A Slow Reader’s Books of the Year
So I managed to read, and write about some twenty-odd books in 2015. I’m a slow reader, so they were not all published in that year. Some go back four or five years, and have sat on my shelves demanding attention for so long that I finally felt like I should give them some real time and attention.
The books fall into the categories of 1. Political Theory; 2. Autonomia; 3. Media Theory; 4. Anthropocene; and 5. Philosophy. There’s links to readings of all of the books in each category below. Some of these readings will work their way into lectures for future courses in Liberal Studies, here at the New School for Social Research. But first, some general thoughts on each of those categories.
I’m a bit skeptical as to whether ‘the political’ is really a thing. Partly on traditional Marxist grounds, partly because I think certain kinds of technical power may have superseded it even if it existed. Those concerns animate these readings of recent political theory texts.
A connected set of concerns is behind my readings of book influenced by the Italian ‘autonomist’ Marxist tradition. It yielded concepts of the general intellect, immaterial labor and cognitive capitalism. All of which are useful ways to extend concepts to cover contemporary phenomena. I just think they are the wrong concepts to the extent that the reinstall old-fashioned materialist/idealist binaries. Still, these readings are sympathetic in the sense of being readings of the approach closest to my own.
I think both political theory and autonomist thought could do with some more concrete media theory and history, which brings us to the next series of readings. However, autonomist theory has developed relative to a not very sophisticated theory of media, while media theory has developed relative to a somewhat old-fashioned understanding of the political, political economy and power. Hence my readings in media theory are sort of an inverse of my readings of political theory. In the end, each needs the other.
But there’s a tendency here, as in all academic fields, to let the field evolve on the basis of its own internal agendas and languages. The Anthropocene disrupts that, as it comes from without. It’s a signal from the natural sciences about a situation for which neither the social sciences nor the humanities really have the tools. I think we have to take seriously the call from without to rethink our priorities. The books in this group I found interesting or helpful in that regard.
Finally, I like to read philosophy books just to keep my hand in. This group includes a re-reading of Marx’s relation to scientific materialism, three fairly recent developments of the continental tradition, and in a different vein, a more ‘low theory’ project by Masha Tupitsyn to bring the conceptual together with the everyday – which is something of a theme throughout all the readings.
Overall, I think the project here was a double one. Firstly, to try and get abreast of certain developments with an aim to generating pedagogy for teaching Liberal Studies students about tendencies in public thought. The second was to elaborate my own position relative to some proximate ones. The latter is really just a case of mapping overlaps and divergences. I don’t believe there’s much point in arguing about the differences.
Knowledge of the present I see more as a collaborative practice, something like the fable of the blind people and the elephant, where each is describing only what they can touch, and nobody really has a way to see the elephant whole. Taking that position, naturally enough, means pushing back on some of the totalizing claims of the very books under study here.
1. Political Theory
Jodi Dean, Blog Theory
Nick Srnieck and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future
Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos
Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury
Invisible Committee, To Our Friends
Chiara Bottici, Imaginal Politics
Hiroki Azuma General Will 2.0
Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism
Lazzarato, Signs and Machines
Franco Berardi, Soul at Work
Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits
3. Media Theory
Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command
Wendy Chun, Programmed Visions
Alex Galloway, Interface Effect
Toscano and Kinkle, Cartographies of the Absolute
Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen
Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
Eyal Weizman, The Conflict Shoreline
Andrew Ross, Bird on Fire
Jason W Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life
Paul Edwards, A Vast Machine
Amy Wendling, Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation
François Laruelle, Introduction to Non-Marxism
Paolo Virno, Déjà vu and the End of History
Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects
Masha Tupitsyn, Love Sounds