RECENT REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
- Disordered Minds
‘However they are formed, our world produces them - the psychopaths and those with narcissistic or paranoid personality disorders. You have met them, worked with them, maybe even lived with them or been victimized by them and you know just how bafflingly plausible they can be and how disastrously evil. Disordered Minds introduces us to the vast wastelands they are capable of creating when you and I, our neighbors, friends, families and colleagues fail to see just how dangerous they are, when we fail to underpin our democracies with the infrastructures capable of withstanding the onslaught of the deceptively charismatic lunatic leader. Read this exceptionally fine and accessible work of scholarship and make it your business to keep their disordered minds from disordering our universe’. ~ Mary McAleese, Former President of Ireland, Personal email
- Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews
Jan 16, 2018: Daniel Green | http://www.thereadingexperience.net/tre/2018/01/unruly.html edit | delete
In Praise of the Unruly
Collections of book reviews are inherently difficult to present as sufficiently unified to warrant republication as a book. Whatever unity of theme, style, or approach the reviews possess first of all reflect such unifying qualities as they manifest themselves in the reviews to begin with, which of course requires a critic who pursues particular themes or maintains a particular approach. Books like John Domini's The Sea-God's Herb and David Winters's Infinite Fictions illustrate how a well-chosen and well-arranged compilation of reviews can reinforce the insights provided by skilled and perceptive critics.
Often the critical perspective a reviewer offers is given its most characteristic expression when considering certain kinds of writers or a particular literary mode or genre (as is the case with both Domini and Winters). Jeff Bursey's Centring the Margins: Essays and Review exemplifies this tendency, which is signaled clearly in the book's title. Bursey generally examines works of fiction outside the mainstream (outside the U.S. mainstream, at least), including works of formally transgressive fiction, translated fiction, and lesser-known Canadian books, and certainly to the extent the book succeeds in calling attention to this work it is a worthwhile effort for that reason alone.
Bursey makes his purpose quite clear in the book's prefatory essay: "Where Margaret Atwood and other brand names are granted much leeway in sentiment and space in the press no matter if what comes out is average or bad, novels that don't adhere to some perceived notion of normal writing are received in a less friendly way. They are sometimes considered not art but an affront." Further:
I don't deny the mainstream authors their audience. However, others will seek to create new work in new forms, and if they're viewed as rude threats, that's not a bad thing. These reviews were often written with the explorers and the unruly in mind.
In collecting the reviews, Bursey expresses the hope that they might help in "bringing less popular works into the centre of the conversation" about books. However, I'm not sure that this is an altogether realistic, or desirable, goal if it means achieving an easy, automatic acceptance of such works in the "mainstream." Better that adventurous and iconoclastic works remain an "affront," as threats to established practice lest they become reflexively amalgamated into a bland and uncritical literary culture. Such works should remain unruly, even if that means some very good writers might not get the immediate recognition they deserve. Such a book as Centring the Margins is valuable because it provides access to readers who might be interested in exploring the margin, discovering it can be quite an interesting place.
If there is a drawback to emphasizing reviews that in effect seek to champion the writers and works surveyed it would be that eventually the tone of consistent approbation can become somewhat wearing, and I would have to say that Centring the Margins doesn't always avoid this problem. Bursey is certainly willing to point out flaws and missteps in the books he considers, but in most cases it is in the context of coming to an ultimately appreciative conclusion. As well, I found myself occasionally looking for more detailed analysis of the writing strategies and their effects in the works considered, somewhat less reliance on longer quotation. (In the review of Gaddis's Agape Agape, for example, we are told at the end that the book is filled with "jagged rhythms and darting wit," and that Gaddis is a "superb stylist," but there isn't much critical commentary in the review that explicates these qualities.) On the other hand, the pieces on Blaise Cendrars and the Estonian writer Mati Unt introduce me to writers about whom I know little and definitely make me want to get better acquainted with their work.
