Ask John Ralston Saul what a dictionary is meant to do, and he will likely suggest comparing it to a hand-held weapon. A weapon of change, that is. As he explains in the preface to his brilliantly subversive The Doubter's Companion
, a dictionary "can as easily be a liberating force as one of control." Today, dictionaries "define not only meaning, but decide whether words really exist.... (People) turn to... their Webster's not to challenge themselves but to be reassured." Saul's point is to remind us that dictionaries are equally capable of inviting us to think differently, to question the power of written truth. His book, subtitled A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense
, is an acid critique of the injustices of economic determinism that have come to appear inevitable simply because they have been defined as true. Whether he is discussing ethics ("A matter of daily practical concern described glowingly in universal terms by those who intend to ignore them"), freedom ("An occupied space which must be reoccupied every day"), or love ("The solution to all problems in inverse ratio to income"), Saul manages to peel back the layers of received wisdom and expose a perspective that is informed, ironic, and wickedly true.
If The Doubter's Companion resembles the majority of books published today, it is only in that it is shameless. But it also happens to be what much contemporary published writing is not: provocative, hyper-intelligent, and so pointedly funny that readers may find themselves reading passages aloud to total strangers. "Knowledge," Saul claims, "which we believed would free us, has somehow become the instrument of our imprisonment. How can a dictionary do other than attack such mystification?" --Svenja Soldovieri
About the Author
John Ralston Saul is Canada’s leading public intellectual. Declared a “prophet” by Time magazine, Saul has received many awards and prizes, including Chile’s Pablo Neruda Medal. He is president of PEN International, and his thirteen works have been translated into twenty-two languages in thirty countries. Dark Diversions is his sixth novel.