EMPIRE OF SIGNS

Brief appreciations of things Japanese, of the "richness, mobility, and subtlety" of the Japanese "exchange of signs": published in France in 1970, and Barthes at his most seductive. These are the observations of every traveler, translated (without strain) into recognitions. "The dinner tray seems a picture of the most delicate order"; it is actually a palette, "with which you are going to play in the course of your meal. . ." (In the next piece: "by chopsticks, food becomes no longer a prey to which one does violence . . . but a substance harmoniously transferred.") And this sequence of thoughts leads Barthes to remark on the absence of a center, "a precious heart," a deep meaning ("food is never anything but a collection of fragments"). There then comes Tokyo: a city with an "empty" center, the forbidden grounds of the (figurehead) Emperor's palace. Japan not only affords Barthes a profusion of complex signs, it suites his penchant for the formal—and for non-meaning, the absence of a symbolic charge. "The haiku is not a rich thought reduced to a brief form, but a brief event which immediately finds its proper form." Thus, also, the reflections on bowing; on Bunraku puppets; on the Zengakuren riots ("a great scenario of signs" climaxing in a purely vocal exercise—"The Zengakuren are going to fight"—without a subject or stated cause.) The Bunraku reflections echo the Bunraku piece included by Susan Sontag in A Barthes Reader (p. 621)—where Empire of Signs is lauded but not directly represented. The book is small and, even with 18 black-and-white illustrations, pricey. There is more concentrated pleasure here, however—along with fewer stylistic and other impediments—than in major works of the canon.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1982

ISBN: 0374522073

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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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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