I can't say I always agree with Bursey's estimations of the writers under review (I can't bring myself to admire either William Vollmann or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as much as he does), but of course this is an inevitable reaction to the views of any critic (especially when they are expressed in such a relatively large number of reviews). The breadth of his reading is impressive, however, lending credibility and authority to his reviews, both individual reviews of books he has clearly carefully considered (both text and context) and the assembled reviews as a whole, which collectively leave the impression that their author reads comprehensively across formal and linguistic boundaries, and against the grain of entrenched assumptions about what books are worthy of our attention. Certainly readers will conclude from these reviews that Jeff Bursey has given the books his engaged attention, and those who would like to expand their own reading horizons beyond the books reflexively covered in the high-profile book review sections would be making a good start by consulting Centring the Margins. ~ Daniel Green, http://www.thereadingexperience.net/tre/2018/01/unruly.html
- That Existential Leap: a crime story
Dolan Cummings built his novel around a set of ideas. The prime virtue is individualism, the prime vice conformity. There are two stories — not stories, really, but idea vehicles — loosely connected. One is set in New York and features a narrator who named herself Claudette, and her boyfriend, Seigfried. The latter is the book’s hero because he is supposedly an arch individual, demanding that the world move out of his way so he can define him-self. The other story is narrated by some sort of ephemeral being that examines a Scottish police inspector named Alexander; this arc does have some elements of storytelling due to Alexander’s string of romances. He is the head of the Occult Crimes unit, his self-defined project to negate occult motives and thus demand full perpetrator responsibility.
The philosophical discussion about free will and responsibility for both the good and evil in one’s life is the book’s strongest point. There are moments that are intriguing, such as when Satan tells Alexander how he found it “creepy” the way Jesus’ disciples followed him automatically. This suggests that they were essentially brainwashed and connects to the larger discussion of the hordes of anti-Seigfrieds who voluntarily sacrifice their precious freedom to self-define by opting for conformity. In contrast to the brainwashing rapists who abound in the novel, Seigfried’s group commit victimless crimes that supposedly accentuate their selfhood.
The problem with this novel is that I was able to fit way too much of its whole in my summary above. Aside from the somewhat involving romances of Alexander, the characters all fall flat because the entire book is summary with-out evocative detail. Cummings sacrificed the couching I intended to do by having a documentarian studying Seigfried directly criticize the useful-if-banal writing tenet “show, don’t tell.” On the same page, Claudette made a joke lambasting solipsism and I actually laughed aloud, since she and Seigfried are the most navel-gazing characters I have ever read. If Cummings had shown instead of told/summarized, he would have had to answer in advance my five bajillion plausibility questions and had living characters.
Let Seigfried stand as my example. Seigfried is a genius who can embezzle at will. As with most of Alexander’s police procedure, the mechanics of the embezzling are never explained. Seigfried, who has five or 10 lines of dialogue in the entire book, is also a masterful fighter. There are casual references to other things he’s magically able to do. If you’re going to write a book about humans forging their own identities, don’t centre it around a superhuman human. ~ Norman Feliks Jezioranski, http://www.brokenpencil.com/news/book-review-that-existential-leap
- Capitalism vs. Freedom
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I reckon anyone interested in how the world works financially would get a lot out of it. Larson takes the views of Milton Friedman, the esteemed economist, and dissects them in a context of the present day. He starts with definitions of freedom - both positive and negative freedoms. One gives us freedom to do as we choose and the other gives freedom from being interfered with. Both these are important in a market economy.
We think we make choices every day because we live (at least in most of the west) in a capitalist society but if you actually look at what we buy, the choice is between different brand names owned by a very few large companies. They then set prices as the supplier rather than us as the consumer. The 'free market' is a fraud.
Mr Larson writes at a fair pace and in an entertaining fashion. You will either like his style or you won't - I loved it. "Meanwhile the radio empire Clear Channel carries Rush Limbaugh and a parade of other similar idiot radio hosts who put the blame for our economic problems on our "heavily regulated" economy. But the huge size and power of Clear Channel, their employer, is a direct result of the deregulation of radio and other media following the 1996 law. Irony loves company!" How can you not love a writer who can use exclamation marks!
