In response to the Facebook challenge to list ten books that were important to me I want to briefly add some to the list of those I have already mentioned

Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon.  It turned me around on the psychological effects of colonialism and made me realize how much like African colonialism the situation of African Americans was.

“Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you want them to understand.” …“Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.” … “A government or a party gets the people it deserves and sooner or later a people gets the government it deserves.” … “To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.” 

Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBois. It made me realize how lyrical and poetic memoir, sociology, history, politics and even musicology could be in the right hands. Its most famous quote:

“the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro… two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

The Interpretation of Cultures by Clifford Geertz. It contains an essay called “Religion as a Cultural System,” which looks at systems of belief as solutions to fundamental problems of existence. I used that essay several times in class to mixed success. Many students were fervent believers in some religion and viewed an attempt to see belief systems as solutions to problems as an atheistic heresy rather than a process of thought. For others the act of thinking about thinking just gave them a headache. Admittedly Geertz is not the easiest thing to read.  Here is a sample:

sacred symbols function to synthesize a people’s ethos–the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood –and their world view–the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are, their most comprehensive ideas of order. In religious belief and practice a group’s ethos is rendered intellectually reasonable by being shown to represent a way of life ideally adapted to the actual state of affairs the world view describes, while the world view is rendered emotionally convincing by being presented as an image of an actual state of affairs peculiarly well-arranged to accommodate such a way of life. This confrontation and mutual confirmation has two fundamental effects. On the one hand, it objectivizes moral and aesthetic preferences by depicting them as the imposed conditions of life implicit in a world with a particular structure, as mere common sense given the unalterable shape of reality. On the other, it supports these received beliefs about the world’s body by invoking deeply felt moral and aesthetic sentiments as experiential evidence for their truth. Religious symbols formulate a basic congruence between a particular style of life and a specific (if, most often, implicit) metaphysic, and in so doing sustain each with the borrowed authority of the other.”

For people who are inside a belief system apparently talking about it in a “meta” way is a difficult thing to do because they think it implies that the “reality” the belief system  describes isn’t real. I never took this to be Geertz’s point but other folks did. Perhaps it was because it implied that other realities and religions were also valid.

That’s enough to ponder.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply