Saturday, August 29, 2009

Review: New World Coming

[Karen Dubinsky, Catherine Krull, Sean Mills, and Scott Rutherford, editors. New World Coming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness. Toronto: Between The Lines, 2009.]

This is a big book but I'm only going to give it a brief review, mostly because, for various reasons, I only read about 80% of the essays and even some of those got less focused attention than I usually give to books I intend to write about.

That said, this is an interesting and varied collection. It comes out of a conference of the same name held in June 2007 at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The goal of both the conference and the book is to unsettle conventional narratives of "the sixties" (understood more as a political phenomenon than a rigidly bounded block of time) in part by decentering the U.S. New Left and other elements that usually get priority in the standard narrative of what the decade meant, and by emphasizing a more global approach. This is an important project, though as Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi points out in "Whose 1960s? Gender, Resistance, and Liberation in Palestine" -- the first essay of the book, and also one of the best -- this goal has so far remained more of an aspiration and a question than an accomplished fact at the conference and in its resulting publication. Though that essay, the introduction by the editors, and another couple of pieces point out that the breadth of material is not what it could be (or, politically, what it perhaps should be), there is still quite a range of approaches and focuses, from political graphics of the '60s to the Cuban women's movement to political violence in Italy to the politics of soul music in Tanzania to the Republic of New Afrika in the U.S. The best word for the feel of the volume as a whole, in fact, is "eclectic."

To the extent that I felt a unifying thread through the book, it is the question of how to understand the relationships among political struggles in different times and places. Where does energy for change originate and how does it move? How do struggles circulate? How do we, in the course of memory production, decide what matters, and what is connected to what else?

This book does not answer those questions, and really only a few of the essays tackle them with any directness -- most concentrate on portraying some particular struggle or issue from the "long '60s." However, all of them implicitly provide an answer to such questions in how they contextualize whatever it is that they are focusing on, and those implicit answers tell the reader as much about how contemporary lefty academics think about the '60s and about relations of struggle as any of the more direct responses. And one of the things that it tells me is that the details of how struggles are related and how they circulate need to be the subject of much more research and thinking and writing.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

1 comment:

Scott said...

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