This short and timely book is invaluable for bringing conceptual clarity to the analysis of populism, an often murky and poorly-defined concept that seems to be having a heyday in Europe and the Americas.
In brief, Müller persuasively argues that populism has two primary features: 1) it purports to be "anti-elitist" and claims a popular mandate from a disenfranchised people, and 2) it claims unique authority to speak on behalf of "the people," which does not mean "all people," but rather "the real people," which is morally, not empirically, defined. It is therefore anti-pluralist as such, as it always seeks to marginalize and delegitimize all other points of view. It is also anti-democratic as such, as it overtly rejects the norms and mechanisms of democratic governance in favor of direct action by a specially-authorized set of representatives whose popular mandate supersedes all constraints.
This enormously useful definition and analysis of populist parties assists in answering questions such as, is Bernie Sanders properly considered a populist? (Müller says no) Can populism in fact be corrective to the limits of representation in democratic societies? (Müller again says no)
The book includes a lengthy middle chapter occupied with the question of whether populism can rightly be interpreted as a form of "illiberal democracy," which is not particularly interesting to me, and which can safely be skimmed by any other reader who is not concerned with it.
The conclusion analyzes several strategies for dealing with populists, though it should be emphasized that they are essentially analytical and conceptual strategies. One noteworthy point is that many mainstream parties have refused to engage with populists, but this backfires, because it feeds into the core populist complaint that their views are being ignored by the political elite.
This book was published in late 2016 and contains a lot of useful information about the Trump campaign. It is eerie how on-point his analysis is - I was reading this book during Trump's inaugural address, and believe that his speech should be added to future editions of this book as an appendix. It's a textbook illustration of Müller's analysis. ...more
Mark Frost, co-creator of the legendary psychological noir series Twin Peaks, here presents an amusing curiosity for the serious fan. The book is presMark Frost, co-creator of the legendary psychological noir series Twin Peaks, here presents an amusing curiosity for the serious fan. The book is presented as a case file given to FBI agent TP, presumably the protagonist of the forthcoming Showtime continuation of the show. The file is a collection of documents and historical records pertaining to the history of Twin Peaks and environs gathered by a character identified as the Archivist. I'll play along by not revealing their identity, though I found that withholding it detracted rather than added. I guess it's a "mystery."
The lovely-looking book presents itself as a collection of photocopied documents with a running commentary by the Archivist and occasional annotations by TP, who helpfully indicates which material is "verified" - that is, there is a great deal of material in here that is actually historical, and it is nice to know what is real.
The first major episode reconstructs exploration in the region by the Lewis and Clark expedition and grounds the mysterious "Black Lodge" a bit in an invented Native American folklore. We then see articles and documents tracing the establishment of the town of Twin Peaks, and the development of industry in the area by the families Martell, Packard, and Horne.
Then we go on something of a romp through the mainstream of 20th century conspiracy theory, tying the modest mythology of the show to everything from Roswell to the founding of Dianetics. We learn a bit more about the relationship, for example, between the town of Twin Peaks and Project Bluebook, which was alluded to at the end of the second season of the original series.
This material is of uneven interest - some of it is genuinely historically fascinating, and I was particularly edified reading about Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and their struggles with the US Army.
But the vast majority of the book was, for me at least, pretty dull stuff. Much of the book focuses on marginal characters from third-tier subplots, such as the brothers Dwayne and Doug Milford, who are inexplicably the focus of a few hundred pages of the book and are retconned far beyond recognition. I seriously doubt even any huge fans of the original series picked up this book hoping to learn more about the doddering mayor and his brother Douglas, the latter of whom had a combined screen time of about 5 minutes in the original series in a trivial story about a vamp who marries old people.
With respect to the characters who matter, there is not much here. We get more details on Hank Jennings and what went down with Packard's boat accident. There is some interesting background on Josie Packard, and anyone hungering for more details and the chronology of Big Ed's marriage to Nadine will come away happy.
The only actual revelation deals with the aftermath of the bank vault incident in the series finale - which again is retconned. Audrey's actions and motivations have been completely repurposed in way that is quite at odds with what was clearly established by the show.
