CULTURE AND IMPERIALISM

Said's latest book largely reiterates his familiar argument for cultural recognition of the "Other" (more cogently marshalled in his Orientalism, 1978), particularly the colonized "Other" that has been molded in popular perception by the crucial (to Said) element of Western imperialism. Perusing Verdi's Aida, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Kipling's Kim, even Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Said insists that the fact that one culture has dominated another is the subtext for any 19th-century exploration of the exotic—or even, in Austen's case, for "the ordination" of the colonizer's rights and local freedoms. Said, though a gifted professor, is a gluey stylist ("Moreover, the various struggles for dominance among states, nationalisms, ethnic groups, regions, and cultural entities have conducted and simplified a manipulation of opinion and discourse, a production and consumption of ideological media representations, a simplification and reduction of vast complexities into easy currency, the easier to deploy and exploit them in the interest of state politics")—and he is certainly subject to his own charges of simplification. Didn't colonized cultures have, in turn, their own colonies, imperialisms, dominations? Has there ever been a human society in which the "Other," the "impure," the "raw," the "strange" hasn't been used as a lever for advantage? Is culture, for that matter, supposed to be complex and fair—or is it, rather, self-essential and reflective? Said spends no time weighing these questions, which he sends out onto the field but never puts in play. It's following the sections of highly tenuous lit-crit here that Said's lack of focus and ill-thought-out positions become most apparent. Drifting screeds and apologies—against the Gulf War, for Oliver Stone's JFK and the equally astigmatic Salman Rushdie—plus ever more academic recommendations of scholarly books Said agrees with give his own a tiresome, soapboxy sensibility, undercutting its formality and most of its seriousness.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 1993

ISBN: 0679750541

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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