CULTURE OF COMPLAINT

THE FRAYING OF AMERICA

It's hard not to be stirred up and entertained by the three jeremiad-essays Hughes (Barcelona, 1992, etc.) offers here. He goes scatter-shooting at cows with very broad sides: “the American talent for the twin fetishes of victimhood and redemption”; the PC academy (“ ‘The Canon,’ that oppressive Big Bertha whose muzzle is trained...at the black, the gay, and the female. The Canon, we're told, is a list of books by dead Europeans—Shakespeare and Dante and Tolstoy...you know them, the pale patriarchal penis people”); postmodern architects (“the pediment-quoting Ralph Laurens of their profession”); Jean-Michel Basquiat (“the black Chatterton of the 80's”). Hughes deplores the “multi-culti” scam of a cultural establishment unwilling to stand up to the Jesse Helms-types and thus retreating into an homogenization that doles out quality to all so that none will rise too high to be chopped down. But real European- or Australian-style multiculturalism, he argues, is of great benefit—a haunting of one culture by another, an enrichening. So far so good (if glitzy: for Time's art-critic, there's no idea whose subtlety can't be sacrificed for a clever line). But the swaggering postures Hughes assumes all over the room are convincing only in the brightest-lit corners. He does a little historical background for his best point—that art for Americans has always been a therapeutic activity—but elsewhere hardly a background is shaded in. The problematics behind our melding of cultures, behind a moral issue such as abortion, or underlying formalism and shock-aesthetics—these Hughes avoids drilling into deeply. Mostly, it seems, he's writing to the small, disenchanted section of the same go-go cultural guild he bewails; in such tight company, he has to do little more than press journalistic hot buttons cleverly. Not since John Gardner's On Moral Fiction (1978) have we had such a pellet-gun shower of right-wing leftism, back-to-basics positivism—and like Gardner's, it settles down more as vanitas than veritas.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-19-507676-1

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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