In any case, as may be obvious, I am one of those huge fans of the series, and I guess this book is for people like me, but mostly I found it mildly amusing and not very interesting. We learn virtually nothing about Cooper, Gordon, Annie, Bob, MFAP, Windom Earle, Chester Desmond, Agent Jeffries, or Harry Truman - in other words, any of the really interesting characters. In its hundreds of pages I would have liked just a little bit of the mystery and magic of the series, but it neither evokes nor deals in any meaningful way with the esoteric character of the series. To me it felt primarily like fan service with the depth of a coffee table book. If you are a fan and have to get it, go ahead, it's fun enough I suppose. ...more
Excellent brief introduction to Van Gogh's life and work. I was motivated to read this after having a very positive experience with the author's alsoExcellent brief introduction to Van Gogh's life and work. I was motivated to read this after having a very positive experience with the author's also excellent introduction to Rembrandt. Bonafoux provides a readable overview of his biography supplemented by numerous quotations drawn from his letters, and amply illustrated by the artist's principle works. ...more
Anyone familiar with David Gordon White's work will know what to expect from this history of the reception and interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga SutrAnyone familiar with David Gordon White's work will know what to expect from this history of the reception and interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra - a fascinating, stimulating, engaging, and illuminating encounter with one of the seminal texts that informs the world's understanding of Hinduism and Indian religious history as a whole. Readers looking for easy answers may come away disappointed, because almost nothing is known for certain about who Patanjali was, or what he was trying to do with this notoriously impenetrable text. Indeed, as White calls out, the root Sutras themselves in their entirety contain only four verbs, and so the collection of cryptic aphorisms has been inseparable from Vyasa's Samkhya commentary for as far back as we can see. Perhaps, as some have argued, Vyasa, which is essentially a Sanskrit word meaning "editor," was simply Patanjali himself, producing an auto-commentary to a work that would better be called Yogashastra, or "Treatise on Yoga."
There is little about this text that we can say for certain. However, there is a great deal that can and must be said about how it has been interpreted, appropriated, and reconstructed in the light of shifting priorities and beliefs over the centuries. Many of its most prominent exponents have had only a hazy understanding of its likely meaning, or have been indifferent to its original sense, and preferred to recast it in terms of their understanding of what is quintessentially Indian, like Schlegel, or to read it in the light of Advaita Vedanta, as countless modern interpreters have done.
As a longtime student of Indian philosophy, I deeply appreciated the light this riveting book shed on the history of the interpretation and dissemination of Indian philosophy in the Western world. A great many of the key figures involved in the study of Indian religion have offered their own views on this work, and it was enormously useful to review the various generations of interpretation in this fascinating case study, which touches on everyone from F. Max Müller to Madame Blavatsky and William Butler Yeats.
The one place where I may differ from the author is that I believe I'm a bit more neutral on the concept of appropriation of religious ideas, of which he is highly critical. I think it makes sense for the Vendantin, for example, to intuit that what Patanjali is really getting at in invoking Ishvara is an experience or consciousness of something that, in their own system, they would call God or Brahman, and to confidently offer a parallel there. Indeed, White has made a very persuasive case that there has not been any original Yoga Sutra to reconstruct for a great many centuries, so all we have is a history of interpretations. But White seems rather critical and often derisive of many appropriations - probably more so than I would be, though I'm sympathetic when he comes round to rebuke the legions of charlatans who have made up this or that out of thin air, for their own purposes.
Speaking of appropriation, White spends some amount of time giving Hegel a beat down for his totally unqualified engagement with the Yoga Sutra, arguing that Hegel didn't know the material very well and had to rely entirely on secondary sources, and was therefore an unqualified interlocutor. It was ironic to read, then, that his own account of Hegel relied heavily on secondary treatment, and White himself demonstrated a severe and fundamental misunderstanding of German idealism in erroneously describing the Kantian noumenon as that which is apprehended by the mind rather than the senses. A mistake of that magnitude implies that he is at least as in the dark about German philosophy as Hegel was about Hinduism.
So there it is - there's a lot to know and we all do what we can with what we have.
If you're looking for a critical academic study of the Yoga Sutra and its meaning, I recommend this book very highly. I found it altogether excellent. ...more
I read this book to get a sense of the general history of the Netherlands and Belgium from the middle ages to the present. It served that purpose fairI read this book to get a sense of the general history of the Netherlands and Belgium from the middle ages to the present. It served that purpose fairly well, though as a general survey it is quite long and focuses more on detail and less on big picture than would have been most useful to this general reader. A fine book for its purpose. ...more
Pascal Bonafoux offers an excellent brief introduction to the life and main works of Rembrandt. Highly readable, makes good use of the historical sourPascal Bonafoux offers an excellent brief introduction to the life and main works of Rembrandt. Highly readable, makes good use of the historical sources, and offers and good first look at one of the great geniuses of European art. ...more
I'm sorry to report I didn't have a great experience re-reading this book for the first time from high school - this is obviously intended as no commeI'm sorry to report I didn't have a great experience re-reading this book for the first time from high school - this is obviously intended as no commentary on the importance of the book for the historical record, or the magnitude of the horrible tragedy that robbed us of this bright, precocious girl, and millions more.
