Toward a Non-humanist Humanism: Theory after 9/11

SUNY Press
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 Assesses the limits and possibilities of humanism for engaging with issues of pressing political and cultural concern.
In his book The End of Education: Toward Posthumanism, William V. Spanos critiqued the traditional Western concept of humanism, arguing that its origins are to be found not in ancient Greece’s love of truth and wisdom, but in the Roman imperial era, when those Greek values were adapted in the service of imperialism on a deeply rooted, metaphysical level. Returning to that question of humanism in the context of the United States’ war on terror in the post-9/11 era, Toward a Non-humanist Humanism points out the dehumanizing dynamics of Western modernity in which the rule of law is increasingly made flexible to defend against threats both real and potential. Spanos considers and assesses the work of thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Jacques Rancière, and Slavoj Žižek as humanistic reformers and concludes with an effort to imagine a different kind of humanism—a non-humanist humanism—in which the old binary of friend versus foe gives way to a coming community without ethnic, cultural, or sexual divisions.
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About the author

 William V. Spanos is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the author of many books, including American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam and Herman Melville and the American Calling: The Fiction after Moby-Dick, 1851–1857, both also published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Jul 31, 2017
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Pages
202
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ISBN
9781438465982
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / American / General
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Philosophy / Movements / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Obstacle is the Way has become a cult classic, beloved by men and women around the world who apply its wisdom to become more successful at whatever they do.

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From the Hardcover edition.
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One of our most renowned and brilliant historians takes a fresh look at the revolutionary intellectual movement that laid the foundation for the modern world.
 
Liberty and equality. Human rights. Freedom of thought and expression. Belief in reason and progress. The value of scientific inquiry. These are just some of the ideas that were conceived and developed during the Enlightenment, and which changed forever the intellectual landscape of the Western world. Spanning hundreds of years of history, Anthony Pagden traces the origins of this seminal movement, showing how Enlightenment concepts directly influenced modern culture, making possible a secular, tolerant, and, above all, cosmopolitan world.
 
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From the Hardcover edition.
Critics predominantly view Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor as a "testament of acceptance," the work of a man who had become politically conservative in his last years. William V. Spanos disagrees, arguing that the novella was not only a politically radical critique of American exceptionalism but also an eerie preview of the state of exception employed, most recently, by the George W. Bush administration in the post–9/11 War on Terror.

While Billy Budd, Sailor is ostensibly about the Napoleonic Wars, Spanos contends that it is at heart a cautionary tale addressed to the American public as the country prepared to extend its westward expansion into the Pacific Ocean by way of establishing a global imperial navy. Through a close, symptomatic reading of Melville’s text, Spanos rescues from critical oblivion the pervasive, dense, and decisive details that disclose the consequences of normalizing the state of exception—namely, the transformation of the criminal into the policeman (Claggart) and of the political human being into the disposable reserve that can be killed with impunity (Billy Budd).

What this shows, Spanos demonstrates, is that Melville's uncanny attunement to the dark side of the American exceptionalism myth enabled him to foresee its threat to the very core of democracy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This view, Spanos believes, anticipates the state of exception theory that has emerged in the recent work of Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and Jacques Ranciere, among other critical theorists.

The Exceptionalist State and the State of Exception illustrates that Melville, in his own time, was aware of the negative consequences of the deeply inscribed exceptionalist American identity and recognized the essential domestic and foreign policy issues that inform the country’s national security program today.

Critics predominantly view Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor as a "testament of acceptance," the work of a man who had become politically conservative in his last years. William V. Spanos disagrees, arguing that the novella was not only a politically radical critique of American exceptionalism but also an eerie preview of the state of exception employed, most recently, by the George W. Bush administration in the post–9/11 War on Terror.

While Billy Budd, Sailor is ostensibly about the Napoleonic Wars, Spanos contends that it is at heart a cautionary tale addressed to the American public as the country prepared to extend its westward expansion into the Pacific Ocean by way of establishing a global imperial navy. Through a close, symptomatic reading of Melville’s text, Spanos rescues from critical oblivion the pervasive, dense, and decisive details that disclose the consequences of normalizing the state of exception—namely, the transformation of the criminal into the policeman (Claggart) and of the political human being into the disposable reserve that can be killed with impunity (Billy Budd).

What this shows, Spanos demonstrates, is that Melville's uncanny attunement to the dark side of the American exceptionalism myth enabled him to foresee its threat to the very core of democracy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This view, Spanos believes, anticipates the state of exception theory that has emerged in the recent work of Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and Jacques Ranciere, among other critical theorists.

The Exceptionalist State and the State of Exception illustrates that Melville, in his own time, was aware of the negative consequences of the deeply inscribed exceptionalist American identity and recognized the essential domestic and foreign policy issues that inform the country’s national security program today.

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