Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Reviews

With 2012 beginning, what better time to look back at 2011 in reviews:

Thomas Muntzer, Sermon to the Princes (Verso)
by Matt McLennan

"Engels's classic study "The Peasant War in Germany" - where, it should be noted, Engels rides roughshod over the theological aspects of Muntzer's movement and paints him as a crafty political figure using religious rhetoric to push his agenda forward. Certainly there is much politicking to be found in his writings - Cf the scathing attacks on Luther - but reading him I'm not convinced that the theological and political elements can be so easily separated." 

Robin D.G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press)

"Given that music criticism is a mixed bag, it's hard not to appreciate a well-acclaimed historian taking on the biography of a  complex man so often portrayed as simple, naive, and childlike. Kelley's aim is to dispel precisely that story, first found in William Gottlieb's profile published in Down Beat in September 1947 and popularized through the efforts of Lorraine Lion's press release that accompanied his first record from Blue Note."

David Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (Little, Brown, and Co.)

"Animal fables are generally awesome on account of how grown up and gruesome and darkly humourous they can be. One might even say that animal fables are "fucking metal" at the best of times. Cf also Vikram Seth's "Beastly Tales", and raise your hammers high. Humourist David Sedaris has recently thrown his contribution to the genre into the ring, and it does not disappoint." 

Lisa Shapiro, ed. The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes (University of Chicago Press)

"I can't always say that I like reading the winding paths of philosophers' correspondence. That being said, I recommend The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes to the reader who is looking for a different and not often noticed side of early modern philosophy and letters."

Alain Badiou, Pocket Pantheon (Verso)

"Through humour, sadness, love and ire, the force of Badiou's personality shines through in virtually every eulogy, giving body to the austere rigour of his own philosophical work."

Pierre Clastres, Archeology of Violence (Semiotext(e))

"The essays collected expand upon his central argument, which defines "primitive" societies by their refusal of the State. Taking such societies seriously, for Clastres, means recognizing that they are not embryonic or proto-societies, but rather full-blown political totalities which have constituted themselves in a very conscious and deliberate way so as to prevent the rise of inequality, (non-sexual) division of labour and, ultimately, since these are its very substance, the State." 

Arthur C. Danto, Andy Warhol (Yale)

"From what I can gather, Warhol represents a world that Danto felt at home in, and, for all its self-obsessed pathos, more than likely the world that he feels nostalgia for. Warhol or not, that's not a world I want to glorify, let alone live in."

Patrik Ourednik, The Opportune Moment, 1855 (Dalkey Archive)

The Opportune Moment, 1855 "tells the story of the failure of an utopian commune founded by Italian anarchists in Brazil. It opens with a letter by one of the protagonists (who I will call the epistolary narrator), to his unrequited love, many years after the failure of the new society. At once it becomes clear that Ourednik is writing, in a way, a historical novel and satire." 

Patrik Ourednik, Europeana (Dalkey Archive)

"it strikes me the book is a critique of its own rhetoric and "expressiveness," an 'auto-reductio ad absurdum' of the attempt to quantify historical change and void the subjectivity of historical agents....Nevertheless, those final few pages, with their critique of the smug arrogance of late twentieth century chroniclers of political power, are edifying enough to warrant a trip through the 20th century of Europeana."

John Nichols, The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism (Verso)

"Given that the first chapter and the afterword situate the history of socialism within contemporary debates, the book might just be the general starting point for reconsidering the history of American radicalism. Given that the Democrats have largely abandoned many of the concerns that allied them with the working class and the civil rights movement, in favor of a politics of progressive verbiage, it may well be, as Nichols writes, "that the only word of the left that still has any meaning is 'socialism.'" "

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