Thomas Meaney

  • culture May 17, 2013

    Empire States: On Pankaj Mishra

    In the fun-house mirror of the present, the contours of the twentieth century have assumed a strange symmetry. It begins and ends with imperialism. The century opens with the West plundering the Rest, until one Asian nation, Japan, joins the action and becomes an empire itself. In the century’s last decade, the pattern repeats: the forces of liberal capitalism are again as dominant as ever, only this time China is the apt pupil of Western rapacity. The way historians speak of the present in terms of “imperialism,” ”anti-imperialism” and “the rise of Asia” makes the burst of decolonization after

  • Winter of Discontent

    With swift dispatch, fiction about the Arab Spring is starting to appear. Earlier this year in France, Tahar Ben Jelloun published Par le feu (By fire), a novella about Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable vendor whose self-immolation last February ignited the series of popular protests across the Middle East and the Maghreb. In the last scene of the book, a film producer tries to buy the “life rights” to Bouazizi’s story from his family. “Don’t talk to anybody, don’t give any interviews to journalists,” he tells them. “I’ll help you. I’ll tell the story of Mohamed—everyone in the whole

  • Blood Animus

    A writer knows he is working well when people start to hate him. V. S. Naipaul has always warmed to this aspect of the enterprise. For more than fifty years, he has, with enviable regularity and evident delight, brought his readers the bad news from four continents. His prophecies never fail to outrage, all the more when they are right: In the 1960s, he pronounced the failure of Black Power politics in the Caribbean before it left the cradle; in the 1980s, he followed the logic of Muslim fundamentalism to its grim conclusions while Mohamed Atta was still in shorts. But perhaps no prediction

  • Of Lies and Dissent

    Two broadsides against American intellectuals after 9/11 hit harder than most. The first came from Paul Berman, who, in Terror and Liberalism (2003), chastised his fellow liberals for turning a blind eye to the fascist roots of “Muslim totalitarianism.” The second came from Tony Judt, who denounced intellectuals like Berman for being George Bush’s “useful idiots” and rationalizing the “War on Terror.” Judt and Berman shared the same social-democratic background but were haunted by different demons of the twentieth century. Where Judt saw the shadows of McCarthyism in the Bush years, Berman was


    Percival Everett—author, academic, fly fisherman, woodworker, painter, and mule trainer—has a talent for militant irony that feeds on variety and extremes. Refreshingly profane, his novels have nimbly led such sacred cows as African-American studies and Native American reparations to the abattoir. In Erasure (2001), he gave us the down-and-out novelist Thelonius Ellison, who, fed up with being told his fiction isn’t “black enough,” writes a book called My Pafology—and promptly garners Oprah-sanctioned fame. Everett’s new book takes on another worthy if easier target— George W. Bush’s America—but

  • Naming Youths

    André Aciman is our consummate Proustian. Even more than Roger Shattuck, who’s championed Proust in scholarly works, or Alain de Botton, who’s promoted Proustian self-help, Aciman has taken to heart the author’s injunction to use In Search of Lost Time as a personal darkroom—to dip the negatives of one’s own memories into the magic solution Proust provides. In his remarkable collection of essays, False Papers (2000), Aciman tells how his father first bought him Swann’s Way when he was fifteen (“I already knew I had just received, perhaps without my father’s knowing it, his dearest, most enduring