"Fox News, then, has built up its empire of feverish right wing political reporting thanks to a (then) privileged exemption to the allegedly repressive-of-business power of the government. Yet the channel still runs "Regulation Nation" segments, claiming that the economy's weak job market is caused by the government's rigid regulations, which were no obstacle to building its own empire."
We have Friedman, we have Hayek, we have the fact that media that relies on advertising cannot speak freely in their editorials as they may lose revenue from advertisers. We have clear and concise arguments about where the faults exist and what should be done to fix them. So a vicious circle of propping up the capitalist way so the few rich capitalists at the top can continue to feed us (in every sense of the word) what they choose while we give away our freedoms, needs to be broken. And this is an excellent rallying cry.
Recommended if you are starting to get a little uncomfortable with the way your choices are being eroded by a few large conglomerates and media moguls.
~ Anne Maguire , NetGalley
- Psy-Complex in Question
Enlightening and Instructive. ~ Breakaway Reviewers, Breakawayreviewers.co.uk
- Other Paradises
In Other Paradises, Jessica Sequeira brings fresh insights to our new machine age and those that have led us here. Technology is at the center of her inquiry, but to call it simply a book about technology would do a disservice to its variety, joy and playfulness. I finished it with the best sort of feeling: the desire to read more. Madeleine Schwartz, reporter and former editor at the New York Review of Books, Robert Bosch Stiftung fellow. ~ Madeleine Schwartz
- Capitalism vs. Freedom
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote a very influential book called Capitalism and Freedom. It implies that freedom is a product of capitalism. Capitalism vs Freedom refutes it and more in a blistering litany of well-documented counterattacks. It is a 240 page rebuttal.
Rob Larson quotes directly from Friedman, and the claims self-destruct before your eyes:
-Where Friedman saw freedom of choice for shoppers, Larson sees enormous concentration, limiting choice to (sometimes) one sole vendor or manufacturer, operating numerous brands it has taken over. For example, almost all beer is sold by two companies. Almost all eyewear comes from Luxottica. Throwing cable into deregulation resulted in megamergers, not consumer choice. Consumers are not offered repairable products they prefer or even sufficient legroom on flights. Forced arbitrations denies consumers even their day in court. Larson says we aren’t so much free to choose as free to imagine we are free to choose.
-Friedman saw freedom for workers to choose their employers. They could like their bosses and love their work, at will. Larson sees the labor market running on fear, not free choice. He sees offshoring and outsourcing at the slightest sign of wage savings or unionization, not to mention interminable internships, and 48% of US jobs paying minimum wage or less. Non-compete “agreements” enslave. Barring unions keeps wages below labor’s value. In the gig economy of capitalism, choice is a bitter laugh.
-Friedman argued bizarrely that inheritance of a fortune was no different than inheritance of talent. How can you criticize inherited wealth if you’re not against inherited talent?
-“Economic power can be widely dispersed. There is no law of conservation which forces the growth of new centers of economic strength to be at the expense of existing centers.”
-“The kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom, because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other.”
Looking at these statements today, Larson’s job is like shooting fish in a barrel. As he piles up the knockouts, he keeps repeating : ”Irony loves company!”
“Treating labor as an asset priced by supply and demand, like toasters or toothbrushes, is a gross insult to the human spirit, and is indeed responsible for some of the gravest crimes committed against humanity in our history,” Larson says. 42 He calls Friedman an intellectual opportunist, and shows repeatedly how the very opposite of what he said is what is true. “Today’s libertarians follow in a long line of defense of power.”
For good measure, Larson collars Friedman’s co-conspirators Ludwig Von Mises and Paul Collier. In a letter to Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand, Von Mises said: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort o men who are better than you.”
For Von Mises, who created the Austrian School that inspired Friedman’s Chicago School, the capitalist is a romantic hero and martyr to be exalted: “Creating for him is agony and torment, a ceaseless excruciating struggle against internal and external obstacles; it consumes and crushes him.”
