How to Stop Living and Start Worrying — Simon Critchley

Simon Critchley’s latest book How to Stop Living and Start Worrying picks up where his last work, The Book of Dead Philosophers, left off. Both works explore what Critchley contends to be the signal problem of all philosophy; namely, how one might live a meaningful life against the backdrop of inevitable death. In Dead Philosophers, Critchley plumbed this question by surveying the deaths of dozens of famous philosophers, ultimately affirming a positive reality in death (both our own deaths and the deaths of others), and arguing that philosophies (and religions) that advocate the idea of a spiritual afterlife ultimately negatively disrupt human existence and lead to inauthentic lives. How to Stop Living reiterates these themes in a new form, essentially arguing that in asking “how to live,” we must also ask “how to die” — and also how to love and how to laugh. How to Stop Living takes form as a series of conversations between Critchley and Carl Cederström, an Associate Professor at the Institute of Economic Research at Lund University in Sweden. There’s a warm rapport between the pair, and although Critchley does most of the talking, there’s a genuine dialog in play, not merely a flat interview. The book unfolds over six chapters. The first, “Life,” is a discussion of, well, Critchley’s life, both personal and academic. I originally thought I’d be doing a lot of skimming here, but it’s actually kind of fascinating; more importantly, though, it establishes Critchley’s contention that a philosopher’s work cannot be divorced from his biography. To philosophize is to live. This idea is reiterated succinctly at the beginning of the second chapter, “Philosophy,” when Critchley states—

The first thing to say is that philosophy is not a solely professional or academic activity for me. Philosophy is not a thing, it’s not an entity; it’s an activity. To put it tautologically: philosophy is the activity of philosophizing, an activity which is conducted by finite, thinking creatures like us. Now, my general view of philosophy is that this activity must for part of the life of a culture. Philosophy is the living activity of critical reflection in a specific context; it always has a radically local character.

What follows in “Philosophy” is a somewhat discursive overview of the philosophers who will pop up again and again in the book: Heidegger, Husserl, Kant, Nietzsche, and, of course, Derrida. While I’m laundry listing, I might as well add Freud, Lacan, Beckett, and Hegel as key figures in How to Stop Living. In the third chapter, “Death,” Critchley discusses how many of these philosophers frame a subject’s individual relationship to his or her personal death. In a particularly enlightening passage, Critchley explains Heidegger’s “possibility of impossibility,” the idea that to be authentic, to lead an authentic life, one must internalize and master the finitude of a personal death. The chapter continues, working through other conceptions of death, including those of Freud, Beckett, and Derrida. Perhaps because of its dialogic structure, How to Stop Living often feels like a rap session, a big brainstorm, a work in process, and nowhere is this more evident in a chapter called “Love,” where Critchley moves from Hannah Arendt to The Song of Solomon to Lacan and Freud to a story about his marriage proposal. It’s all a bit messy, a bit watery, a bit undefined, and therefore difficult to summarize, so I’ll let Critchley dish on love in his own words—

Love is the attempt to break the logic of masochism that defines the subject, and to behave in a different way. That’s something that has to be wound up everyday . . . and it’s something with no end; and it requires a constant experience of faith. That’s the only sense I can make of love.

The next section, “Humour,” is better defined—and one of the highlights of the book. Critchley discusses jokes against a backdrop of psychoanalysis and anthropology, ultimately arguing that humor has the power to disrupt an individual’s relation to time or place, and thus reconstitute that relation in some meaningful way. Critchley’s book itself is indeed a meta-joke, a play against the sophistry of New Age self-help books. Indeed, the very name of the book is an inversion of Dale Carnegie’s 1948 “classic” of the genre, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. If you find the cover of Critchley’s book as off-putting and cheesy as I do, just remind yourself that it’s a parody of Carnegie’s cover. And yet Critchley’s sense of humor is not ultimately black irony, but rather a humor of affirmation of — and confrontation of — the absurdity of contemporary life. It’s not irony but authenticity he wants. “Authenticity” is thus the final chapter of this relatively short book, and here Critchley invites his friend (and partner in the International Necronautical Society) novelist Tom McCarthy to participate in the conversation. The chapter is lively, almost frenetic, and frankly all over the place, as Critchley and McCarthy rocket from subject to subject — Finnegans Wake, the Challenger explosion, Terrence Malick, J.G. Ballard, Levinas, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, McCarthy’s first novel Remainder — each reference seems to slip into the next, reined in occasionally by Cederström, who steers the conversation back to its center (leave it to deconstructionists to get off center). Good stuff.

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, despite its tongue in cheek title and cover, and its discursive flow, is serious (if playful) about philosophy. Those interested in the thinkers and topics I’ve mentioned in this review may be interested, but it’s not necessary for one to have a working knowledge of Continental philosophy to enjoy Critchley’s latest. Recommended.

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying is available now from Polity Books.

Simon Critchley on Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

In his new book, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Simon Critchley talks about death in Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line (you can read Critchley’s earlier essay “Calm — On Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line” here)—

So, the hero of The Thin Red Line is this character Witt. And we meet him for the first time on the beach meditating about his mother’s death, imagining that he could meet death with the same calm that his mother seemed to meet it. We then get this romantic flashback: it’s somewhere in the Midwest; he’s touching his mother’s hand; then the hand is pulled away and she’s gone. That’s the fantasy of the authentic death. And Witt, according to Malick, fulfills the fantasy: approaching death with calm — this is Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza. Interestingly, when I was looking at the sources — he’s very faithful to Jim Jones’s novel The Thin Red Line — he inserts the word ‘calm’ into the passage, it’ s not there in the novel. It might or might not be an allusion to Heidegger, where Heidegger, where Heidegger talks about anxiety as an anxiety towards death as an experience of calm, or peace: the German is Ruhe. This is a Romantic ideas of death. For Heidegger, if human beings are authentic they’re heading towards death; if they’re inauthentic they experience demise, which means that we just pass out of existence. But only animals and plants perish, and that just seems to be ridiculous. Human beings perish all the time, can perish, and there are examples like in Kafka’s Trial where one dies like a dog. Human beings die in all sorts of ways, in a permanent vegetative state or whatever.

