In dialogue with afro-caribbean philosophy, this book seeks in Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms a new vocabulary for approaching central intellectual and political issues of our time. For Cassirer, what makes humans unique is that we are symbolizing creatures destined to come into a world through varied symbolic
forms; we pluralistically work with and develop these forms as we struggle to come to terms with who we are and our place in the universe.
This approach can be used as a powerful challenge to hegemonic modes of study that mistakenly place the Western world at the center of intellectual and political life. Indeed, the authors argue that the symbolic dimension of Cassirer’s thinking of possibility can be linked to a symbolic dimension in revolution via the ideas of Frantz Fanon, who argued that revolution must be a thoroughgoing cultural process, in which what is
at stake is nothing less than how we symbolize a new humanity and bring into being a new set of social institutions worthy of that new humanity.
An exciting and path-breaking work of philosophy . . . the authors have not only broken new ground but have also opened up new discursive spaces into which many are likely to follow.
This is one of the rarest books. It belongs to the new genre of radical philosophical archeology: it resurrects the work of Ernst Cassirer, one of the great German idealists, and puts it to the task of developing a contemporary critical theory which confronts imperialism and neo-colonialism. Against dominant banal historicism, complacent positivism and the humanist apologia of capitalism, ‘Symbolic Forms for a New Humanity’ constructs a new type of ethical humanism: revived German idealism, black existentialism and radical constitutionalism come together to show how the symbolic and mythic foundations of reality open the possibility of the impossible. Dignity and equality are both impossible and barred in neo-liberal capitalism, yet they create the conditions of all possibility. As Cornell and Panfilio compellingly argue, the impossible has already started happening in the South African struggles against racialised capitalism, in the transformative constitution of the rainbow nation and in the most ancient and contemporary principles of uBuntu. At this point of retreat of the left, Cornell and Panfilio open new directions for critical thinking and offer a call to radical action.
Birkbeck, University of London