Larson ranges far and wide. He criticizes capitalist colonialists for never giving the colonized infrastructure like sanitation or drinking water, while piling up trash on land, sea and in the air until it is unbearable for the locals. In contrast, libertarian Oxford economist Paul Collier, considered a “bold thinker” among neoliberals, said in his book The Plundered Planet: “We are not here to serve nature. Nature is here to serve us. “ 168 For Larson, these are neoliberals’ true colors showing through.
For all of these reasons, and many more, Larson thinks the concentration of capitalism is taking away our freedoms – both the negative freedom to live without fear and the positive freedom to do what we like.
His conclusion is that nothing has ever been achieved without a struggle. Labor is clearly not out to fight to for fewer benefits and more neoliberal libertarian “freedoms”. Sadly, it’s not out to fight anything. At some point, labor must awake to its pathetic situation and activists will bloom again.
David Wineberg ~ David Wineberg, NetGalley
- In Confidence: Talking Frankly about Fame
Subtitled ‘talking frankly about fame’ this is a compilation of a series of interviews on Sky Arts that constitutes a reflection on the nature of celebrity. The introduction reminds the reader of other interview series such as Face to Face with John Freeman, In the Psychiatrist’s Chair with Anthony Clare and the series with Sir Michael Parkinson. The book is structured thematically with interviews about making music, art and stories, with about four interviews per chapter. There are then reflections on family and friends and the nature of identity relation to celebrity. Stephen Fry discusses various ways in which he copes with his own fame, sometimes with books in brief 72 Network Review Winter 2015 www.scimednet.org self-deprecation. He reflects that most communications are looking to take something from you, which is ultimately exhausting. It is very instructive to learn that Nigel Kennedy’s trademark casual clothing on stage actually began with him leaving his smart outfit in New York when he was playing in London! He explains that much of his persona is designed to break down barriers, which one senses in his performance of Bach in an Irish parish church with comfortable informality. Sir Alan Ayckbourn recounts an amusing incident with a local who is astonished that he still lives in Scarborough when he could live in Bridlington, having made a great deal of money. One intriguing line of demarcation becoming a celebrity is when journalists become interested in details of private lives, as so many famous people have found to their cost. The book gives an important insight into the varieties of contemporary fame. ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer
- Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE, The
...Harman does for Heidegger what Slavoj Zizek has done for Jacques Lacan: he makes available to an intelligent audience the brilliant insights of a thinker whose tendency to the obscure has been exacerbated by a philosophy industry that has derived much of its influence from a disdain for lucidity. ~ Mark Fisher, Frieze
- End of Oulipo?, The
...effective, informative, highly entertaining, and essential reading. ~ Jeff Bursey, The Winnipeg Review
David Detmer, a philosopher, has done what no historian to date has accomplished—he has undertaken a systematic examination of Zinn’’s critics’’ arguments against him and basically has dismantled them. In the process he offers a clinic on how to evaluate the validity of other people’’s arguments...…. Detmer has done justice to the complexity of Howard Zinn’’s work and has evaluated Zinn’’s critics fairly, if unsparingly...…. The book is written in clear and compelling prose—it would be accessible to undergraduate students and could be used in History methods classes, in courses on critical thinking, and I would not be averse to assigning it in a graduate seminar.
Susan Curtis, Professor of History and American Studies, Purdue University
~ Susan Curtis, blurb in the book, but not yet on the website
- Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left
A book liberals, activists, and political enthusiasts should all read. The essays are engaging and well written without being pretentious, and tackle not only the words but what surrounds the words. ~ Lily , Faerie Review
- Kill All Normies
Angela Nagle describes the methods of American right-wing populists on the Net and explains why they are so successful. Trump has perfected these methods.
At least since the disclosure book "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff about the conditions in the White House in this country waves high , we know how chaotic and haphazard the current president of the superpower USA leads his government. And we know more about his former whisperer: Steven Bannon. Although Donald Trump has broken with the figurehead of the "alt-right" movement, Bannon's influence on the rise of right-wing populist and racist tendencies in the past is not to be underestimated.
