Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in Reviews

Over 2010, we managed to post 51 book reviews, and of them six were books published in 2010. Which is a small number I suppose; I have that many books from 2010 on my current reading list.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Medhi Belhaj Kacem's Inesthétique et mimèsis, Rancière's Dissensus, David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital, the Verso edition of Thomas Muntzer's Sermon to the Princes, William Gibson's Zero History, and Adam Levin's The Instructions. Nevertheless, if you missed these posts, I recommend checking them out.

Cindy Milstein, Anarchism and its Aspirations (AK Press)
Milstein, as Matt writes, "has situated contemporary anarchism in a proud historical continuum that puts it at the forefront of anti-capitalist struggle; she has also condensed a number of complex ideas into an easily understandable argument that dodges the anachronistic, frankly antiquated pitfalls of the bulk of anarchist literature. I am willing to entertain the idea that her book is a contender for the best contemporary anarchist primer out there."

Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (Verso)
This review has been responsible for quite a bit of our blog's traffic, so if you missed it, now is the time to check it out. Matt writes: "If I had to rate Žižek's latest offering as an elementary school teacher would rate his pupil, I would say that Living in the End Times must apply itself; it should "straighten up and fly right", "spend more time on philosophy 1102 and less time on cultural gossip 1101", etc. In short: this is a mess of a book, but it could very well have been a major philosophical statement on our times. It contains some great ideas and instances of ideology critique in action, but these are scattered almost as if at random in the course of its ungainly 402 pages."

Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza (Verso)
'"Words," Gideon Levy writes, in The Punishment of Gaza (Verso, 2010), "do not kill; but words can ease the work of killing." Any number of misnomers and euphemisms can make the casualties of war less shocking, can turn the collective punishment of an entire population into a 'just war' against Hamas, can make the temporary cessation of state belligerence into a 'humanitarian' cease-fire.'

Marta Harnecker, Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes (Monthly Review, v. 62, n. 3)
"The electoral capture of governmental power by the left across large parts of Latin America has not followed the revolutionary path of state seizure of 20th century socialism, and thus, as Harnecker argues, requires different metrics. First, 21st century socialism, of course, must learn from the mistakes of the 20th century version. And second, it must also learn from the diversification of the movements instead relying on the model of working class struggle to the exclusion of peasants, indigenous people, women, and others. Finally, it must focus on creating new forms of local and protagonistic democracy to decentralize state power."

Ivan E. Coyote, Missed Her (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Matt writes: "Despite its brevity, folksiness and humour, however, the book is not what I would call "light". I don't usually get weepy-eyed over prose, and those who follow me on this site will know that I have plenty of shit to cry over, knee-deep as I usually am in Cormac McCarthy and Yukio Mishima novels. Coyote's book is an exception to my usual reading experience. Though less "literary" in certain respects, I found much of it deeply moving and had to dab the corners of the ol' eyes now and then. She hits her targets, bang-on."

John Brandon, Citrus County (McSweeney's)
"If you're having trouble imagining what people do in that location [Citrus County], you're not alone. So do the protagonists. Which is where Brandon excels as a storyteller. He introduces you to the characters, lets them interact a bit, sets up an unlikely and troubling scenario from which it is difficult  to extract the narrative, and then...makes the reader wait. [...] On the long winding road to the finale, Citrus County is an intricate picture of small obsessions and quotidian detail, leaving the reader wondering how everyday life could be so enigmatically intriguing."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Reading, Part 2

Presents unwrapped, getting prepared for dinner, and I'm still chuckling to myself about a passage that I read yesterday from David Harvey's The New Imperialism. Discussing the rise of the 'Washington Consensus' and the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, he writes:
to top it all, the end of the Cold War suddenly removed a long-standing threat to the terrain of global capital accumulation. The collective bourgeoisie had indeed inherited the earth. Fukuyama prophesied that the end of history was at hand. It seemed, for a brief moment that Lenin was wrong and that Kautsky might be right-- an ultra-imperialism based on a 'peaceful' collaboration between all major capitalist powers (now symbolized by the grouping known as the G7, expanded to the G8 to incorporate Russia, albeit under the hegemony of US leadership) was possible...
We all know how well that peace turned out.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Reading

