I feel repetitive in noting I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped to this past month, but April was truly one for lite reading. In part, due to an overall lack of motivation and, more importantly, the precedence of a wonderful family visit. Nonetheless, a few things did get read, and for those interested, here they are.
- Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville
- Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
- Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- The City Inside, by Samit Basu
Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville
A powerful short story, all the more so due to the fact that Bartleby’s actions are left open to interpretation by the reader. I read it as an anti-work story, of a rejection to perform banal and numbing tasks under the orders of another simply to survive. Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to,” resonates with how many of us feel under the yoke of capitalism and the demands upon our time and labor. Bartleby is further a radical character in that he squats his boss’s office and begins dictating terms to his boss instead of vice versa. Bartleby’s demise could be read as a final act of defiance against a cruel and inhuman system.
Dawn, by Octavia E. Butler
Following the destruction of Earth as a result of nuclear war, Lilith Iyapo is Awakened on a spaceship belonging to the Oankali, where she is forced to reckon with her new situation, adapt to life among an alien species, and is tasked with training other rescued humans to prepare to return to Earth.
As usual, Butler builds a rich, multifaceted and problematic world. The story offers a variety of interpretations and poses compelling questions with which humanity must grapple, in a setting seemingly far detached from our reality. For me, these questions include engaging with the legacy of reproductive slavery, encounters with the Other, genetic engineering and trans- and posthumanism, human nature and sociality, and more. A powerful, compelling, and rewarding read.
Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
A wide-ranging text whose core argument is one that should be widely accepted by now: that the United States is not a nation of immigrants, but rather an ongoing settler-colonial project premised on Indigenous genocide and the enslavement of African peoples.
To support her argument, Dunbar-Ortiz expansively covers more than 500 years of history. She documents the colonists early settler-colonial plans and the conquest of much of the North American continent by the United States, as facilitated by the aforementioned genocide and enslavement. She also helpfully parses categories of colonist, settler, immigrant, arrivant, and Indigenous.
A large portion of the text is dedicated to examining phases of immigration by different peoples and how they were received (or not) and gained power (or not) based on their proximity to whiteness and openness to “Americanization,” with a particular focus on Irish, Italian, Asian, and Mexican immigration. She challenges assumptions about the history of Columbus and self-Indigenization in places such as Appalachia and New Mexico. Lastly, she importantly puts settler-colonialism and immigration within an international context of European and U.S. imperialism and demonstrates how the present is reflected in the past.
While this text may not contain much new information, and while the primary argument is likely already familiar to many readers, I found this to be a useful book simply by the act of compiling an extensive amount of information into one volume framed around the central thesis of countering the myth of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants. My one critique is that in doing so, it made the book a bit of a grind to get through. Oftentimes, it had a textbook-like feel, and it was a struggle to push myself to continue reading. Despite that, I would still heartily recommend this text, especially during a time when the far-right is attempting to hide or rewrite the very history this book addresses.
The City Inside, by Samit Basu
This book just didn’t click for me. Set in Delhi in the near future, most of the text is spent on worldbuilding and character introductions. The plot, if there is one to speak of, doesn’t really begin until about three-quarters of the way through the book. While I appreciated the political bent of the book – a dystopian future clearly inspired by the current Hindutva regime of the BJP in India and our era of mass surveillance – that largely took a backseat to a story that was waiting to happen but never really did. Would not recommend.
A few texts I encountered this month that I’d suggest checking out. As usual, let me know if you need help getting a copy.
- “Anarchists vs. the State,” by Kirwin Shaffer, NACLA Report on the Americas
- “Selling Rural Palestine: Land Devaluation, Ethical Investment, and the Limits of Human Rights,” by Paul Kohlbry, Antipode
- “The afterlives of political violence in Argentina: The gendered body and everyday cruelty,” by Leyla Savloff, The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology
- “Settler-colonialism in the West Bank from the standpoint of its Mizrahi settlers,” by Amir Reicher, Ethnic and Racial Studies