We Need New Stories
Over her decade-long career in journalism, Guardian columnist and features writer Nesrine Malik has established herself as a well-known political commentator. In We Need New Stories, she brings together much of her oeuvre and extends it into a book-length polemic.
Malik’s central argument is that myth-making drives our world, and while myths are necessary frameworks for building societies, they can become “toxic delusions”. Her book examines and attempts to shatter the myths she views as driving the polarisation of public discourse, such as the myth that identity politics divides society, or that free speech is under threat. Although she situates these debates within the context of Britain and the United States, they are also relevant in Australia, where the study of “Western civilisation” has become a tool to fight political correctness and the Me Too movement has gained both traction and vitriolic derision.
In seeking to challenge conservative discourse, Malik writes at the edges of postcolonial theory rather than taking the reader on a deep dive. Her analysis is light, and at times she even uses Orientalist language – describing female relatives as “Sphinx-like, Geisha-like” – despite her general critique of Western imaginings of “Oriental” women. But there are occasional moments of real insight: her analysis of the West’s racist readings of Middle Eastern and African women is particularly important, and her takedown of nationalist myth-making becomes interesting when she discusses Sudan as well as Britain and the US. Overall, however, We Need New Stories will leave regular readers of public intellectualism desiring a more rigorous academic engagement. The writing itself is inconsistent, and at times awkward, as the marriage between personal story and political opinion feels laboured.
Despite its flaws, We Need New Stories is easily accessible, and Malik’s ideas will come as a revelation to readers unfamiliar with intersectional feminism or postcolonial theory. As she argues, identity politics and the diversification of media can only strengthen public discourse; Malik writes as someone directly affected by the debates she discusses, and her lived experience lends weight to her work.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 304pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 20, 2019 as "Nesrine Malik, We Need New Stories". Subscribe here.