While most everybody is acclimating to holiday mode, I'm working on my presentation for the Society for Social and Political Philosophy's Roundtable on Marx's Capital (see here), at the end of February, though for which they want an advance draft in January. That still seems very possible, despite having to create course outlines for two courses starting in January. I'm also catching up on some light reading, including:
  • Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, (here) since I'm reading the early Walter Benjamin these days.
  • Jacques Rancière, Short Voyages to the Land of the People. (here) Do I need a reason?
  • Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically, (here) because he's the keynote for the conference.
  • Michael Löwy, The War of the Gods, (Verso) brushing up on Liberation Theology, probably again because I'm reading the early Benjamin.
  • And since it seems like the season, I might try to get to one of a few xmas presents: Verso's Revolutions! series edition of Thomas Muntzer's Sermon to the Princes, or, if I feel more ambitious, Henri Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life.
Quick Update: if the whole thing falls apart for some reason, I'll probably just push the books I haven't started off to next year and read William Gibson's Zero History.

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    The Late George Carlin On America and Social Stratification

    The late comedian George Carlin died in June 2008. Carlin was funny but also very political in his content. In his interviews he pulled no punches. Actually, one could argue that he gave punches in his interviews and debates. On mainstream media he even used the "C" word: class. May he rest in peace. May we all get some peace.

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    North American Sartre Society CFP Reminder

    Just a reminder: you've got all weekend to work on an abstract for the NASS conference in Montréal, April 27-29, 2011. They're due December 20th.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Teaching Fundamental Philosophical Questions

    I just found out that I will be teaching "Fundamental Philosophical Questions" in the winter semester, along with  my course in the Department of Visual Arts, "Art Theories." Local University of Ottawa lore has it that the philosophy department split what is usually "Introduction to Philosophy" into "Fundamental Questions" and "Great Philosophers" as a concession to the Analytic/Continental divide. I'm using the fundamental questions to add several figures that aren't usually included in the canon (I've done this before with Great Philosophers as well). Here's what I've got after a few hours of work:
    This course is an introduction to several of the fundamental questions of philosophy. We will be reading a variety of material dedicated to the search for the ‘good life.’ We will see that what the good life is has its own history, as we analyze texts ranging from Plato’s Republic to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. We will see how such a form of life is thought as an idea of harmony, religious devotion, a rational pursuit, a product of self-exploration and self-realization, and finally, as a mode of social involvement that seeks to appropriate and transform a way of life denied to historically marginalized groups and peoples.
    After the usual suspects like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, or Rousseau (culled from Charles Guignon's anthology The Good Life), we'll spend a significant amount of time working with the themes of existentialism and alienation as a way into Léopold Sédar Senghor's "Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century" and Fanon's "On National Culture." This will be a whole other way to ask what the good life is.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    The Book is the Medium

    Here is a post to ten examples of books becoming multimedia objects.

    An example from Brian Dettmer, which for some reason makes me think of Foucault's Les mots et les choses:

    And one, for the McLuhan fans, from Robert The:

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Sojourning in the Heart: Yi Sang’s and Ours

    A good friend of mine I met in Korea, and a well known artist here as well, recently recommended the book reviewed below. It turned out that the book is well known and taught throughout middle school and at the university level as well. I read it without knowing what was coming and nothing about the author making the visit into its story all the more dazzling. On this personal note, I will not be giving away any of the sordid details of this work of art. Before we set our feet upon the plain and begin our journey, I must say that this book reads like a sojourn in the self. It carried me to places within, I hadn’t visited in epics gone by in my heart. If you care the slightest about literature, you must spend time in these pages.

    Yi Sang’s The Wings, accompanied by the equally, if not more psychological Deathly Child, and Encounters and Departures, dances with realism, surrealism, and early twentieth century avant-garde while moving fluidly - though unexpectedly - between essay, dialogues within narrators' thoughts, poetry, and even song, in one seamless flow. Published by Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2001 and translated by Ahn Jung-hyo and James B. Lee from the original 1936 Korea Journal publication, this book has a history of thorough examination here in Korea. The book serves as seminal text in Korean literature for obvious reasons. The first two paragraphs alone made me put the book down to think about what the horizon had in store upon ascent. The allegories and metaphors pushed me forward on the trek and twists and turns came unexpectedly at each pass. While the term ‘twist’ gets thrown around too often, I haven’t felt this taken aback since the cliché of ‘becoming unplugged’ came into regrettable vogue after that unnameable movie was released some years back. But perhaps these short novels, three, topped even that cliché too.

    Given the release of numerous translated Korean works of famous literature by the Jimoondang Publishing Company, it is noteworthy that this book was published first in the series. Here, on this site, I’ve taken the privilege of discussing several of the books in this series, but I must say if you read only one of them, this is the one. To further praise these tales I add that I will actively seek out other works by the author in the immediate future.

