2017 Fall Reading List

I’m literally sitting writing this reading list in a Hugo Boss jacket that’s a bit too large for my small feminine frame. I found it barely worn in freshly dry cleaned in a “giveaway” box in my neighborhood. Everyone in the neighborhood leaves books, clothes and appliances out to share and trade. Some neighbors are a bit more well off than others. It’s not uncommon to find a wealthy student’s small collection of hand-me-downs that are clean, expensive and barely a year old. I almost like men’s jackets more than I like books, but as the season begins to change, and Fall makes chills the air crisp and chill, I can enjoy both at the same time. No need to choose.

These books are a combination of favorites, like my friend China Martens epic zine anthology, Future Generation and the enthralling Womanist literary effort, Hope is in the Holler: A Womanist Theory and a collection of books I’ve compiled while preparing for my feminist lectures and writing workshops like “Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions.” I rummage through libraries and independent books stores like Red Emma’s Books to find just what I need for my never ending literary pursuits.

The fall season is perfect for learning new things and growing our minds and perspectives, especially since school is now in session.

Future Generation: The Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others
By China Martens

One Dimensional Woman
By Nina Power

Role Models
By John Waters

Listen Up: Voices From the Next Generation
By: Barbara Findlen

The Concept and Measurement of Violence Against Women and Men
By: Sylvia Walby, Jude Towers, Susan Balderston, Brian Francis

Eros and Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan’s Seminar VII
By: Marc De Kesel

A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Reader
Edited By: Frances Smith Foster

Listen Little Man
By: Wilhelm Reich

New Black Man
By: Mark Anthony Neal

Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions
By: Judith Kegan Gardiner

Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance
By: Diane Torr and Stephen J. Bottoms

Hope in the Holler: A Womanist Theology
By: A. Elaine Brown Crawford

The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention
By: Sameena Mulla

Sister Outsider
By: Audre Lorde

On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970
By Elizabeth Siegel Watkins

High Lonesome: New & Selected Stories, 1966–2006
By Joyce Carol Oates

Shotgun Seamstress Zine Collection: Six Zine by and for Black Punks
By: Osa Atoe

Freedom Challenge: African American Homeschoolers
By: Grace Llewellyn

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Powell’s Bookmarks: On Leaving Portland

A few weeks ago, I re-watched the 2002 Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze movie Adaptation, which seemed to be playing at the local cinema as part of a Nicholas Cage retrospective. Cage plays the screenwriter Kaufman as he struggles to adapt Susan Orlean’s mesmerizing book The Orchid Thief into a movie. The structure of the book, described as “that sprawling, New Yorker crap that doesn’t really go anywhere,” does not lend itself easily to a film adaptation. During one of Kaufman’s attempts to start the screenplay, he describes an opening scene that stretches from the beginning of the earth to his birth in mid-twentieth century Los Angeles. Finding a plot (as a verb, to make plans; as a noun, a patch of solid ground) in this sprawling life—that does not really go anywhere—is one of those mammoth mammal tasks that appears so insurmountable that someone invented the snooze button on alarm clocks just so we could ignore this responsibility and return to sleep for a few more precious minutes. I am reminded of the thoughts of Blaise Pascal as he tried to describe this condition:

“We are floating in a medium of vast extent, always drifting uncertainly, blown to and fro; whenever we think we have a fixed point to which we can cling and hold fast, it shifts and leaves us behind; if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips away, and flees eternally before us.”

We are trapped between the infinitely large and infinitesimally small, engulfed by the impenetrable secrecy of life. I suppose it is no wonder that people like bookmarks:  to know that you have a place somewhere in the enormity of everything. Considered in this light, dog-earing the top corner of a page is forgivable. You wish to leave a trace of yourself in the copy of a book that left an impression—evanescent or indelible—on your mind and heart.

I promised my mother I would not buy any more books until I returned to England. Back in September 2015, I expected to live in Portland for no more than a year. One of the two suitcases for my first transatlantic flight to Oregon was crammed with books, and I assumed that they would easily satisfy me for a year. I was wrong.

