Well, as always, these are long overdue and far too brief for the attention that some of these books deserve (especially the one by Jennings). So it goes.
1. Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul: On Justice by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.
As the title says, this book is a reading of both Derrida and Paul in relation to the subjects of justice (those dikai- root words in the New Testament, which are commonly and perhaps deceptively translated as ‘righteousness’), law, grace, gift, debt, duty, and hospitality. Most of these subjects exist in something of an aporetic relation to one another (duty and gift, justice and law, etc.) and Jennings spells out the ways in which both Derrida and Paul negotiate those relations.
This a rich text and provided a lot of food for thought. What I really appreciated about Jennings was the way in which he expounded Derrida. Unlike most Derrideans I have encountered (who tend to get off on speaking their own argot), Jennings writes with precision and clarity and actually made me want to read Derrida some more (and that’s saying something, as he has been my least favourite of the Continental philosophers I have studied).
2. Violence by Slavoj Žižek.
For some reason, I can’t seem to get away from Žižek. I’ve got a list of ‘books to read’ that is about a mile long, but then I always seem to just end up picking up another title by this crazy Slovenian.
However, I’m glad I did. Of the Žižek books I have read (seven now), Violence is probably the most readable (I can’t tell if he is getting better at structuring his thoughts — hell, in the epilogue of this book, he even summed up his argument in its various stages! — or if I’m just getting better at understanding what he is talking about… it might be a bit of both).
Anyway, what Žižek does in this book is explore some of the facets of the structural or objective violence that undergirds our contemporary world of global capitalism. That is to say, instead of understanding violence simply as immediate subjective outbursts (one person strikes another, somebody flies a plane into a building, etc.), Žižek looks at the ways in which violence lies at the foundation of our way of life, our economics, our ideologies, our language, and so on. So, violence is not something that bursts into a previously ‘neutral’ environment; rather, violence already suffuses our environment and the outbursts we see manifest that.
One of the points that ends up being hammered home is the inescapability of living violently. Therefore, Žižek concludes that we must engage in a form of redemptive violence. For him, this amounts to doing nothing (which can be the greatest form of violence — where violence is understood as a force that actually creates a change… which is also why Žižek can say that the problem with people like Mao or Stalin or Hitler is that they were ‘not violent enough’… i.e. they continued to practice the type of violence that didn’t really create the space for a genuine change [or Event, or Novum, or whatever language you want to use for that]). Now, I may not agree with Žižek’s understanding of redemptive violence, but I do agree that violence is inescapable and am left thinking that our choice is not between being more or less violent, but between two kinds of violence.
3. How Nonviolence Supports the State by Peter Gelderloos.
I am now convinced that it is the anarchists who most urgently need to gain a voice in the Church — and particularly amongst Christians who are seeking ‘alternate’ ways of living Christianly in today’s world (those involved in New Monasticism, the Emergent Church, Sojourners, whatever). Seriously, these people are showing us the Way (of Jesus Christ). So, if you’re asking yourself ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, I think you’ll find your answer amongst the anarchists… and I don’t think I’m overstating my case by saying that.
Anyway, in How Nonviolence Protects the State, Peter Gelderloos continues Ward Churchill’s daming criticism of the ideology, impotence, and perversity of nonviolence. He demonstrates how a good many of the heroes of nonviolence relied upon violence or spoke approvingly of it in other contexts (King, Gandhi, Mandela), he demonstrates how nonviolence regularly fails to attain its goal (such as the worldwide protests against the Second Iraq War… while violence, like the train bombings in Spain did prove efficacious), and he drives home the point that nonviolent means of resistance are almost always a way in which people of privilege alleviate their own guilt for continuing to live as (oppressive) people of privilege. Therefore, nonviolence actually becomes a means of maintaining current structures of power, rather then being an avenue for change.
I strongly recommend this book and, true to anarchist principles, it is available for free online.
4. The Just by Albert Camus.
I know I just read this play recently but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and decided to reread it. Last time I read it in French, but I was able to find a free English version on line (see here). Of course, the English isn’t nearly as good (yep, I’m looking down my nose while saying this!), but it’s okay.
What I love about this play (which is based upon the true story of the bombing of the Uncle of the Tsar in Russia in the late 19th century) is all the questions it raises. What constitutes a truly ‘revolutionary’ act? Can poetry be revolutionary are only bombs revolutionary? What does love require of us? Can taking the lives of some constitute and act of love for the many? When one begins to kill out of love, where does one draw the line? Further, when our love of ‘the people’ prevents us from being able to love the ones we are actually with, what does that say about our love?
I would like to use this text in a discussion group. Recommended reading.
5. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.
This book was lent to me by a co-worker and, given that I don’t read a lot of contemporary, popular fiction, I didn’t have very high expectations. However, I was very pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the book. It’s the story of a misfit girl growing up with her dad, abandoned by her mom and older sister, in a small Mennonite town — and it contains a lovely swirl of beauty, laughter, and heartache (a bit like The Brothers K that way… although not as good). Good fun.
6. Black Hole by Charles Burns.
It has been awhile since I read any graphic novels. I’ve been hesitant to go back to that genre. My problem was that I stumbled onto (what I consider to be) the best works first — Blankets by Craig Thompson, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Epileptic by David B — and everything else I read ended up feeling like a let down. So, having lowered my expectations, this book was recommended to me (it tells the story of teens in the seventies who start contracting a strange plague-like disease and then spirals off from there). There’s some pretty rad horror- or apocalyptic-type art in the book, and it was fun enough to read, if you’re in the mood for something mindless.