Here Angela Nagle's book hits a nerve: "Kill All Normies - Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumble to Trump and the Old Right" describes the methods of right-wing populists and their tremendous power in the current cultural landscape of the United States.
Nagle's basic thesis is as bold as it is obvious: academic "political correctness" - manifested in a person like Barack Obama, who incarnates the image of the "articulated, cosmopolitan American" - finds his countermovement in the America First policy of his successor. In other words: Trump's success feeds on his open fight against just that correctness, openly delivered not only in his speeches, but above all on the Internet. Trump perfected what had been announced years earlier: the culture of conscious border crossing, which has unfolded a tremendous viral dynamic.
The Irish communications scholar Angela Nagle has been working for years on the online presence of the "alt-right" movement, which - and this is only briefly mentioned - is by no means a homogenous current and that caused by the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville in August 2017 only became visible.
Her theory becomes plausible on the example of the online platform "4chan", where images are mainly posted in so-called "image boards". The topics range from nature, cars, weapons, eroticism to politics. An online mirror article describes the effect of 4chan aptly: "An abysmal place where horrors, racist and sexist tirades and images are published far beyond the bounds of good taste [...] The world of 4chan is obscure and weird, like the inside of a confused provincial teen at three in the morning."
4chan was considered the cradle of the Anonymous movement until, as Nagle describes, right-wing ideas took over the platform. The permanent crossing of borders, actually a phenomenon of a left-anarchic culture, was successfully perfected by the "alt-right" movement. Incidentally, Nagle believes that the same applies to role models, as the title shows. Similar to left-wing subcultures, the new right wing opposes the mainstream: "Kill all normies!" The negation of this finding, said Nagle, Hillary Clinton had the victory.
So if you want to get up to date on the viral culture fight, read Angela Nagle. The book - almost an essay with its 136 pages - at the end upsets both sides of the political co-ordinate system.
Nagle, who locates herelf in the left spectrum, prophesies: "If the left wants to move forward, it is time to put away the aesthetic values of this counterculture - and to invent something new". ~ Nana Brink, Deutschland Funkkultur, translated into English from German
- Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night
Composed of essays, interviews, memoirs and manifestos by veterans of London’s punk scene, Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix’s Punk is Dead is a nostalgic, intelligent homage to the brief, hazy era of “pure” London punk, before it was named, over-described and turned into another subcultural phenomenon. This golden age lasted somewhere between four and eighteen months, depending on who’s recollecting, although most agree that by 1978, it was over. . . . A yearning for its own prelapsarian state was built into punk’s ethos. As the punk musician-turned-philosopher Simon Critchley tells Gallix, “Because of the acute awareness of the fact that punk . . . would become a creature of the very music industry whose codes it subverted, we knew that it was going to be shortlived. And that was fine”
The book is also a homage to youth and lost possibilities. In her foreword, Judy Nylon (formerly Niland) describes arriving in London in 1970 with an overnight bag and $250, wearing jean shorts and a black Borganza coat. . . . “Bands are necessarily approximations of the dreams that conjured them up”, Gallix writes in his essay “Unheard Melodies”. Punk is Dead shows the transmission of culture as a kind of lucid group dreaming. The accounts of its contributors capture the role that coincidence plays in history. Ideas can rarely be traced back to one person; they accrete and recur.