Book Trailer: Simon Critchley’s How to Stop Living and Start Worrying

The Book of Dead Philosophers — Simon Critchley


A cursory glance at Simon Critchley’s skinny new work, The Book of Dead Philosophers, might lead one to misjudge the book as an ephemeral, superfluous, and even downright jokey sort of “Philosophy for Dummies.” That would be a mistake. While The Book of Dead Philosophers does aim for a broad, popular appeal, Critchley’s wily cataloging of the deaths of nearly 200 philosophers is hardly insubstantial reading. Working from Cicero’s maxim that “To philosophize is to learn how to die,” Critchley sets out to contextualize these philosophers’ writings on death against the very deaths of those philosophers. Ranging from the sophists of ancient Greece to the Classical Buddhists of China to post-modern gadflies like Foucault and Derrida, Critchley’s writing evokes both humor and pathos, and works in some ways as an overview of the history of philosophy without ever becoming didactic or overreaching its central goal.


The Death of Socrates - Jacques-Louis David

While Critchely’s main purpose in Dead Philosophers seems to be to entertain and perhaps enlighten, he doesn’t shy from injecting his own attitude about his subject. In his introduction he addresses philosophies that emphasize an afterlife, arguing “that they cultivate the belief that death is an illusion to be overcome with the right spiritual preparations. However, it is not an illusion, it is a reality that has to be accepted. I would go further and argue that it is in relation to the reality of death that one’s existence should be structured.” Later, Critchley condemns the metaphysical, Platonist tradition further, and, at the same time, provides a greater rationale for his book: “I hope to show the material quality of the many lives and deaths that we will review disrupts the move to something like “Spirit” and places a certain way of doing philosophy in question. To that extent, there is something intensely arrogant, even hubristic, about a philosopher’s disregard for the lives and deaths of other philosophers.” Critchley’s materialist philosophy leads to an occasionally snarky–and quite humorous–tone when writing about the likes of Anslem, Thomas Aquinas, or even Heidegger and Schopenhauer. His sympathies are more earnestly apparent when he addresses the death of someone whose outlook he shares. Critchley on Bertrand Russell: “Any conception of the immortality of the soul is therefore both iniquitous, because it is untrue, and destructive of the possibility of happiness, which requires that we accept our finitude.”

Derrida Queries DeMan -- Mark Tansey

Derrida Queries DeMan -- Mark Tansey

Arranged both chronologically and geographically into short sections ranging from a few sentences to a few pages, Dead Philosophers encourages jumpy, discontinuous, and episodic readings. Still, despite his caveat that he is presenting a “messy and plural ragbag of lives and deaths that cannot simply be ordered into a coherent conceptual schema,” Critchley nonetheless manages to create nuance, layer, and perhaps even a touch of narrative to this work. In one of the final entries of the book, a touching tribute to Jacques Derrida (at three pages, one of the longest in the book–twice as long as the section on Plato), Critchley writes, “the dead live on, they live on within us in a way that disturbs any self-satisfaction, but which troubles us and invites on us to reflect on them further. We might say that wherever a philosopher is read, he or she is not dead. If you want to communicate with the dead, then read a book.” Lovely.

The American publication of The Book of Dead Philosophers is available February 10th, 2009 from Vintage Books.

Many readers will may also be interested in Simon Critchley’s essay on Barack Obama and metaphysical philosophy, “The American Void,” published in last November’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, or the post-victory essay, “What’s Left After Obama?” published last November in Adbusters.



BOOK REVIEWS (by author’s last name):

 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Book reviews

Adrian, Chris

A Better Angel — Chris Adrian

Gob’s Grief — Chris Adrian

The Children’s Hospital — Chris Adrian

Alexander, Patrick

Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time — Patrick Alexander

Almond, Steve

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life — Steve Almond

Appollodorus, Olivier and Lewis Trondheim

Bourbon Island 1730 — Olivier Appollodorus and Lewis Trondheim

Aslam, Nadeem

The Wasted Vigil — Nadeem Aslam

Atwood, Margaret

A Lazy Riff on Margaret Atwood’s Novel MaddAddam

Two Visions of Apocalypse: Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and Martin Bax’s The Hospital Ship

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

Austen, Jane and Ben H. Winters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters — Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

Austen, Jane and Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Auster, Paul

Sunset Park — Paul Auster

Collected Prose — Paul Auster

Auster, Paul and David Mazzucchelli

I Review City of Glass, A Comic Book Doppelgänger of Paul Auster’s Postmodern Detective Novel

Bachelder, Chris

U.S.!–Chris Bachelder

Baker, Nicholson

I Review House of Holes, Nicholson Baker’s Ovidian Raunchfest

Balestrini, Nanni

I Review (Version #10786 of) Nanni Balestrini’s Novel Tristano

Sandokan — Nanni Balestrini

Ballard, J.G.

The Essential Short Stories of J.G. Ballard

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Eleventh Riff: The Nineties)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Tenth Riff: The Eighties)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Ninth Riff: The Seventies)

 The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Eighth Riff: Closing Out the Sixties)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Seventh Riff: 1966)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Sixth Riff: 1963-1964)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Fifth Riff: The Subliminal Man,” Black Friday, and Consumerism)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Fourth Riff: Stories of 1962)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Third Riff: Stories of 1961)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (Second Riff: Stories of 1960)

The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (First Riff: Introductions + Stories 1956-1959)

Barth, John

The Sot-Weed Factor — John Barth

Barthes, Roland

Mythologies — Roland Barthes

Bax, Martin

Two Visions of Apocalypse: Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and Martin Bax’s The Hospital Ship

Beale, Daphne

In the Land of No Right Angles — Daphne Beal

Bell, Matt

Parenting After the Apocalypse — I Review Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby

Benton, Walter

The Worst Poetry I Have Ever Read

Berger, John

Pig Earth — John Berger

Bernhard, Thomas

Riff #2 on Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters

“Horror Demands Laughter” | This Is Not a Review of Thomas Bernhard’s Novel Frost

Riff on Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters

Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard’s Philosophical Novel of Abject Madness

A Riff on Thomas Bernhard’s Novel The Loser

Three Notes on Thomas Bernhard’s Novel Correction (Plot, Prose, and a Riff) 

