Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Short Thoughts on Summer Reading (Part 1?)

I've been reading (and for some parts, rereading) the first volume of Capital, which has already been the source of not a little humor at my expense (which I figure it's better than some Friedmanite talking my ear off about it).

When I came across the New Left Project's "Summer Reading" feature I  knew that one of its contributors would probably crack what we might call the 'ponderous tome' joke. It happened to be Nina Power:
Being a fairly curmudgeonly type, I don’t really like the idea of summer reading, implying as it does some kind of listless sangria-addled page-flicking on a beach. Having said that, there is a way in which at least some trips put you in a reflective mood, which is often fairly good for getting to grips with serious issues or difficult concepts (going on holiday with me sounds fun, no?). To that end, I would recommend trying to read Vol 1 of Marx’s Capital, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Only joking.
Yet the joke works because these ponderous projects are probably fairly common, especially among younger academics. Even Power admits that she's reading Feuerbach and Althusser this summer.

So there are good reasons to read something like Capital or any other difficult text during a period of so-called relaxation and vacation, which for at least the last six years has always brought to my mind the word unemployment. Here's a quick list:
  • Lots of available time to study a difficult book without losing the thread in course preps (unless I suppose you're David Harvey and giving your annual seminar on the book).
  • Having a clear project to motivate reading. In my case, I'm trying to get a handle on the structure of Capital to work out the relationship of Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness to Marx and Hegel.
  • If you can manage time, it doesn't actually interfere with (reading) anything else. Or, better, it helps you structure your time: I'm reading Capital during the week, and taking every weekend off from it. Then I spend part of the weekend reading The Wretched of the Earth or something else, and there is still a sense of direction and expectation during my week
    These are probably the reasons (including the unemployment part) why I remember my summers through the  texts that I had read: Foucault's History of Sexuality (all three volumes) in 2001, finishing Being and Time in 2002, Badiou's Deleuze in 2004, comps in 2005, Being and Event in 2006, the Critique of Pure Reason in 2007, rereading Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism to write Chapter 3 in 2008, and the dissertation crunch (peppered with the first two volumes of Stieg Larsson's trilogy) in 2009.


    David Tkach said...

    Thanks to this blog, my summer reading was 'A Brief History of Neoliberalism,' the majority of which being read in a lawn chair sitting on a beach in the Outaouais last weekend. Coincidentally, it was a source of more than a little derision from my cabin co-dwellers.

    Devin Z. Shaw said...

    I had wondered why you hadn't been blogging lately...and here I was thinking that you were chiseling away on the finer points of Heidegger's concept of historicity or something of the like.