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Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (Routledge Classics)
Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (Routledge Classics)
by Jacques Derrida
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where is Marxism? Where is it going?, 5 Sep 2010
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This is a fascinating book. To make the most of what this work has to say, I recommend reading 'ghostly demarcations' afterwards, for a discussion of this book by Derrida and many marxist readers. 'Specters of Marx' is based on talks conducted by Derrida addressing the question 'whither Maxism?' - where does it stand? Where is it going? He outlines various answers to this, but the bulk of this work discusses what deconstruction's relation to Marx is, and what this seeks to achieve.

Derrida tells us that deconstruction follows a 'certain spirit of marxism'. There are many different aspects of Marx's thought which various 'marxisms' have picked up on and use as a critique/tool of analysis for modern political issues. Derrida draws upon Marx's notion of 'spectrality'. What is spectrality? It is 'a non-living present in a living present'. This sounds complex, so lets unpack what this meant to Marx, and then to Derrida...

For Marx, capitalism has transformed the nature of objects, they are no longer determined by their use value. Rather, we identify ourselves with commodities, they become a part of our identity, they dictate who we wish to be. Think today of how advertising is used to sell products - through the use of models, sexual imagery and so forth. The product is more than an object to use, it is seen as a means of transforming oneself into something ideal (but something that we can never, in reality become). Spectrality is thus what is never there, but not strictly speaking simply absent either. It haunts the present.

But for Derrida, Marx is mistaken that, through abandoning capitalism, we can shake off these specters. The specters are always there, every 'self-same' is haunted by its 'other', nothing is quite as simply, sharply determined as it may seem. Derrida constantly references Macbeth throughout this book, in particular the line 'this time is out of joint' is quoted frequently. Derrida challenges the idea that we can ever fully see the world as it is, its ontology, what it is 'in itself' (see it in-joint). Rather, out condition is that we see the world through a conceptual lens that is organised through language, but the meanings of words change, they defer, subtlely shift in relation to one another.

Derrida ties this into ethics and politics. Deconstructive ethics, then, is an openness to otherness, which is also an openness to l'avenir (the future-to-come). What this means is that we should never believe we can fully tie everything down, categorise everything, recognise everything, and everyone absolutely. We should not believe categories such as race, nation, class etc are simple reflections of the world in itself. Derrida wants us to open politics to otherness, that is, recognise that our perspective is context dependent, and that how we percieve things now is not simply 'right'. We need to be open to the possibility of change - changes that we cannot even fathom, and that this openness to the unfathomable is itself where justice lies, for, as Kierkeguaard once said, 'once you label me, you negate me'. Reality is not reduceable to any categories, any ontology. This reduction is what Derrida seeks to break from, deconstructive ethics and politics is 'infinitizing' for it remains open to a beyond categorisation. This is what Derrida calls a 'messianicity without messianism'.

The book is an interesting to read, it seems to flow from a philosophical critique to a work of literature in itself. It is very enjoyable and thought-provoking. Derrida wants to challenge the views of the right, in particular Fukuyama, who's recent work has celebrated 'the end of history', which amounts to the death of communism. He also warns against seeing Marx as merely a great philosopher, with no practical relevance on politics today. But he also calls for marxists to acknowledge the crimes committed in their name.

Challenges and shorcomings of this book are raised in the symposium I mentioned earlier, published by verso, entitled 'Ghostly Demarcations', so I shall outline those in more detail in a review of that book. I will, however, mention that perhaps the biggest problem with this book is that Derrida doesnt properly address the issue perhaps closest to the heart of nearly every form of marxism - class. In what way does deconstruction challenge the exploitation of the powerless?
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2014 6:32 PM BST


WAIT FOR ME [VINYL]
WAIT FOR ME [VINYL]
Price: £13.13

5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic, dont miss out on this!, 2 Sep 2010
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This review is from: WAIT FOR ME [VINYL] (Vinyl)
Without a doubt, this is the best Moby album I've heard since he released 'Play', I may even rate it as his best work, it is simply beautiful. This vinyl contains 2 pure white vinyl discs in a beautifully designed casing. Unlike many albums on vinyl, the whole tracklist from the cd is present on this pressing. This purchase also comes with a cardboard-cased cd with the same artwork as the also-available plastic case. The artwork is great, and at this price, what are you waiting for? An excellent investment, add to your collection, you won't regret it!


