Paul Gilroy, a sociology professor at Yale University, is a bright man and prolific writer who doesn't write for the casual reader. If his poststructuralist vocabulary doesn't leave you spinning, his big ideas surely will.
That said, everything about Postcolonial Melancholia, a collection of four Wellek Library Lectures in critical theory delivered at the University of California, Irvine, is largely digestible, though only for the dedicated masticator. This is the sort of book that makes wonderful sense in the telling, but can leave you wondering about just what you've been told.
The thesis is that multicultural politics are best understood from the perspective and in the context of imperial and colonial history, Britain's postcolonial history in particular. Borrowing the Freudian concept of "melancholia," Gilroy attempts to exorcise the British attachment to global grandeur that, by this account, has metastasized into a social pathology directed at blacks, immigrants, and the very idea of multiculturalism.
The lectures are divided into two parts that correspond to the distinction between global versus local or worldly versus parochial. Part One considers the history of "race" and the damage it has done to democracy throughout the world; Gilroy seeks to replace the tired triumphalism of "globalization" with "planetarity" since "planetary suggests both contingency and movement" on a "smaller scale than the global." Part Two revolves around the ordinary multicultural cohabitation that exists in any local British community, a process Gilroy calls "conviviality." Together, the whole book is informed by "unabashed humanism ... licensed by a critique of racial hierarchy and the infrahuman life forms it creates." This analysis holds an important lesson for the increasingly imperial United States: otherness is nothing to fear, especially in our age of terror.
R. Owen Williams is a history Ph.D. candidate at Yale University.
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|Author:||Williams, R. Owen|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2005|
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