. . . Gallix is eloquent in his defence of nostalgia against the cult of an amnesiac future. Punk might be not only the last great subculture in the rock and roll mode, but the most analysed and documented. Nevertheless, art and cultural histories are always reductive, and, as he writes, “the past is subtly rewritten, every nuance gradually airbrushed out of the picture”. Some of the contributors to Punk is Dead are professional writers and critics, although most of them are not. Cumulatively, their contributions evoke the texture, meaning and sensation of being young four decades ago in a now-unimaginably derelict London. They recall the smell of new vinyl records, beer, cigarettes and hair dye; the pointless squabbles with band mates; the composition of outfits; the eruption of street fights; the sweet taste of cherries picked outside a squat; and the ubiquitous brown packets of speed. . . . Some of the pieces are historical documents, while others appear for the first time in this anthology. Together, they capture the collective soul of an era. ~ Chris Kraus, Times Literary Supplement
- Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night
Perhaps that’s why this anthology, Punk Is Dead, published on the eve of Never Mind the Bollocks’ 40th, feels so relevant. Punk may be, as co-editor Andrew Gallix admits, “probably the most analyzed youth cult ever,” but its resonances with the contemporary zeitgeist make it ripe for such analysis—even if, he is also quick to add, it continues to resist tidy theses. Gallix, the founder of literary webzine 3:AM, and his fellow editor, music journalist turned playwright Richard Cabut, are wise enough not to attempt any grand summations. Instead, they curate and contribute to an eclectic, dialectic collection of 28 short essays, juxtaposing historical testimonies from the eye of punk’s hurricane with more critically distanced analyses of its aftermath.
The result admirably captures punk’s fractured, anarchic early spirit—if also, inevitably, some of its clannishness and opacity to newcomers. . . . As its title implies, the ultimate failure of this revolution in the head is the closest thing the book has to a running theme. Virtually every contributor avers that punk, in its most exciting form, was over before it ostensibly began. As Gallix writes in his essay “The Boy Looked at Euridyce,” the movement died “as soon as it ceased being a cult with no name… Punk—in its initial, pre-linguistic incarnation… was the potentiality of punk.” By enshrining these six months or so of ferment, before the cult became a commodity, Punk Is Dead embraces what is, on its surface, a decidedly un-punk emotion: nostalgia. But this is not the ineffectual, ideologically empty nostalgia of events like 2016’s “Punk London” celebration, presided over by the city’s then-mayor, Conservative politician and chief Brexit cheerleader Boris Johnson. Cabut, Gallix and the other contributors use their critically productive nostalgia to correct decades’ worth of the former variety: to prevent punk from being, as Judy Nylon puts it in her foreword, “reduced to a coffee-table book of white English boys spitting.”
. . . [I]f reading these essays in early 2018 brings any solace, it’s the knowledge that punk has retained its vitality as an ideal, even if it has long since failed as a movement. “Once we were part of punk,” Gallix writes. “Now punk is part of us.” ~ Zachary Hoskins, Spectrum Culture
- Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night
In his introduction Gallix admits that punk is not only “probably the most analysed youth culture ever”, but that it’s also one of the most resistant to analysis, a problem that his book “has not quite solved”. Indeed, any attempt at a definitive examination of a movement risks a killing, like an animal categorised through vivisection. Accordingly, he and Richard Cabut have instead chosen the theme of punk as a transformative force, a becoming, not just in terms of the music and the culture around it, but in terms of the humans involved, fans icluded. Cabut and Gallix are just about old enough to be first-hand witnesses to punk: among these pieces are their own memoirs of the time. Accordingly, the book is as much testimony as it is criticism. ...Many of the essays are welcome acts of preservation. Some are taken from rare 1970s fanzines like Kill Your Pet Puppy, long extinct magazines like ZigZag and Sounds, and early 2000s blogposts, such as a typically theoretical take from the late Mark Fisher's blog K-punk. Often, these historical documents are newly annotated by their authors. . . . This layered reading gives the book a feeling of vital historical scope, rather than indulgent nostalgia. ~ Dickon Edwards, The Wire
- Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night
The specific purpose of the book is to celebrate that original evanescent wellspring of creativity when punkemerged as a "stylish boho response to the modern world of inertia andconsumption" and retained the "innocence characteristic of childhood" of a movement yet to be frozen by being named or sullied by exposure topopular vitriol and acclaim alike. ~ Colin Coulter, The Irish Times
- Superstructural Berlin
Zero Books strikes again. Nicolas Hausdorf and Alexander Goller's "Superstructural Berlin" is all what we are loving this publishing house for: lavish design, ironic-cum-corrosive theory, weird topics and even weirder case-studies. At hand, the most useless of all tourist guides: the one that will tell you what you don't want to see, but nevertheless dream to experience. You needed a pervert's guide to Berlin? Here it is. ~ Laurent De Sutter, author of Narcocapitalism
- Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left
Language for Resisting Oppression
— Robert K. Beshara
Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left
By Ian Parker
Alresford, UK: Zero Books, 295 pages, $29.95 paperback.
