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Confronting the Liberal Now: Exile, Counterpoint, and Slow Humanism.

This talk investigates the presentist response of contemporary liberal internationalism to political crises and makes an argument for confronting and re-imagining global power through an approach inspired by the work of the late postcolonial scholar, Edward Said. Those foreign policy pundits in America who currently hold most sway over the Obama Administration are liberal internationalists who claim to ground their perspective in the practical politics of a world conditioned by historical power. In reality, their approaches lean heavily on idealist, exclusionary visions of international order that are deeply embedded in a politics of fear. Such a politics – unmoored from history and power – responds to any kind of perceived crisis in the international order by insisting upon quick, unreflective, military and “humanitarian” intervention, right now. Said’s approach, by contrast, while always attuned to the urgency of politics, demands that scholars and activists slow down and approach such crises from a “precarious exilic realm,” a perspective Homi Bhabha has called, Said’s“slow humanism.” Speaking from this realm and committed to a practice of critical engagement grounded in attention to historical counterpoint rather than historical amnesia, Said insisted public intellectuals resist dominant narratives of crisis by carefully pulling these crises out of the ever-looming present and back into history, thus calling into question the very solutions that liberal internationalism is dedicated to justifying. The talk concludes by thinking more broadly about the kind of paradigm shift in both political inquiry and knowledge production that Said’s approach to history, power, and crisis calls forth.


Australian Catholic University
Tenison Woods House
Level 11
8-20 Napier Street
North Sydney

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