Binet, Laurent

Laurent Binet’s HHhH Is a Thrilling Intertextual Adventure Story

Blatnik, Andrei

You Do Understand — Andrej Blatnik

Bolaño, Roberto

Bolaño’s The Unknown University

Borges Contra Bolaño

True Detective, Bolaño’s 2666, Werewolves, Etc

Wherein I Suggest Dracula Is a Character in Roberto Bolaño’s Novel 2666

“What’s Outside the Window?” (Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives Revisited)

Intertexuality and Structure in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

Roberto Bolaño’s Powers of Horror

Bolaño’s Werewolves

The Third Reich: Part III — Roberto Bolaño

The Third Reich: Part II — Roberto Bolaño

Between Parentheses — Roberto Bolaño

The Third Reich: Part I — Roberto Bolaño

Amulet — Roberto Bolaño

The Skating Rink — Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives — Roberto Bolaño

Nazi Literature in the Americas — Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview

Distant Star — Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 Revisited

By Night in Chile – Roberto Bolaño

Last Evenings on Earth — Roberto Bolaño

2666 – Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives — Roberto Bolaño

Böll, Heinrich

The Clown — Heinrich Böll

Borges, Jorge Luis

Borges Contra Bolaño

Borges Riff/Borges Anxiety

Bowles, Jane

Jane Bowles’s novel Two Serious Ladies confounds with sinister humor and dark delight

Brodkey, Harold

First Love and Other Sorrows — Harold Brodkey

Brody, Leslie

Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford — Leslie Brody

Brooks, Marshall

I Review Paperback Island, Marshall Brooks’s Love Letter to Books and the People Who Make Them

Brown, Mick

Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector

Bryson, Bill

Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors — Bill Bryson

Büchner, Georg 

The Never-Ending Torture of Unrest | Georg Büchner’s Lenz Reviewed

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Mikhail Bulgakov’s Novel The Master and Margarita Reviewed

Burns, Charles

Charles Burns’s Sugar Skull Reviewed

Charles Burns Enriches His Wonderfully Weird Trilogy with The Hive

X’ed Out — Charles Burns

Burroughs, William S.

100 Point William Burroughs Riff

Byrne, David

Bicycle Diaries – David Byrne

Cabrera, Lydia

Afro-Cuban Tales–Lydia Cabrera

Capek, Karel

War With the Newts — Karel Capek

Carroll, Cath

Never Break the Chain–Cath Carroll on Fleetwood Mac

Carroll, Lewis

The Hunting of the Snark — Lewis Carroll (with Surreal New Illustrations by Mahendra Singh)

Casey, Michael

Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image — Michael Casey

Cecil, Sam K.

Bourbon — Sam K. Cecil

Chabon, Michael

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union–Michael Chabon

Chrostowska, S.D.

S.D. Chrostowska’s Novel Permission Deconstructs the Episotolary Form

Clowes, Daniel

Mister Wonderful — Daniel Clowes

Wilson — Daniel Clowes

Cody, Joshua

I Didn’t Like Joshua Cody’s Memoir [sic]

Cole, Teju

Teju Cole’s Open City Is a Strange, Marvelous Novel That Captures the Post-9/11 Zeitgeist

Collins, Stephen

Stephen Collins’s Allegorical Fable The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil Reviewed

Critchley, Simon

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying — Simon Critchley

The Book of Dead Philosophers — Simon Critchley

Cronin, Justin

The Passage — Justin Cronin

Cross, August

Immaterials, August Cross’s Contemporary Take on Goya’s Caprichos

Crownover, Ashley

Wealtheow — Ashley Crownover

Dahl, Roald

The BFG, Roald Dahl’s Love Letter to His Lost Daughter

Dara, Evan

A Conversation about Evan Dara’s Novel Flee (Part 2)

A Conversation about Evan Dara’s Novel Flee (Part 1)

Some notes on beginning Evan Dara’s novel Flee

“eavesdropping on my own thoughts” | Passage from + One-Sentence Riff on Evan Dara’s Novel The Lost Scrapbook

Davies, W.H.

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp — W.H. Davies

Davis, Lydia

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Daugherty, Tracy

Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty Biography of Donald Barthelme

De Botton, Alain

Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Facile Self-Help Book that Entirely Misses the Point of Free Thinking

DeLillo, Don

Point Omega — Don DeLillo

Underworld — Don DeLillo

Den Bogaert, Van and George O’Connor

Journey into Mohawk Country–Van den Bogaert and George O’Connor

Diaz, Junot

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Díaz

Dick, Philip K.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer — Philip K. Dick

Galactic Pot-Healer — Philip K. Dick

Dostoevsky, Fyodor

I Riff on Dostoevsky’s Novel Crime and Punishment

Eagleman, David

Sum — David Eagleman

Eggers, Dave and Vendela Vida

Away We Go — Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida

Ellis, Bret Easton

Is American Psycho Profound, Artistic Nihilism or Stupid, Shallow Nihilism? — Bret Easton Ellis vs David Foster Wallace

Ellison, Ralph

“The Narrative Is the Meaning”: More on Ralph Ellison’s Three Days Before the Shooting . . .

Three Days Before the Shooting . . . — Beginning Ralph Ellison’s Posthumous Second Novel

Ellroy, James

Blood’s a Rover — James Ellroy

Equiano, Olaudah

Cannibalism and the Economy of Sacrifice in Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative

Ernst, Max

Une Semaine de Bonté — Max Ernst

Eugenides, Jeffrey

I Riff on Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, Which I Haven’t Read (Book Acquired, 8.22.2012)

Fallada, Hans

Cormac McCarthy’s Issues of Life and Death, Hans Fallada’s Complex Resistance, and Jonathan Lethem’s Bloodless Prose

Ethical Realism (and Grim Decadence) in Hans Fallada’s Wolf Among Wolves

Faulkner, William

Light in August — William Faulkner

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, The Perils of Assigned Reading, and A Call for Second Chances

The Sound and the Fury — William Faulkner

Sanctuary – William Faulkner

Ford, Michael Thomas

Jane Bites Back — Michael Thomas Ford

Franzen, Jonathan

An Obligatory Review of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

Frost, Laura

Please Unplease Me: A Review of Laura Frost’s The Problem With Pleasure

Gaddis, William

The Inhumanity Museum (The Recognitions)

Some Annotations on the First Sentence of William Gaddis’s Last Novel, Agapē Agape

A Riff on William Gaddis’s The Recognitions

I Riff–Again–on William Gaddis’s Enormous Novel JR (This Time After Finishing It)

I Riff on William Gaddis’s Enormous Novel J R (From About Half Way Through)

The Recognitions (Part I) — William Gaddis

Garner, Helen

The Spare Room — Helen Garner

Gass, William H. 