Emmanuel Levinas (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
Emmanuel Levinas (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
by SeŠn Hand
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointed, 2 Sep 2010
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Having already purchased, read and learnt much from the books on Derrida and Bhabha in this series, I had high hopes for this one. My interest in Levinas stems from an interest in the work of Martin Buber, who greatly influenced Levinas (something sadly unacknowledged in this guide by Hand). I was also interested in Levinas because of his influence on Jacques Derrida.

This book does do many things well, which I shall give it recognition for. But I think a great many individuals, who've heard of Levinas and would like to find an introduction to his thought, won't enjoy this, and sadly, for the most part, neither have I. As an introduction to Levinas' key works it is much too difficult, the wording is dense and obscure. Even if this is so with Levinas' works themselves, Hand must remember this is an introduction, a way in for readers to engage a challenging writer. The summaries at the end of each chapter are really poor, and do nothing to aid the reader.

The book does start very well, outlining Levinas' life and contextualising his thought. But by chapter 4, the book had become extremely difficult to read, discussing Levinas' book 'Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence'. From this chapter on, largely, it made Levinas' writings feel less relevant, rather than more, to modern politics or an ethics we, as human beings should and can practice.

Hand does a good job in showing that the core of Levinas' teaching is remaining open to 'the Other'. We can never know all that the Other has to offer, all that the Other is and can be, but we are obligated, when confronted with 'the face' of the Other to show responsiblity. Hand is also honest in his assessment of Levinas' writing - he highlights re-occuring hypocrasy which he finds 'embarrassing', where Levinas preaches openness to other groups, then elsewhere belittles groups 'other' to himself. His (verging extreme) zionist attitudes and views on the talmud were particularly eye-opening, and I certainly respect Levinas considerably less for the hypocrasy and bias he displayed when discussing issues relating to his own ethnic and religious group.

Levinas opposes philosophy which place the fundamental basis of the human condition either as 'dasein' (mere existence - being-in-the-world, as in Heidegger) or structures of difference within symbolic orders (structuralism, e.g. Levi-Strauss). Levinas sees humanity as having its funadamental being in relation to the face of the Other. Hand finishes this book well, with an outline of more recent thinkers who have developed or challenged Levinas' ideas, including Badiou, Butler and Zizek. Hand clearly has a deep knowledge regarding Levinas' work and theory, but large parts of this book are draining and frustrating for his reader; the main problem is that he doesn't do enough to make Levinas' individual works accessible or feel relevant here. Hand is often at his most engaging when highlighting Levinas' failure to act upon his own ethics, which may not inspire readers to engage deeper with this thinker.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2011 5:37 PM BST


After Theory
After Theory
by Terry Eagleton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written, but not always hitting its targets, 29 Aug 2010
This review is from: After Theory (Paperback)
This is a hugely enjoyable book to read. Filled with wit, laugh-out-loud humour, insight, and written in way where chapters follow effortlessly together, it is no wonder that Eagleton is so highly regarded as a writer as well as a literary critic.

This book is basically about how we stand today, in a world where global capitalism is master of all, fundamentalisms betray the central messages of peace of their own religions, and marxism is all but dead. Eagleton, a marxist, looks at the state of marxism today, what it can still have to say after the abominable acts committed in its name, and also how the left itself has changed over the 20th century and since. The book is called 'After Theory', because, we live in a period after a dramatic rise (and now, subsequent decline) in (largely left-wing) continental philosophy and a new form of literary criticism, where the likes of Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva and co. transformed the way we think about our reality. Eagleton is surely right that we can never go back to a time 'pre-theory', we cannot think, and think seriously, as if this earthquake had never happened.

So far so good, so why only 3 stars? The problem with this book is the vagueness regarding Eagleton's 'postmodern' and post-structuralist targets. Frequent reference to 'weaker' postmodern theorists make his own case seem weak, for he never tells you who these weaker theorists are, and whats more, why should we care what weaker postmodern theory says? Shouldnt he be tackling it at its most demanding and challenging if he is going to protect his meta-narrative, a certain marxism, from it? It simply isn't good enough to shoot down un-named weaker targets. This is particularly disappointing, when you consider that Eagleton criticises Richard Dawkins for this very same thing regarding religion.

In summary, I really enjoyed this book, I'm very glad I read it, but be prepared to be frustrated at points. I would suggest reading Derrida's 'Specters of Marx' and then Derrida, Eagleton, Jameson et al's symposium of this book of Derrida's, entitled 'Ghostly Demarcations', if you are interested in deconstruction's relation to marxism and some far more detailed responses.


