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Master discourse & theorization

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  • mer_e_jo
    More from Victor Li: Edward Said s death has deprived us of a voice more needed today than ever before. His was the voice that reminded us that there is a
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 1, 2006
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      More from Victor Li:

      Edward Said's death has deprived us of a voice more needed today than
      ever before. His was the voice that reminded us that there is a
      fundamental untidiness to all systems of knowledge and explanation,
      and that we must therefore question grand simplifications about the
      clash of civilizations and unidirectional roadmaps to peace that
      ignore a long and complex history of occupation and oppression. At a
      time when thought seems to travel along facile, Manichean axes of
      good and evil, Said's adherence to a difficult and unsettling
      dialectical practice exemplifies all that is best in critical
      thought. In what follows, I wish to pay tribute to the role played by
      untidiness as a dialectical form of worldly criticism in Said's work.

      To Said, therefore, no single theoretical formulation can hope to fix
      or capture the complex, turbulent forces that shape our world. Like
      Theodor Adorno, whose work has greatly influenced his own, Said is
      suspicious of identitarian thought, "of the imposition of logical
      consistency on a world that should be nonidentical to its concept,
      insisting that conceptual representations can never be fully adequate
      to their objects". Replying to a question by Jennifer Wicke and
      Michael Sprinker about whether a global theory is necessary, Said
      clearly expressed his preference for the irresolution of "untidiness"
      over the satisfactions of "totalization":

      The most important thing ... has been the absence of a master
      theory. ... It seems to me that the attempt to invent or devise a
      discourse that is adequate in its universal contours and detailed
      power to the new forces of the media or the new social forces outside
      Europe has not met with great success. It seems to me to have missed
      a lot of the contradictions, a lot of the untidiness of the
      moment. ... I don't see the need for a master discourse or a
      theorization of the whole.
      __________

      This makes some sense. Most philosophies and revolutions tend towards
      absolute theories that place them alongside religious fanaticism.
      Political dialectic should* be based upon untidiness, just as much as
      our individual inter-personal struggles for resolution. But we all
      know that as certainly as peace-makers find small victories, all
      around them are those who justify violence against their neighbors,
      near or far. The terrorist obviously has given up hope for peace;
      s/he has succumbed to madness. Violent groups and nations continue to
      delude themselves, that war and peace in the span of human existence
      is an acceptable and necessary road to freedom. They are accoutred
      with philosophical and religious Reason. They believe that their
      happiness, at the sake of others' comfort, is just a shot away.

      Individual satisfaction doesn't negate collective efforts: they occur
      simultaneously. It's taken nearly my entire lifetime to face death
      and ask myself, "What do I do now?" I can honestly and peacefully
      say, "Nothing, other than what I'm doing, right now."

      That's my unrealistic but sincere New Year's wish for everyone.

      Cheers!
      Mary
    • louise
      [Mary] Most philosophies and revolutions tend towards absolute theories that place them alongside religious fanaticism. Political dialectic should* be based
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 1, 2006
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        [Mary]
        Most philosophies and revolutions tend towards absolute theories
        that place them alongside religious fanaticism. Political dialectic
        should* be based upon untidiness, just as much as our individual
        inter-personal struggles for resolution.

        Louise
        I think there may be an inherent contradiction here. To insist on
        untidiness as a base for political dialectic can easily tend toward
        the fanaticism of absolute theory. In the end, any theory is tested
        by its results. Human nature is fairly invariable, hence the
        importance of free expression and vigorous debate in discovering our
        national histories, and learning from them.

        [Mary]
        But we all know that as certainly as peace-makers find small
        victories, all around them are those who justify violence against
        their neighbors, near or far. The terrorist obviously has given up
        hope for peace; s/he has succumbed to madness.

        Louise
        This is simplistic. Existing living conditions and political
        edicts, not to mention state brutalities, whether reported in media
        outlets or not, constitute a form of violence also. I do not
        justify the original violence or that perpetrated by those who are
        called 'terrorists'. This phrase, 'we all know', is itself redolent
        of 'the fanaticism of absolute theory'. At least, from my
        perspective, which is still evolving, and open to question. Taking
        specific examples, do you believe the Irgun, or the Stern Gang, or
        the ANC fighters, or Robert Mugabe's guerrilla forces, were all
        terrorists, succumbing to madness? If so, what about those who feel
        opppressed under the new national dispensations arguably made
        possible by such resort to arms, including the planting of bombs and
        violent intimidation of dissenters? It is a massive subject, not
        one I feel comfortable with, especially on account of historic
        grievance felt by the Irish against the British, with a thirty-year
        background of bombings, negotiations, agreements, broken promises,
        shattered lives. That is the latest chapter in centuries of
        history. I think it is ignorance of, and insensitivity to,
        histories, of all peoples involved, that produces the conditions for
        carnage. Philosophy may help argue the case for changes in law,
        education, and political practice.
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