This translation is very old. I remember finding its English stilted and difficult to relate to when I first read it in the 80s, and it's only more so now. Given how widely-read this book is, I believe pretty strongly it should be retranslated into idiomatic English. In addition, it includes almost no explanatory notes or historical commentary, which I think is simply a mistake.
Lastly, despite the high regard in which this book is held, I simply don't find it particularly illuminating. I suppose people respond to the prosaic nature of its occupations, but not much happens, to put it mildly. It illuminates the Holocaust only insofar as you make contact with the personal observations of one of its victims, but they are, after all, almost entirely confined to the context of living inside a crowded wooden box. ...more
This book was obviously written by a non-native speaker of English. While the author's use of language is not technically incorrect, his syntax is conThis book was obviously written by a non-native speaker of English. While the author's use of language is not technically incorrect, his syntax is consistently non-idiomatic and I find it extremely difficult to read. Lots of passive constructions and relative clauses. Abandoned.
Update: I switched to "History of the Low Countries" by J. C. H Blom and E. Lamberts and am finding it far more readable - I would certainly recommend it as an alternative. ...more
This short book features some attractive photos and brief introductory text exploring the under-analyzed world of Tibetan monastic dances. UnfortunateThis short book features some attractive photos and brief introductory text exploring the under-analyzed world of Tibetan monastic dances. Unfortunately, the accompanying text is written at the beginner's level and details the very basics of Tibetan Buddhist culture, which has been better covered in greater depth in countless other sources. Consequently, not much room is left for a discussion of the dances themselves, and what we get there is presented with the didacticism of the zealous believer.
I hoped from more from the author, but the book contains a lot of pious platitudes about the simple, enlightened culture of Tibet. No attempt is made to explore the dances with any sophistication in historiography or anthropology, and the comparative perspective is entirely lacking. This is all the more unfortunate, given the extremely wide distribution of ritual masked dances in numerous cultures that bear substantial similarity to the autochthonic strata of Tibetan ritual life, and striking parallels can be observed in traditions as far flung as the Pueblo ritual dances of the Navajo and the Feast of the Lupercal in classical Rome. No one familiar with these other traditions, for example, will be surprised, as the author apparently is, by the appearance of bawdy clown-enforcers who keep the spectators in line.
Like the text, the images embody a kind of idealized glossy-calendar-view of Tibetan culture, all smiling children in sparkling robes and peace. At a certain point, the student of Tibetan culture tires of such things, but then, I suppose it's the stock and trade of publishers like Shambhala.
This book is not without its interest, however, providing as it does at least a basic overview of the dances, their symbology, and related topics of interest. For example, I was intrigued by the all-too-brief discussion of Tibetan musical notation. ...more
Sherman Jackson's provocative and fascinating book offers a historical and critical engagement with Blackamerican Islam, to use his preferred term. AsSherman Jackson's provocative and fascinating book offers a historical and critical engagement with Blackamerican Islam, to use his preferred term. As a reader who is neither black nor Muslim, I can say that I learned a great deal, and in many ways I found this to be an extremely valuable model for the study of the expression of religious ideas in new cultural idioms. In that sense, at least, it should be of deep interest to the comparativist.
He begins by tracing the rise of Islam among blacks in urban North America in the formative days of the Nation of Islam in the early 20th century. In that idiom, exotic concept of Islam was essentially used by Blackamericans as a structure for clearing space to conceive and express unique religious needs and beliefs. Because there were nearly no actual Muslims in the US, Islam was a free space for the imagination, where anything could be said without fear of contradiction. Many of the early views of Nation of Islam were concurrently bizarre, and, to my sensibility, archaic, such as the belief that white people were essentially created by an evil black scientist.
An interesting problem occurred with the influx of millions of "immigrant Mulsims" later in the 20th century, who were often shocked at how Islam was characterized by Black Muslims in the US, and set about rectifying the religious understanding of the indigenous tradition that been in place for several decades. In this time, far more attention has been given by Blackamericans to the Qu'ran, the study of Arabic, and indigenous laws and texts deriving from the traditional heartland of Muslim belief. Today, the majority of Blackamericans are Sunni.
This process of assimilation and accommodation led to an interesting conflict, because, on the one hand, the Nation of Islam did indeed generate a number of religious ideas that were distinctly un-Islamic. On the other hand, the religious structures that were expressed were in many ways unique expressions of the spiritual needs of Blackamericans and constituted a part of a larger phenomenon that Jackson refers to as "Black Religion" in the United States - a general religious paradigm that is opposed on all levels to white supremacy and its destructive effects.
The solution that Jackson advocates in this rather partisan book is that the fundamental tools and beliefs of traditional Islam should be "appropriated" to serve the spiritual and social needs and Blackamericans, without uncritically accepting all that it has to offer. For traditional Islam is often represented by its immigrant advocates as dialectically opposed to the culture of Europe and America, which may be conceived by conservative scholars such as Sayid Qutb as a form of "Jahiliyyah," a polemical term describing the state of depraved ignorance that characterized pagan Arabia in pre-Muslim times.
