Debut author Divjak attempts to rebut Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 prizewinning memoir Between the World and Me.
The author uses a similar structure to Coates’ book, penning a letter to his son, advising him to embrace wariness in the face of wielders of arbitrary power. He divides his book into eight major sections, each revolving loosely around a philosophical idea (such as “Morality, Ethics, or any Attempt to Define Good and Evil cannot be Applied to the Dead”). The first three sections, dedicated specifically to dismantling Coates’ points, passionately defend ad hominem arguments, insisting that Between the World and Me “exemplifies so well the bullshit used by the new economic slave masters of our Technological Society for whom [Coates] ignorantly or intentionally toils.” The irony of associating a pained meditation on the tragedies of being black in America with a new form of slavery seems lost or ignored. The author goes on to draw on his own Slavic roots to justify his confusion about why Coates wouldn’t “use slavery as a source of pride and incentive for education and hope as every other former slave peoples do instead of as an excuse.” This book, effectively a polemic, offers up an odd mix of philosophical sympathies from Niccolò Machiavelli to Karl Marx, all to provide an existentialist take for a working-class audience, asserting that life is despair, that neither law nor nature can be trusted, that ethics are proscribed by the powerful, and personal satisfaction can only be found in resistance to the status quo. To achieve his goals, the author opens up an impressive cache of historical knowledge, ranging from Greco-Roman and military history to existential philosophy to modern scientific theory, all to ultimately claim that people who manage to survive without despair can only be “bullshitters.” What he doesn’t explain is why the impetus of this work, Coates, isn’t entitled to his own despair.
A studious, provocative hodgepodge of history, conspiracy theory, and philosophy that’s heavier on vitriol than veritas.