For the last couple of years the new year has parked a shift in my reading patterns. Two years ago, on a whim, I decided to try and read through Kierkegaard’s published works and as that proved successful I set another trajectory. Last year’s was not quite as well defined though I was intent on finishing a number of ‘check-list’ books that I felt just had to be read at some point.
The year began with a tour through phenomenology reading Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences. This was followed by Heidegger’s Being and Time concluded by Jean Luc Marion’s Reduction and Givenness. To be honest I was much more interested in phenomenology before reading these works. A large part of that I am sure was my inability to follow major swaths of the argument. The phenomenological turn, for me, stands out now as philosophy’s last great attempt as a re-start of sorts. How do we observe and articulate the internal relations of the world as we perceive and process them? I will likely come back to Heidegger at some point (and may take my hand at Merleu-Ponty) but I think its now time to give this school a rest.
Another major item on my list was Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. While, again, I was greatly handicapped in following aspects of the text it was good to spend sustained time and energy trying to feel out how Hegel was trying to account for the whole and the movements, changes, and limitations within the whole. It is a bit tiring to read about how what is, is the best thing that has been in terms of historical development. Perhaps Hegel gets misread in his evolutionary account of history but it is also not that hard to understand why it does. He is often both convincing and frightening.
Thanks to the birth of the Critical Conversation reading group I was able to read a wider range of contemporary theorists (as we stuck to article length pieces). The stand out for me was Philip Goodchild’s work on the intellectual contribution to liberation. Crucial to his piece was the difference between attention and imagination. Attention is the discipline of intellect to be affected by the world around whereas imagination projects truth onto the world.
While my productivity at this blog has not always been great I have been able to get a few pieces published elsewhere this year. For those interested I have added an ‘Elsewhere‘ link on the page links above.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of reading this past year was getting into contemporary fiction. I attribute this 100% to getting an e-reader about a year ago. I have rarely been interested in buying contemporary fiction and I have an aversion to reading books from the library. I also have to admit a sort of prejudice that simply does not think there is much good fiction out there now. Whenever I would try and read something current I also always felt that the writing style relied too heavily on just being clever. Fortunately my first serious re-entry into contemporary fiction was reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and just think of the benefits of the e-reader for this one!). I probably set the initial bar too high but it gave me hope so I moved on Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles which was perhaps a little more risque than I am used to but blended philosophical reflection and narrative integrity well. After coming to appreciate Cormac McCarthy’s The Road I was looking forward to his much hyped classic Blood Meridan and, well, as the saying goes you can’t always believe the hype.
I am currently finishing Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. This is another massive book that is excellent to have on an e-reader. I have mixed feelings about this book. It is engaging. Its plot is compelling. It has moments of striking insight. However, this book is ultimately putting me off of fiction again. It is reminding me that while there is nothing wrong in simply being entertaining and well plotted there is just something more that I am typically looking for when I read. 1Q84 has dragged out too long without the payoff. Its ‘meta-discourse’ is also a reflection on the power of narrative itself to shape and form the world. While, again, there are moments of insight in this account I am just left feeling like I don’t care.
So what is on tap for 2013?
I missed spending more time immersed in the writings of a single author. I did read two of Nietzsche’s major works last year that stands out as a highlight. I don’t think I am prepared to devote an entire year to one author but I would like focus on a few writers.
I got a taste for Jacob Taubes after reading The Political Theology of Paul this past year. I had not found myself engaging in the whole ‘apocalyptic turn’ in many recent theologies but Taubes was apocalyptic without being ‘other-worldly’. Simone Weil and Gilles Deleuze (with and without Guattari) are also authors I have neglected to give sustained attention. I also picked up James Pritchard’s classic collection of Ancient Near Eastern texts and have really enjoyed reading the epics and legal texts of that time period. I am hoping to develop a crude trajectory of historical texts that run alongside the development of the Bible. So this would move through the Ancient Near East, OT pseudepigrapha, Apocryhpha, Philo, Josephus, and then on into patristics and gnostic texts (this I am hoping will become a long term discipline).
In the area of fiction I will hopefully spend more time with Kafka and as for contemporary fiction Wallace’s The Pale King is the only one on the radar.
Well that is more than enough for year, I am guessing. What are your retrospects and prospects?