    Yi Sang, in allusion, offers these stories as confessions of his own history. Though no doubt shaded by symbolism, they tell the history of a man who lived the sort of life I think most people fear they may live, perhaps secretly. For this reason the narrative all the more moves its readers' hearts. The characters, and the author lived, loved, and suffered as real humans do. He leaves no trace of his true character and his characters alone. He offers himself up in the form of his protagonist as an inveterate liar, with passages and tails within tails to back up the confessions of these and other personal defects.

    The characters read like friends we all have and they have their basis in his own. The allegories and allusions, though thick, barely cover our real lives, the pains of poisonous relationships, and the truths we hide from ourselves and others. Shocking is the discovery of this book only while living here in Korea. I think translations of these tales should/could have easily found there way into the classrooms of my own educational history. These remarkable journeys into this text made me burst out laughing in cafés in downtown Gwangju. And in the same sittings I all but wailed as well. What a strange sight I must have been while crossing these stories’ pages. What strange sights were seen in them too.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    WikiLeaks: Iraq, War, and Information

    Before the US government and other various political elites flipped out over WikiLeaks sharing secretive diplomatic information, WikiLeaks shared leaked information on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who really cared that a video was released of humans being shot down excitedly on video by US soldiers? This exposed slaughter barely made a splash in US news media. WikiLeaks has revealed that which most people already knew: politicians lie and war kills people. Although, elites do not like feeling exposed so candidly. In a sense Big Brother is getting Big brother-ed. WikiLeaks makes the truth officially known. Not conspiracy theories, just raw reality. Truth can be stranger than fiction. WikiLeaks inspired something new. Governments and corporations now must battle with computers geeks over the security of data, the dawn of globalized Cyber Wars begins.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Schelling Book Available

    According to the Continuum website, today is the release date for Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art in the United Kingdom and the 'Rest of the World.' North and South Americans will have to wait until February 10, 2011. I received my author's copies a few weeks ago, so I can vouch for their hardcover existence.

    I first wrote Continuum with my proposal for the book on December 2, 2009, and I received my copies on November 18, 2010. That seems--this is only my first book--like a quick turn around. I've traveled from furious revising and excitement, to apprehension, to wanting to modify extravagantly the galley proofs, to apprehension and doubt, to, with the book in my hands, excitement.

    The hardcover price is prohibitive for most of my readers, I know. If you want to read a copy, I have two suggestions: 1) order it for your library, or, 2) if you've got a bit of background in Schelling, write a  philosophy or aesthetics journal and ask for a review copy. This could get you both a hardcover copy of the book and a line on your CV. The more critical interest, the more likely we see a paperback edition.

    Update: I forgot that I had yet to post Jeffrey Reid's blurb about the book. Now seems like the time:
    “Philosophy of art provides a privileged opening onto the complexities and metaphysical dimensions of Schelling's system, an amorphous construction that extends through the diverse productions of the philosopher's lifetime. Fittingly, Devin Shaw has adopted a genetic approach, following the philosopher’s virtually inchoate accounts of art in his early writings, through its explicit embodiment in his philosophy of identity, to the later writings on art, which, because of their apparently marginal character, are usually overlooked. Dr. Shaw’s original and important contribution shows how Schelling's philosophy of art is informed by his earlier philosophy of nature, while anticipating his later work on the metaphysics of freedom and his crepuscular writings on mythology.” – Jeffrey Reid, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Ottawa, Canada

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Stuart Elden's Terror and Territory

    While I was preparing my talk for the RPA (yeah, I'm going to stop talking about it pretty soon), I read Stuart Elden's Terror and Territory (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). As I've been revising the paper, it has become clear that I've left much of the sovereignty talk behind, which means I won't be discussing this book in that essay. I highly recommend reading Elden's book, and here's why...

    In general, much of this discussion of sovereignty, as it's been framed after Agamben has been, at least for me, has been conceptually suffocating. Too much sovereignty and theology, as if there weren't other important problems lurking behind the sovereign. Elden, to his credit, avoids this kind of talk. From my essay:
    Insofar as territorial integration is part of the globalization and intensification of capitalism, Stuart Elden’s Terror and Territory shows how an analysis of sovereignty (both its projection and its collapse of absence) can be compatible with a critique of capitalism, when he reconstructs both how the ‘logic of integration’ (as shared—or coerced— political, economic, or ideological commitments) has been gradually accepted within international law, and how the use of humanitarian and military intervention has been normalized as a technique to maintain territorial integrity.
    His account is more nuanced than Agamben's; Elden points out that Agamben’s incomplete account of the state “demonstrates a more significant weakness in account for the relation of sovereignty to territory." Because he proposes the camp as “the hidden paradigm of the political space of modernity,” Agamben’s analyses focus on the intensification of sovereignty, without pursuing the consequences of “the absence or weakness of sovereign power.”