The Birth of the Clinic (Routledge Classics)
The Birth of the Clinic (Routledge Classics)
by Michel Foucault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'The Birth of the Clinic', 13 July 2010
'The Birth of the Clinic' is one of four major works by Foucault during his 'archeaological' period. The works are 'archeaological' in the sense that they dig beneath the surface of history; beneath the major events, discoveries and key figures, in order to locate the effect of shifts in discourse and how these transformations in ways of thinking and speaking provide the condition by which the surrounding world and goings-on are made sense of.

This book is very difficult to read. Only those who are familiar with Foucault beforehand should consider reading this book; it requires being familiar with structuralist lingo and ideally some knowledge of medical terminology beforehand. The book takes you on a journey, moving from France and its medical discourse during the 1600s, through to the 1900s and glimpses at the 20th century in its conclusion.

It is effectively a book about how the subject of medicine and clinical practice has undergone certain perceptual transformations in relation to changes in discursive practice (ways of speaking, thinking and accordingly, performing). Questions such as what is the ideal environment for the patient to recover from illness, and what is the fundamental nature of disease have been answered very differently in differing periods. Foucault tries to identify 'the gaze'; the way that the object in question (the patient, disease etc) is treated, and the varying modes of classifying, ordering, relating, distinguishing and so forth are used in address of this object, and how each gaze transforms, opening the possiblity for another to take it's place as a dominant discourse for clinical practice. To this extent it is a challenge to positivism, and modern attempts to stabilise the core of 'man' as an object of enquiry with a fixed identifiable nature (e.g. as in psychoanalysis).

If this seems a bit heavy going, believe me, you will not want to read the book without delving into a book or website about Foucault's thought first. If you're willing to dig through this often heavy going, but not especially long book (about 250 pages), you may well get some interesting insights out of this work.

To summarise then, this is a very thorough work, well researched, but it is difficult, so be well prepared. Read if you are interested in Foucault's methodology, but don't start here, start with an intro to Foucault. The stanford uni press webpage has a good intro to Foucault's thought by Gary Gutting. Barry Smart has written a good intro too.


Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship
Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship
by J. C. Polkinghorne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Polkinghorne's Best, 9 July 2010
I would recommend reading 'Belief in God in an Age of Science' to get a picture of Polkinghorne's views, rather than this book. the main problem is that the links between theology and quantum theory aren't always particularly strong. In fairness, it is clearly written, enjoyable, and Polkinghorne displays his usual warmth and humour. But it didn't feel a very robust work, I felt no more compelled to delve deeper into christian theology, and, in this work, I didn't see it displaying the 'verisilimitude' Polkinghorne is confident it possesses. It does give a good account of the unfolding of ideas in both christian theology and quantum theory, but, overall, I felt the whole was not as good as its various parts.


Homi K. Bhabha (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
Homi K. Bhabha (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
by David Huddart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly Clear and Thought-Provoking Introduction, 8 May 2010
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Homi K. Bhabha is notoriously difficult to read. This book is the perfect way of accessing the ideas within his most influential and discussed book, 'The Location of Culture' and also highlights key ideas in his other texts such as 'Nation and Narration'. This book is extremely clear, dedicating a chapter to each key concept of bhabha's, which are all means of understanding the nature of culture, cultural rights, the position of the migrant, and the identity struggle taking place between coloniser and colonised. It maps out perfectly his notions of hybridity, mimicry and the nation, which are really thought-provoking. It also outlines clearly the influences on Bhabha (Said, Foucault, Derrida, Fanon, Lacan), those influenced by him (e.g. Rushdie) and the reception of his ideas. What this book does so well, along with making Bhabha's ideas accessible, is outline the critical and favourable responses to it (and, in some cases, to post-colonialism in general) and it doesn't simply rubbish the criticisms, it thoughtfully engages with them, and shows respect where due, particularly to Hallward's thoughtful response. It also dedicates a lot of time to the controversies surrounding Bhabha, especially his reading of Fanon, which, seemingly puts words into Fanon's mouth.

An excellent book that keeps you thinking, subtley encouraging you to challenge and face your own, as well as Bhabha's ideas on culture, colonialism, and post-colonialism as you read. many of the features of Bhabha's work which I found most questionable throughout the book duely reappeared in the chapter 'After Bhabha' which addressed the suffiency of such ideas.

