I enjoy the book pages of Saturday's Guardian. They are everything that the comment pages have not been for a very long time, a source of intelligent debate. This week's edition saw it at its best and at its worst. First, the bad news.
I have never had much time for John Gray ever since I made the terrible mistake of reading Straw Dogs. He has gone through many manifestations - originally a libertarian advocate of the New Right, then a social democratic critic of the New Right, at present he is at his least convincing as a misanthropic scourge of Enlightenment values. If there is one common theme running through his writing it is relish at the prospect of impending disaster. Unsurprisingly, he therefore turned out to be the reviewer of Naomi Klein's dreams. I was also underwhelmed by Klein's No Logo (you should hear it pronounced in a Hull accent - it sounds like Ner Lerger), and, though I haven't read her new book, it appears to have enough apocalyptic guff in it to give Gray a severe 'touch of the dooms'.
The neo-liberal order is already facing intractable problems. The Iraq war may have allowed another experiment in shock therapy, but a failed state has been created as a result of which Gulf oil - which a former chair of the US joint chiefs of staff accurately described as "the jugular vein of global capitalism" - is less secure than before. Faced with defeat in Iraq, the Bush administration seems to be gearing up for an assault on Iran - a desperate move that would magnify the existing catastrophe many times over. At the same time financial crisis has reached into the American heartland as an implosion in speculation-driven credit markets has started to spread throughout the system. It is impossible to know how these crises will develop, but it is hard to resist the suspicion that disaster capitalism is now creating disasters larger than it can handle.
However critical I may be of the 'Neo-liberal' elite consensus, I would not choose Gray, nor Klein for that matter, as my advocates of choice.
Now for the good. David Grossman has a long essay on literature and the Holocaust. It is worth reading in full. His central aim in his own writing was, 'To write not about the death and the destruction, but about life, about what the Nazis destroyed in such a habitual, industrial, mass-minded way'. Thus, his essay is a humanist meditation on the uniqueness and value of indivdual life and the importance of literature in our understanding of it. The essay is all the more poignant given the loss of his son in the war in Lebanon.
It concludes beautifully,
The secret allure and the greatness of literature, the secret that sends us to it over and over again, with enthusiasm and a longing to find refuge and meaning, is that literature can repeatedly redeem for us the tragedy of the one from the statistics of the millions. The one about whom the story is written, and the one who reads the story.
Read it all.
George Szirtes discusses the same reviews and makes a pertinent criticism of one other, which I did not mention, of a book arguing for a one state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, a notion I was critical of here.