Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics
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Edgework brings together seven of Wendy Brown's most provocative recent essays in political and cultural theory. They range from explorations of politics post-9/11 to critical reflections on the academic norms governing feminist studies and political theory. Edgework is also concerned with the intellectual and political value of critique itself. It renders contemporary the ancient jurisprudential meaning of critique as krisis, in which a tear in the fabric of justice becomes the occasion of a public sifting or thoughtfulness, the development of criteria for judgment, and the inauguration of political renewal or restoration. Each essay probes a contemporary problem--the charge of being unpatriotic for dissenting from U.S. foreign policy, the erosion of liberal democracy by neoliberal political rationality, feminism's loss of a revolutionary horizon--and seeks to grasp the intellectual impasse the problem signals as well as the political incitement it may harbor.
whatever we try to do to you, you are justiﬁed in retaliating? You did not have equality of rights with your father or your employer . . . ; you were not allowed to answer back when you were scolded or to hit back when you were beaten . . . . Do you expect to have such license against your country and its laws that if we try to put you to death in the belief that it is right to do so, you on your part will try your hardest to destroy your country and us its laws in return?” (Crito 50e). So there
undermine a democracy? Michael Ignatieff, also thinking through Freud about questions of civic belonging, concludes that “we are only likely to love others more if we love ourselves a little less.”22 This view, I think, aptly characterizes the contemporary “cosmopolitan” antidote to problems thought to be posed by parochial attachments and fundamentalist passions, in short by nationalisms big and small. The larger, more worldly view, and hence the one to be counted on for peace, liberal civility,
links the neoliberal governmentalization of the state with that of the social and the subject. Taken together, the extension of economic rationality to all aspects of thought and activity, the placement of the state in forthright and direct service to the economy, the rendering of the state tout court as an enterprise organized by market rationality, the production of the moral subject as an entrepreneurial subject, and the construction of social policy according to these criteria might appear as
one’s own choosing. These conditions bear enough similarities to some of the constraints and demands of thinking that must respond to given political circumstances to offer good practice for political theorists, who are often removed from the unique rhythms and constraints of political life. Moreover, as these occasions productively divert scholars from our own research questions, they free us to think more broadly, more speculatively, and more dialogically than usual. As critiques of particular
histories of subordination but also of more generic anxieties of our time, then our capacity to be silent in certain venues might become the measure of our desire for freedom, including a desire to resist this discourse of anxiety masquerading as populism. The measure of this desire, of course, requires carefully distinguishing between the pleasures and freedoms of silence on the one hand and habituation to being silenced on the other. Also necessary is a second distinction between keeping one’s