In recent years the concept of 'the primitive' has been the subject of strong criticism; it has been examined, unpacked, and shown to signify little more than a construction or projection necessary for establishing the modernity of the West. The term 'primitive' continues, however, to appear in contemporary critical and cultural discourse, begging the question: Why does primitivism keep reappearing even after it has been uncovered as a modern myth?
InThe Neo-primitivist Turn, Victor Li argues that this contentious term was never completely banished and that it has in fact reappeared under new theoretical guises. An idealized conception of 'the primitive,' he contends, has come to function as the ultimate sign of alterity. Li focuses on the works of theorists like Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, Marianna Torgovnick, Marshall Sahlins, and Jürgen Habermas in order to demonstrate that primitivism continues to be a powerful presence even in those works normally regarded as critical of the concept. Providing close readings of the ways in which the premodern or primitive is strategically deployed in contemporary critical writings, Li's interdisciplinary study is a timely and forceful intervention into current debates on the politics and ethics of otherness, the problems of cultural relativism, and the vicissitudes of modernity.
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