(And yes, feminism is a lens through which we critique, not something that a ‘fave’ could necessarily ‘be’, but that’s not as snappy a title, is it?)
Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Mother of All Questions’: On a particularly bad day, I sat down in a Waterstones, having picked this up from the gender studies section and read about 40 pages in one go. Solnit’s writing is immersive, flowing so steadily and yet always with a sharp wit. This comes through more in some essays than others; when talking about campus rape, Solnit remains persistently calm in her outrage, presenting the facts and the response, highlighting hypocrisy through mere juxtaposition. When talking about the ever-present white-maleness of the literary canon, she cracks jokes at the expense of writers and novels, knowing that this topic, however important representation in the media is, can also be picked apart for its sheer stupidity. ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’ is one of my favourite essays I have read for the simple reason that Solnit writes about the Twitter users who tried to educate her on her opinion with the same kind of fascination that David Attenborough talks about polar bears in the Arctic.
An act of gross cruelty or injustice that occurs in Manchura or Dunzig is as much an Englishman’s concern now, as if it occurred in Nigeria or Cardiff.”
H.G. Wells wrote the manifesto, ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, in 1940 as a response to what he felt was the vacuum of reason as to why the Second World War was taking place. Urging authorities to make plain the rationale behind sending people off to fight yet another war, he and his cohorts set out just under ten clauses which all authorities globally could agree upon as the end goal, the ultimate society. These ideas would ultimately contribute to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. He also formed and support PEN, a society formed of international writers who were dedicated to the freedom to read for all, and the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty, an independent council that campaigns for human rights issues in the UK.
I’ll be honest, I picked up this book because Ali Smith wrote the introduction to the Penguin reissue in 2015 and I’ve apparently made it my lifelong goal to read everything she’s ever written. It was £5 and I bought it from Lighthouse Radical Bookshop in Edinburgh. It seemed like a good fit. But why, in 2017, would a text written in 1940 about human rights still be perceived as progressive now?