My first book, A Theology of Failure: Žižek Against Christian Innocence is out on 7 May. A 30% discount is available if you buy the book via http://www.combinedacademic.co.uk using the code below.
This summer, a lot has changed in my life. We moved from the apartment and neighborhood where we had lived for seven years, which felt more like home to me even than my hometown did when I was a child. I am in the midst of a job transition as a result of North Central College’s acquisition of Shimer College, and I am also completing a manuscript that marks something of an endpoint of the “devil project” that has been guiding my research since my dissertation. I have taken the opportunity to change a lot of other, more trivial things — switching banks, opting for a Mac for my work computer after years as a hardened PC user, even changing my hairstyle — and decided to spend the last few weeks of summer vacation learning biblical Hebrew, a long-delayed goal that felt right precisely because it is something of a non-sequitur.
Yet in my unguarded moments, I realize that I still expect things to go “back to normal.” When I shared this with The Girlfriend and tried to articulate what that “normal” was, it turned out to be a relatively short window — perhaps my second or third year at Shimer, when the dog was still with us and in good health, before The Girlfriend went to grad school and changed careers. Things felt more open-ended then, like it could stay that way forever. I knew Shimer was fragile, but had no way of anticipating the obstacles we would face, nor of course any glimmer of the possibility that we would join a larger institution. I was not involved in any major projects other than translation and the occasional invited article or talk.
The fact that this situation was actually very unusual and short-lived is not lost on me. Continue reading “Back to normal”
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
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.
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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.
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?
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.