Liberalism and Human Suffering: Materialist Reflections on Politics, Ethics, and Aesthetics

Hardcover | September 15, 2010

byAsma Abbas

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This book investigates the sources and implications of our encounters with suffering in contemporary politics and culture, exploring the forces that determine how suffering matters. It counters liberalism’s distorting domestications of human suffering, which are most acute in its politics of redress through justice, the law, representation and inclusion.  Radically rethinking the subjectivity of sufferers and arguing that our experience of the world is not prior to or outside of justice, but constitutive of it, the book recuperates a materialist politics that emphasizes sensuous activity, reclaims representation, and honors “the labor of suffering.”

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This book investigates the sources and implications of our encounters with suffering in contemporary politics and culture, exploring the forces that determine how suffering matters. It counters liberalism’s distorting domestications of human suffering, which are most acute in its politics of redress through justice, the law, representa...

Asma Abbas is Assistant Professor of Politics and Philosophy at Bard College.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 8.3 × 5.73 × 0.76 inPublished:September 15, 2010Publisher:Palgrave MacmillanLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0230104452

ISBN - 13:9780230104457

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Suffering’s Dead? * PART ONE: Suffering Liberalism * Suffering, Incorporated * The Theatre of the Ascetic * The Liberal Sensorium * PART TWO: Recuperating Materialism * From Noisy Spheres to Hidden Abodes * The Fetishism of Injuries * The Tragic Art of Historical Materialists

Editorial Reviews

“Asma Abbas offers a complex critique of the way liberal thought has shaped the understanding of human suffering and, inspired by Marx and Nietzsche, she articulates alternative ways to think about suffering. Her argument is radical in the etymological sense of this word--it goes to the root of our political life by asking questions about what constitutes us as subjects and binds us to others. The book is intellectually exciting and morally challenging.”--David Adams, Associate Professor, Department of English, Ohio State University“Asma Abbas’s Liberalism and Human Suffering develops a deep and bracing critique of liberal conceptions of justice. With unusual drive and wit, Abbas shows that justice in the liberal state requires theatrical displays of the suffering it claims to redress. In the ways it forces suffering to work for redress, liberal justice transforms suffering into the familiar and fetishistic forms of harm and injury which function as unthreatening calls for a rebalancing of the scales. Abbas’s withering analysis of the calculative aesthetics of liberal justice demonstrates with mounting power how liberalism works not to address suffering but to cancel its political force. Far, then, from naming a regime of political justice, liberalism, we are driven by Abbas to conclude, is a regime that guarantees that suffering will never be experienced, heard, rallied to, as a cry for a new form of political life. Since, by contrast, real justice demands concrete transformations of our current social relations, we must find ways to overcome liberal practices of justice.In peeling back the layers of injury that liberalism has added to the insults of human history, Abbas offers us the opportunity to think differently about the alternative forms of life that suffering makes possible. Her philosophical touchstones for this project are Marx and Nietzsche. Indeed, the second half of Abbas’s book, in its passionate refusal to submit to the fear of the endlessness of human suffering, represents the first fresh interpretation of Marx’s theory of the world-making force of human needs since Marcuse and Adorno. In other words, Abbas rightly sees that the unavailability of justice in any of its liberal forms demands and portends an alliance between wounds that have never ceased to seek their proper forms of overcoming and the hope for more life. Abbas’s scholarly and interpretive achievements are remarkable in their own right, but they never become for her ends in themselves. In other words, at no point does Abbas lose sight of the utter timeliness of her critical work. Indeed, Abbas’s probing and poetic account of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America locates Liberalism and Human Suffering firmly in the most urgent political crises of our time, when radical politics seems incapable of sustaining the conviction that a better world is within our imaginative ken. Our politics is sorely in need of ways of critiquing the fetishes of injury, harm and victimhood in order to renaturalize and repoliticize suffering. Abbas makes a major contribution to that project. Any recommendation of Liberalism and Human Suffering would be incomplete without reference to the sparkle and verve and sheer hopefulness of Abbas’s prose. By turns dialectical and lyrical, philosophical and allusive, dark and illuminating, Liberalism and Human Suffering argues for a world in which thinking ceases to fear its most far-reaching capacities. But beyond this, it is, in its way, an emissary from that world. In Liberalism and Human Suffering, Abbas is inventing a unique form of critique that is evenly suspended between sober materialism and speculative generosity, between unflinching confrontations with human misery and the just life that can grow only in such contaminated soil.”--Gregg Horowitz, Chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies, Pratt Institute