Coates contra mundum

Dalrymple’s latest piece in the New Criterion is something I have been hoping for: his review of Between the World and Me, Ta-nehisi Coates’s monograph on racism in America, which has been praised to high heaven by the left and ripped to shreds by the right:

When Coates tells his son “Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains,” he does not dilate on what, exactly, he means by “Never forget.” There is more than one possible interpretation of the phrase. In the context of the whole book, I think it means “Keep it always in the forefront of your mind,” rather than never forget it in the sense of not being able to remember what you had for dinner seventeen days ago. While it is perfectly right, and indeed vitally important, that historical memory should be available to anyone who wants to interpret the modern world, for without it history becomes nothing but a series of unconnected moments, neither should it be a distorting lens through which everything and everybody is seen. My mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and while she never forgot it—how could she?—in the sense of remaining able to call it to mind, she did not interpret all her subsequent problems in the light of that catastrophic experience, even though it had obviously changed her life course in a very fundamental way. She didn’t think that a rude shop assistant was a Nazi.

On the evidence of this book Coates wants to raise up in his son an ideological resentment, to querulous monomania. He repeatedly extols what he calls the “struggle,” though he does not tell his son what it is a struggle for. He makes explicit his disbelief in the likelihood of real change, given that America is ruled by what he so elegantly calls “majoritarian pigs,” so that it cannot be for any concrete or tangible political or economic goal. There is not a single call to his son to expand his horizons beyond “the struggle,” which is really that of giving a meaning to life in the absence of any other…It does not occur to him that, even in America, outrage cannot be the way forward for millions of people, or indeed that dwelling exclusively on injustice, real or supposed, may not be the best advice to an adolescent (adolescence being, in any case, the great age of resentment).

5 thoughts on “Coates contra mundum

  1. JimS

    Wow! This is a brave piece. Clearly Dalrymple is beyond needing anyone’s approval. I cannot imagine a mainstream personality or a working academic writing this and not suffering greatly. He nails the truth of the matter while following Pound’s advice to critique the poem and not the poet. He is an excellent example of how to criticize a work while remaining respectful of its author.

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  2. Adam

    His writing is graceful and a refreshing change from the vacuous claptrap on tv and radio. You come away saying “exactly!”

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  3. Doug

    The good doctor’s best piece since “Exposing Shallowness”… and that’s saying a lot. Coates has, thank God, been heavily fisked, but this is the most eloquent and closely argued takedown. A surgical strike.

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