Category Archives: Reviews

Review of Andrea Levy, Small Island

Levy’s choice of title is an important indication of the themes of her novel. During the Second World War, the people of Britain became more aware that they inhabited a ‘small island,’ as their vulnerability to invasion was exposed at the same time the British Empire began to retract. In the Caribbean, the expression ‘small islander’ is used to disparage those who are not from the ‘big’ island of Jamaica, and the novel includes an examination of the experiences of returning Jamaican servicemen who had to confront the smallness of their homeland together with a sense of confinement and restriction that had not been felt before. Their first migration to the ‘Mother Country’ of Britain on the SS Empire Windrush, was a watershed moment in the history of both islands, a moment around which Levy’s story is centred.

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Review of Christos Tsiolkas, Dead Europe

Vintage, 2005, reviewed by Humphrey McQueen

A spectre is haunting Dead Europe – the spectre of post-Communism. Post-Communism isn’t the only ghost in this, the third fiction by the Greek-Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas. His new novel implies that after the breaching of the Berlin Wall, all manner of ghouls were let loose, taking flight with added fury following their long imprisonment.

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Confronting the Tourist Vision

John Urry, The Tourist Gaze. Second Edition.Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2002;

Mark Gottdeiner, The Theming of America: American Dreams Media Fantasies and Themed Environments, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2001;

Dennis R. Judd and Susan S. Fainstein (Editors), The Tourist City, New Haven, CT : Yale University Press, 1999;

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The Stepmother World: On Herman Melville

Cesare Casarino, Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis, University of Minnesota, paper, 272 pages, $22.95

Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, Vol. 2, 1851-1892, John Hopkins University Press, hardcover, 1056 pages with 63 halftones, $45

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Between Metaphor and Referent: Reading Saramago's "Blindness"

Jose Saramago, Blindness, Harvest Books, paperback, 327 pages, $14

Jose Saramago received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. Although several of his books were available in English translation, not many people in the United States had read his novels prior to the award. Soon his latest novel, Blindness, was on the New York Times Best-Seller List. If I had not previously read two of his earlier books, I would not have been much interested in reading an allegorical novel that uses blindness as its master sign.

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War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against the War with Iraq

Milan Rai, War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against the War with Iraq (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002).

Since the first months following the destruction of the World Trade Center; George W. Bush has been pounding on his war drums with a force that resonates throughout international politics, destabilizing US relations with the United Nations. His war objective is focused on Iraq. The Bush Administration’s blatant disregard of the statements made by the UN has been met with the response of a nearly unanimous disapproval by other nations. In an attempt to resist the aggression of the Bush Administration, Milan Rai promptly authored and released War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against the War on Iraq, on the one-year anniversary of the attack on the WTC. The detail and depth of the research contained within this book is impressive. Furthermore, this work has been released at a time of critical importance. And although the excessive force and lack of objectivity in Rai’s arguments sometimes diminishes the strength of this book, I definitely recommend it to anyone concerned with the eminently destructive effects of a war on Iraq.

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Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions

Daniel L. Smith-Christopher (ed.), Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions (New York, Orbis Books, 1997).

In Subverting Hatred: The Challenge of Nonviolence in Religious Traditions, editor Daniel L. Smith-Christopher has assembled an excellent array of contributors whose provocative and balanced chapters are all written at a high level. Normally, edited volumes contain both strong and weak chapters. Not so this book, which is recommended for courses on religion, nonviolence and conflict resolution. In fact, after reading this book, I think I’ve finally found a companion volume to go with the biographies I assign in my own course, “Gandhi and King: Nonviolence as Philosophy and Strategy.” In that course, we spend considerable time incorporating the religious currents (how could we ignore them?) running through both M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lives.   And so it is with this book whose authors do an excellent job of grappling with one of the most important questions of the day: how does one take what are seemingly contradictory tenets about nonviolence and violence in most religions and put them into practice?

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The Many-Headed Hydra

Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).

Like many important things in our lives these days I have had to repeatedly revisit and reconsider Linebaugh’s and Rediker’s history of the beginnings of the British Transatlantic empire and the resistances that arose in response to the ordering processes of early global capitalism. The first time I read Many-Headed Hydra I was researching the origins of global capitalism and the various resistances to its rise. The second visit to this history was in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks upon the WTC towers in New York City. I used their history as a background to wrestle with the uses and abuses of the term “terror” in the media and politics. The third reading was completed in order to judge the suitability of the book for use in my undergraduate course “Terror in Contemporary Culture.” It is through these three different readings that Many-Headed Hydra’s importance to contemporary issues will be examined. (In this review I will be examining some of the broader issues surrounding the authors’ history and its usefulness to scholars and teachers. For those looking for a more general summary of the chapters and content please visit Graham Russell Hodges’ review of Many-Headed Hydra).

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Heidegger's Temporal Idealism

William Blattner, Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism (Cambridge: Campbridge UP, 2005).

Temporal Reckoning for the Political Being
Every political methodology must presuppose some relation to the past, present, and future. Even if it is a mode of forgetting or sequestering, a disavowed relation is still a relation. The imperative thing that must be recognized is how different ways of being temporal will produce drastically different political approaches. Second, in the domain of the political (not in Heidegger’s fundamental ontology), a certain privilege must be placed on the present. The present is where activity or inactivity takes place, and it is a dangerous gesture to allow a past to determine the present, or to let the future determine the present.    The first sections of this essay will be a commentary on William Blattner’s recent book Heidegger’s Temporal Idealism. This book explicates Heidegger’s original contributions to the philosophy of time. From these initial insights, I will show the critical role temporality plays in constituting political methodologies. Ultimately, I will advocate a concentration on the present using Foucault and a critique of Heidegger and Hegel.

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Shadows of Tender Fury

Shadows of Tender Fury, Frank Bardacke (ed.), MOnthly Review Press, 1995.

A Brief Critique of EZLN Ends
These are the questions that come to mind when I consider the laudatory reception the EZLN has received from the American Left: Does anybody on The Left want to be victorious anymore? Does anybody on The Left find valor in obedience to a vision of a humanizing project and a directed totality anymore? Ought not truly revolutionary movements seek to engage in a full political and historical dialectic in which both the materialism and morality of global capital are fully transformed (not reduced) into something transparent, something through which humans rule, and, something through which humans are not produced as things?

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