Posts Tagged ‘Elaine Scarry’

what I’ve been reading lately.

July 28, 2009

OK, in lieu of actually reading (it’s hard if not impossible to chat with two people, listen to Bassdrive and read philosophical essays about Agamben’s theory of the homo sacer all at the same time), I decided to write about what I’ve been reading lately. On the positive side, this might help me actually keep track of it all. It’s hard for me to just read one thing at a time, and it can get hard to keep track of what books I am in the middle of.

When the last school semester ended, I decided I would be proactive and buy / borrow from the library lots of books to read over the summer. Especially since I am gearing up to write my BA thesis this coming year, I really want to read stuff and get some ideas flowing. The only bad thing about that is that nearly everything I read seems to tie in, in one way or another…

So in the last week of school or so I bought Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, thinking it would make for fun summer reading. Whoops. Kind of ambitious. I read like 20 or 30 pages, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pynchon. I read The Crying of Lot 49 – twice – and loved it. Only thing is, Gravity’s Rainbow is like five times its length. It hasn’t moved from its spot on my shelf in probably two months or more.

Then, I actually read a few books in their entirety. Hell yes! Somehow or another, I managed to read, more or less concurrently, a book called Levinas: An Introduction by Colin Davis (a book that is – yes, you guessed it – about Levinas; and yes, right again! – its presentation is of an introductory nature), and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. The latter I actually read for fun, not out of any academic interest particularly (it’s true), yet after about halfway through I started realizing that it connects to my topic of interest for my thesis – quite explicitly, actually. Butler actually mentions the specific Kafka story I hope to address in my thesis – “In the Penal Colony” and suggests that it “provides an interesting analogy for the contemporary field of power and masculinist power in particular” (157n). Also interestingly, she drew heavily on Foucault’s work, particularly History of Sexuality, v. 1 (unsurprisingly), which I have read, and Discipline and Punish, which I have not. So I decided to pick that one up.

That’s where my streak of completing books wore down a bit. I got through about a hundred pages of Discipline and Punish – and it’s quite good, not particularly tough reading – but then I got sidetracked, or restless, or something. I recently bought a few more books though. Since going on hiatus from Discipline and Punish, I’ve started reading a few more things. The first is short, and fun, if not exactly light reading, and bears quite directly on my thesis (which is starting to feel more like a black hole – not that I’m feeling anxious about it, but it would be fun also to read some stuff that is totally unrelated, rather than everything leading back to it, like a burrow, or as D & G would say – a rhizome…): Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward A Minor Literature. I’d never read D & G before, and I have to say I like them. They are weird, but engaging.

I’m definitely going to have to give this one a second read. I know I’m missing a lot, but these guys are more approachable than I thought, plus they are fun (you get the sense they were having a good time writing), and radical in the true sense of the word. They take lots of shots at psychoanalysis (and evidently pretty much any major thinker / theory that places strong emphasis on the signifier can equally be a target for D & G) – apparently in Anti-Oedipus they refer to Freud as a “masked Al Capone”. (OK, fair enough – I actually think when you smoke a certain number of cigars, maybe like 3,000 or something, you just become a gangster automatically.)

In this book they claim that to read Kafka in terms of allegory or metaphor is “stupidity.” They also go after people who try to portray Kafka as melancholic or alienated. For them, Kafka is above all ecstatic, imbuing a language within which he was essentially (as a Czech Jew) an outsider, with vibrancy. It’s not about meaning or symbolism but intensity. They like to use terms like “lines of escape,” “deterritorialization,” “Oedipalization,” “unformed material,” “machinic assemblage…” You get the picture, I guess. One of these days I will step up and read Capitalism and Schizophrenia (although I’ll probably start with the User’s Guide). Anyway, this book is short (if a bit challenging) and is really helping me to imagine different ways of approaching Kafka (and hopefully, too, my project as a whole).

I also recently bought Language, Counter-Memory, Practice by Foucault, a collection of ten essays (also has an interview with Deleuze and a conversation with Foucault and some Maoist militants). It’s got an essay about Bataille and the idea of transgression more generally, the essay “What is An Author?” (which I’d started reading before, but never finished), and basically compiles some of Foucault’s writings on language, literature, etc. Looks pretty good.

I also started reading The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry. I’ve only read the introduction so far and actually it is very interesting, extremely engaging, and as far as I can tell so far, extremely well-written. This also corresponds pretty well with the general topic of my thesis. (In a future post I’ll be a bit more revealing about what exactly that is.) This book looks great though. It’s original (check), interdisciplinary (check), corresponds with lots of my interests (check), is politically extremely relevant and is very well-written. It always makes me feel good when I read a book by someone who is a professor of English and actually writes really well! It’s like – hey, your liberal arts education paid off!

So that more or less sums it up for now. I also put down The Kite Runner like three months ago after reading about six or seven chapters of it. It’s solid, and maybe I should pick it up again sometime soon. After all, it’s already so hard to keep track of the three different books I’m in the middle of reading. It might not be so bad to interject a really good novel at reasonable intervals.

Anyway…to you, the reader – I hope this blog wasn’t terribly boring. I think it may have been somewhat helpful or at least entertaining for me, but I’m less convinced that it will be engaging to anyone else to any degree whatsoever.

At best, if you made it all the way through, you might be interested in what the hell it is, exactly, that I am planning on researching and writing about for my BA thesis. If this is so, I’m delighted – and know that you are not alone, for I too am interested in this question. I will certainly post soon with at least some of the preliminary details of what I’m thinking about.

Until then, I’ll still be pondering machinic assemblages and the immanence of desire…

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