A stylish, erudite meditation worthy of its provocative subject.

THE MIRROR

A HISTORY

Beginning with a tale of early modern industrial espionage, newcomer Melchior-Bonnet considers the mirror’s significance in moral, religious, and philosophical discourse throughout history.

In the 17th century, Venetian craftsmen were smuggled into France to staff the Royal Glass Company in an attempt to undermine the Italian monopoly. The Venetian government retaliated with kidnappings, forged letters, and other subterfuges to protect what they regarded as a state secret: the techniques of mirror manufacture. Out of the ensuing battle for a growing market emerged technological developments that transformed the mirror from a rare and costly object into a staple artifact of modern experience. From antiquity onward, mirrors stood for what is most wonderful and problematic about sight, both defining and extending the limits of vision. During the Middle Ages the mirror’s religious impact was twofold: in the humanist tradition, it served as a reminder of how the human body reflected the divine image; but another vein of Christian morality viewed the mirror as a tool of Satan, a snare especially for women, whose sexuality it made monstrous and threatening. The mirror’s social function as an instrument of self-knowledge similarly engendered a dual aspect: it was a dispassionate observer, judging the gazer's looks and demeanor on behalf of the public eye; and also a secret partner and accomplice, conspiring to blot out consideration of anything but the self. To the mirrors of truth and vanity are added the distorting mirror of madness, which alters what it reflects to reveal fresh truths or terrors, and the permeable mirror of dreams, which presents an alternative and contingent reality. Bonnet-Melchior discusses all these ideas in terms of representative literary, philosophical, and pictorial texts spanning the centuries. These readings are uneven: the author clearly knows more about literature and philosophy than she does about art, but the scope of her ideas and her evident ease with the broad range of materials compensate for occasional interpretive weaknesses. Alas, they must also overcome the translator's inappropriate colloquialisms and botched allusions.

A stylish, erudite meditation worthy of its provocative subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2001

ISBN: 0-415-92447-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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