    By contrast, Elden shows how the 'dialectic' of state sovereignty and its absence has lead to the contemporary 'logic' of intervention. He shows that intervention has been justified on three grounds. First, there is the inability of a state to protect its population from political and environmental catastrophe (including genocide, war, famine, and inability to protect refugees); these failures can result in humanitarian intervention. Second, a state may fail to exercise a monopoly of violence, which allows non-state actors (increasingly classified as terrorists) to operate within its territory. Third, a state may fail to control its borders, which leads to an increased threat of regional or global instability. Increasingly these distinctions have been collapsed through the “clumsy equivalence” (p. 172) of justifying intervention.

    I would give this a stronger political (neo-Marxist?) twist: that intervention has also been used to prevent or interrupt challenges to hegemonic powers through the transformation or, if a cumbersome turn of phrase can be pardoned, the trans-integration of political, economic, or ideological commitments, the redistribution of the means of production or the attempt to integrate within an alternate regional economic system of distribution. One need only think of how the US interferes in Latin America under so-called democratic pretenses. This geographical zone is beyond the limits of Elden's inquiry, but it might help provide a fuller picture of sovereign relations outside of the framework of the war on terror.

    I would suggest, for a reader with a background in philosophy, that you start with the fifth chapter, "Territorial Integrity and Contingent Sovereignty," to get the historical background on the problems raised by Elden's analysis, and then return to the start. You might also find the first chapter, analyzing the rhetoric of the Bush adminstration and other neo-cons a bit too historically close to home, for we are familiar with much of the details (though it's there to contrast with the territorial strategies of Islamism). However, historians and geographers will one day need to see what progressive thinkers thought about such rhetoric--and for those of you familiar with one of the talks at the RPA--it's better Elden than Bob Woodward.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    P.I.C. Annual Conference CFP

    The Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Student Alliance at Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.) Presents:

    The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution
    A conference

    The 25th – 26th of March, 2011

    Keynote Speaker: Dr. Peter Gratton, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
    University of San Diego, CA

    What sense of time is produced through radical politics? Is the understanding of time as future part of a radical imagination? If the commitment to radical social change involves looking forward into the future, will that leave us with a sense of futurity that depends on the linearity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

    To interrogate the emergence of radical creations and socialities, we welcome submissions that theorize time as it relates broadly to politics, cultural conflicts, alternative imaginaries, and resistant practices. Time has historically been thought and inhabited through a variety of frameworks and styles of being. At times the present repeats or seems to repeat the past. There are actions that seem to take place outside of time, to be infinite or instantaneous. Theories of emergence view time as folding in on itself. Indigenous cosmologies and Buddhist philosophers put forward the possibility of no-time or of circular and cyclical time.

    The radical question of time is one around which the work of many scholars has revolved: Derrida on the to-come [a-venir] of democracy, Negri’s work on kairos, Agamben on kairology, Santos on the expansive notion of the present, Deleuze and Guattari on becoming. This heterological list is far from exhaustive, while hinting at the depth of the theme that our conference cultivates. A central political concern, time invokes our most careful attention and the PIC conference provides the setting for this endeavor. We must find the time for time.

    At its core, this conference seeks to explore the relationship between time and revolution. Time here may mean not just simple clock and calendar time but rather a way of seeing time as part of a material thread that can go this way and that, weaving together the fabric of political projects producing the world otherwise. Ultimately, the question of time fosters a critical engagement with potentiality, potency, and power; as well as with the virtual and the actual, of the to be and the always already.

    We seek papers, projects, and performances that add to the knowledge of time and revolution, but also ones that clear the way for new thinking, new alliances, new beings.

    Some possible topics might include:
    • Radical notions of futurity, historicity, or the expansive present.
    • Conceptions on the right moment of action.
    • The political reality of time as stasis or cyclical.
    • The colonial creation of universal time, and decolonial cosmologies of time.
    • Work on thinkers of time and revolution.
    • Work on potentiality, the virtual, and the actual.
    • Capital and labor time.

