Monday, July 4, 2011

The Weekend in Reviews

Sure, it's a long weekend in the US and Canada. But don't let that get in the way of checking out a few notable book reviews. 

First, here's Hasana Sharp, author of the forthcoming Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization (see here) reviewing Michael Mack's Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity (Continuum, 2010). One of the highlights:
As a Spinoza scholar, I was most interested in Mack’s interpretation of Spinoza’s principle of conatus, the striving by which each being aims to preserve and enhance its life.  He suggests that the conatus gets taken up by later thinkers not only as a doctrine of self-preservation, or as the ultimate source of all human (and nonhuman) motivation, but also as a critique of how self-preservation can be narrowly construed so as to yield self-destruction (and, in his concluding discussion of Freud, a “loss of reality”).  Mack reads Spinoza’s conatus as a principle of self-sustainability that can only be actualised by virtue of a contribution to the well-being of the other forces with which one is intertwined (Chapter 2).
And the verdict:
Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity highlights a number of fertile connections to Spinoza and adumbrates modern thought and culture in new ways.  It suggests several avenues for future research and goes some way toward correcting the false portrait of Spinoza as an uncompromising rationalist who has little appreciation of the imaginative fabric of cultural life.
Then, at Marx and Philosophy, Mirko Hall reviews Uwe Steiner's Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2010):
There are many critical introductions – e.g., from Cambridge, Polity, Routledge, and Totem – available on Benjamin. What makes this book particularly valuable is the discussion of people, texts, and contexts that are sometimes relegated to the periphery of Benjamin Studies. Steiner does not fetishize later canonical writings (such as the artwork essay, the notes on the Parisian Arcades or the theses on the philosophy of history). He also explores lesser texts that involve Benjamin’s earliest investigations into the essence of language and the practice of literary translation and criticism. These fields are extremely important, because they allowed him to recognize the continued afterlife of cultural artifacts. Steiner also emphasizes the importance of occasionally marginalized thinkers, who are invaluable for understanding Benjamin’s intellectual outlook: Germanist Norbert von Hellingrath, essayist Carl Gustav Jochmann, art historian Alois Riegl or author Paul Scheerbart. There is a strong interest in Scheerbart, who provided Benjamin with significant political impetuses for his techno-utopian visions.
And don't forget my review of Rancière's The Politics of Literature here.

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