“Only thinking that transcends the old pieties and categories — that is clearly beyond both ‘left’ and ‘right’ — can discover the new sources of malaise and formulate ideas that will nourish the roots of our future common experience,” wrote Richard Kostelanetz way back in 1968, in ‘Radical Thought for Our Times,’ one of the prescient contributions to Political Essays, a collection culled from four decades of his critical writing.
Drawing insight from his life as an incorrigibly independent writer — together with the influences of John Cage, Dwight Macdonald, and R. Buckminster Fuller, et al., — Kostelanetz penetrates social and political issues with writing that is persuasive and at times funny. Courageous in his choice of subjects, here he examines: P.C. propaganda in ‘Me and AIDS Journalism,’ racism in ‘The Harlem I Knew,’ and the intellectual limits of the daily news in ‘The Perils of Newspaper Literacy.’ Anarchist and libertarian, Kostelanetz combines the creed “the best things in life are free” characteristic of the former with the approval of enterprise (“enterprise, not capitalism”) and competitive markets associated with the latter. Displaying less interest in adhering to a political ideology, this Rashkolnik desires more to explode blockage and explore the mechanisms of change, identify the areas most in need of change, and propose future possibilities.
Political Essays shows Kostelanetz possessing Lenin’s strength, but with a different, more contemporary outlook. Anyone familiar with his voluminous writings on arts and literature should find these essays both informative and provocative.