    In keeping with the interdisciplinary emphasis of Binghamton University’s Program in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, we seek work that flourishes in the conjunction of multiple frames of epistemological inquiry, from fields including, but not limited to: postcolonial studies, decolonial studies, queer and gender studies, ethnic studies, media and visual culture studies, urban studies, science and technology studies, critical theory, critical animal studies, continental philosophy, and historiography.

    Workers/writers/thinkers of all different disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and non-disciplinary stripes welcome, whether academically affiliated or not. Submissions may be textual, performative, visual.

    Abstracts of 500 words maximum due by Feburary 1, 2011. In a separate paragraph state your name, address, telephone number, email and organizational or institutional affiliation, if any.

    Email proposals to: pic.conference2011@gmail.com with a cc: to clawren1@binghamton.edu. Or by surface mail to: Cecile Lawrence, 14 Alpine Drive, Apalachin, NY 13732. Emailed submissions strongly preferred.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    WikiLeaks: Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox

    I think all the coverage about WikiLeaks and the turmoil it is causing global elites speaks for itself. The 1975 poem "Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox" by the late Beat poet Allen Ginsburg is most fitting. This rendition by Rage Against the Machine has always been a favorite of mine:

    It had to be flashin' like the daily double
    It had to be playin' on TV
    It had to be loud mouthed on the comedy hour
    It had to be announced over loud speakers

    The CIA and the Mafia are in cahoots

    It had to be said in old ladies' language
    It had to be said in American headlines
    Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents
    Rich bankers with criminal connections
    Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba working with a
    big time syndicate from Tampa, Florida
    And it had to be said with a big mouth

    It had to be moaned over factory foghorns
    It had to be chattered on car radio news broadcasts
    It had to be screamed in the kitchen
    It had to be yelled in the basement where uncles were fighting

    It had to be howled on the streets by newsboys to bus conductors
    It had to be foghorned into New York harbor
    It had to echo onto hard hats
    It had to turn up the volume in university ballrooms

    It had to be written in library books, footnoted
    It had to be in the headlines of the Times and Le Monde
    It had to be barked on TV
    It had to be heard in alleys through ballroom doors

    It had to be played on wire services
    It had to be bells ringing
    Comedians stopped dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas

    It had to be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Costello syndicate
    mouthpiece meeting in Central Park, New York weekends,
    reported Time magazine

    It had to be the Mafia and the CIA together starting war on Cuba,
    Bay of Pigs and poison assassination headlines

    It had to be dope cops in the Mafia
    Who sold all their heroin in America

    It had to be the FBI and organized crime working together
    in cahoots against the commies

    It had to be ringing on multinational cash registers
    A world-wide laundry for organized criminal money

    It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI together
    They were bigger than Nixon
    And they were bigger than war

    It had to be a large room full of murder
    It had to be a mounted ass- a solid mass of rage
    A red hot pen
    A scream in the back of the throat

    It had to be a kid that can breathe
    It had to be in Rockefellers' mouth
    It had to be central intelligence, the family, all of this, the agency Mafia
    It had to be organized crime

    One big set of gangs working together in cahoots

    Murderers everywhere

    The secret
    The drunk
    The brutal
    The dirty rich

    On top of a slag heap of prisons
    Industrial cancer
    Plutonium smog
    Garbage cities

    Grandmas' bed soft from fathers' resentment

    It had to be the rulers
    They wanted law and order
    And they got rich on wanting protection for the status quo

    They wanted junkies
    They wanted Attica
    They wanted Kent State
    They wanted war in Indochina

    It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI

    Multinational capitalists
    Strong armed squads
    Private detective agencies for the rich
    And their armies and navies and their air force bombing planes

    It had to be capitalism
    The vortex of this rage
    This competition
    Man to man

    The horses head in a capitalists' bed
    The Cuban turf
    It rumbles in hitmen
    And gang wars across oceans

    Bombing Cambodia settled the score when Soviet pilots
    manned Egyptian fighter planes

    Chiles' red democracy
    Bumped off with White House pots and pans

    A warning to Mediterranean governments

    The secret police have been embraced for decades

    The NKPD and CIA keep each other's secrets
    The OGBU and DIA never hit their own
    The KGB and the FBI are one mind

    Brute force and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
    Brute force, world-wide, and full of money

    It had to be rich and it had to be powerful
    They had to murder in Indonesia 500000
    They had to murder in Indochina 2000000
    They had to murder in Czechoslovakia
    They had to murder in Chile
    They had to murder in Russia

    And they had to murder in America

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    John Brandon's Citrus County

     Since the RPA conference, I've had more time to write on the blog, though I still find I'm a few entries behind. I've been kicking around several ideas, and they haven't yet crystallized. And I've wanted to review a few books, including John Brandon's Citrus County (McSweeney's, 2010). I haven't reviewed much fiction on The Notes Taken, and concerning the last novel (the only novel?) I remember reviewing, what I wrote doesn't quite portray what I liked about it (see what I get for trying to write a review of one of Roberto Bolano's novellas?).

