Current Reading – September 2021

In an effort to take back control of my life to be read stacks, and maybe also in an effort to get back into philosophical activity with a bit more seriousness, I’ve put myself together a little syllabus (I use the term very loosely) to get things moving again. Here, I’m sharing the books that I currently have on the go. Looking back over this post after writing it all out, it’s a fair bit all at once. Still though, it’s helping me recapture the excitement that got me into this mess in the first place, so I think it’s worth it.

My current reading stack – from the top: Montaigne‘s Essays, Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Proust’s the Way by Swann’s, Jameson’s Postmodernism, and Kant’s third critique
  1. Kant’s Critique of Judgement

Partly, I’m motivated by my desire to broaden my horizons and to fill in some gaps left over by the way in which my MA and PhD specialised. Though I wrote my MA on Kant, I focused on the political texts and the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, so besides reading a few sections of the third critique, I never had a chance to sit down and engage properly. I want to slowly make my way through it over the next two weeks or so, and then prop myself up with some secondary literature (maybe 3-4 books, 10-12 papers). After this I’m going to address a huge gap in my reading – Hegel. I’ll probably post something about that in a little while as an update to this post.

  1. Proust’s In Search of Lost Time

I never doubted that reading Proust would be an experience, or that I’d be taken somewhere exciting. The problem is, of course, that it’s hard to ever sit down to read 2000 pages of anything. However, being in a lockdown that’s seemingly without end, I cracked The Way by Swann’s and now I’m in it. My plan is to read this quite slowly, 25 pages a day (or more if I want). If I try to force it, the size of the task is overwhelming, but I can do it bit by bit. At this pace, I should be done before the end of the year.

  1. Jameson’s Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

I must have picked this up at one of Verso’s very pleasant 90% off sales (it seems a huge part of my TBR stack is from various Verso sales). But it’s one of those books of which I’ve read sections at various times in my education (mostly undergrad, I guess), but never the whole thing. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel about it, coming back now, after a whole bunch of schooling. I’m also planning on reading Jameson’s A Singular Modernity afterwards. Where this will lead, is likely some depth of literary theory, but I’m also thinking of this as part of a broader interest in aesthetics and politics.

  1. Montaigne’s Essays

Much like Proust’s Search this is a book I’ve meant to read from start to finish for a long time. Unlike Proust, I’ve read parts of this at various times, so this is mostly a quest for reading all of them. I try to read one most days, but I’m less strict about it than I am about the Search. Nonetheless, slowly but surely I’m making my way through.

  1. Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

I’m broadly interested in Buddhist philosophy – having had a thorough introduction to Buddhist metaphysics recently while copyediting a colleague’s book on the subject (which I’ll doubtlessly write about when it comes out). I’m also somewhat interested in the connection between theology and philosophy in Buddhist thought, and this book came highly recommended. I practice meditation (and though I’ve done so on and off for a long while, lately I’ve made it a firmer part of my day), and the book contains a number of practical techniques and approaches to meditation. I’m finding the discussions of death and dying to be very interesting here, and think Rinpoche offers an interesting perspective on suffering and death.

  1. Mark Fisher’s K-Punk

This book, collecting Fisher’s blog posts and other assorted writings is just a wonderful monument to his thought. As a critic, his writing is exciting and deeply knowledgeable. Though it’s one of the bigger books I’m reading at the moment, the fact it’s an essay collection means I’m just picking it up whenever the mood strikes. I find every essay offers something interesting, and they’ve been expanding my reading list (largely, to include all of Ballard’s books).

There are two things to note here. First, this is a lot of books to be reading all at once. I didn’t include a few other collections of essays and short stories that I’ve started – I do pick them up every now and then but they’re not high on my list of priorities at this moment. Generally speaking, the only one of these books I read every day is the Proust. And in total, I planned my reading out in such a way that I won’t force myself to read more than about 350-400 pages a week, which is manageable, and gives me time to digest what I’ve read and not feel like I’m rushing. I suppose this is aided by the fact that I’m not reading with the same goals as I had in grad school – now all I’m aiming for is either pleasure (as in Proust or Montaigne) or understanding (Kant and the others). So if I go slower or faster, that’s fine too. I’m still trying to work out how my life can look balancing my scholarly and literary ambitions with the necessity of working a full time job.

The other thing to note is just how masculine the list is. To this my response is that I keep track of the books I’ve read and of the general gender break-up of my reading, and I’ve got a bit of slack because I’ve read more books by women earlier in the year – and a good chunk of my reading list is made up of books by women. A few years ago I noticed that my reading wasn’t reflecting how I thought of myself, or even what I thought I was reading. So as an experiment I read only books by women for a year (with the exception of books I needed for my PhD – but those I seldom read from cover to cover anyway). This has had two effects – the first is that it reaffirmed my commitment to reading women at an equal rate to reading men, the second is that it has shifted the way I instinctively pick books to read.

However, I wonder if this is still going to be the case with regard to my more academically inclined reading. While at the moment I have more novels by women waiting to be read than by men, I wonder if this is also the case when it comes to the philosophy books – and with the exception of the early modern period – I’m not that confident. But I am endeavouring to address this, and it’s not like it’s all that hard to find women I’m keen to read from the 20th and 21st centuries. Of course, there are many other axes at which I need to consider the diversity of my reading – obviously right now it’s very eurocentric. I am interested in addressing that as well – particularly after recently reading Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak? – I’m still working out what a nice syllabus for post-colonial literature might look like, as well as on expanding my fiction list beyond the usual.