Remembering Victor Kiernan

kiernanWhen Victor Gordon Kiernan passed away in February this year aged 95, the Pakistani media took surprisingly little notice (or perhaps not so surprising, given what we’re grappling with) of the death of the Scottish Marxist professor famous for his translations of Faiz and Iqbal, and whose “immense contributions to the post-war flowering of British Marxist historiography …transformed the understanding of social history,” as John Trumpbour (Jack) put it in his obituary for India’s Frontline magazine.

kiernan-new-imperialism-cover

I remain grateful to Jack – one of the few relics of the ‘left’ left at Harvard – for his kindness to me while I was in Cambridge, MA (and to the documentary filmmaker B.J. Bullert in Seattle who introduced us – see http://www.fishermensterminal.net/). I was particularly thrilled when Jack gave me a copy of ‘America: The New Imperialism: From White Settlement to World Hegemony’ (Verso, 2005) when it was just hot off the press.

Jack mentioned at the time that Kiernan had got him to write the epilogue (which I read later and really liked). That, in fact, is how I learnt that V.G. Kiernan was in fact at that point very much alive and kicking in Edinburgh.

On hearing of his death, I wrote a note of condolence to Jack. He replied that Frontline magazine in India had given him 3000 words to discuss Victor Kiernan’s life and work. “So India came through. Both Tariq Ali and Eric Hobsbawm have done articles in the UK. Sadly that outpost of liberal humanitarian imperialism The New York Times seems determined to refuse to do an obituary.”

His article, ‘Ideological warrior against Empire’, is up at http://tinyurl.com/ddcvph

I responded commenting on the strange silence in Pakistan, thinking I’d take it up with someone. Never got around to it. So I was happy to see Hassan Gardezi’s belated but much needed profile of the great man in last week’s Books & Letters section of Dawn – “PROFILE: Remembering Victor Kiernan”, 03 May, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/cen66z.

Prof Gardezi is co-editor, with Prof. Jamil Rashid of the seminal publication, ‘Pakistan, the roots of dictatorship : the political economy of a praetorian state’ (Zed Press, 1983). Both are based in Canada.

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