Hannah Fitzpatrick and Anindya Raychaudhuri discuss a topical podcast that covers politics, power, and pop culture

What is the State of the Theory podcast?

Hannah Fitzpatrick: Like most podcasts, State of the Theory is a manifestation of our narcissism. It began as an optimistic hope (albeit with few expectations) that our casual conversations might be of interest to, and spark debate among, our friends and colleagues. We used to commute together a few times a week, and the car became a sort of impromptu seminar venue, but without the audience. After the last research auditing exercise undertaken by the UK government in 2014, Impact and Public Engagement became quantifiable entities that might be used for or against us later in our careers, so the podcast is a sort of compromise, a way for us to demonstrate that our thoughts have value beyond the walls of the Vauxhall Astra, while still doing it on our own terms. A way of selling out without entirely selling out, if you will. Also, we missed the long drive, where all we could do was chat, and we could have these long, multi-stage conversations over the course of a week or two, so the podcast was a way for us to recreate that time. (more…)

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Michel Foucault

“The shape of Foucault’s intellectual trajectory was already controversial during his lifetime. Readers asked, for example, whether his late turn to the ethics of self-care was a betrayal of his earlier Nietzschean prophecy that the concept of “man” was destined to disappear. How could he distinguish between right and wrong in human actions without a commitment to the self and the human? Had Foucault finally renounced Nietzsche, and if so, was that a good or bad thing?

The lectures, diverging as they often do from the books that made Foucault famous, only added to the controversy. They are—along with various manifestos, unpublished drafts, interviews, and other miscellaneous writings—now also the subject of two fascinating new books by Stuart Elden: Foucault: The Birth of Power and Foucault’s Last Decade. In the former, Elden tries to soothe some of the long-standing tensions between Foucault and Marx, in part by displaying hidden continuities between Foucault’s early work on madness and knowledge and his later work on power. In the latter, Elden deals with the 10 years after Foucault finished the manuscript of Discipline and Punish and began (on the same day!) The History of Sexuality. He shows how much of Foucault’s interest in sexuality was actually an interest in governmentality, or technologies of rule. When Foucault talked about subjectivity, Elden argues, he was also talking about the formation of subjects in the political sense, or how human beings become subjected to power.”

— Bruce Robbins, The Nation

Rachele Dini discusses how the work of J.G. Ballard, Don DeLillo, and Samuel Beckett engages with one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)
Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2016)

What motivated you to write Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction?

Well, I’ve been attracted to remnants of different kinds since I was very little, and was obsessed with cutting up magazines as a teenager—but intellectually, the turning point for me was during my MA at King’s College London. I noticed almost immediately that the texts on the modules I was taking were unusually concerned with fragments and fragmentation. Dickens, Zola, Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Ballard, Calvino, and of course Walter Benjamin and Adorno: physical and metaphorical waste proliferates in all of these authors’ work. In hindsight, this was to be expected since the course focused on the seismic effects of capitalist modernity, and waste is certainly one of these. But that focus on residual matter reproaching you for throwing it away, or on things not working and stuff falling apart, especially compelled me at the time, since it was the opposite in every way from the focus of my day job in market research. Market research is an industry essentially devoted to promoting the very things that leftist theory denounces: its modus operandi is to find ways of selling more. So the first spark for the PhD project that ultimately turned into this book was the conflict between the rhetoric of ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ (to quote Daft Punk) I was accustomed to in my working life, and all of the countercultural—or simply denunciatory—writing I discovered through my studies, which called that rhetoric into question. (more…)

Beautiful light today. Went running along the water’s edge.

fa704-karlmarxjennyKarl Marx‘s life has always fascinated me. When I hear his name, I imagine him restlessly working in the reading rooms of the British Museum, juggling his money problems and worrying about his family. While Marx is acknowledged as a titan of philosophical thought, it’s the relatable, everyday details that transfix me. Aware of this interest, my good friend Anindya Raychaudhuri has sent me an article by Benjamin Kunkel for The Nation.

Kunkel points out a fundamental problem for Marx biographers: “Biographies are typically narratives of the lives of important figures who loom large against the backdrop of history. Yet Marxism […] warned from the start against reading the past as the affair of solitary individuals rather than antagonistic classes.” In an essay that comprises biography, commentary, and analysis, Kunkel traces a history of Marx biographies through the decades. I won’t be giving up my romantic, and perhaps sentimental, image of Marx anytime soon, but Kunkel’s piece is an important reminder of the political and ideological roles that biographical writing can play.

Will Self contributes to The Observer’s ‘My Other Life’ series by pondering an alternative career as an academic
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Will Self

I thought I might be an academic. I read PPE at Oxford and was very interested in Marx, Wittgenstein, Habermas – theories of knowledge and praxis. I applied to do an MPhil, but unfortunately I was busted for drugs before I sat my finals and went into something of a tailspin. I would’ve been a crap academic anyway – like most novelists I’m only really interested in being interested. When I left university I took a job as a driver/labourer for a builder in Stoke Newington. I lasted about six months and was about to get a raise when – feeling my Tolstoyan Pierre moment ending – I threw it over. A succession of deadend jobs followed, strung together by the cartoons I published in the New Statesman and other small left-wing periodicals. The only proper suit-and-tie job I’ve had in my life was the two years in the late 1980s when I ran a small corporate publishing company. I even had a Ford Sierra! Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and learned about every element of the publishing process, from copy editing to layout to print. I wrote my first book, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, in the early mornings before the rest of the staff came in for the day. [Read More]

Harvard acquires manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks and proofs by the post-war French writer and philosopher
Maurice Blanchot
Maurice Blanchot
Houghton Library has acquired the archive of French writer, literary theorist, and philosopher Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) from his daughter, Cidalia Blanchot. Christie McDonald, Smith Professor of French Language and Literature at Harvard University, said, “I am thrilled by Houghton’s acquisition of this important archive.  Scholars will have unprecedented access to material that will give us a deeper understanding of his work.”

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Alberto Comparini (LARB) reviews a new study of the novel-essay and its place in modernity
“Hybrid genres,” and the questionable orthodoxy of traditional genres, are subjects that continue to vex literary theory. Consider Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities: What do these novels share? What kind of novels are they? Are these books truly novels, or are they another form altogether?

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From Richard Marshall (3:AM Magazine)
Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse (2011)
Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse (2011)

“In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Alberto. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse.” (more…)

US President Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx exchanged letters at the end of the Civil War. Although they were divided by far more than the Atlantic Ocean, they agreed on the cause of “free labor” and the urgent need to end slavery. [Source]

I have always been fascinated by the daily rituals and routines that govern people’s everyday lives. Daily Routines has compiled a wide and varied selection of such rituals, taken from interviews and biographies of some of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. It makes for fascinating reading – even if browsing the daily routines of others leaves little time for our own.

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Friedrich Schiller's workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.
Friedrich Schiller’s workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.

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