The Complete Works

One of my colleagues at Kalamazoo claims to be very obsessive-compulsive when she finds a new author — for example, “I read one Jane Austen book and had to read them all; I read Shakespeare and had to read it all.” I can’t claim to have read the complete Shakespeare or even the complete Jane Austen, but there are a handful of authors about whom I’m fairly confident I’ve read the complete works (leaving aside trivial examples like people who only wrote one work and biblical or “apostolic fathers” authors):

  • Justin Martyr (assuming the ANF editors were correct about which treatises were spurious)
  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
  • The Pearl poet (assuming that he or she didn’t write St. Erkenwald)

Perhaps I can also get some credit for reading the complete poetic works of Spenser and Milton, but that seems to be just about it — which is strange, since I seem to have a completist disposition. I haven’t even read the complete works of Zizek, Agamben, or Nancy, though I’m close on all of them (listed in order of proximity — although I just thought of Zizek’s Slovene-language texts, which I can’t imagine I will ever read unless someone gets around to translating them, and honestly probably not even then).

I fully expect to be humiliated when you all share the people whose complete works you’ve read. My only defense is to gesture vaguely toward “breadth.”

33 thoughts on “The Complete Works

  1. The only person I’m close on is Nietzsche, and that’s only if we are counting published works, or at least works that would be thought of as “a work” by so-and-so, and not the complete edition of everything so-and-so put to paper. I’m not really close on Kierkegaard, although if I get to go to the library at St. Olaf in the summer, I’ll probably be close by September.

    While reading Durantaye’s book on Agamben, I’ve actually felt this urge with Agamben, but I have a long way to go. I’m pretty proud of having read four books already, given that I only started halfway through the summer. I think that the shorter style of Agamben’s books makes attempting to read them all more desirable. It seems like those of us with general interests in continental philosophy who have a few years to catch up could conceivably read all of his books without trying to be a specialist.

  2. That’s an interesting question. At first I thought there would be several for me, but once I really got to counting I see that I am apparently severely deficient in the completist urge… I’ve read all of Plato. — and I’ve read everything (in English) by Abraham Kuyper. The weird thing is that neither of these correlates to my actual interests, and one of them (Abraham Kuyper) actually annoys me pretty strongly…

  3. I’m getting closer on Freud as well. I also hope by the end of this year to have completely worked through Altizer’s theology. Finally, I’ve decided that if I actually complete Church Dogmatics in 2010 that I’m never reading Barth again.

  4. I definitely have a completist superego, and a lazy id (or something). So my list is:
    Augustine (kidding)

    Actually, it’s just Berkeley I think. But I have aspirations and am coming close to:
    Foucault (yup: there’s a lot of repetition, so it’s quite a leisurely corpus to do)
    Lewis Carroll

    I’ve just realised how weird my reading has been over the past few years. I figure it’s a good idea to start early, so I shall try to keep up to date on the complete works of Goodchild. But I’m already a little behind…

  5. Irenaeus of Lyons is the only one I can claim, which is not much: each of the books of Against Heresies, and all of the extant fragments and letters. But I read 13 Hauerwas books for my MA thesis–that counts for something, right?

    Since ambitions are being mentioned: Hegel, Yoder, Bergson, and Cormac McCarthy. I need to get real though, especially with Hegel.

  6. I’d say all of my completism is directed at novelists. E.g., I’ve read all of Melville’s novels except for Redburn, much of his poetry, and from cover-to-cover his surprisingly interesting correspondence. Others include Gaddis, Sebald, & possibly D.F. Wallace. I might be close w/ Kafka, but I’d have to doube-check.

    I go back and forth on whether I want to do the same w/ Vollmann. The major stumbling block w/ C. McCarthy is Suttree. I can’t get past p. 100.

    In terms of academic work. I think I’ll definitely keep up with Keller’s work, as well. She is certainly one of the better writers in the discipline, which goes a long way with me. Same with Yvonne Sherwood, even though her work is quite far afield from my own.

  7. Well, if by complete works we mean all the stuff published as books by an author.

    I’ve read all of David Foster Wallace, all of Kafka. I’m close on both Kundera and Calvino, but I don’t think I’ve hit all for either.

    Academics: I’ve all of Haraway. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of Deleuze at some point or another (though a lot of that includes stuff I read early in undergrad that I only half-remember and less than half-understood at the time). I think I’ve read most of the Guattari out there, I need to really check and see if there are some big ones in French I didn’t get to. I know I haven’t read molecular revolutions in brazil, even though it sits on my bookshelf. I’ve read all of Foucault except the expanded History of Madness and the most recent volume or two of the lectures (I need to double check out many there are). I’ve read all of Judith Butler except Subjects of Desire and that book with Spivak. I’m only a three or four books (including the Italian ones) from having read all of Agamben.