IAN PARKER WEARS many hats, being “the Co-Director (with Erica Burman) of the Discourse Unit, Managing Editor of Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Secretary of Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix, member of the Asylum Magazine editorial collective, and supporter of the Fourth International” (Parker, https://parkerian.com/).
His new book, Revolutionary Keywords for a New Left, is published in the context of the centennial of the October revolution, and should be read in tandem with similarly themed books recently published by Verso (e.g. Ali, 2017; Miéville, 2017; Žižek, 2017).
Parker’s treatise is a critical celebration of “the century of revolutions” (252), his central thesis entails changing the Left in order “to change the world.” (9)
But in order to change the Left, according to Parker, we first need to pay close attention to “the link between language and action.” The “keywords” we use in describing the world, he writes “are intimately linked to the very possibility of changing that very same world because ‘[l]anguage is woven into reality.’” (6, 8)
The author charts three key dates or “passwords” from “the century of revolutions” (253) — 1917, 1967, and 2017 —in order to index some of the major debates between the “old” and the “new” Left (signifying Leftists before vs. after 1967), which can be summarized as a shift in analysis from one focused purely on the political economy to another centered on “intersectionality” (i.e., class, sex and race) as “one way of working with the layout of many forms of oppression.” (102)
This shift is certainly a reflection of the “crises” within both capitalism and the anti-capitalist movement. While Parker draws on his power/knowledge as both an academic and a practicing psychoanalyst in writing his manifesto, his critical reflexivity as an activist — revolutionary Marxist (Trotskyist) — renders his dialectical analysis a valuable contribution to the needed bridging between the centralist “old” and the democratic “new” Left.
This is principally so as far as open, heterarchical organizing is concerned (5) — i.e. resorting to neither “the tyranny of structurelessness” nor “the tyranny of tyranny” (212, 215). Parker embodies this bridging when he draws particular examples from Britain to make some universal points that will indeed resonate with progressive activists internationally who are committed to the “globalization of resistance.” (127)
Influenced by Raymond Williams, Parker highlights fifty progressive keywords (e.g. ecosocialism, standpoint, Islamophobia) as an exercise in praxis, in that the keywords are meant as discursive tools in the practical struggle against all “faces” of oppression (Young, 1990). Put differently, activists need radical theories (e.g. Marxism, feminism, anti-racism) in order to interpret and, more importantly, transform the oppressive reality of capitalism-patriarchy-racism.
Each keyword chapter begins with a handy and succinct definition. A few descriptions from the book will give a sense of their pithiness: ecosocialism “is one way of connecting our humanity with our nature, to protect both” (53); standpoint “sees the world against power rather than with it” (207); and Islamophobia is “an orientalist twist on old racism to confirm the value of modern capitalist civilization.” (106)
There follows a dialectical analysis for and against every keyword as well as an application by way of examples. I recommend that readers begin the book by paying particular attention to the concluding essay, which though technically a postface functions powerfully as a preface to Revolutionary Keywords.
Political Compass for Activists
This book is written mainly for activists, without in-text citations or references (except the Further Reading section at the very end); as a result the book has a nice flow, which is practical if the book is embraced by many activists as a go-to resource. But there is an argument to be made for including in-text citations and references, which has to do with making it easier to look up and challenge the validity of certain truth claims, particularly in “the battles of ideas.” (41)
The keyword chapters are organized alphabetically, but the book can easily be read in any order since it is structured like an encyclopedia for activists.
In the spirit of constructive criticism encouraged by the author, his analysis would have benefited from a three-dimensional corrective to the two-dimensional left-right political spectrum (6), which is the economic dimension or the horizontal axis in the “political compass” (The Political Compass, https://www.politicalcompass.org/).
