Books I read in 2016

Following on a suggestion from APS, for the past couple of years I’ve been keeping a note of all the books I finish. It’s been helpful to have a record, although occasionally difficult to resist turning it into a measure of productivity and consequently a source of anxiety. This year my fiction reading – mostly scifi – has been much less eclectic than my non-fiction reading which has, looking back, been kind of all over the place. The books I read this year that I enjoyed most, that stayed with me the longest, or that most shaped my thinking were, in roughly chronological order:

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

Melissa Gregg, Work’s Intimacy

Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class

Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (eds), Sisters of the Revolution

Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

The Mud Flower Collective, God’s Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and Theological Education

Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television

Nalo Hopkinson, Skin Folk

Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic

Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle

Linn Marie Tonstad, God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality and the Transformation of Finitude

W G Sebald, Austerlitz

George Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela

Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancioğlu, How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

Joan Sloncezwski, A Door Into Ocean

Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity

 

Books I Blurbed in 2016

As I did last year, as a sort of alternative to a “Best of” list, I thought I’d give you a run-down of the books I blurbed over the course of 2016. If I have time, I follow it up later with books I never got around to formally blurbing, but should have.

* * *

1) Sudden Death, by Alvaro Enrigue (trans. by Natasha Wimmer)

Sudden Death is going to be a revelation for a whole lot of people this year. (It was already my favorite book of 2016 when I read an advance copy in 2015!)

We are in the midst of a new golden age of Mexican literature, and Sudden Death has opened even more audacious paths for this most cosmopolitan storytelling. To retell the plot does the novel very little service — which isn’t to say it is plot-less or even particularly difficult to follow. Rather, it is tightly wound (not unlike the balls used in the epic duel of a tennis match that functions simultaneously as the novel’s centerpiece and frame) and bounds expertly between centuries from Old World to New.

Sudden Death is, at its core, a very angry book – specifically, at the insipid successes of the world’s colonizers – but it is an anger born of play and the censure of comedy. The bad guy may always win in the end, Enrigue seems resigned to say, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the losers’ little victories along the way.

* * * Continue reading “Books I Blurbed in 2016”

Agamben and the philosophical chapbook

I just finished reading Agamben’s Che cos’è la filosofia? (What is Philosophy?), a beautiful and elegant book both conceptually and as a physical artifact. When I ordered the book, I threw in one of his little pamphlet books, just out of curiosity, and it turned out to contain two of the essays from Profanations, enhanced with some black-and-white photographs (and a dagguerotype, by Daguerre himself as it turns out). Looking online, it then appeared that many of the Profanations essays had appeared in that format.

Such a publication choice seems strange, but if anything, the odd thing was that he chose to collect them together later. I get the impression that he is reluctant to have English-language publishers group together his shorter essay-length works, though he has allowed it (What is an Apparatus? includes three works published separately in Italian). Two works I have recently translated — Pilate and Jesus and The Mystery of Evil — likely could have been collected together with The Church and the Kingdom to create an attractive, and still small, edition of his “ecclesiastical” writings, but he opted for them to be published separately in translation as well.

I conclude from this that the small publication format must be more important to him as more than a lark or a novelty. Sometimes he includes artwork or even collaborates with a particular artist, sometimes he lets it stand more or less on its own, but when he writes something short and puts it out on its own, he’s doing it on purpose. Agamben’s writing already tends toward the fragmentary and aphoristic, so why not reduplicate that effect on the material level as well?

One major theme of Che cos’è la filosofia? is the relationship between poetry and philosophy, which he sees as disciplines that take up different but equally necessary stances at the edge of language. And so I wonder if there’s an attempt here to establish the parallel between the two disciplines at the level of publication. Poetry is best enjoyed in small chunks, which can be slowly digested — and the effect can be virtually destroyed by the brick-like anthologies which we inflict on undergrads. Poets can put out short chapbooks, so why not philosophers?

Reminder: The Figure of the Migrant Book Event

Dear friends,

Join us! In a few weeks, we will host a book event on Thomas Nail’s The Figure of The Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015). Stanford University Press has all the relevant information as well as a few excerpts from the book. There are also two interviews about the book here and here that might be of interest. I encourage you all to pick up a copy of the book and participate with us in the comments section. The following have already agreed to post:

Robin Celikates (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Andrew Dilts (Loyola Marymount University, USA)

Todd May (Clemson University, USA)

Ladelle McWhorter (University of Richmond, USA)

Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna, Italy)

Adriana Novoa (University of South Florida, USA)

Daniella Trimboli (University of British Columbia, Canada/University of Melbourne, Australia)

The following is taken from the Introduction of The Figure of the Migrant.

