INTIMATE STRANGERS by Andreea Deciu Ritivoi


Arendt, Marcuse, Solzhenitsyn, and Said in American Political Discourse
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A scholarly exercise imparting astute observations about the reception of immigrants and their enormous contributions to their adopted society.

Taking four very different “foreigners” in America, Ritivoi (English/Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Paul Ricoeur: Tradition and Innovation in Rhetorical Theory, 2006, etc.) delineates how each challenged the prevailing political discourse and even changed it for the better. In spite of the criticism and suspicion surrounding their “foreignness”—Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse came from Germany, Alexander Solzhenitsyn from Russia, all three struggled with English, while Edward Said attended Harvard and inherited his Palestinian father’s U.S. citizenship—these four intellectuals had a profound, even prophetic effect on the “citizen ethos” that never quite accepted them. The four used what Ritivoi calls their “stranger persona” to generate original ideas and impart the vision of an impartial observer, desperately lacking in the rather closed-minded, self-congratulatory society that America had become after World War II. Although foreigners were welcomed as part of the founding myth of the country, and accepted, like Alexis de Tocqueville a century earlier, as “enlightened travelers,” the intellectuals who were forced here by oppression in their own countries were viewed with suspicion, considered arrogant and “undesirable.” Yet these four immigrants did not hesitate to use certain effective rhetorical devices in their writings to counter these tenacious “habits of exclusion." For example, Arendt employed irony in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) to unsettle notions of sentimental patriotism; Marcuse used his revolutionary notoriety to forge political activism; Solzhenitsyn found in the jeremiad of his 1978 Harvard commencement address the vehicle with which to urge America to return to its founding greatness; Said used denunciation in Orientalism and elsewhere to underscore the hypocrisy of Western liberalism.

A finely argued contribution to the discussion of immigration, its decidedly scholarly bent notwithstanding.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-231-16868-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2014


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