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Lessons in Secular Criticism

Stathis Gourgouris is Professor of Classics, English, and Comparative Literature and Director of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University He is the author of Dream Nation: Enlightenment, Colonization and the Institution

Publication Year: 2013

Secular criticism is a term invented by Edward Said to denote not a theory but a practice that counters the tendency of much modern thinking to reach for a transcendentalist comfort zone, the very space philosophy wrested away from religion in the name of modernity. Using this notion as a compass, this book reconfigures recent secularism debates on an entirely different basis, by showing (1) how the secular imagination is closely linked to society’s radical poiesis, its capacity to imagine and create unprecedented forms of worldly existence; and (2) how the space of the secular animates the desire for a radical democratic politics that overturns inherited modes of subjugation, whether religious or secularist. Gourgouris’s point is to disrupt the co-dependent relation between the religious and the secular—hence, his rejection of fashionable languages of postsecularism—in order to engage in a double critique of heteronomous politics of all kinds. For him, secular criticism is a form of political being: critical, antifoundational, disobedient, anarchic, yet not negative for negation’s sake but creative of new forms of collective reflection, interrogation, and action that alter not only the current terrain of dominant politics but also the very self-conceptualization of what it means to be human. Written in a free and combative style and given both to close readings of texts and to gazing off into the broad horizon, these essays cover a range of issues—historical and philosophical, archaic and contemporary, literary and political—that ultimately converge in the significance of contemporary radical politics: the assembly movements we have seen in various parts of the world in recent years. The secular imagination demands a radical pedagogy and unlearning a great many established thought patterns. Its most important dimension is not battling religion per se but dismantling theological politics of sovereignty in favor of radical conditions for social autonomy.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxii

In 1977, three years before his fatal accident, Roland Barthes was elected to the Chair of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France and gave the celebrated inaugural lecture that was published under the simple title Leçon (1978). It was a lesson in perfect Barthes fashion, on the power of a certain kind of...


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pp. xxiii-xxviii

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One The Poiein of Secular Criticism

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pp. 1-27

My initial interest here, before I elaborate on the capacity of the notion in question, is to situate the advent of secular criticism, not in the broad and nebulous sphere of the secularism debates (and the so- called post- secular universe that underlies them), but in the precise historical sphere to which it belongs....

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Two Detranscendentalizing the Secular

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pp. 28-64

My interest here is twofold: First, I want to reiterate in practice how the metaphysics of secularism can be subjected to secular criticism. This will serve to clarify further why I consider critiques of secularism that privilege religious morality, whether as modes of knowledge or of political action, to be no more...

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Three Why I Am Not a Post-secularist

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pp. 65-89

I am not a post-secularist because I am not even a secularist. I am an atheist.
Of these three presumed identifi cations, the last is the crucial one, if only because it resists the logic of identity, despite the explicit subjective affi rmation (“I am”). Saying this, I understand,...

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Four Confronting Heteronomy

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pp. 90-119

To presume to speak under such a heading with an impetus to engage the real world is a bit of a folly, for confronting heteronomy is an almost impossible task beyond mere discourse. But it is something that Cornelius Castoriadis— whose thought I examine here in this light— spent his entire life thinking about and acting on, something that most people in most societies in...

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Five The Void Occupied Unconcealed

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pp. 120-144

Claude Lefort’s contribution to political theory, especially theories of bureaucracy and totalitarianism, modernity, and democracy, is enormous. Yet much of Anglophone scholarship in recent years has been drawn primarily to “The Permanence of the Theologico-Political?” (1981), an essay read largely in isolation from the complexity of an oeuvre that spans more than ...

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Six Responding to the Deregulation of the Political

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pp. 145-180

I remember the devastating irony of a New York Times frontpage photograph on Thanksgiving Day 2011 depicting a row of people who had pitched tents outside a Best Buy department store in Mesquite, Texas. Alas, the campers were not staging an Occupy Best Buy but positioning themselves at the head of the ...


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pp. 181-188

E-ISBN-13: 9780823254880
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823253784
Print-ISBN-10: 0823253783

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth