The leftist tendency inside and outside of the INC [Indian National Congress] was largely responsible for transforming the national movement into an organized mass movement, which brought in workers and peasants, both Muslim and Hindu, and presented Britain with its most potent challenge. But Hindu and Muslim chauvinist organizations retained enough strength to foil any unity. Thus, when independence was gained, it came at the cost of a partition of the country. In the ruthless “transfer of populations” between the newly created “homeland for India’s Muslims,” Pakistan, and the secularly defined India, millions of people were uprooted and many killed. It was an independence that appeared to confirm Indology’s old shibboleths on the incompatibility between the authentic, indigenous Hindu civilization and the foreign Muslim civilization. The many people who had worked to disprove such shibboleths were overwhelmed in a carnage instigated by an elite that wished to achieve decolonization without radical social change, an elite that more easily contemplated an internal slaughter as the cost for a quick negotiated settlement with the colonial power than a unified mass movement capable of seizing independence. The British left sadely while the Indians were engulfed in terror.
Orientalism, Political Economy, and the Canonization of Indian Civilization, by John Roosa
Every crisis opens new possibilities. The confrontation with Nazism was an opportunity for the European intelligentsia to dissociate itself from an ideology that had proved compatible with, if not instrumental to, conquest and enslavement… But strong institutional forces worked against such reckoning. The onset of the cold war, needed a “West” morally triumphant. It was feared that the debacle of “Western Civilization” could promote the advance of communism. As C. H. Wendel stated in his “Foreword” to Cassirer’s The Myth of the State (1946): “Most people talked easily about the fact that we were going through a crisis of world history. It was natural to expect a confused welter of ideas in the public mind about the philosophy of history or about the nature of our civilization. All sorts of quasi-philosophies were likely to spring up in such conditions, inspired by some ideology or the political interests of those who enunciated them”.
from The God That Never Failed: The Origins and Crises of Western Civilization, by Silvia Federici, contained within Enduring Western Civilization, or The Construction of the Concept of Western Civilization and Its “Others”
What I am interested in doing now is suggesting how the general liberal consensus that “true” knowledge is fundamentally non-political (and conversely, that overtly political knowledge is not “true” knowledge) obscures the highly if obscurely organized political circumstances obtaining when knowledge is produced. No one is helped in understanding this today when the adjective “political” s used as a label to discredit any work for daring to violate the protocol of pretended suprapolitical objectivity. We may say, first, that civil society recognizes a gradation of political importance in the various fields of knowledge. To some extent the political importance given a field comes from the possibility of its direct translation into economic terms; but to a greater extent political importance comes from the closeness of a field to ascertainable sources of power in political society.
from the introduction to Edward Said’s Orientalism
This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.
Youth is accented at GM for a couple of reasons… young people get sick less often and use the benefits less frequently. A major exception to this calculation is the rising incidence of mental illness among young people in the plant… The company does not acknowledge that the work itself is responsible for the rising incidence of mental illness, but the union official claimed that requests for leaves of absence for psychological disturbances are quite common.
Mary, a young woman of twenty, worked on the motor line, a subassembly operation that is not part of the main line. Mary was also out on sick leave but her ailment was not physical. She was suffering from nervous tension and dreaded the day when she would have to decide whether to go back to Lordstown or quit for another job… She wished that she had a job, ‘where you could use your brain instead of the monotony of just standing there doing the same thing over and over,’ but she was compelled by the need for money so she remained on the motor line for more than two years. Her main complaint at Lordstown was the men. ‘Most men out there are perverted, dirty old men.’… She was frustrated because she felt impotent to complain about the problems on the job. “When I get a job I don’t complain about it. I hired on sayin’ I could do it. If I complain, they say: ‘Look, you can’t ask for special treatment because you’re a woman. If you can’t do the work we’ll get a man to do it.’… Mary had little confidence that the union could help her. ‘As for the [union] committeemen it’s all men. They should have women committeemen. I don’t think the women here have too much say-so.’
