Top Reads of 2015

Fiction

The Man Without Qualities Vol 1 – Robert Musil

I have grown accustomed to reading long, dense works of fiction. At the very least I consider it a sort of intellectual discipline and typically anticipate long stretches with little contour and contrast to stimulate me. You find your rhythm and work through it. This was not the case with Musil. I have never read a work this long, this dense that still remains sharp and quick paced (not the plot mind you but the style itself). There is a loose plot here but it mostly reads as Musil’s lifelong work giving account for everything. Great, just not sure I am ready for Vol 2.

Stoner – John Williams

Simple, fluid prose. I was not sure I actually empathized with the tragic academic William Stoner who attempts to nurture intellectual and human loves and deal with subsequent loses but I loved the time I had to consider the question.

Kindred – Octavia Butler

A modern black woman is transported back and forth from the antebellum south and where she finds herself able to save the son of a white slave owner. She discovers in this man her line of kinship and wrestles with how and if one can live differently in the conditions of slavery knowing what she does as a modern person.

Non-fiction

The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Malcolm X and Alex Haley

After finishing this book I remember thinking simply, I didn’t know. Required reading if you haven’t already.

The Cultural Politics of Emotion – Sara Ahmed

Ahmed can be a little hit and miss as she risks taking a simple concept or idea then holds it up as an object, turns it over and over, sees what will stick to it, finds out how people react to it. In this book Ahmed demonstrate different cultural expressions that rely on our affective response to things. By holding up things like pain, disgust, fear the reader is able to see more clearly the politics that attempt to keep us blind but reactive.

Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition
– Glen Sean Coulthard

Probably the best example of outlining a clear and rigorous theoretical approach to politics that is also able to engage particular current events. Coulthard demonstrates the limitations of Canada’s attempt to recognize and honour Indigenous culture without allowing for any opportunity for shifting the actual balance of politic power. Coulthard is sharp but also honest about the difficulties and ambiguities of politics on the ground.

Sisters in the Wilderness – Delores Williams
From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology – Marcella Althaus-Reid

Renewed my hope in what is possible in the project called theology.

***

I spent a lot of time with Spinoza and Deleuze this year. This is part of a larger project of trying to understand how to think immanence and write and practice theology out of that place. To get a taste of both figures or at least what Deleuze considers to be at stake in Spinoza you can read the short, and relatively accessible, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy by Gilles Deleuze.

This is hard reading for me. I anticipate reading entire chapters and not really knowing what happened. But along the way can be some real gems.

“But where do doctrines come from, if not from wounds?”
– Delueze, The Logic of Sense

“How else can one write but of those things which one doesn’t know, or knows badly? It is precisely there that we imagine having something to say. We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms one into the other.”
– Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

“And since those things we can easily imagine are especially pleasing to us, men prefer order to confusion, as if order were anything in Nature more than a relation to our imagination.”
– Spinoza, Ethics

“Men have been so mad as to believe that God is pleased by harmony.”
– Spinoza, Ethics