Book Reviews

Origins and not roots - Origins by Amin Maalouf

Origins, by Amin Maalouf received the Mediterranean Prize in 2004. Founded in 1982 by André Bonet in Perpignan, the Centre Méditerranéen de littérature (C.M.L-Mediterranean Centre for Literature) aims, as its name infers, to promote literature. It first organised meetings, conferences and then, thanks to cooperation with the Goncourt Prize (French equivalent Booker Prize) the Prix Mediterranée was subsequently created in 1985. The objective was to reward outstanding books on Mediterranean identity.

To what extent does Origins address identity issues? It is a novel, but above all the story of the author's family. It is thus a first person narration. So it is important to know who the author himself is.

Amin Maalouf was born in Beirut, in Lebanon in 1949, he is a Catholic Arab. He attended French Jesuit schools in Beirut and after studying sociology and economics, he continued the long family tradition and became a journalist. His father, Ruchdi Maalouf, was a writer, teacher, and journalist. Amin Maalouf directed the weekly An-Nahar International, and he wrote for Jeune Afrique. He often covered wars and conflicts as he travelled all over the world, for instance to India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, and Algeria. War entered Maalouf's own homeland and in 1976 he emigrated to Paris where he has lived ever since. In 1994 he visited Lebanon -- for the first time since the 1970s.

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Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Transcendentalism at the core of American Identity

rwemersonRalph Waldo Emerson was born in 1803 and died in 1882. At the age of eight, he became fatherless. After an austere youth and studies at Harvard, he first became an Unitarian minister in Boston before evolving into the famous essayist, poet (he said: « I am born a poet, of a low class without doubt, yet a poet. That is my nature and vocation. ») and popular philosopher that we know.

After marrying Lydia Jackson in 1835, he settled in Concord near Boston. The year 1836 was marked by the publication of his essay on Nature. He was thus to be greeted by the young generation who saw in him the new mentor of America. Thoreau was his neighbor and disciple, and became during his life a living illustration of the principles advocated by Emerson, particularly through his book Walden.

In 1837, "The American scholar" is a speech in favour of the defense of a real American culture which, according to James Russell Lowell, "cut off the cable which linked America to British thought".

He not only remains as the "philosopher of optimism" of the 19th century, but also as a champion of feeling for nature. He was inspired by Romanticism, Neo-Platonism, Kantianism, and Hinduism, and developed an "existentialist" ethics of self-improvement. His essay "Self-Confidence" provided the basis of a new identity for America.

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Step Across This Line, by Salman Rushdie

The Conference "Step Across This Line" in the Yale Tanner Lectures on Human Values, February 2002

This lecture is the most recent piece of this decade-long collection of essays, newspaper columns, speeches and letters by the author. It is no surprise that Salman Rushdie's intellectual inquiries are very often centred around the notions of boundaries, transgressions and journey. From a very early age, he has known about the key theme of his conference: the frontier. Indeed, he was but a few weeks old when the Partition of the Indian subcontinent sliced his family into different countries. This is also a writer who has travelled a long way from home and who, for a considerable and terrible part of his life, was not allowed to have a home.

It is incidentally necessary to contextualize this lecture: written only five months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, it was primarily aimed at an American audience. Notably, the notion of "Frontier" must have resonated in a singular way across the Atlantic, as it embodies the very American way of life. Nowadays "America is still battling to understand its new, post-frontier self."

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Interview with Anthony Arnove

When we learnt Anthony Arnove would be coming to the IEP at Aix, to give a talk to students, we seized the opportunity to ask the author for an interview concerning his criticism of US Foreign Policy, and especially his analysis of the religious aspects of current Middle East conflicts.

This is a 13 minutes presentation of the views of an anti-war activist whose positions are absent from the legitimate US media scene . Here is your chance to listen to an unheard (media-censored) american voice, while the Iraqi issue is still explosive and unsolved.

