Wywrotowe pojęcia w imperiach i poza nimi

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“The worst thing one can do with words,” George Orwell once wrote,“is to surrender to them.” One must “let the meaning choose the word,and not the other way,” to use language for “expressing and not forconcealing or preventing thought,” he continued (1953, 169). For centuries,social movements “let the meaning to choose the words” andactively sought new categories to grasp the world. They also expressedthe desire for a new world but often surrendered to words when imaginingit. Medieval heretics, French revolutionaries, and various socialistmovements on the fringes of the Russian Empire one hundred yearslater, as well as groups like nationalist urban reformers, Muslim modernizers,and democratic antisuffragists–all had to face fossilized conceptsthat they attempted to question and modify, actively reappropriatingthem to forge new configurations. They also inherited the existing languageand other sign systems, which cannot be modified at will withoutthe risk of losing the capacity to communicate. To paraphrase Karl Marx’snutshell definition of historical agency, people make use of their conceptsbut they do not do so as they please; they do not do so under self-selectedcircumstances but, rather, under the already-existing circumstancesgiven and transmitted in language and social relations.


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