The Inhumanity Museum (Middle C)

Gombrowicz, Witold

Trans-Atlantyk — Witold Gombrowicz

Gonzales, Laurence

Yeah Yeah YA — New Novels from Laurence Gonzales and Simon Rich

Grant, Helen

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden — Helen Grant

Green, Paul

Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns — Paul Green

Greene, Graham

“The Priest Is Us”: The Power and The Glory, Graham Greene’s Adventure of Religion and Faith

Grossman, Vasily

The Road — Vasily Grossman

Hajdu, David

The Ten-Cent Plague — David Hajdu

Hammett, Dashiell

Red Harvest — Dashiell Hammett

Hammond, Richard and Jeremy Smith

Clean Breaks — Richard Hammond and Jeremy Smith

Hannah, Barry

Barry Hannah’s Novella Hey Jack! Is a Loose, Hilarious Tragedy

Ray — Barry Hannah

Airships — Barry Hannah

Hansberry, Lorraine

A Diddy in the Sun

Harbach, Chad

Why I Abandoned Chad Harbach’s Over-Hyped Novel The Art of Fielding After Only 100 Pages

Harder, Jens

Leviathan — Jens Harder

Havel, Vaclav

To the Castle and Back — Vaclav Havel

Hawthorne, Nathaniel

A Riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tale “The Birth-Mark”

Hemingway, Ernest

The Garden of Eden — Ernest Hemingway

Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway

Hendricks, Steve

A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial — Steve Hendricks


The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3 — Hergé

Herrera, Yuri

Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World is sharp subterranean fiction

Higgins, George V.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle — George V. Higgins

Hitchings, Henry

The Secret Life of Words — Henry Hitchings

Hoban, Russell

Riddley Walker — Russell Hoban

Hoffman, Eva

Time – Eva Hoffman

Hollander, Jessica

Jessica Hollander’s Collection In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place Reviewed

Holquist, Michael

Dialogism -– Michael Holquist

Houellebecq, Michel

Riffing on Michel Houellebecq’s Novel The Elementary Particles

Iyer, Lars

A Riff on Lars Iyer’s Novel Exodus

Spurious — Lars Iyer

Johnson, Adam

A Rambling Riff on the Age of the Amateur, Book Review Ethics, and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson’s Novel About Identity and Storytelling in North Korea

Johnson, Denis

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams Is a Perfect Audiobook

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams Is a Perfect Novella

Angels — Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move and the Pleasures of Postmodern Crime Fiction

Tree of Smoke — Denis Johnson

Essential Short Story Collections: Jesus’ Son

Tree of Smoke–Denis Johnson

Jones, Judith

The Tenth Muse — Judith Jones

Joyce, James

We Review RTÉ’s Full Cast Audio Recording of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Dubliners — James Joyce

How to Read James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Why You Should Avoid “How-to” Guides Like This One)

Kafka, Franz

Amerika — Franz Kafka

Kechagiar, Allen

I Review The Mundane History of Lockwood Heights, a Chapbook by Allen Kechagiar

Kendall, Stuart

Stuart Kendall’s New Translation of Gilgamesh Restores Poetic Strangeness to an Ancient Epic

Kertesz, Imre

The Union Jack — Imre Kertész

Keyes, Ralph

Euphemania — Ralph Keyes

Koestenbaum, Wayne

Humiliation — Wayne Koestenbaum

Kosinski, Jerzy

Steps — Jerzy Kosinski

Kotkin, Stephen

Uncivil Society — Stephen Kotkin

Krzhizhanovsky, Sigizmund

“All Our Figments and Alogisms” | The Kafkaesque, Borgesian, Phildickian Worlds of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Langer, Adam

The Thieves of Manhattan — Adam Langer

My Father’s Bonus March — Adam Langer

Lavender-Smith, Evan

I Anti-Review Evan Lavender-Smith’s Anti-Novel, From Old Notebooks

L’Engle, Madeleine

Revisiting A Wrinkle in Time

Lerner, Ben

A Conversation About Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (Part Two)

A Conversation about Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (Part One)

Lesit, Anton and Peter Singer

J.M. Coetzee and Ethics — Anton Lesit & Peter Singer

Lessing, Doris

What’s Got Into You? | Ventriloquism in The Golden Notebook

The Inhumanity Muesum (The Golden Notebook)

Lethem, Jonathan

Cormac McCarthy’s Issues of Life and Death, Hans Fallada’s Complex Resistance, and Jonathan Lethem’s Bloodless Prose

Gun, with Occasional Music — Jonathan Lethem

You Don’t Love Me Yet — Jonathan Lethem

Levin, Adam

The Instructions — Adam Levin

Lin, Tao

Richard Yates — Tao Lin

Lingeman, Richard

The Nation Guide to the Nation –- Richard Lingeman

Lipsyte, Sam

The Subject Steve — Sam Lipsyte

The Ask — Sam Lipsyte

Home Land — Sam Lipsyte

Venus Drive — Sam Lipsyte

Lish, Gordon

“Nothing but Trouble” | Gordon Lish’s New Collection Goings Plays with the Problems of Language

The Collected Fictions of Gordon Lish (as Read by Gordon Lish)

Lispector, Clarice

I Riff on Clarice Lispector’s Novella The Hour of the Star, a Strange Work of Pity, Humor, Terror, and Abjection

Littell, Jonathan

Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones Is Lurid Abject Art

Long, J.J.

