Melancholic Freedom: Agency and the Spirit of Politics

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Overview

Why does agency — the capacity to make choices and to act in the world — matter to us? Why is it meaningful that our intentions have effects in the world, that they reflect our sense of identity, that they embody what we value? What kinds of motivations are available for political agency and judgment in an age that lacks the enthusiasm associated with the great emancipatory movements for civil rights and gender equality? What are the conditions for the possibility of being an effective agent when the meaning of democracy has become less transparent? David Kyuman Kim addresses these crucial questions by uncovering the political, moral, philosophical, and religious dimensions of human agency.

Kim treats agency as a form of religious experience that reflects implicit and explicit notions of the good. Of particular concern are the moral, political, and religious motivations that underpin an understanding of agency as meaningful action. Through critical engagement with the work of theorists such as Judith Butler, Charles Taylor, and Stanley Cavell, Kim argues that late modern and postmodern agency is found most effectively at work in what he calls "projects of regenerating agency" or critical and strategic responses to loss. Agency as melancholic freedom begins and endures, Kim maintains, through the moral and psychic losses associated with a broad range of experiences, including the moral identities shaped by secularized modernity and the multifold forms of alienation experienced by those who suffer the indignities of racial, gender, class, and sexuality discrimination and oppression. Kim calls for renewing the sense of urgency in our political and moral engagements by seeing agency as a vocation, where the aspiration for self-transformation and the human need for hope are fundamental concerns.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Kim takes his readers on philosophical and political journeys that are as wonderful for their careful mode of engagement as they are for the highly provocative insights they achieve. He asks one of the crucial questions of our day: How might people cultivate a sense of urgency for the manifold work of progressive politics in a time when the 'banality of freedom' is widespread? In a manner that is at once counter-intuitive and compelling, Kim argues that melancholy can be a condition for the vitality of freedom and the intransigence of hope. Kim's voice is itself powerful evidence for the synthesis of urgency and self-reflection at the heart of his thinking." —Romand Coles, author of Beyond Gated Politics: Reflections for the Possibility of Democracy

"In this interesting book David Kim analyzes the different strategies for self-transformation or regenerating agency that are articulated in the work of Charles Taylor and Judith Butler. He makes a good case for interpreting each as a religious project and for the value of this kind of thick reflection on agency." —Wayne Proudfoot, Professor of Religion at Columbia University

"David Kyuman Kim is the leading philosopher of religion and culture of his generation. The breadth of his synthetic imagination, the scope of his scholarly knowledge and the depth of his poetic wisdom is amazing. How rare it is to see such delicate style, nuanced analysis and robust vision in one figure and text in our compartmentalized academy and terrorized society. His dark hope summons us!" —Cornel West, Princeton University

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Product Details

Meet the Author

David Kyuman Kim is Director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College.

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