The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today, there are over 1 billion migrants. Each decade, the percentage of migrants as a share of the total population continues to rise, and in the next twenty-five years, the rate of migration is predicted to be higher than during the last twenty-five years. It has become more necessary for people to migrate because of environmental, economic, and political instability. Climate change, in particular, may cause international migration to double over the next forty years. The percentage of total migrants who are non-status or undocumented is increasing, which poses a serious challenge to democracy and political representation.

Today, the figure of the migrant exposes an important truth: social expansion has always been predicated on the social expulsion of migrants. The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant not only because of the record number of migrants today but also because this is the century in which all the previous forms of social expulsion and migratory resistance have reemerged and become more active than ever before. This contemporary situation allows us to render apparent what had previously been obscured: that the figure of the migrant has always been the true motive force of social history. Only now are we in a position to recognize this.

The argument of this book is developed in four parts. Part 1 defines and lays out the logical structure of social motion. Part 2 argues that the migrant is defined not only by movement in general but by several specific historical conditions and techniques of social expulsion. Part 3 shows how several major migrant figures propose an alternative to this logic, and Part 4 shows how the concepts developed in Parts 2 and 3 help us to better understand the complex dynamics of contemporary migration in US-Mexico politics.

The Figure of The Migrant: A Forthcoming Book Event

Join us! This summer we will host a book event on Thomas Nail’s The Figure of The Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015). Stanford University Press has all the relevant information as well as a few excerpts from the book. There are also two interviews about the book here and here that might be of interest. I encourage you all to pick up a copy of the book and participate with us in the comments section. The following have already agreed to post:

Robin Celikates (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Andrew Dilts (Loyola Marymount University, USA)

Todd May (Clemson University, USA)

Ladelle McWhorter (University of Richmond, USA)

Sandro Mezzadra (University of Bologna, Italy)

Adriana Novoa (University of South Florida, USA)

Daniella Trimboli (University of British Columbia, Canada/University of Melbourne, Australia)

The following is taken from the Introduction of The Figure of the Migrant.

The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today, there are over 1 billion migrants. Each decade, the percentage of migrants as a share of the total population continues to rise, and in the next twenty-five years, the rate of migration is predicted to be higher than during the last twenty-five years. It has become more necessary for people to migrate because of environmental, economic, and political instability. Climate change, in particular, may cause international migration to double over the next forty years. The percentage of total migrants who are non-status or undocumented is increasing, which poses a serious challenge to democracy and political representation.

Today, the figure of the migrant exposes an important truth: social expansion has always been predicated on the social expulsion of migrants. The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant not only because of the record number of migrants today but also because this is the century in which all the previous forms of social expulsion and migratory resistance have reemerged and become more active than ever before. This contemporary situation allows us to render apparent what had previously been obscured: that the figure of the migrant has always been the true motive force of social history. Only now are we in a position to recognize this.

The argument of this book is developed in four parts. Part 1 defines and lays out the logical structure of social motion. Part 2 argues that the migrant is defined not only by movement in general but by several specific historical conditions and techniques of social expulsion. Part 3 shows how several major migrant figures propose an alternative to this logic, and Part 4 shows how the concepts developed in Parts 2 and 3 help us to better understand the complex dynamics of contemporary migration in US-Mexico politics.

One more plug for Allen C. Shelton’s Where the North Sea Meets Alabama

Hey, San Francisco Bay Area AUFS-ites, perhaps you’ve read my previous plugs for Allen C. Shelton’s book Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, and you thought to yourself, “My goodness, this Allen C. Shelton character sounds interesting. I’d sure love to meet him.” Well, August 18th will be your lucky day! He will be at Diesel Bookstore in Oakland, discussing said book — taking questions, telling stories, and maybe hints into his newest work — at 7 pm. Do come out. Yours truly will be there, and hopefully others. Adam K. will be there in spirit, fresh from his reading of the book (that makes it bona fide, right?).

Haven’t read it and are unsure if you’ll get a chance to do so before then? There’s always the wonderful book trailer for it. (I’ve never before, and don’t imagine I ever will again, be able to say that without soul-deadening sarcasm.)