W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity — J.J. Long

Lowry, Malcolm

Under the Volcano — Malcolm Lowry

Lukes, Steve

Moral Relativism — Steven Lukes

Macdonald, Dwight

The Cranky Brilliance of Dwight Macdonald’s Midcult and Masscult

Mannix, Daniel P.

We Who Are Not as Others–Daniel P. Mannix

Mantel, Hilary

I Audit Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Part 3 of 3)

I Audit Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Part 2 — In Which I Make Some Game of Thrones Comparisons and Share a Van Gogh Sketch)

I Audit Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Part 1)

Wolf Hall — Hilary Mantel

Beyond Black — Hilary Mantel

Marcus, Ben

I Try to Review Ben Marcus’s Novel The Flame Alphabet

Marcus, Greil

The Old, Weird America — Greil Marcus on The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes

Markson, David

Something on David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Shamelessly Plagiarized and Rearranged from One-Star Amazon Reviews

A Review of David Markson’s The Last Novel (Composed Mostly in Citations from Said Novel)

Martel, Yann

Beatrice and Virgil — Yann Martel

Martin, George R.R.

Thrones, Kings, Swords — I Review the First Three Books of George R. R. Martin’s Postmodern Saga, A Song of Ice and Fire

Mason, Zachary

The Lost Books of the Odyssey — Zachary Mason

Mazzucchelli, David

Asterios Polyp — David Mazzucchelli

McCarthy, Cormac

Reading There Will Be Blood as the expanded epilogue to Blood Meridian

Suttree — Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian — Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s Issues of Life and Death, Hans Fallada’s Complex Resistance, and Jonathan Lethem’s Bloodless Prose

Outer Dark — Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited — Cormac McCarthy

Child of God — Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men — Cormac McCarthy

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy, Kevin

Historic Photos of University of Florida Football–Kevin McCarthy

McCarthy, Tom

I Review Tom McCarthy’s Essay “Transmission and the Individual Remix”

C — Tom McCarthy

McCrea, Barry

In the Company of Strangers — We Review Barry McCrea’s New Book About Queer Family Ties in Dickens, Joyce, and Proust

McDonald, Sandra

Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories — Sandra McDonald

McManus, James

Cowboys Full – James McManus

McNaught, Jon

Jon McNaught’s Birchfield Close Is a Tranquil Visual Poem

Melville, Herman

Moby-Dick: A Short Riff on a Long Book

The Problems of Bartleby

“Half Horse Half Alligator” — I Review Charles Olson’s Inimitable Melville Study, Call Me Ishmael

Mieville, China

Perdido Street Station/The City & The City — China Miéville

Miller, Frank

Frank Miller, Fascist Mouthpiece, Is a Cranky Old Hack

Frank Miller Reconsidered

Miller, Keith

Keith Miller’s The Book on Fire, A Tale of Biblioklepts, Bibliophiles, and Bibliomania

Millet, Lydia

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart — Lydia Millet

Mitchell, David

David Mitchell’s New Novel The Bone Clocks Falls Far Short of His Best Work

Cloud Atlas — David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet — David Mitchell

Moore, Alan and Eddie Campbell

From Hell — Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

Morrison, Toni

A Mercy — Toni Morrison

Muradov, Roman

Roman Muradov’s Enigmatic Graphic Novella (In a Sense) Lost and Found Reviewed

Murakami, Haruki

Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Reviewed

Murnane, Gerald

“A Country On The Far Side of Fiction” — Riffing Over Gerald Murnane’s Barley Patch

Riffing Over Gerald Murnane’s Inland

Mutis, Álvaro

Pleasure and Sorrow in Álvaro Mutis’s Novella The Tramp Steamer’s Last Port of Call

A Lazy Riff on the First Three of Álvaro Mutis’s Maqroll Novellas

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll — Álvaro Mutis

Myers, Walter Dean

Monster — Walter Dean Myers

Novy, Adam

I Review The Avian Gospels, Adam Novy’s Dystopian Novel About Family, Torture, Rebellion, and Birds

O’Brien, Flann

Flann O’Brien’s Novel At Swim-Two-Birds Is a Postmodernist Masterpiece of Comic Storytelling

Flann O’Brien’s Novel The Third Policeman Is a Surreal Comic Masterpiece

O’Brien, Tim

Review: Tim O’Brien’s Novel The Things They Carried, Read by Bryan Cranston

O’Connor, Flannery

The Inhumanity Museum

Ogawa, Yoko

Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge Is an Elegant Collection of Creepy Intertextual Tales

Hotel Iris — Yoko Ogawa

Okrent, Arika

In the Land of Invented Languages — Arika Okrent

Olson, Charles

“Half Horse Half Alligator” — I Review Charles Olson’s Inimitable Melville Study, Call Me Ishmael

Orbach, Susie

Bodies — Susie Orbach

Peace, David

Occupied City — David Peace

Perec, Georges

Something on Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure

Phillips, Adam and Barbara Taylor

On Kindness — Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor

Pietroni, Anna Lawrence

Ruby’s Spoon — Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Proust, Marcel

Unknown Pleasures (I Riff a Bit on Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way)

Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time — Patrick Alexander

Pullman, Philip

His Dark Materials Trilogy — Philip Pullman

Pynchon, Thomas

A scattered riff on Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow

A rambling and possibly incoherent riff on Inherent Vice (film and novel) and The Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon (Third Riff)

Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon (Second Riff)

Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon (First Riff)

List of Possible Descriptors for Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Against the Day

“…the Mask’s desire was to be invisible, unthreatening, transparent yet mercilessly deceptive…” / Another Pynchon Riff

“—boys to your bellybone and chuck a chum a chance!” — Pynchon Riff + Joyce + Moebius + Chloral Hydrate Party

The Collective Dream of the Chums of Chance (A Short Pynchon Riff)

“…a spectral cavalry, faces disquietingly wanting in detail, eyes little more than blurred sockets…” (Another Riff on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day)

“Smite early and often” (Another Riff on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day)

“…he enjoyed a sort of dual existence” (Another Riff on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day)

The Chums of Chance vs The Legion of Gnomes (Citation from + Riff on Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day)

Inherent Vice — Thomas Pynchon

Rabin, Nathan

My Year of Flops — Nathan Rabin

Raskin, Andy

The Ramen King and I — Andy Raskin

Reibstein, Mark and Ed Young

Wabi Sabi – Mark Reibstein and Ed Young

Rich, Simon

Yeah Yeah YA — New Novels from Laurence Gonzales and Simon Rich

Elliot Allagash — Simon Rich

Rice, Anne

Angel Time — Anne Rice

Rosero, Evelio

Good Offices — Evelio Rosero

Rourke, Lee

Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things

The Canal — Lee Rourke

Ryback, Timothy W.

