What I’m Currently Reading

1. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Volume III  — I just received this in the email and am eager to plow through it this weekend. The Norwegian writer’s Proustian memoir, six volumes in all, are slowly being published in English. I think this is one of the finest works of literature in our time — at least based on my reading of the first two volumes.

2. Aristotle, Politics, translated by Joe Sachs — I am studying this as part of my research into the topic of homonoia (like-mindedness) for the paper I will presenting in Germany this summer. (I just completed a study of his Eudemian Ethics for the same reason.) I just discovered that Sachs had translated it and am obviously delighted. My one disappointment is that he didn’t write the introduction. I have nothing bad to say about Lijun Gu‘s introduction, but Sachs’ other introductions are some of the best short pieces on Aristotle.

3. Kostas Kalimtzis, Aristotle on Political Enmity and Disease: An Inquiry Into Stasis — A nice study of the concept of stasis, which means something like political disorder/disagreement/civil war. Stasis is the contrary of homonoia, so it is important for me to well understand stasis.

4. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, translated by Lewis White Beck — I am reading this with a friend who is doing some work on Kant. I have read the Groundwork many times, but have not read the Second Critique since 20 years ago. As I have been doing some reflective thinking on homonoia, it suddenly occurred to me that Kant had already figured out much of what I had been discovering. The Categorical Imperative might even be an articulation of the condition of the possibility of homonoia.

5. John McCumber, Hegel’s Mature Critique of Kant — I picked this up as a complement to my Kant reading and am finding it quite stimulating. Hegel thought through some implications of Kant quite well, however idiosyncratically, adapting Kant to his own purposes. Hegel’s relation to Kant reminds me of Aristotle’s to Plato. Interpreters often focus too much on disagreement and not enough of the treasure of deep and tacit agreement between each pair. I am frustrated with a common tendency to emphasize disagreement at the expense of deeper agreement. The riches of the tradition are more to be found in homonoia than doctrinal conflict.

6. Rene Girard, Battling to the End — I am still working through this slowly as one of the core textual sources of my paper. A provocative work, at once stimulating and maddening. Girard thinks through the war theorist Clausewitz as a way of understanding the apocalyptic dangers of our age. Girard’s last major work, more important than I thought on my first superficial reading.

7. Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers, translated by John Woods — Somehow I convinced my reading group to take up this massive 1500 page epic, a work that Mann had considered his best but which had suffered from a bad English translation until Woods remedied that. We start in a couple of weeks. We’ll see…




What I’m reading (or just read)

1. Middlemarch. As I mentioned before in this blog, I have been leading a reading group on George Eliot’s masterpiece. We will be discussing Book V tonight. Here’s a nice quote that bears on my blog’s themes: “[The] egoism which enters into our theories does not affect their sincerity; rather, the more our egoism is satisfied, the more robust is our belief.” True, isn’t it?

2. Everything is Obvious (*Once You Know the Answer): How Common Sense Fails Us by Duncan Watts. Very good so far. The subtitle tells it all. As the blurb says, the book is about “how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.” Definitely speaks to the limitations of opinion (since common sense is a type of opinion/doxa in Plato’s sense.)

3. Battling to the End by Rene Girard. A book on the important of the Prussian war strategist Clausewitz (of all people) for understanding the contemporary crisis and its basis in total war and the duel. I read it far to hastily when it came out and am reading much more carefully this time around in preparation for my presentation at the Colloquium on Violence and Religion in July. I still can’t tell if this is Girard’s best book or worst book — I am only two chapters in. I will figure it out and write a review later on. (As a side note I actually participated in a study group at Stanford with Girard when he was working though some of these ideas.)

4. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis. This just came out yesterday and I haven’t received my copy yet, but if Lewis’ previous books are any indication, I will finish this book within a day or two of starting it. I have read an excerpt and (again) Lewis’ books always make useful case studies for some of the epistemological ideas that I explore in this blog. If you told me Michael Lewis’ next book was on sock manufacturing, I would still guess it would be a gripping read.

5. The Up side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle. I just finished this one. A couple of people I respect let me know that this would be a book that I would like and they were definitely right. The book is on failure, which turns out to be an engaging and informative theme — much like my favorite subject: ignorance!

6. Physics by Aristotle, translated by Joe Sachs. I spend the rest of the semester on Aristotle and just reread Books 1 and 3 in preparation for the Ancient Greek Philosophy Class I am teaching. Hopefully I will be able to communicate my excitement in reengaging the great Aristotle!

What I’m Reading

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my attention seems to flit from thing to thing, so that it is not uncommon for me to be reading up to a dozen books at a time — not simultaneously obviously, but from one chapter of one book to a another chapter of another and so on. My chief virtue is not perseverance of attention, but perseverance at returning to what I have left behind. I am pretty tenacious when it comes to that. That said, here are the books I am working on and why: (more…)

On learning from books

I am reading a book called The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death and Pretty Much Everything Else by Christopher Beha. I am enjoying it so far, but of course I am a terrible sucker for books about the discovery and impact of books in people’s lives. Reading such accounts throws me into sweet reveries about my own encounters with books and the enticing prospect of more of the same. Books are personal to me and I am emotionally moved by first-hand descriptions of how others work through the person/book dialectic. Some of my own reading experiences (more…)

How to be Slothful and Productive at the Same Time

My defining sin is sloth. I am pretty good at avoiding sins of commission — although I certainly have my share — but it is the sins of omission that really get me. By sloth I don’t exactly mean laziness; I mean what the medievals called acedia, a condition perfectly consistent with constant activity. In Dante’s Purgatorio, for instance, the slothful are found running nowhere in particular in a restless frenzy. This restlessness is closer to the essence of sloth than true rest is. As Samuel Johnson writes: “It is the just doom of laziness and gluttony to be inactive without ease and drowsy without tranquility.” And: “There is no kind of idleness by which we are so easily seduced as that which dignifies itself by the appearance of (more…)

Favorites Among Books That I Read in 2013

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Volumes I & II — These autobiographical books are just now being put out in English translation out of their original Norwegian, the first two volumes of a projected six volume project. I suspect they will not be to everyone’s taste but they rank with the best things I have ever read. Knausgaard can turn a long description of cleaning a bathroom into gripping reading — I kid you not! Sample quote: “For, while previously I saw time as a stretch of terrain that had to be covered, with the future as a distant prospect, hopefully a bright one, and never boring at any rate, now it is interwoven with our life here (more…)