Interviewers : Marianne BOUZIDI, Carine KHIAMI, Deniz KOSULU
Final cut : Adrien BATTINI, Ludovic ROBERT

The Sword and the Comma by Chérif Choubachy

The Author:

Cherif Choubachy is an Egyptian writer and journalist who was born in Alexandria.

He lived in France for twenty-one years (from 1980 to 2001) where he worked as a civil servant for UNESCO and then became director of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram's Paris office. In Egypt, he was a news anchor for the french-speaking TV news and also Vice-Minister of Culture (from 2002 to 2006).

He recently published the book Down with Sibawayh (published and translated into French last year under the title Le sabre et la virgule) which caused a fierce controversy in the Arab world. Subsequent to official protests he even had to resign from the government in 2006. In his book Choubachy asserts that one of the principle reasons for the retardation of modernity in Arab societies is the Arabic language itself and its complex rules.


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Climate of Fear

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Prize winning author raises the stakes from the very start of this important book (which was originally a series of lectures delivered in London, the famous 'Reith Lectures', organised by the BBC). After placing a hyper-sensitive doctor's finger on the rough pulse of current realities, he has employed a shocking, but justified catch-phrase which concerns us all more than ever: “Climate of Fear”.

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Immanuel Wallerstein's European Universalism, The Rhetoric of Power


In his book European Universalism, Rhetoric of Power, Wallerstein demonstratees how the so-called universal values promoted by Western Europeans ever since the sixteenth century, be they Christian, democratic or scientific, were a mere justification of Western intervention around the world. These values meant to be encrusted in natural law, are in Wallerstein's opinion neither truly universal nor beneficial to humankind.

The Author:

Immanuel Wallerstein is an American sociologist, senior research scholar at Yale, director emeritus of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University and a research fellow at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. He began his career as an expert on post-colonial African affairs, and then became a historian and theorist of the global capitalist economy.

His many books include After Liberalism, Utopistics, the Decline of American Power, as well as the multi-volume The Modern World-System, arguably his most important book.

Introduction: the politics of universalism today

The world shaped by the media and political leaders today appears as a struggle between good and evil, in which the Europeans naturally represent the good. What is meant by "good" is a set of European values and truths presented as universal, which are the justification of European intervention policies in the world.

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When the Walls come Down


In their short but dense book,When the Walls come Down, E. Glissant and P. Chamoiseau provide us with some fundamental principles for our age:

- First, the fixity of personal or collective identity doesn’t exist. Its nature cannot be built or its continuity guaranteed in an authoritarian way.

- Identity is a complex multiplicity. Nobody can decide in advance what and how his or her identity will be. The same is true for a community. That is why A 'Ministry of Identity' is a thoroughly bad idea, because it confines the future of the community to becoming mechanical and sterile.

- Identity is an être-dans-le-monde (A being-in-the-world). It simultaneously provides a connection with the world and results from the existence of the latter.

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« La Commission européenne, du compromis culturel à la culture du compromis » - Article Review

Marc Abéles et Irène Bellier, « La Commission européenne, du compromis culturel à la culture du compromis », Revue française de science politique, volume 46, n. 3, 1996.

Presentation of the article :

This article was published in 1996 in the well-known French 'Révue de Science Politique' (Review of Political Science). It is one of the best known articles by Marc Abéles and Irène Bellier. It constitutes an epitome of the long series of studies by Marc Abéles concerning the anthropological approach to the analysis of power and elites . It is also representative of the French approach to modern anthropological and sociological research, based on the structural analysis of social representations as defined by the pioneer of this paradigm Claude Levi Strauss. This paradigm is in Marc Abéles' view a very useful framework of analysis for political societies and its interest is not limited to the primitive. In the article, the concept of culture it is not only used to determine the cultural specificities of European civil servants but also “ the combination and the reconstruction of diversified identities” 1 and in this case the social structure which encloses the individual can be considered as a permanent framework of action, as a “golden cage”. 2

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