With 2016 now entering its final days, it’s time to give this brutish year a proper send off by taking inventory of some of the best books I’ve read over the span of the year. While not every book one reads delivers on its promise or even manages to leave an impact, some books certainly do deliver. Upon deeper reflection, I think I had a pretty good year of study and reading overall. I had less of a great year in terms of writing, but I hope that balances itself out in 2017.
I realize now that I have been committed to reading rigorously in philosophy, theology, psychoanalysis and theory for the past 14 years. For a book to really connect it must make an original contribution to the field or concept the author is writing about, and more importantly, the text must take a position on the topic which is practically and theoretically compelling. These texts all seem to do these two things very well.
Hopefully you find something here which is of interest to your own reading and work. Although it is difficult, I try to list the books in order of importance within each of these categories: “theory and philosophy” and “Islamic thought.”
THEORY AND PHILOSOPHY
Camatte dives deep into unpublished material of Marx and comes to the surface with a theory of the way that community constitutes itself under the latter stages of capitalism. This text has significantly helped me in working through and finishing my own book on community, which should be coming out in 2017.
2. The Disenchantment of the Secular: A Political History of Religion
Gauchet gives us a theory of atheism and of Christianity that is absolutely incredible and surprising. I don’t know that I agree with everything in this text, but I find his method very helpful. The link above goes into more detail on the text.
3. Search for a Method and Critique of Dialectical Reason
Sartre’s Marxist later work is essential. I tried to avoid reading it for years, but this year I really got around to taking it seriously. I have not finished volume II of the Critique, but I have thoroughly enjoyed his work and have found all sorts of ways to think institutions, ontology and politics with his framework in mind.
4. The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis
One of the perplexing topics that psychoanalysis opens up is that of vitalism. Schuster gives us a theory of how vitalism is dealt with in Deleuze and in Lacan. For all the talk of how the late Lacan adopted Deleuze, this book is arguably the best one in actually setting the record straight. I also gained a great deal from his discussion of the ethics of Deleuze and Lacan.
5. Anthropology of the Name
One has to read Lazarus in order to understand Badiou’s idea of politics. My review (linked above) should give you a better sense of the value and importance of this text.
Sloterdijk is the most important conservative philosopher working today. Every Marxist, continental theorist, value form communist or left Heideggerian should read him. His ideas are formidable because they are aphoristic, compact and tight. One can rebut him on many grounds, mainly in regards his Eurocentrism, but he lays out the most scathing and most challenging philosophical critique of revolutionary leftist thought I have ever read.
7. Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy
Clemens is one of my favorite writers and essayists of the Melbourne Lacanian school. In this collection of essays he makes a series of very incisive interventions which connect psychoanalysis to thinkers one doesn’t normally relate to psychoanalysis such as Agamben. I’m not sure that I agree with his reading of Lacan on the topic of antiphilosophy but Clemens makes a well argued case.
8. Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacanian Psychoanalysis
Affect is not dead. In fact, one could say that in Lacan and psychoanalysis, affect has been under-theorized. Soler’s book is an excellent corrective and overview of the concept.
9. Riot. Strike. Riot. The New Era of Uprisings
The sequence of movements opened by the Arab spring, the Indignados movement, protests against the 08′ economic downturn and other crises of capitalism all started around 2011 and they came to an end recently, or have they? Clover’s text helps us to think these movements with excellent references to the major theoretical debates that have taken place within Marxist thought.
10. Life Against Death and Apocalypse and or Metamorphosis
Norman O. Brown
Norman O. Brown or “Normie” as a friend called him, is a lesser known American classic. A mystic, psychoanalyst, a close reader of Marx and of what I would call the field of “critical humanities,” Brown is worth reading. I found his Life Against Death very interesting for my own project in coming up with a way to read periodization in history through the lens of psychoanalysis.
11. Transgression and the Inexistent: A Philosophical Vocabulary
Mehdi Belhaj Kacem
Kacem is an original thinker despite his reputation as being un-rigorous. I actually find his work to be an excellent supplement to Badiou and in many ways he has taken Badiou’s project the farthest in terms of building new ground. My review of his latest and first book translated into English is at the link above.
Bull is an exceptionally cogent writer. He makes Nietzsche no longer redeemable politically and ethically. Perhaps the only way to return to Nietzsche after Bull is by way of French Pierre Klossowski’s and Deleuze’s Nietzsche? I think the analytic Nietzsche and the continental Nietzsche is dead after Bull.
13. For Badiou: Idealism Without Idealism
Ruda’s text is short but powerful. It’s not the final word on Badiou and nor is it the best secondary literature book on Badiou, but it does a good job in reading the stakes of Badiou’s project vis a vis psychoanalysis and he’s a much clearer writer than Zizek and they are after many of the same questions. So be sure to read Ruda.
14. The Taymiyyan Moment: Politics, Community, Law
This book was the focus of an excellent book club I participated in. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in gaining a wider sense of Islamic intellectual history and in understanding the way that philosophy and theology intersects with political power.
15. What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic
Ahmed’s magnum opus is nothing less than a major achievement for the field of Islamic studies. Many people have criticized this book for offering a version of Islam that non-Muslims will gravitate towards: a new theory of a non-legalistic Islam, where the normative basis of the law transformed into something more ethical and expressive. It’s worth reading this book if nothing less than to gain a better footing into the major intellectual discourses involved in Islamic thought today. The chapter on Talal Asad is very engaging and fascinating.
Ahmed gives us a definition of the Islamic as, “the dynamic that renders things, despite their differences, mutually implicated in a shared process and relation of meaning” (344). So Islam is not merely what any Muslims says that it is — Islam is developed in a hermeneutic milieu where debate, contention and disagreement over what divine revelation actually is takes place. Wherever you have this taking place, you have Islam.
16. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
Iqbal is worth reading. He’s somewhat dated in terms of his philosophical allegiances (Bergson and William James on the western philosophy side) but that doesn’t make his lectures in this text not highly fascinating. He makes me wonder if the pinnacle of Islamic thought, that which it must contend with, is and remains vitalism.
17. The Failure of Political Islam
Roy gives us a new periodization of political Islam that is worth reading. Salman Sayyid’s work has over-turned much of Roy’s framework in his own work on Islamism, but he remains an essential theorist of political Islam. I have an essay on Roy coming out soon.
TO READ IN 2017
Caliban and the Witch
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
Seminars on Fantasy and Transference
Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History