opinions.
Fear is an amazing motivator of inappropriate action; i liken it to stepping on the brakes when stepping on the accelerator would be so much safer and more advantageous. Really moving beyond fear invites a certain peacefulness and, for better and for worse, an apathy towards action. So Michael, what personal fears underlie your remarks for tomorrow?Posted by on 10/05 at 05:45 PM
You mean, aside from the general devastation, deforestation, or dehydration of the planet? Lessee—raising a child with a disability in a country with few disability services, that would be one. Living through wars over oil resources and/or water rights while the Christian and Islamist jihadists kill the unbelievers, that would be another. Otherwise my major fear that underlies my remarks tomorrow is a fear that I’ll spill my glass of water all over my paper. It’s happened before.
Sasha’s a guy, by the way.Posted by Michael on 10/05 at 06:05 PM
I figured you’d be heading over to Pittsbugh to see Sidney Crosby and their more tastefully named superstar on opening night...Posted by Scott Lemieux on 10/05 at 06:34 PM
The Abramsky article has some nice things to say. But I’m a little unclear on how he can decry the “ the cartoonish “good versus evil” language in which George W. Bush frames world events” while yet faulting the left of “Pilger, Fisk, Ali, Galloway, and Klein” for being blind to al-Qaida’s “classically imperialist” nature. This kind of inversion does little, it seems to me, to challenge the simplistic dichotomy Abramsky rightly finds problematic about Bush’s understanding of the rest of the world. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it seems guilty of the “intellectual and analytical laziness” he lays at the feet of Ward Churchill if all that can be suggested in response is the defense of a traditional liberal platform to prevent “a betrayal of the central Enlightenment tenets nurtured, in fits and starts, for more than two centuries in one or another citadel of pluralism.” Maybe it is just me but I find it hard to see what the difference between this version of heroic sacrifice and that used to dupe the men and women fighting and dying while Bush lies baldly, patently and continuously. And I fail to see how propagating this myth does anything to turn aside the angry blades we’ve leveled at one another.
Certainly he is right to say that there is a real and pressing need to rethink many of the ways we conceptualize and confront the issues challenging an open society in the wake of 9/11. The failure of the left to have a meaningful presence, let alone impact, in the post 9/11 world despite the numerous and glaring disasters that characterize the Bush administration demands it. But if calls to “get out of Iraq, bring home the troops from all points east, curtail support for Israel, develop a more sensible, non-oil-based energy policy” can be dismissed as mere questions asked for their own sake, if those demands can not be seen as substantive, then I have to say Abramsky is asking the questions but providing none of the answers. We need to do something different but certainly we can do better and more than adopting the reactionary stance that the desire to see progressives “set some of the terms of the debate, rather than continually playing catch-up with conservatives” would seem to express.Posted by on 10/05 at 10:43 PM
I hope that whatever parts of Abramsky’s thesis you promote, they will not include this passage:
“They assume that groups like al-Qaida are almost entirely reactive, responding to western policies and actions, rather than being pro-active creatures with a virulent homegrown agenda, one not just of defence but of conquest, destruction of rivals, and, ultimately and at its most megalomaniacal, absolute subjugation…
al-Qaida is classically imperialist, looking to subvert established social orders and to replace the cultural and institutional infrastructure of its enemies with a (divinely inspired) hierarchical autocracy of its own, looking to craft the next chapter of human history in its own image.”
... because it’s very wrong in several ways.
No one denies that Al Qaeda’s ideology is one of conquest. But the general distinction between the ideological coating of a movement and its actual base of support seems especially important in this case. The evidence, such as there is, indicates that motivates Bin Laden, and what motivates those who blow civilians up in Iraq or London or provide the environment in which this is tolerated or encouraged, is by no means identical. Robert Pape’s finding that terrorists are 10 times more likely to come from a country with US troops is hard to ignore, and is also hard to explain if street-level hatred for “the West” is assumed to be motivated by aggressive, rather than reactive, desires.
Moreover, the claim that this anti-colonial/nationalist movement is new in having expansionist and reactionary goals is simply bizarre. Remember pan-Arab nationalism? Remember Maoism, bent explicitly on eventual world domination and putatively internationalist? Remember Khomeinism? I can’t, in fact, think of a violent nationalist movement without some kind of broader agenda in at least some very public segment of its leadership.
Finally, though this is later and lesser, the mention of non-Western sexism, racism, and various other ugliness is a simple non sequitor. It neither contradicts Western racism as an explanation for anger at the West, nor justifies Western racism.Posted by on 10/05 at 11:52 PM
Tom, you honestly don’t see a difference between a defense of secular liberalism and the kind of rationale used to dupe the men and women fighting and dying while Bush lies baldly, patently and continuously? Between a defense and a betrayal of liberal ideals?
Kalkin, you ask, Remember pan-Arab nationalism? Remember Maoism, bent explicitly on eventual world domination and putatively internationalist? Remember Khomeinism?
I sure do. The history behind al-Qaeda has everything to do with numbers one and three.Posted by Michael on 10/06 at 12:30 AM
Posted by on 10/06 at 02:07 AM
So NOW you’re going to the University of Delaware? 13 years after I graduated? That’s just great.Posted by Bulworth on 10/06 at 11:24 AM
"I sure do. The history behind al-Qaeda has everything to do with numbers one and three.”
Sure, with al-Qaeda as a despairing response to the defeat and failure of the first, and as to some degree part of a Sunni backlash against the third. I’m not sure if that’s quite what you mean, but it’s how I’d sketch it; you may be thinking of a more direct line of descent, but that would only strengthen my argument.
If you grant the parallels, shouldn’t you grant the point that there’s nothing particularly new about atrocious and/or imperialist ideologies in anti-colonial movements? And thus that whatever one’s reasons for rejecting a Left explanation of Islamic terror as primarily a reaction to Western imperialism, the newness of the post-9/11 world and the oldness of ‘Cold War ideologies’ should not be among them?Posted by on 10/06 at 11:58 AM
Kalkin—short answer, yes and yes. Recognizing that al-Qaeda (and Islamism from the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood to the present, more generally) may not be a “reaction” specifically to U.S. imperialism shouldn’t preclude the recognition that al-Qaeda’s form of imperialism has antecedents and parallels. Point taken.
And Tom, likewise. Fair enough: I don’t share your take on liberalism, but I agree that it’s cogent. For the record, my talk today won’t go anywhere near Abramsky’s suggestion that we entertain the necessity of pre-emptive detention. My answer to such suggestions is that liberals should try to be more liberal rather than less.Posted by Michael on 10/06 at 04:11 PM
I humbly apologize for the pronoun misuse re: Sasha. I also really do appreciate your statement of your fears. They include those that i fully expected to be there--especially regards the long term health and welfare of the planet and our civil rights and liberties to insure your children and subsequent generations are encouraged to not just survive but endure and expand. It is interesting that your presentation occurs along the same theme and times as Bush’s yet so substantially different. Thanks.
My own personal fear is the loss of cognitive liberty and thus the formation of a US military police state that detains and imprisons those who do not conform their beliefs and views to those that one is told is correct. It seems that engaging in a “long war” against perceived enemies (ones we helped create and fund btw) serves more to align the structures of support and polarization of dissent in this country than it does to eliminate the threats of violent action against us, the citizens.
And did you spill that glass??Posted by on 10/06 at 05:21 PM