    So I'm going to try again from a different angle. Citrus County is John Brandon's second novel; his debut is entitled Arkansas, and is also published by McSweeney's. It was, for the brief time I attempted such lists, one of my favorite novels of 2008. That being said, Citrus County has-- at least regarding my expectations-- a lot to live up to, so to speak.

    The novel gravitates toward the daily lives of two adolescents, Toby and Shelby, and one of their teachers, Mr. Hibma, in (I'm sure you guessed it) Citrus County, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. If you're having trouble imagining what people do in that location, you're not alone. So do the protagonists. Which is where Brandon excels as a storyteller. He introduces you to the characters, lets them interact a bit, sets up an unlikely and troubling scenario from which it is difficult  to extract the narrative, and then...makes the reader wait. And wait, as the characters negotiate their day to day lives in a tough situation.

    Which means Brandon sets for himself a tricky task. I thought Arkansas had it bad, but Citrus County has it worse. He seems to take to heart Vonnegut's advice that, when writing, one must be as sadistic as possible toward the characters to see what they're made of. (From here on out there might be spoilers...) In the long dull days of Citrus County Toby hatches a plan to take hold of his life and give it direction. Obsessed with a bunker he's discovered near his uncle's house, Toby decides to kidnap Kaley, the younger sister  of Shelby, who is the only girl who has shown interest in him. Not for any other particular interest other than a test to see if he can really pull off the deed. 

    And once he does, we wait. We wait through the brief media sensation of Kaley's kidnapping, through the adjustment period for Shelby and her father, we wait through the seasons of the various sports played in Citrus County, and we tarry as Mr. Hibma-- who found his way there through a map and throw of the dart-- tries to decide between integrating himself into the life of local teachers or murdering one of his retiring colleagues. Beyond this, the reader is confronted with the daily life of a place in which everybody assumes something better, or at least more interesting, is happening elsewhere. 

    My highschool years wasted away in a small suburb, so I know the feeling. Brandon's prose captures that ennui. Since two of the protagonists are adolescents ("They’re adolescents, which means they’re insane," he says in an interview with the NYT book blog), Mr. Hibma's charged with the task of reflecting on how exactly he ended up in that godforsaken part of Florida:
    Mr. Hibma missed his youth in general, he realized, back when the knowledge that he was different from other people filled him with pride, not dread. Mr. Hibma was almost thirty. His mind was growing stale, his body stiff, but mostly he was exhausted by the idea of remaining in his life for another fifty years, for another five. He wished his life were a terse novella. He wished he knew how long he was destined to live. He wished he knew whether he'd be murdered or killed by a venomous snake or just waste away of old age.
    In contrast to Toby, Mr. Hibma can't seem to hatch a plan and make it happen. However, this isn't always a good thing. Once Toby realizes the bunker and its hostage are a burden, that Shelby's interest is not so bad or invasive, he's got to solve the Kaley problem. But how? the reader is going to be asking, from about page thirty seven onward. Brandon can't seriously be thinking of a simple reconciliatory happy ending, can he? But then why would McSweeney's publish such a possibly sappy novel? Ultimately I can't spoil this part, but I can say that Brandon doesn't take the easy way out. 

    In any case, let's not rush to the door. On the long winding road to the finale, Citrus County is an intricate picture of small obsessions and quotidian detail, leaving the reader wondering how everyday life could be so enigmatically intriguing.

    Paulo Freire, Round One

    I'm going in to teach chapter two of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed in about twenty minutes. It's a challenge to myself and to the students-- all 170 of them, which is about 150 more than Freire recommends for dialogical problem-posing sessions. 

    The basic idea is fairly clear: that the banking concept of knowledge aims to produce a body of knowledge that integrates people into the status quo, and that problem-posing education aims to show that social relations (including knowledge) are transformed through our praxis. It's up to the students, however, to figure out what that means for their lives.