Sunday, November 25, 2007

Black Mass Reviews

Two reviews of John Gray's Black Mass, a book that I am eager to read, from New York and LA Times.

In the long run, Gray suggests, people are as helpless to control their destinies as pigeons. Thus Western politics (as practiced since Louis XVI lost his head) is vanity. "Good politics," he writes, "is shabby and makeshift, but at the start of the twenty-first century the world is strewn with the grandiose ruins of failed utopias. With the Left moribund, the Right has become the home to the utopian imagination. Global communism has been followed by global capitalism. The two visions of the future have much in common. Both are hideous and fortunately chimerical." The best that we can hope for is government that manages the tragic contingencies of life.

I have read his Straw Dogs and his essay collection Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions and both are absolutely fantastic. I am sure professional philosophers will have problems with his barbed commentaries and simplifications, but it is still a very sobering account of the way we live now and what future may hold for us. It is also a great introduction to the misanthropic and anti-humanist strain of western philosophy. Also, I have linked to Terry Eagleton's review of Straw Dogs before but I am linking it again. It is one of the funniest reviews I have ever read.


KUBLA KHAN said...

Thanks for your comments re my last post. i have tried to answer a few points there. yes, I have read Forster and found his attitude an improvement over other writers writing about "natives".
Have you read Empire or Multitude by Hardt and Antonio Negri? I am reading these two books these days.
maybe post left, neo marxist, but brilliant writing.

KUBLA KHAN said...

And yes, Have you read Pankaj Mishra? North Indian and a brilliant essayist I can say......his response to Martin Amis' rants were well written.
I just bought his Temtations in the west: how to be modern in india, pakistan and beyond...haven't started it yet though.....
he seems to be not admired by the right wing in India.

Richard said...

I've long felt that there are interesting connections between Nazism, Communism and Christianity but Gray's book sounds a very hamfisted attempt to elucidate them. Here's AC Grayling's review:

"it is still a very sobering account of the way we live now and what future may hold for us."

Possibly, though if being sober is as much use as Gray suggests, you might as well get drunk...

Alok said...

Kubla: I have not read the Hardt-Negri book. My knowledge of anti-imperialism is limited to the high-school history textbooks about Indian freedom movement.

Mishra is a very well-read person, also very sober and balanced in his judgements and writings. His book reviews and essays are certainly worth reading, though on the subject of India he is very repetitive.

richard: Straw Dogs is written in a hurried and impatient style which I agree will put off many serious readers, specially those who already had their doses of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Darwin and other thinkers but it is still a good introduction. Rather than making any arguments of its own, it instead hammers away on preconceived notions.

I am particularly interested in what he says about Rationality, the widespread belief that the ability to calculate rationally will guarantee political progress and moral behavior. A lot of political thinking of our time is based on this incorrect notion which has in fact led to so many calamities.