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The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

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"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."—Noam ChomskyNoam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect,

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The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower

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Overview

"People are dangerous. If they're able to involve themselves in issues that matter, they may change the distribution of power, to the detriment of those who are rich and privileged."—Noam ChomskyNoam Chomsky has been praised by the likes of Bono and Hugo Chávez and attacked by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Alan Dershowitz. Groundbreaking linguist and outspoken political dissenter—voted "most important public intellectual in the world today" in a 2005 magazine poll—Chomsky inspires fanatical devotion and fierce vituperation. In The Chomsky Effect, Chomsky biographer Robert Barsky examines Chomsky's positions on a number of highly charged issues—Chomsky's signature issues, including Vietnam, Israel, East Timor, and his work in linguistics—-that illustrate not only "the Chomsky effect" but also "the Chomsky approach." Chomsky, writes Barsky, is an inspiration and a catalyst. Not just an analyst or advocate, he encourages people to become engaged—to be "dangerous" and challenge power and privilege.

The actions and reactions of Chomsky supporters and detractors and the attending contentiousness can be thought of as "the Chomsky effect." Barsky discusses Chomsky's work in such areas as language studies, media, education, law,and politics, and identifies Chomsky's intellectual and political precursors. He charts anti-Chomsky sentiments as expressed from various standpoints, including contemporary Zionism, mainstream politics, and scholarly communities. He discusses Chomsky's popular appeal—his unlikely status as a punk and rock hero (Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is one of many rock and roll Chomskyites)—and offers in-depth analyses of the controversies surrounding Chomsky's roles in the "Faurisson Affair" and the "Pol Pot Affair." Finally, Barsky considers the role of the public intellectual in order to assess why Noam Chomsky has come to mean so much to so many—and what he may mean to generations to come.Robert F. Barsky is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, French, and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (MIT Press),Constructing a Productive Other, Introduction à la théorie littéraire, and Arguing and Justifying. He is currently completing a book on Zellig Harris, for The MIT Press.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With this study, Vanderbilt professor Barsky follows up Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, his first expository volume on the octogenarian MIT linguist-cum-political writer. It focuses on how Chomsky's political writings-often published in small venues and in reaction to developing events-get disseminated and used throughout the world. The result is an indirect approach to a compelling subject, namely, what areChomsky's politics, and what broader lessons can be drawn from them? Barsky begins by defining what he calls "the Chomsky effect," whereby Chomsky's ideas get distorted and argued about in degraded form, whether by bolsterers or naysayers, resulting not only in bad arguments, but in undeserved infamy for Chomsky. He tracks the effect through the academy, the radical left, legal studies, literature and media, and along the way provides very lucid commentary on, and summation of, Chomsky's ideas. That said, Barsky, like Chomsky himself, refuses to distill Chomsky's thoughts to sound bites as he sifts through all the claims and counterclaims. That may prove frustrating for some readers, but it is fully in the spirit of Chomsky's own work. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Barsky (English, comparative literature, & French & Jewish studies, Vanderbilt Univ.; Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent) has written an evenhanded view of Chomsky's writings and thoughts. He works in the Chomsky tradition of radical politics and considers Chomsky a major figure in political thought and linguistic analysis. The key for Barsky in understanding his subject is to place him in the anarchist tradition. Chomsky considers himself a rationalist with roots in the French and Scottish Enlightenments, as distinct from postmodernity. Barsky fully explores the controversial nature of Chomsky's writings (the Robert Faurisson and Pol Pot discussions), the figures whose philosophies have influenced him (e.g., Wilhelm von Humboldt, Rudolph Rocker, and John Dewey), and his views and ideas on law, education, contemporary thought, literature, and computer science. He also covers Chomsky's own influence on popular culture, his humor, and his commitment to inspire people to think independently. Chomsky is an important figure in trying to evolve public thinking on justice, liberty, and national safety. His ideas are controversial, his writings powerful, and his thoughts essential to the national discussion. Recommended for political science collections.
—Gene Shaw

From the Publisher
"The insights into Chomsky as a person, notably in the many extracts from his correspondence and remarks by friends and colleagues, are fascinating." Raphael Salkie Times Higher Education Supplement

"This book should be read by anyone interested in the existing or potential role for public intellectuals in American societyand in politics,particularly." Richard C. Collins Virginia Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262026246
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert F. Barsky is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, French, and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (MIT Press, 1997).
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