Synopses & Reviews
In Willful Subjects Sara Ahmed explores willfulness as a charge often made by some against others. One history of will is a history of attempts to eliminate willfulness from the will. Delving into philosophical and literary texts, Ahmed examines the relation between will and willfulness, ill will and good will, and the particular will and general will. Her reflections shed light on how will is embedded in a political and cultural landscape, how it is embodied, and how will and willfulness are socially mediated. Attentive to the wayward, the wandering, and the deviant, Ahmed considers how willfulness is taken up by those who have received its charge. Grounded in feminist, queer, and antiracist politics, her sui generis analysis of the willful subject, the figure who wills wrongly or wills too much, suggests that willfulness might be required to recover from the attempt at its elimination.
"Willful Subjects is beautifully conceived and expertly conducted, sentence by sentence, suggestion by suggestion. Paradoxically, Sara Ahmed's willfulness promises happiness for her readers. Exquisite formulations engage our contemplation and render real intellectual enjoyment. Followers of Ahmed, of which there are many, will not be disappointed. This new instance of razor-sharp thinking powerfully builds upon The Promise of Happiness to look at something usefully slicing through contentment: the scissoring relations between the will and willfulness. More than cutting-edge, this is cutting thought."
"Sara Ahmed's Willful Subjects explores the relationship between willfulness and dissent that challenges the notions of coherence and unity that characterize many accounts of the will. Focusing on a concept of 'the distributed will'—distinct from Rousseau's 'general will'—Ahmed proposes a consideration of the relationship between ethics and the will which refuses to assume at the outset that being out of sorts with the common good is a form of immorality. Considering the will internally fractious and insistent proves more than useful in understanding collective forms of willfulness, including political resistance. Like her other works known for their originality, sharpness, and reach, Ahmed offers here a vibrant, surprising, and philosophically rich analysis of cultural politics, drawing on feminist, queer and anti-racist uses of willing and willfulness to explain forms of sustained and adamant social disagreement as a constitutive part of any radical ethics and politics worth its name."
"There is no one else writing in contemporary cultural theory who is able to take hold of a single concept with such a firm and sure grasp and follow it along an idiosyncratic path in such surprising and illuminating ways."
"Willful Subjects is a rich, complex, wondrous archive of willfulness. The array of texts, voices, problems and approaches is both painstaking and playful, validating and challenging."
“In Willful Subjects, cultural theorist Sara Ahmed provides a history of willfulness. Her study reveals some significant and fascinating aspects of this history, and points to areas of future scholarly enquiry. . . . The book offers a comprehensive and intellectually rigorous treatise on a topic that is more complex than it may initially appear. This text also provides further evidence of Ahmed’s scholarly nous. “
“Ahmed has produced an erudite archive of willfulness, tracing the ideas of the will and willfulness through Western thought since Augustine. Admonitory fairy tales and George Eliot’s novels serve as articulations of philosophy. Ahmed engages in a queer reading of willfulness, a reading that does not presume that willfulness is negative. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.”
“Ahmed effectively imitates the twisting together of thought, affect, memory, and insight, drawing connections between things that may appear disparate, and noticing disjunctions in what was previously knit together. … [B]y drawing widely and richly on works of philosophy, literature, film, and everydayness, Ahmed shows how in social life, one affect or action may be judged to be quite another. This allows us to attend not only to behaviors and orientations, but to how those are read by others, to why and in what ways certain actions and affects are felt and interpreted as problematic, as willful.”
Cultural theorist Sara Ahmed explores how willfulness is often a charge made by some against others. By following the figure of the willful subject, who wills wrongly or wills too much, Ahmed suggests that willfulness might be required to recover from attempts at its elimination.
About the Author
Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the author of On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life; The Promise of Happiness; and Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, all also published by Duke University Press; as well as The Cultural Politics of Emotion; Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality; and Differences That Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism.
Table of Contents
Introduction: A Willfulness Archive 1
1. Willing Subjects 23
2. The Good Will 59
3. The General Will 97
4. Willfulness as a Style of Politics 133
Conclusion: A Call to Arms 173