This is certainly the best introductory guide to a critical thinker I've read. It is much better than Royle's book on Derrida in the same series, which lacks the clarity and engagment with critics which this book does so well, this is much more well-rounded. If culture studies interests you, I can't recommend this book enough.


Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (Routledge Classics)
Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (Routledge Classics)
by Mary Midgley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Have we a nature?, 29 April 2010
This was Mary Midgley's first book, published when in her 50s, in 1977. This routledge classics edition has a superb and lucid preface by Midgley (a decent length too - definitely get this edition) which explains the relevance of the ideas in this book today, in a world where many academics promote a view of human nature built on the extremes of biological reductionism, or postmodern scepticism. Midgley's book is still very relevant today, and finds a useable middle-ground between these two. The real crux of this book is the chapter 'Why We Need a Culture', and the final chapter 'The Unity of Life'. Those who haven't time to read the whole 350-400 pages, I recommend reading at least the preface and these two sections, they really are worth reading. The writing style is clear and engaging.

Midgley outlines two popular views of the human subject, the 'sociobiogical' stance promoted by E.O Wilson, where man is nothing more than the sum of his biological parts, and the opposite view, whereby there is no 'human nature' whatever. This view, which Midgley referrs to as the 'blank paper' theory, takes many forms, including Satre's form of existentialism, as well as some forms of sociological theory (I presume Midgley is referring to Goffman and other symbolic interactionists - one of the biggest weaknesses of the book is she doesnt say, or cite, any of the sociology she is supposedly challenging). Psychoanalysis is often viewed as a plausible middle ground, but Midgley prefers the ethological standpoint, perhaps for its stronger empirical backing.

Her approach draws from a range of sources that vary as radically as from philsopher Martin Buber through to naturalist Konrad Lorenz. Her view, in brief, is that we are part of the animal world, and that, through ethology we can see many aspects of our nature which are not unique to us, which suggests they are part of our make-up, part of what it is to be our-kind-of-being in the world. For example, the discomfort at being stared at is an unusual but useful example - this is not produced by a cultural context, it is present in many species. The book also offers a defence of moral philosophy from Wilson's reductive determinism, and challenges sociobiology's Hobbesian view of humanity, where man is fundamentally out for himself. Midgley's claim is that we are social, cultural beings by nature - that is - by our very nature, we need others, and a wider culture, to complete us. We are interdependent beings. Her approach is refreshingly holistic, and some of the works she uses to build her case are very much worth reading in their own right too, e.g. 'The sovereignty of Good' by Iris Murdoch and 'I and Thou' by Martin Buber.

At times Midgley is a little too conservative for my liking, for example, she seems to take a great deal of modern applications of gender as natural which I would regard as changeable and as products of culture. There is so much reliance on ethology, which is good, except it is not balanced with a broader look at the extent to which concepts of human nature belong to specific discursive practices, available in specific historical/social settings. Here, some acknowlegement of Foucault, Weber, Mauss or Nikolas Rose is needed before Midgley's project can feel robust. Nevertheless, this is still a very important book and an excellent place to go to deflate the rhetoric of sociobiology, or to offer us a view of humanity that sees us as more than spaces passively filled by culture.


On Dialogue (Routledge Classics)
On Dialogue (Routledge Classics)
by David Bohm
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dialogue as Openness, 10 April 2010
In this short book (under 150 pages) David Bohm discusses the urgent need for dialogue in the modern world. The book is a collection of short essays and talks conducted by Bohm. It is written in plain english, largely free of technical jargon, making it a very accessible and enjoyable read. He gives excellent examples accompanying the points that he makes, making this book enjoyable as well as easy to digest and the points easy to recall to memory.

It is common for communication to be 'monologue disguised as dialogue', where each person speaks to portray the correctness of their own view, rather than to learn from others and reconsider their own assumptions. Bohm explains how this condition has arisen with such force in the modern world. He explains why it is essential for genuine, open dialogue to take place, between individuals, societies, cultures and so forth, and he also demonstrates how dialogue can take place, what the difficulties are and how they can be overcome. Bohm's vision is not for his opinions to 'trump' alternative views, but for there to be a genuine openness where people (including himself) can identify their own taken for granted assumptions, through dialogue with others. Only then can we break free of our own pre-judgements and assumptions, and see that our views are not simply 'right', but are only a particular lens through which to see the world, conditioned by our own experiences.