From what I recall, I broke my promise within the first week. The irresistible temptation came from a David Shields’ novel called Dead Languages, which I bought at the famous Powell’s City of Books. When the transaction was complete, the cashier slipped a complementary Powell’s bookmark between the front cover and the title page. The bookmark bears the addresses and contact information of each Powell’s branch on one side, and, on the other, lists their “buying hours” and implores you to “sell us your books.” During my frequent visits, I have spotted several people with cardboard boxes full of books which they hope to exchange for a wallet-wad of dollars.

Art by Maskull Lasserre

I am leaving Portland soon. Every so often, I look at the messy piles of books in my apartment then glance at a nearby Powell’s bookmark to check their buying hours. You must book an appointment for an employee to sift through your books and decide whether anything is worth enough money to take off your hands and sell in the store. I think that process discourages me. I could not bear the humiliation of standing in public while someone judges my literary taste before they hand me a few dollars for two boxes of books. Walter Benjamin observed astutely in his breathtaking essay “Unpacking My Library” that “to the book collector . . . the true freedom of all books is somewhere on his shelves,” so I am reluctant to return half of my collection to the coercion of commerce. They will become just another commodity to be repriced, reshelved, and resold.

Luckily, the other half of my collection will endure and travel with me. Unlike Benjamin, I am still in the stage of packing my library—choosing the right volumes and facing the Tetris-esque challenge of fitting them neatly into boxes. Some of them still contain their Powell’s bookmark, ready to help me find and keep my place.

The history of the bookmark takes place inside the history of the book. Before the Big Bang of the Gutenberg Galaxy, books were rare and written by a meticulous scribe. The rarity of these texts, writes A.W. Coysh in his 1974 Collecting Bookmarks, demonstrated the “need for some device to mark the place in a book . . . Without bookmarkers, finely bound volumes were at risk. To lay a book face down with pages open might cause injury to its spine, and the crease on a page that had the corner turned down remained as a lasting reproach.” One could put a bookmark between the pages and remove it without leaving a trace. Bookmarks used to be predominantly made with silk and leather, but, as the mass-publishing industry made books more available and affordable, they were made with cheaper material like thin card. The new availability of paperbacks meant that the bookmark became less of a way to protect the pages and spine of a book, and functioned more as an artificial memory aid. It anchored the reader in the text.

And so, I take another tome from my shelf and decide whether it is headed toward my new home or the Powell’s on Hawthorne. Just as every bookmark belongs in a book, every book belongs on a shelf. When I was younger, I dedicated hours to arranging my bedroom library in alphabetical order. Eventually, I ran out of space to organize them into neat rows. Stacks of randomly ordered books rose to the height of my wardrobe, and, occasionally, tumbled to the floor. Benjamin explains that one’s library maintains “a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order.” Regardless of the obsessive order of your books (alphabetical, chronological, thematic), they will fall into a familiar disorder as soon as you take them off the shelf, place them in your lap, and forget to reshelve them according to their original arrangement. An excessively neat library is the mark of the unenthusiastic reader.

Right now, my library is neater than it has ever been. Two different piles for two different fates. Reflecting on his own library, Benjamin opines that the collector desires and respects singular copies of books rather than the book-in-itself. I have not possessed and read Shields’ Dead Languages, but only my own copy of that book. Each copy in these piles is a belonging that I have taken to the various houses and apartment buildings where I have lived over the past two years. Even though I paid the rent to put a roof over their spines, these tales and treatises formed a dwelling—as Benjamin put it, “with books as the building stones”—in which I found peace and purpose. It seemed that I belonged to them more than they belonged to me.

Installation by Alicia Martin

Copies of Dead Languages, Race Matters and Silent Spring that were once mine will soon fall into the hands of someone else. Like Don DeLillo writes in White Noise, “Maybe there is no death as we know it. Just documents changing hands.” Each book bears the bruises of previous owners: creases in the spine, smudges of dirty thumbs in the margins, a scribbled birthday message from a close friend on the title page. The history of the book encompasses the histories of each individual book and each individual reader. Whenever someone turns to a new page and starts to speak with that faint voice inside their head, they are alive. Maybe I will feel less remorse about taking my books to that desk in Powell’s if I understand that I am sharing the opportunity to feel alive with people I will never meet or know.