Blackamericans cannot accept this critique of their own culture for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it entails a rejection of the unique cultural heritage and legacy and has been built at great cost, and with great reward, by millions of Blackamericans over the long centuries. Nor is traditional Islam particularly well-suited to address the social and psychological need for emancipation from white supremacy - not because it is incompatible with this imperative (indeed, Jackson argues that a proper understanding of Islam demands confronting white supremacy), but because the problem of white supremacy has simply not been formative for Middle Eastern, Asian, and African forms of Islam with the same effect.
Jackson persuasively rejects what he terms the "false universals" of immigrant Islam - the belief that contemporary forms of religious life that are affirmed, say, in Saudi Arabia, are the "right ones," and are the valid forms of Islam for all times and all places.
I fully agree that the tendency to project one's own conclusions and sympathies as if they had no history is an extremely pernicious and destructive belief. Jackson takes contemporary Islam to task for its tendency to espouse a false universalism that is tied to a mythologized sense of history and self-serving political ideology, and argues at length that Islam has always expressed its fundamentals in terms of the specific circumstances of each historical time and place.
I agree with that, but I do not think Jackson is particularly consistent on this point. One of my chief criticisms of this book is that I found his critique of universals to be underdeveloped, and I think his application of this critique was selective and incoherent. For this book, as I mentioned, is a strongly partisan work, arguing for a particular vision of history and Islam, and where Jackson uses his critique of universals to assail the positions of others, his own conclusions are frequently presented as normative and binding, without any qualification.
One must be self-critical to at least the degree one is critical of other beliefs and views, and here I think Jackson is at his weakest. He has a tendency toward what I experience as a kind of covert authoritarianism.
In my opinion, Jackson is also a somewhat stronger social critic than philosopher or theologian, and a bit at sea when he engages in philosophical critique.
The final pages of the book are dedicated to his vision of Islam, founded on a conception of Allah as completely transcendent, in the sense that God is in no way defined by any external fact or relationship, but is entirely self-constitutive. Man, on the other hand, is a creature of contingency, and our religious duty is to discover and obey the law of God.
I don't find that strong dualistic stance persuasive or useful, and I don't think he really gets nondualism. His response to the self-abandonment taught by Sufism, practices that William Chittick strikingly rendered as "naughting the self," is to argue, in essence, that because the ego of Blackamericans have been so battered by social abuse, they need to strengthen the self, not weaken it.
This argument rests on a very deep misunderstanding of what self-abnegation means in most apophatic traditions, including Sufism. Surrender of the self doesn't mean you break the ladder apart with an ax, it means that you climb the ladder and then let go of it.
In the final pages of the book, on the one hand we're warned against the tendency by humans to impute their own provisional desires to the will of the creator, and to turn religion into a self-serving farce. Perhaps two pages later, he writes that Blackamerican Muslims must "not be afraid to ignore what they deem to be irrelevant or harmful and add what they deem to be useful or necessary." How one is to do this without succumbing to what he refers to as the "false heteronomy" of the "new anthropomorphism" is not obvious.
Finally, I found Jackson's gender politics off-putting. It is my belief that the function of social criticism, such as Jackson engages in here, is to serve the self-emancipation of communities by thought. Apparently in Jackson's conception, it is to serve the self-emancipation of men. Women occupy precisely zero of his attention, other than a baffling and somewhat offputing statement in the introduction that amounts, as far as I can follow it, as a statement that treating the "gendered" aspect of Islam is tantamount to acceding to the "soft" and "feminized" destabilization of traditional gender binaries that have "weakened" Black Christianity.
This view gives me significant pause. If the form by which white supremacy is expressed is to render blacks as "other," "lesser," and "not fully human," the form by which male supremacy is expressed is to keep silent with respect to women, and to affirm the unspoken premise that when we're talking about history, we're talking about male history. With his obvious courage, intellect, and experience, Jackson should know better than to play into it.
Nevertheless, I learned a great deal of value from this book, and would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in either Blackamerican history, or Muslim history, or both, with the aforementioned caveats kept in mind. ...more
I was hoping for a higher-level discussion of issues of race, and more of a general review of the latest thinking in cognitive and social psychology.I was hoping for a higher-level discussion of issues of race, and more of a general review of the latest thinking in cognitive and social psychology. There is some of that, but mostly it's sort of a guided discussion on basic questions of racial identity in the United States. The book is probably best for bright high school students, or college students - I hope it's being taught in a lot of high schools. I found it pretty elementary, and gave up on it on page 70. ...more