Translocal commons and the global crowd
Lecture od Susan Buck-Morss

  • Translocal commons and the global crowd

Susan Buck-Morss visits Warsaw on the occasion of the publication of the Polish translation of her latest book, "Hegel, Haiti and Universal History" (Warsaw 2014) by Krytyka Polityczna.

The lecture and the interview with professor Susan Buck-Morss will be devoted to questions about how we shape our local imagination with reference to the current political challenges and special problems, how we visualise the past and the future and, first of all, what critical tools we can still use to stay alert, see sharply and be able to make correct differentiations and analogies. Susan Buck-Morss is a researcher who scrutinizes the porous boundaries of the systems of meanings and looks for cracks in the seemingly cohesive modern narration on freedom, emancipation and humanity. She reaches beyond the specialized languages of individual disciplines, on which she draws and which she mixes, and intently observes visual culture.

Professor Susan Buck-Morss

Lecturer at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York and Professor Emeritus at the Cornell University in Ithaca. Studied continental critical theory and specialised in thinkers of the Frankfurt School. Her numerous academic research, books and articles draw on several disciplines, including: the history of art, studies on visual culture, architecture, political sciences, cultural studies, Germanic studies, history, philosophy or political studies. Author of “The Origin of Negative Dialectics” (1977), ‘The Dialectics of Seeing” (1991), “Dreamworld and Catastrophe’ (2002), “Thinking Past Terror” (2003), “Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History” (2009). Currently working on the project devoted to the philosophy of history: “History as the Cosmology of Modernity”.

Doctor Katarzyna Bojarska

Senior lecturer at the Institute of Literary Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences and in the Late Modernity Literature and Culture Research Group, member of the Franz Kafka University of Muri. Author of texts and translations, interested in relations between art, literature, history and psychoanalysis. Translator, among others, of the book by Dominick La Capra History in Transit. Experience, Identity, Critical Theory. (Cracow 2009). Currently working on the translation of the book by Susan Buck-Morss “Hegel, Haiti and Universal History”. Author of the book entitled: “Wydarzenia po Wydarzeniu: Białoszewski – Richter – Spiegelman” (Warsaw 2013).

"Hegel, Haiti and Universal History"

When in 2000 Susan Buck-Morss published the article entitled “Hegel and Haiti” in the “Critical Inquiry” journal, it aroused huge interest and a wave of criticism among academics specializing in different fields. The author was praised, first of all, for the spectacular criticism of the Eurocentrism and reproved for animating the idea of universal history or humanism. Buck-Morss decided to answer the numerous polemical votes, the result of which was the essay “Universal History”, the later part two of the book “Hegel, Haiti and Universal History”. The book is provocative and by no means easy, not only because it topples over the numerous dominant ideas of the modernity, history and freedom, but also because it is aimed at the ethical and political aspects of the practice of human studies today.

Thus, this inconspicuous book criticizes the Eurocentric model of universal history on the one hand and the rejection of any concept of universality in order to go in for the multitude of alternative models on the other. Buck-Morss is searching for the sources of the historical project of freedom outside of the European Enlightenment and its legacy. She starts with posing the following question: what are the origins of Hegel’s dialectics of ruling and bondage? And, looking for an answer in texts by such researchers as Pierre-Franklin Tavarès or Nick Nesbitt, she arrives at the conclusion that not only was the philosopher aware of the course of events of the revolution in Haiti in the 1790s, but used them as the inspiration for his concept of fighting for respect. The author is of the opinion that separating Hegel from Haiti as well as fending off the Haitian revolution from the history of the western philosophical and political thought constitute the underpinnings of the modern Eurocentrism, or even racism.

Buck-Morss convinces that to numerous Enlightenment philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and, finally, Kant, slavery remained an abstract idea and it was on this very abstract idea, rather than on or against the factual historical experience of slavery, that they created their concepts of freedom, staying blind to the surrounding political, social and economic reality. In certain terms, Hegel was an exception, which is why he became the main character in her narration.

Such exceptions stimulate her disquisition and the “universal history” project. Buck-Morss scrutinizes the porous boundaries of the systems of meanings and looks for cracks in the seemingly cohesive modern narration on freedom, emancipation and humanity. She reaches beyond the specialized languages of individual disciplines, on which she draws and which she mixes. She penetrates the ruins of the evolutional experiences, the utopia, hope and unity. As she declares herself, her aim is to extend the limits of our historical imagination, in order to liberate from the vicious circle of violence. Buck-Morss encourages us to reach for what is ours, for the events, ideas and heroes that we can – and should – consider to be ours. There are not many book which are so inconspicuous and yet include such a big number of fascinating stories and new interpretations, stimulating the thinking and kindling the imagination.

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