Once again, I move from one city of strangers to another. I doubt that I will make the same promise to my mother. We have both learnt that books overrule oaths. Speaking of my books, they’re all sorted into their separate boxes and addressed to different destinations. I am going to take them out tomorrow. One trip will take me to the Post Office; the other, Powell’s. I expect one last complementary bookmark. After all, I read a lot of books and I do not want to lose my place as I turn from page to page. I like to follow the plot wherever it goes in this sprawling, New Yorker-style crap of life. I fold over the corners of pages occasionally to remember where I have been and to remind myself to return there in the future. In this way, all the places I’ve been stay with me wherever I go.

2017 Summer Reading List

Summer of 2017 seems like a surreal season of confusion and great opportunities for new beginnings. It’s been a rough few years. America has morphed into a country that cannot decide whether it wants to evolve or stay the same. For me, books have been a comfort. Books have been a staple for my stability and understanding. This reading list consists of books that can help you focus on your own consciousness, one’s relationship with racism, morality, feminism and utopian concepts. I think it is most important to understand that his list is completely organic. This list was compiled since the Spring as I’ve cruised materials for classes I am teaching for my own practical intellectual expansion.

I am sharing this list for no other reason but to give access to a collection of books that are intriguing, and maybe, hopefully the combination of these pages will incite growth in you. I can say that they have served me well.

Negative Dialectics
By: Theodore W. Adamo
The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of the History of Sexuality
By: Michel Foucault
As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980
By Susan Sontag, Edited By David Rieff
Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Modern Era By: Anthony Giddens
Vulnerability in Resistance
Edited by Judith Butler, Zaynap Gambatti, Leticia Sabsay
Aesthetic Justice: Interesting Artistic and Moral Perspectives
Edited By: Pascal Gielen, Niels Van Tomme
Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy
By Chris Crass
The Heidegger Controversy
By: Richard Wolin
Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois
By: Gerald Horne
The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
By: Maggie Nelson
New Heaven, New Earth
By: Joyce Carol Oates
The Prophet
By: Kahlil Gibran
Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880
By: W. E. B. Du Bois
The Human Condition
By: Hannah Arendt
Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women
By: Brittney C. Cooper
Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times
By: Alexis Shotwell
The expanding circle
By: Peter Singer
Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society
By: Michael Albert
Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious
By: Sigmund Freud

 

 

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Front Album Cover of Corrupted’s 1995 Nadie

1.

Beginning one of his many books, 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes a preface. In the book I have in mind this is followed by another and that by yet another. This book of Kierkegaard’s is a book of them. A book of beginnings of books.

i live in san francisco.

I read. I write. I listen to Corrupted and the Melvins.

My aesthetic is the literary and the λόγος, and the zeitgeist of the longue durée–the auld lang syne. This aesthetic is the love of Des Esseintes and jewel-encrusted, murdered tortoises. Like Bernardo Soares, all I want to possess is the sensation of these words.

It’s their image—material and substantial like those scents and colors of the house of Huysmans’s protagonist—that might well be read in trace here.

I want to use them.

As Audre Lorde had said, at Harvard, “In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I call my people?”

As a dead white man once wrote yet another white man to have said about a clearly not altogether completely different question, that is the question, and I aim to see admonishment for infelicities.

As Grace Kyungwon Hong recently wrote, for dehumanizing disavowals.

For that Banana Republic, where all roads lead to a Rome of the worst in us all. If, in the end, there will be things leftover to use, far be it from me to discover them so. I am here to problematize the problematic. I leave it to my work elsewhere to come up with ‘positive projects’.

As Warsan Shire said, we can’t make homes out of human beings. Someone should’ve already told us that.

These city lights ever the countercultural moment, I live in the bay view, beneath the avenues built during the fin de siècle of San Francisco’s golden age. Outlying these avenues, I read the books of my intellectual heritage, the west, like an appalling manifest destruction. There’s no science in such catastrophic images. There is horror and subjugation. There are lies and murders.

We’d come to California to kill and conquer—as to the New World, to the Old World—to take. In philosophy, while not at the frontlines, this is no different. Its decadence has already revealed that structures of power are structures of thought—structures of theory, belief, and conviction.

Genocidal structures of no quarter.


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Jacques-Louis David’s 1787 The Death of Socrates (partial)

2.

