So hey! Anyone miss me? Uh, ok, anyone notice I was gone? Things've been busy, things've been hectic, but I'm gonna try to get back to this regularly.
#8 -- "Inverting the Pyramid" by Jonathan Wilson
#9 -- "John Henry Days" by Colson Whitehead
#10 -- "Don't Mourn, Balkanize!" by Andrej Grubacic
The Wilson book is brilliant, and I'll probably have more to say about it in a day or two, if I finish something that I've been writing for weeks and weeks. The Whitehead book is brilliant, but I don't have much more to say about that -- you oughta get it, ok? And follow him on Twitter, he's one of the people that make it worthwhile. The Grubacic book is frustrating and I wanted to throw it against the wall a few times, and guess which one I'm gonna write about.
I picked it up out of a desire to get some alternate views on the Balkans -- I've come under some criticism over the years for a reflexively mainstream/Western point of view, which is perhaps fair enough. This is certainly a varying view -- unfortunately it's not that persuasive.
It's a collection of essays, more or less divided into two parts. The first critiques U.S./NATO intervention and involvement in the Balkans. The writing is -- to be polite -- not that hot. Think of someone cornering you at a party and ranting at you. Think of them using finger quotes to mock points of view divergent from theirs. Think of them using the word "neoliberal" so often that it loses all meaning. That's what this is like. It's a MRR column page circa 1991.
Western involvement in the region is ripe for critique, but there are a lot of problems here. Yes, Serbia isn't solely responsible for the 1990s chaos. But it fields some, and that's glossed over here. While there's some hints of sympathy for all the Balkans' peoples, for the most part, Serbs and Roma are the only ones who get directly acknowledged.
The second part leaves me feeling a bit kinder toward Grubacic. He lays out his vision for the region, and while I don't find it realistic, it at least shows his heart is in the right place. He lays out a scheme for a loose Balkan federation without (so far as I can tell) much in the way of central government or national borders. It's a nice idea and there were many interesting points in this section -- I particularly found the section on participatory economics interesting, though I lack the background to know whether it would work.
And that's the problem in this section -- lots of nice ideas, not much in the way of practical ways of making them work. How are you going to get people to take part? How will you convince Balkan residents (Grubacic doesn't lay out boundaries for this, but I'm assuming it goes beyond Serbia) to re-enter a federation, however loose, after the last one collapsed in blood and despair? There really isn't much in the way of answers to those questions, and in the end, the book loses a chance to be elevated above the rank of a ranting manifesto.