So what is the value of critique, and why should the left in particular cherish it both intellectually and politically? Critique offers possibilities of analyzing existing discourses of power to understand how subjects are fabricated or positioned by them, what powers they secure…, what assumptions they naturalize, what privileges they fix, what norms they mobilize, and what or whom these norms exclude…
Let us admit forthrightly, however, that critique does not guarantee political outcomes, let alone political resolutions. Yet, rather than apologize for this aspect of critique, why not affirm it?… Indeed, one of our worries about legalism pertains to its impulse to call the question too peremptorily… Surely we should not disavow a left critique of the tensions and contradictions in affirmative action simply because that critiques does not deliver in advance a blueprint or set of strategies for achieving racial, gender, or class justice in America.
Not knowing what a critique will yield is not the same as suspending all political values while engaged in critique. It is possible to care passionately about offering richer educational opportunities to those historically excluded from them while subjecting to ruthless critique the institutional and discursive practices that have thus far organized that aim… And even if critique reveals problematics that shake those commitments… the resulting disorientation remains deeply political.
and so, although political commitments may constitute both the incitement to criticize and the sustaining impulse of it, these commitments themselves will almost inevitably change their shape in the course of its undertaking. Critique is worth nothing if it does not bring the very terms of such commitments under scrutiny, if it does not transform its content and the discourse in which it was advanced.
from the introduction to Left Legalism / Left Critique, by Wendy Brown and Janet Halley
To return to the reproduction of sex, sexual orientation, and gender transitivity, the disavowal of any connection between sexual orientation and gender nonconformity by many lesbian, bisexual, and gay rights advocates has its consequences. While it is certainly true that gender-variant behavior is not primarily reproduced in the family, a the Christian right and other opponents of same-sex marriage assert, it does have to get reproduced somewhere. Launching arguments that reinforce gender norms into that discursive space of the media, broadly construed — which is the actual battleground for the rights claims of gender minorities — plays into the ongoing conservative assaults on minority gender-transitive traditions. Instead, we need to give sustenance to gender-variant traditions, to preserve them, to make sure they get reproduced, not play into the larger ideological erasure of them. We need to contest rather than support ideologies that assert that queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and transgender kids are pathological and that ultimately reinforce heteronormative notions. Putting too much time and energy into making arguments that are implicitly premised on the dominant gender norms (and their relationship to anatomy) merely because they are intelligible in terms of the disciplining powers of the school, the psychiatrist’s office, and the family court means that we ignore the larger project of transforming just what is intelligible.
from Queer Theory, Lesbian and Gay Rights, and Transsexual Marriages, by Paisley Currah, collected in Sexual Identities, Queer Politics
This business of earning your daily bread is really sad and wearisome. People come up with the most pious lies about work. It’s just another abominable form of idolatry, a dog licking the rod that beats it: work.
And no more can you stand erect. You lose that heritage of man, too. You are brought now to fit earth’s intestines, stoop like a hunchback underneath, crawl like a child, do your man’s work lying on your side, stretched and tense as a corpse. The rats shall be your birds, and the rocks plopping in the water your music. And death shall be your wife, who woos you in the brief moments when coal leaps from a bursting side, when a cross-piece falls and barely misses your head, when you barely catch the ladder to bring you up out of the hole you are dynamiting.
Breathe and lift your face to the night, Andy Kvaternick. Trying so vainly in some inarticulate way to purge your bosom of the coal dust. Your father had dreams. You too, like all boys, had dreams—vague dreams, of freedom and light and cheering throngs and happiness. The earth will take those too. You will leave them in, to replace the coal, to bear up the roof instead of the pillar the super ordered you to rob. Earth sucks you in, to spew out the coal, to make a few fat bellies fatter. Earth takes your dreams that a few may languidly lie on couches and trill “How exquisite” to paid dreamers.