Hitler’s Private Library — Timothy W. Ryback

Sandlin, Lee

Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild — Lee Sandlin

Satrapi, Marjane

Chicken with Plums – Marjane Satrapi

Saunders, George

Jangly George Saunders — Tenth of December Reviewed

Pastoralia — George Saunders

Sayrafiezadhe, Said

When Skateboards Will Be Free — Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Schofield, Bob

The Inevitable June — Bob Schofield

Schwartz, Jason

Jason Schwartz’s John the Posthumous Is a Dark, Disarming Novella

Sebald, W.G.

The Rings of Saturn — W.G. Sebald

I Review Patience (After Sebald), an Oppressively Overstylized Documentary

W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity — J.J. Long

Segal, Lore

Lucinella — Lore Segal

Shakespeare, William

Riff on William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shaw, Dash

BodyWorld — Dash Shaw

Shields, David

Reality Hunger — David Shields

Shteyngart, Gary

I Super Hated Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

Shuker, Carl

Carl Shuker’s Anti Lebanon Reviewed

Sim, Dave

High Society – Dave Sim

Cerebus — Dave Sim

Singh, Mahendra

The Hunting of the Snark — Lewis Carroll (with Surreal New Illustrations by Mahendra Singh)

Simon, Scott

Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other — NPR’s Scott Simon’s New Memoir in Praise of Adoption

Smith, Ali

The Book Lover – Ali Smith

Snyder, Timothy

Bloodlands — Timothy Snyder

Sontag, Susan

“Recycling one’s own life with books” |Thirteen Notes on Susan Sontag’s Notebook Collection, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh

Reborn — Susan Sontag

Spiegelman, Art

In the Shadow of No Towers — Art Spiegelman

Spillane, Mickey

The Mike Hammer Novels — Mickey Spillane

Stephenson, Neal

I Review Neal Stephenson’s Zany, Prescient Novel Snow Crash (And Comment on the Impending Film Adaptation)

Stott, Rebecca

The Coral Thief — Rebecca Stott

Tanner, Haley

Haley Tanner’s Vaclav & Lena Is A Modern Day Fairy Tale (With Lots of Lists)

Thirlwell, Adam

The Delighted States — Adam Thirlwell

Thompson, Hunter S.

The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson

Tolkien, J.R.R.

The Hobbit Reconsidered as a Picaresque Novel

Tolstoy, Leo

Hadji Murad — Leo Tolstoy

Tower, Wells

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned — Wells Tower

Twain, Mark

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: One of Our Favorite Challenged Books

Ulin, David

The Lost Art of Reading — David L. Ulin

Valtat, Jean-Christophe

Aurorarama — Jean-Christophe Valtat

Vollmann, William T.

William T. Vollmann’s Central Europe

How can love be self-ironic? (William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central)

The Myth of the Vollmann

Butterfly Stories — William T. Vollmann


Candide — Voltaire

Vulliamy, Ed

Amexica — Ed Vulliamy’s Violent Chronicle of the Border Wars

Wallace, David Foster

DFW’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, books as memory objects, etc.

Phantoms and Ghosts in DFW’s Novel The Pale King

Although Of Course You End Up Riffing Obliquely on How a David Foster Wallace Road Trip Movie Is a Terrible Idea

A Seven Point Riff on David Foster Wallace’s David Markson Essay

Everybody Hates a Tourist (I Sort of Review the Audiobook of David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again)

The Pale King — David Foster Wallace

Is American Psycho Profound, Artistic Nihilism or Stupid, Shallow Nihilism? — Bret Easton Ellis vs David Foster Wallace

Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will — David Foster Wallace

The Broom of the System — David Foster Wallace

Girl With Curious Hair — David Foster Wallace

Essential Short Story Collections: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Ware, Chris

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / It All Happened So Fast

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Disconnect

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Two Short Loops

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Untitled Wordless Loop

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / September 23rd, 2000

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / I just met

Reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories / Branford, the Best Bee in the World

Wiley, Michael

A Bad Night’s Sleep — Michael Wiley

Williams, John

I Review Stoner, John Williams’s Sad Novel About an English Professor

Wood, James

James Wood’s The Fun Stuff Reviewed

How Fiction Works — James Wood

Woolf, Virginia

Orlando — Virginia Woolf

Zola, Emile

The Belly of Paris – Émile Zola



Allen, Woody

Midnight in Paris — Woody Allen

Anderson, Lindsay

if…. — Lindsay Anderson

Anderson, Paul Thomas

A rambling and possibly incoherent riff on Inherent Vice (film and novel) and The Crying of Lot 49

A few quick thoughts on Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Inherent Vice

Reading There Will Be Blood as the expanded epilogue to Blood Meridian

A few quick thoughts on Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Inherent Vice

A Riff on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Film The Master (Including a Take on the Ending)

Anderson, Wes

I (Sort of) Review the the Trailer for Wes Anderson’s New Film, Moonrise Kingdom

Aronofsky, Darrren

Noah Riff

Bong, Joon-ho

Snowpiercer Riff

Campion, Jane

Bright Star — Campion Does Keats

Carax, Leos

Holy Motors Is A Strange Cinematic Prayer

Carruth, Shane

A Short Riff on Shane Carruth’s Film Upstream Color

Coen Brothers

No Country for Old Men Reconsidered

Cornish, Joe

I Review Attack the Block, A Charming, Confused Film About Teens Fighting Aliens

Cuarón, Alfonso

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity Is a Worthy Sequel to Children of Men

