The Best Books of 2011: A List

2011 brought about many great things. My daughter was born, I began my PhD at European Graduate School, (including a month residency in the Swiss Alps) and I reached 20,000 dialogues after four years of hard work.

It was also a year of learning and study. A couple friends have asked me to share what I’m reading, and I’ve been reluctant to do so because I tend to avoid creating lists of this sort, but I realized that it’s actually helpful as I look to writing my dissertation and generally plan / prioritize my reading in 2012 and beyond.

I don’t include books that I never finished, and I’ve categorized my favorite books in 2011 into the following areas:

PHILOSOPHY
PSYCHOANALYSIS
FICTION
ISLAM
INTELLECTUAL HISTORY

Where pertinent, I add in a disappointment book, but thankfully, there have been very few. I don’t review the books here, just leave a brief note about its impact on me, and where relevant, a link to reviews I have written of various books.

PHILOSOPHY

1. Theory of the Subject by Alain Badiou – this was the latest big theory text that I’ve read, and it was excellent. I’m now a total Badiouian (does that work?). And like any philosopher, he takes time to work through. I took many pages of notes and particularly found the last section on ethics to be very relevant for my own concentration on ethics. Stay tuned for a post on Badiou in due time.

2. After Finitude: An Essay on Contingency by Quentin Meillaisoux – an exceedingly brilliant essay that has begun to usher in a paradigm shift in philosophy, see my post on it here.

3. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy by Gilles Deleuze – really brought the work of Spinoza’s Ethics into full picture. I then read Spinoza’s book of Ethics and found it so tightly argued and logical that I realized philosophers just don’t write that convincingly anymore.

4. Of Hospitality by Jacques Derrida – was the basis of a seminar I took with French psychoanalyst Anne Dufourmantelle, who wrote the introduction to the text.

5. Alienation After Derrida by Simon Skempton – this was the first book of 2011 that I started to read. I reviewed it here, and found it to be hugely accesible.

6. Handbook of Inaesthetics by Alain Badiou – this was the first book I read by Badiou and it was excellent. Review here.

7. Homo Saccer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life by Giorgio Agamben

8. The Signature of All Things by Giorgio Agamben

9. What is a Paradigm? by Giorgio Agamben – very good essay. Reviewed it, here.

After a seminar with Agamben at EGS, I’ve been fully hooked and will read everything that he writes. He’s humble, an excellent teacher, and I love his method of doing philosophy.

10. The Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel – I had to revisit many sections of this text and read several commentaries in preparation for an online seminar on Hegel and Lacan, and of course it is Hegel’s finest.

I would be remiss not to include Fred Jameson’s new short book on the Phenomenology called the Hegel Variations, for which I reviewed, here.

11. Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed by William Connolly – very accesible Deleuzian scholar blending a million different disciplines, but its worth the read. See my review here.

12. The Government of Self and Others by Michel Foucault – these lectures from College De France were recently published and they bring out Foucault’s multi-year work on the concept of the self from ancient Greece.

13. Disappointment: Laurelle’s Future Christ was too technical to be enjoyable or even to get anything out of it. He is the master of neologism’s to the point where you lose track of what he’s talking about. I’m going to give him another shot though, soon.

INTELLECTUAL HISTORY

14. DEBT: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber – I also recently finished this book. Yes, Graeber’s book is very popular and its time has come. He’s a well developed and seasoned anarchist and the intellectual source (in some ways) for Occupy Wall Street. It’s worth a read, and it will most certainly change your views on the birth of capitalism, the idea of libertarianism, and of course of debt, too.

15. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin by Corey Robin – a lovely piece of intellectual history that is well documented and well put-together. I wrote a review of this book, and I highly recommend it.

16. A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy by Jonathan Israel – is another book whose time has come! It documents the way in which each of the philosophical influences that we have come to know in Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire were actually moderates. It was Diderot and Spinoza that left a more radical legacy and that legacy was the real foundation of our modern conception of democracy.

FICTION

17. The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberheardt – a short series of semi-fictional vignettes about Muslim mystics (sufi’s) converts from Europe in the Sahara and Morocco in the late nineteenth century. Recommended by a professor of mine at EGS and filmmaker, Leslie Thornton.

18. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – it was very good. Read my review here.

19. Disappointment: I read Kurt Vonnegut’s early short stories from the 1950’s and they were a bit of a let down. The introduction to the book by Dave Eggers was good though.

PSYCHOANALYSIS

20. The Seminar on the Psychoses by Jacques Lacan – I’m halfway through this seminar and it’s very good. It’s an intersection of many things right now. In my graduate thesis I worked on the seminar on ethics, the Ethics of Psychoanalysis, and after a seminar with Larry Rickels at EGS, I have begun to get deeply into Freud and Lacan’s work on psychosis.

21. Ecrits by Jacques Lacan – I’ve worked through most of the Ecrits this year. Reading it with professor Farhang Erfani at American University (I sat in on his course) and with Argentinian Lacanian scholar, Norma Schwartz was excellent.

Note* Reading Lacan is best done in groups, with a community of readers, and to balance that reading with analysts and philosophers. A great experiment in this was an online seminar I recently participated in with Creston Davis and Rebecca Bauknight from the Lutecium non-school of Psychoanalysis out of San Fran. This group of theorists is a loosely organized set of Lacanian analysts that have recognized the need to reach beyond analytic readings of Lacan. They’re worth looking into.

22. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber – it goes without saying how important this is.

23. I Think I Am: Phillip K. Dick by Laurence Rickels – Larry’s book is a feat of scholarship and I truly think he is one of the best and most versatile writers in the field of psychoanalysis.

24. The Uncanny by Sigmund Freud – this is Freud’s most important essay. I’m working on it right now, again. It will most likely serve as one of the center pieces of my dissertation.

25. Holderlin and the Question of the Father by Jean Laplanche – I recently finished this great short text on Holderlin by Laplanche. It’s a very precise point that he’s trying to make and he makes it well with tons of erudition and a well-developed proof from Holderlin’s writings.

26. An Essay on Abjection by Julia Kristeva – such a great work, definitely her finest. A huge influence, and I am looking forward to her work on belief forthcoming.

27. The Matrixial Borderspace by Bracha Ettinger – is simply fabulous. See my review here.

28. The Legend of Freud by Samuel Weber – is a very importnat and original thinker and contribution to Freud’s legacy. He’s one of those thinkers that is so skeptical of Lacan but he gives good reason to be so.

ISLAM

29. Islam: To Reform or to Subvert? by Mohammed Arkoun – a collection of his essays and commentary on post 9/11 issues ranging from multiculturalism, hermeneutics, authority in Islam, etc. Overall, I find him to be a compelling academic. He combines an erudite understanding of traditional Islam and he’s well versed in Derridian deconstruction. I also heard he passed away this year. The scholarly world will miss his contributions.

30. Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century by John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin – an excellent collection of essays that helped me in formulating several different presentations and panel discussions this year.

31. Islam and Global Dialogue Edited by Roger Boase – another good set of essays on Islam in a global interfaith dialogue context.

32. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings – is an overall excellent book lended to me by Alex. Apparently we interviewed Lings for our film on the prophet, but he was a bit too old for the interview to be included. He’s a real sage.


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