Moral Images of Freedom resurrects the Kantian project of affirmative political philosophy and traces its oft-forgotten influences found in thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Ernst Cassirer, Frantz Fanon, and Walter Benjamin. Drucilla Cornell responds to nihilistic claims about the empty purpose of critical theory in a world so utterly captured by violence in all of its worst forms: economic, social, political, and cultural. Cornell instead draws together a sweeping thread of hope in the varied symbolic forms of freedom persistent throughout the work of a broader range of critical theorists and addresses the burning challenge for such work to respond seriously to the need for a decolonization of critical theory itself and a sustained commitment to the possible future of socialism.
In the face of terrible suffering, Cornell advances what she calls an affirmative political philosophy. Offering a theoretical vision attuned to this relationship of reason and sensory existence, Cornell exemplifies just how this can be done by mining what is vital in Kant, Heidegger, Derrida, Fanon, Cassirer, and Benjamin. One of the book's great gifts is the way that it develops this insight, showing how engagement with Cassirer's understanding of the diversity and generative power of language can be put to the service of 'decolonizing' critical theory. Cornell calls for a new poetics of consciousness. Such a poetics takes us beyond the limitations of conceptual knowledge, opening us to unlikely, and uncanny, connections. The result is a stirring vision of what critical theory can be: hopeful, invigorating, humane.
Climbing the highest mountains of philosophical reflection, Moral Images of Freedom is an illuminating and profound journey to a promised land of self-discovery and authentically grounded hope. Cornell remarkably manages to displace prevailing political pessimism with an inspiring vision of emancipatory politics and moral engagement.
Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Drucilla Cornell's Moral Images of Freedom places philosophy on the side of hope. Its distinctive contribution is to show how the tendencies in twentieth-century thought that threaten us with nihilism may also inform and inspire a deepening of our faith in ourselves. To read this book is to discover a path to greater freedom and connection in what had seemed to be a history of despair.
The power of this book lies in the courage, erudition and openness to the future that it mobilizes in making its case for continuing the struggle on behalf of a moral ordering of our social world. Moving deftly through Kant, Heidegger, Cassirer, Fanon, Lewis Gordon and others, Prof. Cornell makes a powerful contribution to the revitalization of contemporary critical theory by resting this project on the principle that if we attend to the limits of our knowledge, we will discover that it is still possible to imagine the surpassing of our present order by a more just one. As such, it speaks courageously to our present moment of disjuncture.
Drucilla Cornell is one of the last grand critical theorists in our time. This great tradition — from Kant to Benjamin and Adorno — is made relevant in her profound and courageous philosophical engagements with redemptive possibilities in our dystopian era. She sustains a contagious utopian defiance of the bleak present with a subtle wrestling with our limits — a wrestling that takes us through empire, class, race and gender toward a just and free world.
Drucilla Cornell is professor of political science, women's studies, and comparative literature at Rutgers University and has recently been appointed as chair of philosophy and law at the University of Cape Town. She has written numerous articles on contemporary continental thought, critical theory, grass-roots political and legal mobilization, jurisprudence, women's literature, feminism, aesthetics, psychoanalysis, and political philosophy. A produced playwright, her plays The Dream Cure, Background Interference, and Lifeline have been performed in California, New York, Florida, and Ohio. Her dramatization of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake runs every year in Dublin, Ireland.
Chapter 1 Preface Chapter 2 Introduction: The Struggle for Redemptive Imagination Chapter 3 Chapter 1: Kantian Beginnings to the Legacy of Critical Theory: The Harmonious Play of Freedom Chapter 4 Chapter 2: Dignity in Dasein: The Between of Thrownness and Hospitality Chapter 5 Chapter 3: Symbolic Form as Other: Ethical Humanism and the Vivifying Power of Language Chapter 6 Chapter 4: Decolonizing Critical Theory: The Challenge of Black Existentialism Chapter 7 Chapter 5: Redemption in the Midst of Phantasmagoria: Dispelling the Fate of Socialism Chapter 8 Conclusion: Heeding Piedade's Song: Toward a Transnational Feminist Solidarity