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
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
A masterpiece of autobiography. I would urge anyone to read and learn from this brief, lucid, gripping account of the life, captivity, and eventual esA masterpiece of autobiography. I would urge anyone to read and learn from this brief, lucid, gripping account of the life, captivity, and eventual escape and emancipation of an American slave. His prose, like his personality, sparkles with wit and perspicacity, and his shrewd and careful observations of human psychology are endlessly illuminating with respect to racism, power, and social justice. Douglass was a very great and inspiring figure, and this book instantly joined my shelf of cherished classics. ...more
I wish I could recommend this book, which speaks with urgency and passion about an issue of compelling importance - the mass incarceration of black AmI wish I could recommend this book, which speaks with urgency and passion about an issue of compelling importance - the mass incarceration of black Americans under the aegis of the largely-discredited War on Drugs. I agree that this must be one of the central points of focus for anyone concerned with civil rights and equality in the United States today. As Alexander cites in the book, the government's own best information clearly indicates that all ethnic groups use illegal drugs at comparable levels, but blacks are far more likely to be incarcerated, and our philosophy of imprisonment only grows more and more draconian over time. The destruction wrought by this completely illegitimate legal program must be openly confronted.
To this degree, I am in strong sympathy with the author, and I'm glad this book's success has drawn mainstream attention to these urgent issues. But I cannot pretend I think this book is particularly sound or well argued. It is written like the argument of a lawyer, and I for one am not persuaded by her thesis beyond a reasonable doubt.
Alexander uncritically reduces enormously complex historical processes to simple slogans in the service of forwarding her argument that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow; that is, it amounts to a socially-sanctioned system of laws and customs intended to keep the foot of society on the neck of black Americans.
Unfortunately, no key concept in this thesis is adequately examined. We barely even have a clear concept of what she means by "race." She presents a brief and entirely unpersuasive history that argues race is a social construction that was developed in the New World as a way of estranging poor blacks from poor whites and keeping them from making common cause.
This was perhaps the first time when I paused and asked myself, is she serious? There is nothing more to the concept of race than an arbitrary and artificial mechanism of control?
I think not. We have decades of research in social psychology examining the way people form and identify with groups, and it's not just something cooked up by wealthy plantation owners - it has very deep roots in our cognitive biology. And we have a history of distinguishing between peoples and their ethnic characters that goes back at least to Greek conceptions of Perisans as the other that developed during the Persian War.
I understand Alexander's disinclination to dwell on these details when she has a compelling argument to make, but again and again in this book I found her doing the same thing - making facile reductions in terms that support her argument.
Generally, I wasn't persuaded by her thesis that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow, and I think that argument distracts from better and more interesting interpretations of the same data. Of course there are racist policy makers, but personally I think social policies that are not, by and large, explicitly racist in intent can nevertheless be extremely racist in their effect. To me this makes much better sense of a lot of the data, such as the fact that many extremely draconian drug laws were called for and enjoy strong support by black Americans.
I am uncomfortable with Alexander's use of historical evidence. Again and again in the first half of the book, she made historical claims that caused me to raise my eyebrows, and when I've researched further to get corroboration for her version of events, I've come away feeling that I strongly disagree with her interpretations. I would encourage any reader of this book to likewise poke around if they read any historical claim that really surprises them.
Finally, I'm not a lawyer like Ms. Alexander, but I did find her single-minded focus on the courts increasingly bizarre. She analyzed court rulings that permitted discriminatory practices throughout the book, ignoring the fact that there also exists a legislative branch of government - one which is tasked under the separation of powers with writing the laws. She caustically rejects numerous Supreme Court rulings - some unanimous - which held, in essence, "this practice is not illegal or unconstitutional," and repeatedly interpreted these findings as tantamount to unilaterally creating or affirming laws.
But ... judicial review is not about making laws or affirming that they're just - it's an evaluation of how the law has been interpreted by lower courts, or their constitutionality. And I can't believe I have to call this out in a book written by a former ACLU lawyer. ...more
Fascinating book. There's much to respond to, but for me the aspect that made the biggest impression was the sense of nakedness - that there is no sheFascinating book. There's much to respond to, but for me the aspect that made the biggest impression was the sense of nakedness - that there is no shelter from the elements, no priest in the chapel nor constable at the station, who will shield women and children from the most savage, arbitrary, and undeserved abuse at the hands of monstrous men. There is only power in Bronte's shocking world - the power to harm and control, and the power to endure. Otherwise there's only destruction.
It's profound and disturbing to see rural English life depicted in this way, and one wonders what ghosts haunted the poor Bronte's house to produce such a stark vision of human existence. ...more
This book offers what is to my knowledge the only complete general historiography of Tibet from its prehistory to the present day. It's competently wrThis book offers what is to my knowledge the only complete general historiography of Tibet from its prehistory to the present day. It's competently written and paints an extremely valuable portrait of the Land of Snows, and should most certainly be read by anyone with an interest in Tibetan culture who still subscribes to a romanticized view of pre-invasion Tibet as a peaceful Shambhala of gentle, enlightened monks and cheerful nomads going about their lives in simplicity and quiet. Of course the real story is far more complicated - the Tibetan region is vast, borders several great and highly distinct regions (Central Asia, India, and China), and is subject to all the movers of history that drive events in any land, including factional politics, oligarchs, warlords, peasants, and so forth.
Anyway, it's not the purpose of this review to summarize its contents, but simply to recommend it as the best and only available source for the general reader who wants a survey of Tibetan history. Kapstein is a competent scholar, but he writes in wooden prose and his translations are stilted and utterly devoid of beauty, so I would stop short of hailing this book as a classic of the literature. But it's a much-needed contribution to the field, and there are few non-specialists who will come away from this book without substantially revising at least some aspect of their understanding of the region. ...more
Jenkins presents us with a serviceable and opinionated historical sketch of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasion through the present day. By necessitJenkins presents us with a serviceable and opinionated historical sketch of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasion through the present day. By necessity, this brief book leaps and bounds at full speed through its course. It would be dangerous to read this book in isolation, but it provides a useful big picture view, and I found it a useful framework for pursuing areas of interest for further study. ...more