Michael Grimshaw: The Counter-Narratives of Radical Theology and Popular Music

Counter NarrativesSeveral of us at are involved in Mike Grimshaw’s new edited volume, The Counter-Narratives of Radical Theology and Popular Music: Songs of Fear and Trembling, from Palgrave Macmillan’s Radical Theologies series.  Clayton Crockett has an essay on Joy Division; Joshua Ramey’s chapter is titled “Protocols of Surrender: Stammering across the Gothic Lines”; Daniel Barber’s is titled “Stop, Think, Stop”; and my contribution is an essay on the Pet Shop Boys, whose hit, “It’s a sin,” always struck me as a prayer.

I invited Mike to send me something to promote the book (the table of contents follows, below), so he sent a selection from his opening essay.  The book can be found on the publisher’s webpage here and on  Amazon here.

 

From…Sonic bibles and the closing of the canon:

The sounds of secular, mundane transcendence?

Mike Grimshaw

 To write our own bibles is part of being modern: to write out of doubt, angst, existential yearning and hope, to attempt to make present that which we perceive and experience as absent, to deal with those issues of self and time and place and identity, to give voice to the questions and troubles of existence… Continue reading “Michael Grimshaw: The Counter-Narratives of Radical Theology and Popular Music”

Gil Anidjar’s Blood: Book Event and Giveaway

Later this Summer, we will be hosting the next AUFS book event on Gil Anidjar’s Blood: A Critique of Christianity. We have been looking forward to this book and have put together an exciting group of contributors, most of whom are not regular AUFS authors.

Columbia University Press has generously offered us a copy to give away to a reader. To enter, leave a comment below and post a link to this page on Facebook and/or Twitter. The winner will be contacted via the email address provided when commenting on this page. Giveaway will close tomorrow night, Tuesday May 5th.  Update: Scott has won the giveaway. Thanks everyone for participating!

Meanwhile, check out this roundtable discussion on the book:

A theory on e-book pricing

As far as I understand it, the price of the physical book is a trivial portion of the cost to produce a book. The difference in price between hardcover and paperback may have misled us in this regard, but what you’re paying for with a hardcover is traditionally earlier access to the book, with greater durability as a kind of bonus. Though I do not know the details, it seems obvious that the price differential between an e-book and a physical book is far greater than the price of the physical artifact — indeed, it’s almost certainly much greater than the cost of the physical artifact plus storage and shipping costs.

What accounts for the price differential, then? Part of the problem is surely that almost no one would buy e-books if they were the same price as a paperback. Yet I propose that the real root cause is Amazon, which has already aggressively pushed down physical book prices and irrevocably damaged the profitability of traditional publishers and bookstores. They’ve already racheted down what people are willing to pay for books, and e-books give them a pretext to cut the price even further.

Hence my theory: e-books, at their current price levels, are loss-leaders meant to ensure Amazon’s long-term control over publishing. My worry, though, is not so much that they’ll raise prices once they get monopoly power, but rather that they simply won’t do the stuff that traditional publishers have done — that they’re ushering in a world of universal self-publishing, with no infrastructure for providing editing and other services to authors who are not able to pay for such services out of pocket.

Annotated List of Notable Books I Read This Year (in no particular order)

  • Speedboat & Pitch Dark, Renata Adler

2013 was a good year for Adler. Sure, it took a couple of years and NYRB re-publications, but her two wonderful novels, Speedboat and Pitch Dark are finally being given the due they deserve. Adler’s prose is precision sharp, psychologically dense (& as a result quite real), and nothing really feels particularly dated in either book. Pitch Dark is arguably a bit better, but the bursts of Speedboat are more explosive & make it a better starting point.

  • Seiobo There Below, László Krasznahorkai

Krasznahorkai’s most recent book is, let’s be blunt, his greatest so far. And, in truth, it’s probably the greatest thing published in English this year. You think I’m exaggerating, but I am not. The man is a wizard, and he pulls off audacious, seemingly pretentious maneuvers like twenty-page sentences, such that you quickly lose sight of the audacity and find yourself instead wherever he damn well wants you. Beauty and horror never so much collide or come at odds in Krasznahorkai’s world, nor are they infused or resolved dialectically. They somehow interpenetrate the other in unbalanced, sometimes grotesque ways. Seiobo There Below repeatedly rehearses precisely how this looks, and I could not look away.

Continue reading “Annotated List of Notable Books I Read This Year (in no particular order)”