MixedBookforumIf these anecdotes illuminate nothing new, at least, for Rankine, they affirm the possibility of interacting with strangers ... The invocation of the power of conversation above more directly transformative mechanisms such as confrontation and refusal places the book within a liberal framework in which political stances are opinions, political education is information, and politics is policy ... Liberal thought on the subject of race exerts massive energy without forward propulsion, like a spin class, producing the same realization over and over again ... In Citizen, the pedagogical imperative with which all black writers have to contend felt secondary to Rankine’s powers as a writer, to the capacity to use language to irradiate the particular, contingent facts of a person’s life with shared meaning. By confining the problem of social change to dialogue between individuals, the type of anecdotal race-work foregrounded in Just Us tends to fillet out mass struggle and is left with a series of microaggressive vignettes floating in blank white space ... Little good comes of constantly questioning what you already know to be true, but doubt has its secret advantages. Just as indecision is the superficial appearance of a decision that you are not yet ready to own, Rankine’s ever-present uncertainty is a defense against unbearable certainties, against a white indifference ... Apparently \'American conversation\' is, like American cheese, an ersatz of the original. At times it is hard to distinguish between outer and inner question, between a question demanding an answer and a question that Rankine has asked only herself ... The race-educational genre to which Just Us makes a contribution can only do so much to domesticate the wild strangeness of race, which is the experiential mode of the strangeness of history ... transgression and hypocrisy can be taken as given rather than exposed; their ubiquity is banal because we live in an extraordinarily violent society whose racial terms, however abstract, are enforced by police, poverty, and prisons. If Rankine could allow that, perhaps she and her work would once again become more savage and more joyful.
PositiveBooforumAny writer would struggle to make this material thrilling. Even if there were some suspense or mystery around the outcome, the topic is the bureaucracy of governance. This dry terrain is not just the context of the book’s events, but also the field of struggle on which Democrats chose to battle Trump. As in the news cycle, so in the hardcover book: the chosen areas of investigation are so circumscribed, and the fine details of the potential crimes so difficult to grasp, that they slip from the attention almost as they enter it ... Shorn of his real abuses, the Trump of institutional Democrat antipathy appears as a kind of jester figure, the holy fool of the tarot card, bravely teetering forward into eternity like a buoyant stock market. He has a raw, desperately intuitive clarity about others, scanning the field of the social like a resting apex predator. Everything about Trump’s language is more alive than the dry social technocracy articulated by the heroes of this book—centrist politicians and government lawyers ... Toobin’s advocacy for tedium starts to feel like a direct expression of the problem facing the Democrats, which is that they are boring to the point of immorality ... It starts to feel like Trump’s crass gluttony might be preferable to the joyless managerial propriety favored by the center-leaning lawyers Toobin praises ... In focusing on constitutional wrangling, Toobin misses the point: the Constitution is only powerful to the extent it reflects real relations of power. The law is inside the building.
Positive4ColumnsLike Rhys’s Caribbean intervention into Brontë’s English drama, A View of the Empire at Sunset is an act of homage as well as critique. Phillips, always a measured and careful writer, here mimics Rhys’s precise itemizations of the deprivations and humiliations of everyday life. His Rhys seems to have lost some of the wit and fury of the Rhys we know from her own novels, perhaps because it is hard for even a highly skilled pastiche to replicate the subtleties of a brilliant original, perhaps because Phillips wanted to give us a Rhys with the veil of her talent stripped away, a Rhys who exists at exactly the minute and trivial scale of middle-class English life—and most likely both ... to Phillips, Rhys is the scion of a class of overseers, distinguished only by the aberration of her talent and insight. He borrows her own technique of cold precision and uses it against her, a complicated act of love ... The feeling of homelessness experienced by Phillips’s meticulously imagined Rhys obliquely echoes the epidemic of loss that imperial ambition let loose upon the world.
PositiveBookforum\"Three overlapping senses of ‘eight years’ offer a loose guide for navigating the politics of this inevitably important, occasionally brilliant, and sometimes infuriating book … The book’s reality is half-obscured by the accumulated layers of commentary and counter-commentary; it comes as a small surprise to discover on reading Eight Years that this font of controversy is a conscientious reporter not especially given to flights of fancy, who tends to cleave in thought and syntax to the middle of the road … Everyone’s political education is necessarily ongoing, and among the most appealing aspects of Coates’s presence in public life is his capacity for learning and growing there … This book sets out to contextualize Obama’s rise to power within US history, Coates’s own life history, and a history of black critique.\
MixedBookforumGay presents these ideas with a light touch. The closest equivalent to the book’s tone is that of a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography: gossipy and full of minute and sometimes banal detail. Although warm and accessible, her prose is also uneven, bland, and cliché-prone. She writes flat, unshowy sentences: When it works, there’s an enjoyable clarity and impassiveness to her delivery; when it doesn’t, it’s mundane and repetitive. But a critique of her style would be elitist and pointless—her many fans love her regardless, and her work does not ask to be read as literary ... It may be true that, in order to get her message across, a public figure should strive to be relatable to as many people as possible. But what does this rule of relatability do for a writer whose message, whose life experience, is the painful difficulty of relating? The answer is that it tends to compress it into an unsynthesized mass of minor contradictions, leavened by fun observations about TV shows and given gravitas by the undeniable suffering of the author ... unexamined contradictions mean that despite the book’s confessional nature, it never fully explains Gay’s distinctive sense of her body as the outer expression of an inner wound.