FROM MY BOOKSHELF: ‘The system we call capitalism has many facets that we don’t take the time to understand’
Q: What books are you currently reading?
A: I am currently reading Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism by David Harvey and Post Capitalism: a guide to our future by Paul Mason.
As the titles suggest, these books are about the ongoing travails of the capitalist world system and the prospects for this system to be transcended - in the medium and long run. Most discussions about the problems in global and domestic political economy are very superficial. So, for instance the financial crisis of 2007-08 is often attributed to a few greedy individuals just like Pakistan’s problems are often attributed to a few ‘corrupt’ leaders. In fact, the contemporary world is very complex and the system we call capitalism has many facets that most of us do not take the time to understand.
Both the books are highly commendable attempts to explain this complex capitalist world in simple ways and particularly how the system has managed to secure the consent of people like you and me. I was particularly intrigued by the way in which both authors introduced questions about whether the new information technologies reinforce capitalism or open up possibilities to challenge it.
Q: Which books do you return to again and again?
A: Not entire books necessarily, but a lot of Marx and Gramsci as well as the works of great anti-colonial thinkers like Frantz Fanon. I have developed a substantial interest in third world intellectuals from India to Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America who help me make sense of our non-western society which is at the same time so heavily influenced by Western colonialism. And then there are novels like J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye which allow me to relate to my own self, including my adolescence.
Q: Who do you think is an underrated writer?
A: A writer highly valued in one setting or era is unknown in another so the answer to the question must really be contextualised. If we’re talking about Pakistan, I would say everyone who does not conform to the dominant narrative and doesn’t write in English or Urdu is underrated, simply because such writers are not rated in the mainstream at all.
Q: Which living poets, writers, dramatists do you admire most?
A: Those who had to pay a heavy price for confronting power or for simply expressing themselves. Also those who continue to beat the fear that has been deliberately cultivated in society, refuse to stay silent and keep saying it like it is. Sheikh Ayaz and Ustad Daman are poets who spoke fearlessly for oppressed people everywhere even when they were so attached to their own [land] and its people. In my experience, no one has written so much from the heart and given up as much as Salu Bhai.
Q: Has a character from a book you read ever stayed with you?
A: Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. Caulfield’s combination of deep alienation, [misplaced] self-righteousness and desire to be seen - all of these resonated with me as a teenager. Holden stays with me to this day because he reminds me of my own journey of self-discovery, as well as the confused reality facing the young people of today. Only by empathising with them is there any chance that we will figure out how to convince them to choose optimism and action over nihilism. Ultimately Holden showed me both the great difficulty and overwhelming necessity of being human.
Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2017
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