Dictionary of the Undoing by John Freeman


Walter Mosley’s blurb about this book, which was published in 2019 but feels like it was written last week:  “John Freeman has created a work of both artistry and activism…a lexicon of what should matter from A to Z–a complex and nuanced rebirthing of words that have been worn away by the strife and noise of this era.”



























John Freeman is a literary critic, essayist, editor, and poet. Do you want to read these 178 pages now? You won’t be sorry.


12 comments on “Dictionary of the Undoing by John Freeman”

  1. Thank you for this, Teri. I read this list of words aloud, slowly, paying attention to the images they conjured. It was powerful, dynamic, current. Will definitely explore this…

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    1. What a good idea, JNaz. Now I have done it, too.
      Reading this book is part of my Shelter-At-Home soul-searching which is also body-searching. Questioning what I have considered my best impulses, looking for my worst impulses.

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  2. What a creative idea. I have always known the words we use and how we use them is vitally important. They can both divide and heal. I’ve ordered this book.

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    1. I’m glad this book is coming your way, Barbara. I thought this dovetailed so well with Meredith’s post about the Power of Words summer camps for young people. They are leading the way. Why, says Freeman, do young people have to walk out of their schools to get the attention of their elders on the need for gun controls? And would it be better to refer to all that is around us, all that is made of the same stuff we are, as “body” rather than as “the environment” which sounds like something we just walk around in, a stage set for the human play?

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      1. Can I like this a thousand times? The idea that what is around us is the same stuff as us, all one body, just blows the mind. How different we would approach things if we embraced this!

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  3. I am reading this book as we speak and, well, mind blown. It feels like a book I want to purchase several copies of so I can pass it on, make certain it gets read.

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    1. Handing out copies is a terrific idea, JNaz! I didn’t mention it above, but I appreciate how the “definition” of words builds as the dictionary goes on.

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  4. I just listened to an excellent conversation suggested in the OnBeing newsletter, that stresses the importance of the words we use. I love the young women whom Krista Tippett interviewed. Here’s the blurb that motivated me to listen: “Krista was recently in conversation with Lulu Miller at the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival. They talk about the problem with categories and the power of words to destroy or remake the world.” I haven’t received my mail-ordered copy of Dictionary of the Undoing yet, but I have a feeling the ideas behind “Power of Words,” Dictionary of Undoing, and this conversation all speak to a very important challenge for us all. https://www.aspenideas.org/sessions/a-guide-to-embracing-chaos

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  5. Ok, I had to take a few minutes to compose myself before coming in to update. This slim, little book just blew my mind. It is visionary. It is both terrifying and hopeful. It is a manifesto for real change. I was unprepared for how deeply it would affect me, for how many times I would gasp or shake my head. And it is beautifully written. John Freeman has a gift for quickly pulling the reader into the core of an idea. Here is what I love – he exposes a wrong and offers solutions – solutions that often start with a simple, personal act – then he shows how it can cascade into real change.

    I have all these slips of paper marking passages in the book, like confetti they are so numerous. I want to share them all with you but will close with one which is in the last pages of this book. He writes –

    “One of the points of this book has been to navigate around the rhetorical acts of sabotage, to grab the pump levers of language and turn the lights back on. You can call it spirit or you can call it a soul, but deep inside us there is something bigger than ourselves, and the way that capacity has become an action and then part of a society has and always will be language. We live by breathing, we exist by doing, we do both together by communicating – taking breath and turning it into a concept that others can understand, can take some measure of.”

    And yes, I did buy several copies of this book. Want to get it in as many hands as possible…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well-Well-Said, JNaz. So glad you were able to compose yourself and write a fleshed-out comment, which I found myself unable to do. It is nigh on impossible to choose an excerpt, as you’ve said, but this one does the trick. This book has an arc, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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