Review: Call Them by Their True Names – American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

Call Them by Their True NamesThe importance of truth and the careful use of language cannot be underestimated. “Precision, accuracy, and clarity matter, as gestures of respect toward those to whom you speak; toward the subject, whether it’s an individual or the earth itself; toward the historical record. It’s also a kind of self-respect”, writes the award-winning author and intellectual Rebecca Solnit in her latest collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names. The individual pieces draw our attention to the roots of the present crises facing America and beyond: the infamous election of 2016, inequality, and climate change.

“Sometimes the state of our union seems like an absurdist thriller film that we would not have believed was possible, let alone likely, let alone real, had we been told about it a couple of years ago.” Unfortunately, current reality cannot be simply switched off. Creative effort is required to stop the rot.

Solnit considers “the act of naming as diagnosis”. She is very much aware that by diagnosing a “grim” situation, you will not necessarily be able to change or solve it, but “you’re far better equipped to know what to do about it.” Also, any “revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”

In her usual fashion, Solnit’s astute analysis galvanises readers into action and supplies us with hope. We need to return to that state of affairs “in which you are, as the saying goes, as good as your word.” Addressing such diverse topics as isolation, cynicism, rage, activism, gentrification, violence, homelessness, revisionism, journalism, and the justice system, Solnit shows how not to remain passive, but to fight for what we believe in and are passionate about. With its integrity and clarity, Solnit’s writing is, as always, exhilarating.

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

by Rebecca Solnit

Granta, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 2 November 2018.

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