The antagonism between the “old” and “new” Left’, a “contradiction that marks the political coordinates of a culture” (29), is accounted for by the vertical axis in the “political compass,” denoting the social dimension. The social dimension has to do with the question of political freedom, the two extremes being authoritarianism and libertarianism.
Libertarianism here, of course, refers to anarchism — which is inherently linked to Marxism — not the bastardized version of the term, which is more common in the United States and results in an oxymoron like “anarcho-capitalism.”
Jeremy Corbyn, particularly since his ascendancy to the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015 is a name and an “event”, or “the eruption of the unexpected to transform politics” (68), to which Parker keeps returning in regard to the Luxemburgian ghost of reform-revolution that has haunted and divided Marxist activists since 1899.
The U.S. parallel to Corbyn in 2015 was undoubtedly Bernie Sanders who ran an inspiring grassroots presidential campaign under the banner of democratic socialism — a reforming challenge to the neo-McCarthyist politico-economic establishment.
Then in 2016 came the double trauma of Brexit in the U.K. and of “Mr. Brexit” in the United States. Now in 2017, both are occupying the upper right quadrant of neo-liberal authoritarianism. Parker’s book can help us remagnetize the needle of our politico-economic compass towards the lower left quadrant of libertarian socialism.
On that note, Parker (2017) is unfair in his assessment of Noam Chomsky when he writes, “In this capacity as activist, he is known to be some kind of anarchist, though it is not always clear to those who invite him to speak what that means.” (83, emphasis added)
This is unfair because it overlooks Chomsky’s sustained analysis of anarchism over the years as a critical resource for resistance against power. By framing Chomsky as a globalist (85), Parker exhibits the “campism” — the method of “dividing the world into good and bad” (38) — of which he is himself critical, particularly when it divides the Left.
Dialectics and Intersectionality
In conclusion, Parker is at his best when he enriches his dialectical analysis — “these new revolutionary keywords provoke a crisis in academic representation which also pits that academic discourse against itself” (281) — with insights from intersectionality, which he tells us is “one term, that, for sure, divides the old left from the new revolutionary left.” (279)
This division instigated by the term “intersectionality” is a real antagonism that signifies a traumatic encounter with a gap or fissure within the social order — cf. my psychoanalytic reading of Trump winning the U.S. presidency. (Beshara, 2017)
This traumatic encounter is also an authentic opportunity. It forces us to ask the question: what kind of a politics do we, the precariat, really want in a world where “[p]recarity sums up the insecurity of much employment today and the demands that we should be flexible at work, and it is both a threat and opportunity”? (158)
“[P]luri-versality as a universal project [of liberation]” (Mignolo, 2007, 499) is an inclusive political vision that Ian Parker certainly believes in and “prefigures” when he writes about “articulating socialist politics with new forms of politics from Black, feminist, queer, ecological and disability activism.” (6) He would have us remember that “with our activity we [are] always on the edge of power, on the edge of the possibility of radical transformation.” (147)
Ali, T. (2017). The dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism, war, empire, love, revolution. New York, NY: Verso Books.
Beshara, R. K. (2017). “It’s not the working/middle class’s fault that Trump won: Solidarity is what we need.” Medium. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/@Rupadelik/its-not-the-working-middle-class-s-fault-that-trump-won-solidarity-is-what-we-need-69d2444e3ce7
Chomsky, N. (2014). On anarchism. London, UK: Penguin Books.
Miéville, C. (2017). October: The story of the Russian revolution. New York, NY: Verso Books.
Mignolo, W. D. (2007). “Delinking: The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality.” Cultural studies, 21(2-3), 449-514.
Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Žižek, S. (2017). Lenin 2017: Remembering, repeating, and working through. New York, NY: Verso Books.
January-February 2018, ATC 192 ~ Robert Beshara, Against the Current, http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/5190
- Psy-Complex in Question
Interesting point of view, this book review the basis of the modern psychology with another perpective. Excellent book!
~ Jo M, NetGalley