Del Toro, Guillermo

Explication/Confusion of Pacific Rim in Ten Images

Fincher, David

What I Liked About that Zodiac Movie

Fresnadillo, Jaun Carlos

Mom and Pop are Zombies!–The Infanticidal Structure of 28 Weeks Later

Gee, Grant

I Review Patience (After Sebald), an Oppressively Overstylized Documentary

Glazer, Jonathan

Under the Skin

Gondry, Michel

Be Kind Rewind

Gramaglia, Michael and Jim Fields

End of the Century – The Heartbreaking Story of the Ramones

Green, David Gordon

David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche Reviewed

Herrington, Rowdy

Road House, Paul Verhoeven, Modern Action Films, and The Ironic Vision of the Viewer

Herzog, Werner

Rescue Dawn–Werner Herzog

Iñárritu, Alejandro González

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Film Birdman Reviewed

Jarmusch, Jim

Curation and Creation in Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s Vampire Film

Jodorowsky, Alejandro (Yeah, I know he wasn’t the director here but c’mon)

A Riff on Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jonze, Spike

The Abject Body and Spike Jonze’s Her

Kar-Wai, Wong

Franchise Films, Alternate Worlds, and Why Wong Kar Wai Should Direct the Next Star Wars Film

Kelly, Richard

Southland Tales

Korine, Harmony

I Am Baffled by the Trailer for Spring Breakers, the New Film from Harmony Korine

Linklater, Richard

A short riff on a favorite scene from Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood

Luhrmann, Baz

I Review the Trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s Adaptation of The Great Gatsby

Lynch, David



Reading The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life — Terrence Malick

Days of Heaven – Terrence Malick

Melrod, Josh and Tara Wray

Cartoon College, A Documentary Featuring Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Art Spiegelman and Other Comics Legends

Miyazaki, Hayao

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Refn, Nicolas Winding

Valhalla Rising — Nicolas Winding Refn

Reichardt, Kelly

Old Joy

Richter, W.D.

Buckaroo Banzai’s Marvelous End Titles Tell You Everything You Need to Know About This Strange Film

Ross, Gary

I Review The Hunger Games Film (And Mostly Complain About the Jumpy Camera Work)

Scott, Ridley

And I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee About Ridley Scott’s Prometheus

Selick, Henry


Sokurov, Aleksander

Russian Ark — Aleksandr Sokurov

Stevenson, Robert

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Too Many Cooks

A Too Many Cooks Riff, Focusing on The Killer, Who Is There Right from the Beginning

Verhoeven, Paul

Road House, Paul Verhoeven, Modern Action Films, and The Ironic Vision of the Viewer

Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer  

I Riff on the Cloud Atlas Movie

In Which I Review the Cloud Atlas Film Trailer

Yates, David

Harry Potter Sex Romp, Part II

Yu, Jessica

Interviews with Hideous Men — Jessica Yu’s Documentary Protagonist



John from Cincinnati 

We Review John from Cincinnati, David Milch’s Metaphysical Surf Odyssey

The Sopranos

We Review All Six Seasons of The Sopranos in a Relatively Short Post

The Wire

The Ring Game — Agency and Chance in Season Four of The Wire

Children Left Behind (I Riff on Season Four of The Wire)

True Detective

True Detective, Bolaño’s 2666, Werewolves, Etc

“Haunted Houses” | Another True Detective Riff

A Rambling Riff on True Detective

“A Dream About Being A Person” | Another Riff on True Detective

“We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self” | A Riff on True Detective, HBO’s Philosophical Crime Show




theNewerYork, a Worthy Alternative to Your iPhone

theNewerYork #2 Reviewed

I Review Object Lessons, Where 20 Contemporary Authors Select and Introduce 20 Short Stories from The Paris Review

The Vintage Book of American Women Writers

The Novelist’s Lexicon

A Truth Universally Acknowledged — 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen

The Paris Review Interviews, IV

The Vampire Archives

The 2009 PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories

Roughing It

The Paris Review Interviews, Volume III

Art and Photography

Riff on Goya’s Painting Highwaymen Attacking a Coach

Historic Photos of the University of Florida

Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway

Historic Photos of Florida Ghost Towns

Historic Photos of Jacksonville

Music Reviews

Christmas in the Heart — Bob Dylan

Chemical Chords — Stereolab

The Visitor — Jim O’Rourke

 Stray Essays

Doré’s Ghost of Banquo


Riff on Not Writing

The Special Pleasures of Guest Room Reading

A Riff on What I Read (And Didn’t Read) in 2012

Three Beautiful Books For Children (and Adults)

Fifty Shades of Louisa May: A Loving Biography Masquerading as a Smutty Novelty Book


A Riff on the Kindle Fire

Horse Movies Suck

Riff on Recent Reading, 1.09.2012 (Gaddis, Vollmann, Dragons, Nausicaä, Patti Smith)

An Incomplete List of Stuff I Wish I’d Written About in 2011

Riff on Recent Reading, 12.31.2011

Read (And Not Read) in 2011

Books I Didn’t Read in 2011 (And Books I Will Try to Read in 2012)

I Review Def Jam 25, the Overstuffed Illustrated Oral History of a Record Label that Helped Change American Culture

The Best and Worst Film Titles of 2011

Newt’s Children, Dystopian Visions, and Greenzone America

Biblioklept Recommends Five Novels, Some of Them New, Not All of Them German

Three New Novels: Brothers, Amberville, and The Post-War Dream

Book Shelves #42, 10.14.2012


Book shelves series #42, forty-second Sunday of 2012

Couldn’t really get a good pic of the whole shelf, so in portions, starting with a spread of postmodernist favorites from years past. Julia Kristeva was a particular favorite of mine in grad school, but her Portable stands up well outside of, jeez, I dunno, theory and deconstruction and all that jazz; there are plenty of memoirish essays, including a wonderful piece on Paris ’68 and Tel Quel &c. Sam Kimball‘s book The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture still maintains an important place in the way I approach analyzing any kind of storytelling. Love the cover of this first American edition of Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, which I bought for a dollar years ago at a Friends of the Library sale:


I may or may not have obtained the The Viking Portable Nietzsche through nefarious means in my sixteenth year. In any case, it’s not really the best intro (I’m partial to The Gay Science), but it’s not bad. The Plato I’ve had forever. I never finished Bloom’s The Western Canon, although I’ve returned to it many times in the past five or six years, as I’ve opened up more to his ideas. I wrote about many of the books on this shelf, including a few by Simon Critchley.


