Monday, 3 May 2010

In A Strange Room
By Damon Galgut
Atlantic Books
Hdbck £15.99

A young, diffidently gay man wanders through Africa, to Europe and India seeking companionship and perhaps even love. On his way, he tags on to various individuals or groups of white tourists, but the encounters remain fleeting and fruitless. The protagonist, also called Damon (perhaps the author himself?) and of whom we learn little, laconically describes the landscapes through which he travels, the small towns and hotel rooms in which he finds himself during these rather aimless peregrinations. It is a solipsistic post-modernist novel, dovetailing into our contemporary pre-occupation with self. In this novelistic tourist diary, the author/protagonist irritatingly interchanges the ‘I’ form with the ‘he’ form as a means, one assumes, of self-alienation. The author is a white South African, but apart from a few obligatory references to poverty and post-colonial arrogance on the part of white European tourists, he reveals little of the pulsating life-blood of Africa.

The Long Twentieth Century – Money, power and the Origins of Our Times
By Giovanni Arrighi
Pubs Verso
Pbck £14.99

Arrighi was professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University and an authority on world systems analysis and historical sociology. In this volume he attempts to demonstrate the origins of modern capitalism as a logical development from the rise of the city states, through nation states, colonialism and imperialism.

He makes three main propositions: 1. that the financial expansion characterising the global economy at the end of the twentieth century is not a new phenomenon but a recurrent tendency of historical capitalism from its very beginnings; 2. Financial expansions are not merely recurrent but also moments of fundamental re-organisation of the regime of accumulation, and 3. The dynamic of world capitalism has not only changed over time but has made the financial expansion of the twentieth century anomalous in key respects, one being the bifurcation of military and financial power. These theses may be controversial, but Arrighi arrays a mass of factual evidence. The more relevant question is, though, how far such ideas could enable us to better comprehend the present impasse and, perhaps, help us predict probable outcomes.

He argues that US dominance and hegemony is now on the wane and the centre of global equilibrium is shifting to South-East Asia, primarily China. He suggests that the USA could possibly recover its position if it were prepared to adapt (as it did after the cataclysmic thirties crash) but the examples set by the policies of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush regimes would indicate the opposite – rather an ossification.

Although this is an updated version of his 1994 book, with a new postscript, it is unfortunately still couched in dense academic language with copious references and will be off-putting for the general reader. The author takes 400 odd pages to put forward a relatively straightforward thesis that could have been done much more succinctly. Harry Shutt’s book ‘Beyond the Profits System’ (Zed Books) is a much more accessible and clearly argued book examining the options for the global economy today.