New and noteworthy – 17 January 2019

Edward Said’s influential imperial critique, Alexander the Great’s long artistic afterlife, mosquitoes’ place in empire, and black activists’ efforts to ‘decolonise Britain’

January 17, 2019
Source: iStock

After Said: Postcolonial Literary Studies in the Twenty-First Century
Edited by Bashir Abu-Manneh
Cambridge University Press

Edward Said (1935-2003) was one of the most powerful and influential thinkers of his era as well as a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause. Although he wrote about everything from British fiction to music, media stereotyping and Middle Eastern politics, he was perhaps most notable, in Bashir Abu-Manneh’s words, as “his generation’s most influential cultural critic of empire”. This edited collection surveys his central concerns; the sheer range of intellectual fields he transformed; and the legacy he has left for those battling inequality, Islamophobia and the crises around migration.

Alexander the Great: From His Death to the Present Day
John Boardman
Princeton University Press

Alexander packed a great deal into his 33 years, but his afterlife has been just as spectacular. This vivid survey by the veteran classical art historian John Boardman explores the striking stories to be found in “a very full range of European and eastern literature and art, from Scotland to China”, as well as in apocryphal collections of letters, medieval romances, “songs, operas, plays, films, cartoons”. Many tell us far more about their creators than about Alexander himself, illustrating how his remarkable achievements have been adapted for very different “social, political, or artistic ends”.

Malaria and Victorian Fictions of Empire
Jessica Howell
Cambridge University Press

Malaria has had a devastating impact on humanity and was early seen as a “disease of empire”. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it features prominently in the writings of jingoistic writers such as Rudyard Kipling and H. Rider Haggard, but also in the far more literary fiction of Charles Dickens, Henry James and Olive Schreiner. Yet although the end of empire drew a line under their stories of white settlers and national difference, post-colonial authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Derek Walcott, as Jessica Howell demonstrates, have opted to follow in their footsteps and “engage the mosquito’s transgressive potential”.

Thinking Black: Britain, 1964-1985
Rob Waters
University of California Press

The two decades from the mid-1960s mark a crucial turning point in British race relations. Rob Waters’ book considers the “expansive network of activists and intellectuals”, including “teachers, writers, publishers, booksellers, campaigners, picketers, marchers, and revolutionaries” who formed part of “transnational anticolonial and civil rights networks” and set out to “shape a distinctively ‘black’ politics, and ‘black’ ways of thinking”. Yet “the politics of thinking black did not reject Britain and Britishness” so much as seek to “reframe it, challenge, and make it anew”, not least through the goal of “decolonising Britain”, an effort whose echoes can still be felt in universities today.

Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics
Ilana Feldman
University of California Press

For seven decades, writes Ilana Feldman, many Palestinians have lived in refugee camps, constrained by “the mechanisms of an aid regime that influences life possibilities, the bureaucratic categories that delimit access to services, the material artifacts of assistance that shape daily life”. They may respond with complaint or compliance, but they are unable to escape “humanitarianism” as “a space of living”. What that means in daily practice is captured in this remarkable book, based on six years’ fieldwork in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank together with earlier research in the Gaza Strip.

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