The book I’d most recommend on this section of the shelf—indeed, the entire shelf—is Freud’s The Future of an Illusion:


The end of the shelf moves into more pop territory, including two good ones by AV Club head writer Nathan Rabin. You might also note Reality Hunger, a book that I am increasingly afraid to go back to, fearing that I probably agree more with Shields’s thesis, even if I didn’t particularly like his synthesis.


Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States is an overlooked gem that should have gotten more attention than Shields’s “manifesto.” He shares a bit of Georges Perec (whose writing helped spark this project of mine):


James Wood’s How Fiction Works got my goat: 


From my review:

Like most people who love to read, both academically and for pleasure, I like a good argument, and Wood’s aesthetic criticism is a marvelous platform for my ire, especially in a world that increasingly seems to not care about reading fiction. Wood is a gifted writer, even if his masterful skill at sublimating his personal opinion into a front of absolute authority is maddening. There’s actually probably more in his book that I agree with than not, but it’s those major sticking points on literary approaches that stick in my craw. It’s also those major sticking points that make the book an interesting read. I’d like to think that I’m not interested in merely having my opinions re-confirmed.

Despair/Food (Books Acquired 6.08.2012)


 Dead Man Working is the latest from Carl Cederström (whose discussions with Simon Critchley became How to Stop Living and Start Worrying) and Peter Fleming. The book explores the existential despair of workers in our post-capitalist age. (It’s funnier than that description might suggest). Publisher Zer0’s blurb:

Capitalism has become strange. Ironically, while the ‘age of work’ seems to have come to an end, working has assumed a total presence – a ‘worker’s society’ in the worst sense of the term – where everyone finds themselves obsessed with it. So what does the worker tell us today? ‘I feel drained, empty – dead'; This book tells the story of the dead man working. It follows this figure through the daily tedium of the office, to the humiliating mandatory team building exercise, to awkward encounters with the funky boss who pretends to hate capitalism and tells you to be authentic. In this society, the experience of work is not of dying…but neither of living. It is one of a living death. And yet, the dead man working is nevertheless compelled to wear the exterior signs of life, to throw a pretty smile, feign enthusiasm and make a half-baked joke. When the corporation has colonized life itself, even our dreams, the question of escape becomes ever more pressing, ever more desperate.

Full review on deck.


Yes, Chef is Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir. If that name sounds familiar, you might recognize his face:


Publisher Random House’s blurb:

Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.

Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of  “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.

With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures—the price of ambition, in human terms—and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors—one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.

“Death in the Comic Tradition” — Tom McCarthy on Heroism and Authenticity

A passage from Simon Critchley’s new collection of interviews and meditations, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying in which author Tom McCarthy (Critchley’s partner in the International Necronautical Society) talks about the question of an authentic, heroic self—

. . . in the heroic tradition in literature, which pits the self against death in a way that produces authenticity, you find a hero that runs into death like a fly slamming into an electric field, and which goes out in a tremendous spark of authentic apotheosis. There’s a lot about that, aesthetically, which is very seductive. However, we at the INS strongly reject that. Instead, we feel more seduced by the comic tradition in which the fly can’t even reach the electric field. It keeps tripping over its legs, or becomes distracted by something — dog shit, for example. So death in the comic tradition is not that of authentic self-mastery, but rather of a slippage; it’s about the inability to be oneself, and to become what one wants to be. And we think that that kind of tradition or logic is much more rich and fruitful.

“Declaration on the Notion of ‘The Future'” — The International Necronautical Society

At The Believer, you can read the entirety of “Declaration on the Notion of ‘The Future’by The International Necronautical Society (aka Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy (although we’re pretty sure that the essay’s authorization code TMcC010910 indicates that McCarthy is its author)). Playful and provocative stuff. A sample–

5. The INS rejects the Enlightenment’s version of time: of time as progress, a line growing stronger and clearer as it runs from past to future. This version is tied into a narrative of transcendence: in the Hegelian system, of Aufhebung, in which thought and matter ascend to the realm of spirit as the projects of philosophy and art perfect themselves. Against this totalizing (we would say, totalitarian) idealist vision, we pit counter-Hegelians like Georges Bataille, who inverts this upward movement, miring spirit in the trough of base materialism. Or Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, who, hearing the moronic poet Russel claim that “art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences,” pictures Platonists crawling through Blake’s buttocks to eternity, and silently retorts: “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.”

6. To phrase it in more directly political terms: the INS rejects the idea of the future, which is always the ultimate trump card of dominant socioeconomic narratives of progress. As our Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley has recently argued, the neoliberal versions of capitalism and democracy present themselves as an inevitability, a destiny to whom the future belongs. We resist this ideology of the future, in the name of the sheer radical potentiality of the past, and of the way the past can shape the creative impulses and imaginative landscape of the present. The future of thinking is its past, a thinking which turns its back on the future.


Reviews in Chronological Order

Reviews, essays, riffs, etc. Most recent first. Updates sporadic at best.

Read More

Odds and Ends

At A Piece of Monologue, Rhys Tranter reviews Simon Critchley’s “philosophical antidote to the self-help manual,” How to Stop Living and Start Worrying. Read our review of Critchley’s The Book of Dead Philosophers here.

MobyLives expands Flavorwire’s post on author photo clichés to include Melville House authors.

Here’s an author photo we love: Harold Bloom wearing big headphones and looking kinda skeptical and very green (the image is by Paul Festa from his film Apparition of the Eternal Church)–

If you still haven’t done your Juggalo Studies homework for this week, read Camille Dodero’s inspired report from this year’s The Gathering (at The Village Voice). And then watch “Miracles” again, because, hey, it only gets better. It still shocks the eyelids.

We love this tumblr (or is it tumblog?)–Anatomy–even if it looks like they aren’t doing much these days. C’mon guys. We need more gifs like this–

Finally, check out Stanford Kay’s series of paintings of books and bookshelves, “Gutenberg Variations.” Like abstract expressionism, only good (via) —