I am a philosopher. My name is Aenesidemus, for this venture into being terse. I come to be known as someone who had come to be known as a philosopher and I will be forgotten much as they have been—with the little of their work there is it’s enough to note they were a skeptic and be done with it—and there, too, is affinity. The skepsis of the Greeks slew those philosophers for their ways—wrote their treatises about ways to give up their own theories let alone having to listen to the exhortations of the preponderant and domineering acolytes of others.

fuck right the fuck off.

To repurpose something profound published last year by Sara Ahmed—with an eye to recompense by discussing her perceptive and critical thoughts later this year, as a first debt as columnist, I think: “An affinity of hammers.”

To meet hammers. In the end, as Toril Moi wrote, even feminism’s aim is to abolish itself.

To fix this fucking shit and have been fucking done with it.

As Toni Cade Bambara wrote, “The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.”

Sublime and profound ideas.

I work to consider myself the consummate professional, in such regard. I believe no less than Dr. Cornel West tweeted just this last Valentine’s Day: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

I’m an actor of the university industrial complex, as I’ve heard and rather appreciate it called. I might talk the talk with the somewhat ‘best’ of them, I think, yes—I cited the references.

Power reflecting power. And, yes. Plato. It’s called a conversation. One is a part of it, and yet still it’s a thing, yes. Absurd, I know.

This column is bifurcated as a dialogue, and, so, reflects the writer’s interest in logic and the ideas of contradiction and dissent. The dialectic is pedagogical, heaving from critic-as-student to critic-as-teacher and back—helical.

In this rhetorical quality, it reflects my interests in learning and academia. I speak to learning and to teaching as Heidrun Friese spoke to the hotel and the guest, so to speak. Inasmuch as the set eye to phenomenology, existentialism, and the literary—as it is with Aristotle, the proliferation of ways of knowing goes hand-in-hand with that of the same of being.

As the laundry list, I discuss love, art, truth, justice, certainty, insanity, sovereignty, and elements of ethical persuasion. I explore literature and culture.


Digital StillCamera

Lagoa Henriques’ 1988 Fernando Pessoa statue

3.

“we’ve been devastated by the severest and deadliest drought in history — that of our profound awareness of the futility of all effort and the vanity of all plans.”

That is how Fernando Pessoa began The Education of the Stoic, which comes to us as fragments. History later found the manuscript in an old trunk. Pessoa was dead.

Seventy years earlier in 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote down bleak notes on the “worthlessness and vanity” of existence, unless we strive in vain after distraction despite an abject condition, after transient impermanence, and spent the last thirty years of his life in quiet futility, alone in his house with small dogs. Pessoa drank himself to death. This drought they write of is quite the devastator.

Pessoa was an early 20th-century Portuguese poet and writer who wrote prolifically and haphazardly, and created no less than 60 distinct pseudonyms. Soares was one of them. Pessoa was an artist. He engaged in automatic writing, founded art movements, published in magazines, and held a respected position in Lisbon’s intellectual scene.

Pessoa lived a craft. Ophelia Queiroz, the love of his life, was several times greeted by the fictitious poet Álvaro de Campos instead of Pessoa during their fleeting courtship. He called his pseudonyms heteronyms, and they were identities for most of which he created whole biographies and histories.

They were ideal representatives of intimate and reflective writings.

Last year at a conference in the port city of Porto, off the coast of the continent and country of my maternal heritage, I’d discussed Pessoa’s work. At a philosophy conference, I explained the work of a writer. I described a desire to expand the philosophical canon to writers and minds that didn’t write treatises like Hume or critiques like Kant, yet exemplify those last shrieking lessons of what scholars like Wittgenstein and Feyerabend set down.

That there’s an entire world out there. That it means something, and always has and it’s all nothing new. Our ivory institution has simply ignored it, towering above like some autistic savant.

I aim to be a philosophical skeptic, as columnist. Like Aenesidemus, I will work to extrapolate on what the 20th-century thinks it found out: that finding things out is an open-ended conversation.

I am influenced, and aim to comment on all these past and westphalian goings-on. I make no secret that the relation between the west and the world today is of marked concern, as I aim to illuminate elements of pervasive and problematic ethical and political circumstances that find as their genesis the antagonisms and parasitisms of that relation.

To repurpose the name of an old skeptic from a ‘school’ contending language vicious, my thoughts will be set on the thought of conceptual and epistemic revolution.


