Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb Responds to Bruce Robbins

I want to extend Robbins’s sharp, and yes, long-standing claim that Foucault’s “commitment to anti-modernity” makes him an easy replacement for Matthew Arnold in our moment’s counterorthodoxies. Robbins and I have battled for a long time about this question, and I’m not immune to the persuasiveness of his argument, but I continue to wonder whether such a commitment is really as whole-cloth as all that. For Foucault, as for Foucauldians, a careful political positioning against specific forms and routes of power that ramify through political and institutional modernity is not the same as nostalgia for prior brutalities, nor is it a refusal of all futurity. To bring things back to Mufti’s book, and Robbins’s reflections thereon, I would be very surprised indeed if a further consideration of historical “progress” and its lies pushed Mufti toward something “like cynicism,” though I would be curious to know what these affects or moods might be, and whether Robbins or others would understand them as retreating, or politically demotivated. I tend to think that the “impasse” one might glean both from Mufti’s conclusion that our labor-exploiting present is imperialism by other means, or that Balibar’s fictional, utopian mega-state is actually a dystopia of global civil and racial strife, invites circuitous re-routings. And that these, in their improvisatory poiesis, are neither cynical nor naïve. They are, one hopes, just the footpaths away from the royal road of linear progress narratives we might need. I don’t think I differ from Robbins in this regard.

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