Breaking Bad between awkwardness and sociopathy

At my talk on Monday, I briefly addressed Breaking Bad, a show I’ve always really enjoyed but didn’t talk about a great deal in Sociopaths. Especially after watching the recent season premiere, I’m increasingly convinced that Breaking Bad represents the impossible union of the awkwardness and sociopath trends. In Sociopaths, I argue that it’s precisely our cultural awkwardness, which leaves us feeling completely powerless, that makes the fantasy of the ruthlessly effective sociopath appealling. “If only I really and truly didn’t give a fuck about anyone,” thinks the awkward viewer, “then I would be powerful and free.” And then in a second step, the awkward viewer receives back his fulfilling family life (or whatever) as the compensation that means he’s ultimately in an advantageous position over the sociopath — who is for whatever reason constitutionally incapable of enjoying the benefits of love (or whatever).

Breaking Bad breaks down this radical divide between the awkward person and the sociopath by presenting us with a story in which the awkward guy becomes the sociopath. Continue reading Breaking Bad between awkwardness and sociopathy”

Don’t forget how much you love sociopaths!

When planning your Monday evening, give some thought to coming to my talk over Why We Love Sociopaths at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park (1301 East 57th St.). This event, organized by Anna Kornbluh of the Interccect reading group, will be starting at 6pm.

(You should probably plan to come early so that you can go to Powell’s and the Seminary Coop while you’re down there.)

InterCcECT update: Why We Love Sociopaths, Seminar 3, The Long Twentieth Century

Coming 16 July to an independent bookstore near you: Adam Kotsko discusses his latest work, Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television. 57th Street Books, 6pm.

On another channel: our ongoing Lacan group reconvenes Thursday 19 July to explore Chapters 5-7 of Seminar 3: The Psychoses. InterCcECT Salon, Bucktown, 5pm.

As always, consult our calendar for info on companion projects like the History of Capitalism reading group (next up: The Long Twentieth Century), the Levinas reading group (Totality and Infinity), and Forgotten Chicago, and write to us to announce or propose events.

For details, PDFs, and contact info, visit InterCcECT or find us on Facebook.

We are all MacGyver now

Over the last several years, The Girlfriend and I have periodically gotten a disc or two of MacGyver from Netflix. At this point, we’re well into the sixth season (of seven) and so are likely among the foremost experts on the show currently living. As the years went on, it clearly became more and more of a kids show, and it’s in that perspective that I’ve started to view it as more insidious — in essence, it served as ideological training, preparing my generation for the brave new post-Fordist world they would inherit.

The resonances are almost too obvious to notice. Continue reading “We are all MacGyver now”

Late Capitalist Television, or, Summer Reading

In Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television, Adam Kotsko surveys the overwhelming fascination in contemporary culture with sociopathy. With readings spanning South Park, Dexter, Mad Men, and The Wire, Kotsko argues that the sociopath’s ability to instrumentalize all forms of social bonds critically discloses the arbitrary status of the codes, ties, and institutions that order collective experience. “Perhaps we might all benefit from being more sociopathic,” he provocatively concludes. Click here for recent footage of Slavoj Zizek’s enthusiastic discussion of the book.

With the generous hospitality of 57th Street Books, InterCcECT is proud to present a conversation on Kotsko’s work, joined by the author himself, Monday 16 July, 6pm, 1301 E 57th St, Hyde Park. For additional reading pleasure, we also recommend Kotsko’s prequel, Awkwardness.

Atop inducements to sociopathy, add a different kind of maddening to your summer reading list: join us for our ongoing group on Lacan’s Seminar 3: The Psychoses. Chapters 3 and 4 are up for Thursday 14 June, 5pm, at our salon in Bucktown. Write us  for PDF and details.

Alternately, or additionally, we recommend a companion reading group conducting weekly sessions on philosophy. Their latest text is Levinas’s Totality and Infinity, with the first session Wednesday 13 June, 6pm, at The Bourgeois Pig, covering the Intro, Preface, I Same and the Other: A. Metaphysics and Transcendence. Check our calendar for more info on their schedule of readings.

As always, we welcome proposals / announcements for other summer reading materials.

Zizek on Why We Love Sociopaths

Via @MrTeacup, I learned that Zizek recently concluded one of his public lectures with a summary and endorsement of my book Why We Love Sociopaths. You can watch it here (embedding is disabled, but the link skips straight to the revelant part).

This is obviously one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. And what better way to celebrate than to buy the book (Amazon: US, UK; Book Depository)?

The Last Psychiatrist on Why We Love Sociopaths

The Last Psychiatrist has a post up responding to the excerpt from Why We Love Sociopaths. You can read it and see what you think, but I wanted to make sure that you all made note of this particular part:

This article is important for a specific reason. If you follow the thesis that The Atlantic and The New Yorker set the default ways which we understand social issues, e.g. sex, money and politics– and they do this even if you don’t read those magazines– then Kotsko and others like him set the default understanding for academic types. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees with him, no no no– it means that he sets the frame. The trick is you will argue his conclusions but it will be impossible for it to occur to you to argue the form of the question. So “why do we love sociopaths?” is literally understood: “since it is a fact that we love sociopaths, why?”

Tremble before me and my irresistible framing powers!!!

Why We Love Sociopaths: One ebook version

While Amazon continues to drag its feet on the Kindle version, Barnes and Noble has Why We Love Sociopaths available for the Nook. (There are free Nook apps available for Android and Apple devices, as well as PCs and Macs.)

There is no way for outsiders to know when Amazon will release the Kindle edition — it’s an unknowable mystery. One day, it will simply be there. I’m checking every morning and will let you know.

So as not to waste a valuable comment thread, I’ll share with you a thought that’s occurred to me: I’ve been reading more PDFs of late, and perhaps it wouldn’t be too extravagant to get a Kindle. The ability to stockpile Guttenberg Project texts for easy reference during class also appeals to me.

Sociopathic subjects

I really enjoyed Why We Love Sociopaths, in part because of the additional perspective it gives on Awkwardness. The “fantasy sociopath” the book studies is introduced as the opposite of  awkwardness: where awkwardness is an anxiety in relation to social norms, sociopaths, at least in TV fantasy, never experience social norms as something that makes them anxious, only as tools they can use to manipulate others. But what unites awkwardness and sociopathy is that these anti-social experiences reveal something fundamental which underlies the possibility of sociality. That is to say, Adam’s project is a kind of dialectical redemption of the anti-social, in which anti-sociality, by revealing the conditions of our sociality denaturalize it and provide ways of thinking about an alternative sociality which we might choose. Awkwardness and Why We Love Sociopaths thus I think have something in common with what Judith Halberstam calls “anti-social” queer theory; the connection is perhaps clearest in the anti-familial theme that surfaces periodically through Why We Love Sociopaths.

One thing that is suggested in the book but I think it would be interesting to think about more is the possibility that the liberal subject as such is sociopathic. Continue reading “Sociopathic subjects”