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Screenshot of Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 La Grande Bellezza (partial)

4.

I have ideas for the coming months, though everything flows. I’ll explore Carroll and Foucault on the mad, Kant and Wittgenstein on the conversant, and Ahmed and Spivak on the political. Boris’ Amplifier Worship and Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza might feature. I’ve also got hold of a study of the lives and loves of women poets and writers of the Caribbean, by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley. Cixous will inevitably show up in places. Los.

The involvement of the writer in culture is organic, and a part of how everything flows. If the past is gone, it is only here as the present. As you and I are. Culture is the multifarious and interpolated existence of myriad and idiosyncratic individuals—whether Deleuze lasts for days, or speculative realism dies the sudden, tragic death of the left behind, or Lorde points to the serious and deficient want of the righting of wrongs.

I want the righting of wrongs. I want the right rules. I want love and honor, not hate or fear.

Some contemporary views note that Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is leading to his Politics, yet the Philosopher—Aristotle’s medieval sobriquet—was not under the odd impression that the most important goal in Greek life—in the lives of those with which he lived—was to be politicians. To think of it as such, is to neglect historicization. The Lyceum is not San Francisco State University.

Aristotle’s point, I think, if we’re bent to give it conceptual space to breathe, is at its most charitable along the lines we heard—from consciousness-raising group to art installation, from demonstration to deliberation—during the women’s rights movement and the modern revitalization of feminism.

If eudaimonia is anything today, it is that the personal is political.

This column is personal, in such a sense. Quite like Pessoa, that I am pseudonymous does nothing to sway this. This column is Aenesidemus as the terse columnist and critic. I’m already responsible for a series of dramatic and musical compositions—tragedies and songs. A columnist, however, is something to add. There’s a sense of relevance.

there’s things to discuss.

I’m under the impression there are a staggering number of wrongs to be addressed, if not redressed, about the world. There is structural, hierarchical, and hegemonic oppression. There is something to be said.

Culture is essential—as lesson and plan. The mantra for this column is that lives are always in the balance. The personal is political. Lives are always in the balance.

We philosophers of the west love our conceptual clarity, so emphasizing that finality, of necessity, there, modally, is characteristic. Emphasizing the lives is what’s overlooked.


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The Winged Nike marble statue c. 200-190 BCE

5.

lives are always in the balance.

Pessoa wrote The Education of the Stoic using a pseudonym he called The Baron of Teive.

The Baron is pure reason embodied in text and character. Due to that drought, Pessoa has the Baron writing us a suicide note.

The preeminent rationalist finding no guide for living because, the Baron writes, the first function of life is action: a wholly intellectual life is an existential contradiction.

To think is to create an interpretation of the universe, he writes, that is a mere hallucination.

There is a metaphor that illustrates what he means in a marble statue sculpted in Hellenistic Greece at the beginning of the century after Zeno began holding his school at the Stoa, and often identified as the most famous piece of the period.

One of its names is The Winged Nike. It’s a fantastical representation of the Greek deity Nike, the goddess of victory. The winged immortal stands tall and forthright, often appraised as forcing her way forward against a strong sea breeze to signal triumph.

This statue is a striking analogue because of this perceived posture and intent, which is reminiscent of the pride the Baron feels in his conquering of that Caesar of Reality by suicide, but also because the statue no longer has its head or arms.

The Baron writes of the simple egoism of the Greeks, their Protagorean man as measure of world, and that modern culture is imbued with a tragic complex of Schopenhauerian temperament.

The statue of victory today is without a head or arms.

Modern reason achieves victory over itself by its own act destroying itself, headless and senseless.

Inorganic and empty, Pessoa’s Baron commits suicide because reason describes only the reasoner.

The world is for the unreasonable and the inhumane. Reality is for the mad.

i am mad.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

I’m going to do something about it.


July’s Accompaniments

1. Corrupted’s 1995 Esclavo off EP Nadie
2. Joyce Manor’s 2010 Five Beer Plan off EP Constant Headache
3. Dæphne’s 2015 Sharpness Is the Game I Play off EP Full Circle
4. The Melvins’ 1991 Boris off LP Bullhead
5. From Monument to Masses’ 2003 Comrades and Friends off LP The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps

 

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