josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Noam Chomsky’


In Book Review on March 19, 2011 at 4:38 am

Below my recent review of Political Awakenings. Conversations with History by Harry Kreisler. UWA Publishing. 286pp. $29.95.


Winston Churchill once said, “Politics is not a game. It is earnest business.” If the collection of twenty interviews in Political Awakenings is an indication, he was spot on.

The University of California’s Harry Kreisler hit on a great idea over a quarter of a century ago. Since the university has long been visited by some of the greatest minds on the planet, he decided to sit them down and conduct a one hour interview. He called the collection of interviews, Conversations with History, the subtitle of this book which highlights twenty of the more than five hundred interviews he has conducted to date.

Some of our greatest thinkers and intellects have been interviewed by Kreisler over the years and I can’t imagine the difficulty he had in choosing a mere twenty for this book. I suspect we may see a second book in the series, if not more.

Political Awakenings is structured into eight themes, with two or three interviews in each. This book could just as easily be subtitled, Snapshots of History, given how little time we get to spend with each interviewee. So eminent in their chosen fields are each of these people that entire books could be written about each. Nonetheless, that each interview is presented in a question-and-answer style engenders a sense of proximity. Reading Noam Chomsky’s responses, for example, I felt like an audience member at the taping of the interview.

Kreisler asks Chomsky, “What is your advice for people who have the same concerns, who identify with the tradition that you come out of, and who want to be engaged in opposition?”

Chomsky’s verbose answer is pure Chomsky. He advises, “The same as the factory girls in the Lowell textile plant 150 years ago: they joined with others. To do these things alone is extremely hard, especially when you’re working fifty hours a week to put the food on the table. Join with others, and you can do a lot of things. It’s got a big multiplier effect.” And so his answer goes on. But anyone who has seen Chomsky be interviewed can’t avoid the mental image that accompanies the interview transcript. The way he slouches in his seat. The intensity of his eyes. His East Coast drawl. The beauty of this style of presentation is that the reader is a part of the interview. I’m not just lying on the lounge reading a book. I’m also engaging in an intellectual process. Not a bad thing in this day-and-age in which readers seem to prefer Dan Brown to serious books about serious people.

I was particularly fascinated and entertained by the three interviewees in the chapter Resistance Through Art: Iranian-American writer and documentary filmmaker, Roya Hakakian, American screenwriter and director, Oliver Stone, and Japanese Nobel Laureate, Kenzaburo Oe.

These three, in particular, have powerful tales to tell of their political awakening as young people. Each was affected and influenced politically by war, violence and the disturbing ability of humans to inflict physical and emotion pain on others. For Hakakian, it was her childhood in Iran as the Revolution failed to live up to its promises of freedom. For Stone, it was his experiences as a marine in the bloody quagmire that was Vietnam. And for Oe, it was his first visit to Hiroshima and his conversations with some of the victims of America’s atomic bomb.

Each of the interviewees in Political Awakenings has, in their own way and through individual experiences, gained a greater understanding of the human condition and an appreciation of the nature of existence. Oliver Stone says, “I don’t believe in left or right. I don’t believe in liberal or conservative. I believe in both.” Which is to say, life is a delicate balance.

Political Awakenings is more than a collection of interviews with great thinkers. Collectively, these interviews are a study in human experience and wisdom. There are some who will choose not to read this important book because of the reference to politics. That would be a great shame. Politics, at its basest level, is what makes the world go around. Its influence extends into both public and private life and, in as much as we may frequently try to avoid it, it is impossible to do so.

Political Awakenings takes giant strides towards answering Machiavelli’s 500-year-old political question: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse? The 20 interviewees in this book show that the world is in dire need of a little bit of thoughtfulness and a little bit of inspiration and a great deal of wisdom.