    I think all of those are the only ones that are close, without counting people who have only published, say, five books. Some people, like Negri, I’ve read a lot of but they’ve published so much I’m just no where near having read it all.

  8. Hey, if we’re just counting books as published by the author, then I’m adding Wittgenstein! (i.e. the Tractatus)

    Completists love the complete works series: Berkeley, Locke, and most other earlier modern philosophers have already got these series, and that’s kind of how you can be sure you’ve read them. I’m just curious – when are we going to get something similar for the authors mentioned here? We’ve got Freud already.

    Foucault wouldn’t be difficult, once they’re finished with the lecture courses: just smack them together with the books and the Dits et Ecrits (a new edition with the extra material not yet included) and you’re done.

    I believe there’s a collection of Nietzsche’s and Wittgenstein complete works in German, but not yet in English as far as I know – any projects like this underway? Surely Derrida and Deleuze need to be soon collected in French…

  9. Scu reminds me that I’m really close on Butler, too.

    Thomas — you’ve read the Proof of the Apostolic Teaching? That’s the one thing standing between me and putting Irenaeus on my list.

  10. I don’t know that I’ve ever read the complete works of anyone. Goodchild, I suppose, is it. I’m very close with Deleuze (like three books), Nietzsche, Kierkegaard. If I could make it through Spinoza’s Emendation of the Intellect I’d be there with him. I’ve read all of Pseudo-Dionysus (but it’s like one book, right?). On the literature front I nearly got there with Vonnegut and I’m getting there with Murakami. Otherwise I think I just am too much of an intellectual slut.

  11. I think it’s also in that Catholic University of America edition — the ones with the blue covers? But the St. Vlad’s is doubtless less expensive. They were supposed to be doing a complete retranslation of AH as well, but so far there’s only book 1 (I think the guy died, though he had a pretty thorough draft). One of my weird dreams in life is to do a good through “selection” from AH, ranging from 150 to 200 pages, so that I can teach it in class. I did a selection that ran to about 100 regular print-out pages, but I think I could do better, especially if there was a fresh translation underlying it.

  12. I guess I didn’t know about the CUA edition.

    As for AH, I am sure books 3 or 4 would be more interesting for undergrads, right? The genealogies of gods and comparing the lists of genealogies gets tiresome. Robert Grant has a set of selections from all the books (I think) with commentary–which I would also assume you are aware of–but I wish he had just translated the whole darn thing.

  13. That selection strikes me as too thin — kind of like that one “Essential Augustine” anthology that’s like 100 pages. Seriously, guys? I’m of the philosophy that too small a selection is worse than nothing at all.

  14. Really, even if CUA came out with book 3, that would be enough for me in terms of using it in class. I could bring the volume 1 to class and read it out loud to them for a while to let them see they weren’t missing anything.

  15. Spinoza, minus the Hebrew grammar; Foucault’s major works in English, save Death and the Labyrinth and more lectures are coming; Althusser, in English at least. Hobbes, except the recently published obscure pieces; and most of Montesquieu.

  16. Andy,

    If you recall the big W published two books in his lifetime, the Tractatus and Wörterbuch für Volksschulen his spelling dictionary for children – I wonder if the big Wittgensteinians, say Anscombe, Rhees, Philips or Kerr have read it. Considering the proliferation Wittgenstein exegesis I’m amazed that someone hasn’t said it is a secret key to his whole project.

  17. The classicist Wilamowitz (Nietzsche’s nemesis) read all of Greek literature (in Greek, of course) *every year*! (His emendations in the app. crit. of nearly every classical author are proof of the feat).

  18. I don’t think I’ve read the complete works of anyone. The closest I’ve come is Jung after a period of about a year during undergrad when I first became interested in psychoanalysis and poured over his Collected Works. Going over the list of them now, I know there’s a couple I haven’t read but I can’t remember if there are any that I never finished. Other than that, I think the closest I’ve come to reading all of someone would be Plato, then Schelling, though not reading German means there’s still a lot left to read. I think I’ve read everything of his in English except the Philosophy of Mythology.

    When I first read this entry and started thinking about it I thought Kant might be a contender but I haven’t read anything pre-Critique other than his Universal Natural History and I haven’t read anything after Perpetual Peace, meaning while it feels like I’ve read a lot of Kant, I’ve maybe read half of his works or something. I’m also making my way through the collected works of Freud, hoping to read it all.

  19. Regarding Wittgenstein, the preface to his dictionary is actually translated: you’d have to be a real Wittgenstein fundy to read the whole dictionary. I’ve never seen references to it. I have, though heard people referring to the design of his cabin in Norway as an important part of his corpus! (and yeah, W fundy that I am, I’ve visited it)

    Given what Deleuze says about the importance of Foucault’s interviews and lectures, the major works in English surely now also include the article collections. And the for hardcore: Dits et Ecrits.

    By the way, the Essential Augustine book has to have the best cover of any Augustine book I’ve seen.

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