The core theme of all Bohm's philosophy is wholeness and fragmentation. For Bohm, the belief that the world is naturally fragmented into specific identifiable objects, which are straight-forwardly 'reflected' in our language is the central cause of confusion and social/personal conflict in the world, because different languages and practices fragment nature in different ways. It is better to see all objects as abtractions, belonging to our thought processes, rather than as being inherent distinctions in nature itself. In short, Bohm sees all reality as one whole, and all distinctions we make are representations reliant on our thought processes, which are themselves abstractions.

'On Dialogue' is an excellent book and very important. I also highly recommend Bohm's book 'On Creativity' - a genuine masterpiece full of insight.


Jacques Derrida (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
Jacques Derrida (Routledge Critical Thinkers)
by Nicholas Royle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars challenging, but not without some reward, 1 April 2010
There are some things this book does excellently, I'll list these as pro's,

pro's:

> The book gives thorough attention to derrida's vast catalogue of works, quoting from his short essays and major texts alike throughout to illustrate the points made.

> Royle has an excellent sense of humour (as does Derrida) which lights up a fair few pages in this book.

> The book constantly draws attention to itself, it gives no illusion of presenting a 'true' Derrida, but rather 'Royle's Derrida'. Texts are open and when we read them, we interpret them in our own style. I enjoyed its constant playfulness, where it both attempted to conform and rebel against the set structure of the 'critical thinkers' series it is a part of.

> It hasn't put me off reading Derrida, in fact its made works such as 'positions', 'spectres of marx' and 'of grammatology' seem more relevant to me and I intend to grapple those texts in the near future.

> It sets out the key ideas well, whilst challenging the very notion of 'key ideas'. Notions such as differance, the supplement and deconstruction are outlined and explored with examples, without being set in stone, fixing a singular meaning to such notions, e.g. deconstruction has a multiplicity of meanings, ranging from 'a coming to terms with literature' through to 'the experience of the impossible'. Through these notions, Royle illustrates how Derrida highlights the instablitiy, the very unfixablity of a meaning to any given term in language, and any meaning perscribed to a given text.

However, there were a few things I hoped to see explored which weren't, and some areas where I think Royle expected too much of his readers (it is, after all, supposed to be accessible to those with no prior understanding of Derrida's thought). I'll list the downside of this book,

cons:

> There are a fair few chunks I didn't grasp well at all, readers who know little of Derrida should be warned that, though this is an intro to Derrida, its still difficult to get your head round many of the concepts. I'm still not sure how to deconstruct a text for myself (or, perhaps to put it more accurately, I wouldn't know how to locate the deconstruction already at work in a text). But I imagine more familiarity of examples in Derrida's own work, or perhaps others such as Bloom or De Man would help.

> If you want to know a little about Derrida's family life, upbringing, major experiences that have shaped his thought, and important thinkers who have influenced him, sadly there just isn't much here at all, it wants to read like a Derrida text, rather than situate Derrida's thought in terms of his life history. It seems to sacrifice engagement with 'Derrida - the person' in exchange for a focus on 'Derrida - the author'. To gain a small glimpse of the man himself behind the thought, the film entitled 'Derrida' is pretty good, as it shows a little of his home life whilst exploring his ideas with him - although obviously through the eye of film - it is the film makers text no less than his own (and, arguably, the viewers).

> There are many interesting areas of controversy surrounding Derrida that weren't mentioned by Royle, e.g. his fall-out with Foucault, his imprisonment on false drug charges, and his defence of De Man despite his links to nazism. Some mention of these would have been interesting.

> Derrida is like marmite. Some academics love deconstruction, others see no worth in it. Royle doesn't really tell us why its so controversal, what are the main criticisms of it? He briefly mentions John Searle (perhaps Derrida's best known critic) but doesn't give much clarity on what his criticism is. As well as leaving criticisms of Derrida aside, there's a bit too much hero-worship, constantly referring to numerous works of his as 'astonishing' or 'extraordinary', without much explanation.

All in all, its an interesting, challenging text. It'll wet your appetite for Derrida, but warn you that reading Derrida constitutes a 'project', rather than a 'read'.

EDIT: I would like to add that since writing this review, I have read Derrida's 'Specters of Marx' and I found it fascinating. Royle's book was much more use than I had realised in grasping Derrida's thought in this book - in particular deconstruction and ethics, and the future to come.


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