Long before “fake news” and “alternative facts” became topics of national discussion and face-palming, the linguistic theorist and social critic Noam Chomsky was offering up in-depth reflections on the way power-systems manufacture consent, creating necessary illusions to distract citizens from systemic inequalities and injustices. Chomsky’s critiques were especially aimed at liberal democratic societies such as the United States. Regardless of who is in power, whether Democrat or Republican, Chomsky argues that both parties serve to maintain the status quo of wealth accumulating at the top, while the gap between rich and poor widens, leading to apathy and erosion of democracy.
For a man who has been writing, teaching and taking to the streets since the 1960s, such a summary does not do justice to Chomsky’s material. His opposition to war and blunt indictments of U.S. foreign policy, to which he has devoted numerous books, also deserves recognition. With that said, in his 2016 book, Who Rules the World? Chomsky offers up a collection of essays addressing the state of the world, especially regarding these various areas of U.S. media, foreign policy and international relations.
Among the book’s highlights include the essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux.” Alluding to his 1967 essay of the same title, which called out intellectuals and academics submissive to power and uncritical of the Vietnam War, this “redux edition” essay serves to remind intellectuals (e.g.,. academics, writers and artists), of the choices they face. Whether to act as cheerleaders for power, such as those who rationalized the war in Iraq only to have its justifications discredited, or to dissent and voice opposition to power’s illusions, even at the expense of experiencing marginalization in society, becoming orphans in a political wilderness. In post-9/11, post-Obama society, Chomsky presents an urgent reminder of responsibility and call to action.
Worth mentioning, and often overlooked, in Chomsky’s writings is his dry, sarcastic and dark sense of humor sometimes sprinkled through essays here and there. This collection of essays offers a dose of that, especially the pieces, “One Day in the Life of a Reader of the New York Times” and, odd as it sounds, “The U.S. is a Leading Terror State.”
The thread that connects these 22 essays together is the question asked in the book’s title, “Who rules the world?” Whether it’s manipulation of U.S. media or wars of aggression on multiple fronts overseas, Chomsky points out with clarity and precision that multinational corporations have an allegiance to profit and those in power have an allegiance to serving sociopathic corporate interests.
As the world reckons with Europe in disarray after the Brexit vote and burnt-steak-with-ketchup connoisseur Donald Trump taking office in the U.S., Chomsky’s critique of power and propaganda is well-worth reading up on. For those unfamiliar and familiar with Chomsky’s work, Who Rules the World? serves as a great introduction and reminder of the life-long rabble rouser’s contribution to struggles against injustice.
Book Review of Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
For reference to appropriate edition of book, see ISBN: 9780802125392
After recently making headlines for ending her contract with the publishing giant Simon & Schuster over a generous book deal with the hate-mongering alt-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos, the outspoken feminist writer Roxane Gay reaffirmed her position of being one who doesn’t hold back, despite the risks and loss. That commitment is reaffirmed once again in her latest work, Difficult Women – a collection of 21 short stories, giving voice to the pain, endurance and complexities of women; a voice often denied or dismissed in larger society.
Ranging from gritty realism to beautiful fantastical stories such as “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” which tells the story of a moving relationship between a glass wife and a stone thrower husband, Gay paints powerful portraits of women broken by life and the world, by the violence committed by men, yet Gay takes female perseverance and complexity and celebrates it. The title story offers kaleidoscopic vignettes of “Loose Women,” “Crazy Women” and “Frigid Women,” among others, encapsulating the whirlwind of emotions the book as a whole provides.
At times the stories take on the intense subjects of assault and rape (as in the heart-wrenching story, “Strange Gods”), yet confronting such realities and giving voice to those wounds is a large part of what makes Difficult Women a powerful, compelling book.
In defining the role of the artist, the late African-American writer James Baldwin wrote that, “The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.” Difficult Women by Roxane Gay is emblematic of that goal by giving voice to the sorrows and celebrations of women.