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.

Mourning Icarus — Sam Kimball at the MOCA

If you’re in Jacksonville, Florida this Thursday, make sure to check out Dr. A. Samuel Kimball’s talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I’ll let the flier speak for itself, but I will add that Dr. Kimball’s talks are always enlightening and inspirational.

“Some Principles of Democracy and Deconstruction—American or Otherwise” by A. S. Kimball

“Some Principles of Democracy and Deconstruction—American or Otherwise” by Sam Kimball.

1. Democracy and deconstruction name the namelessness of a we, the people in relation to this people’s unimaginable possibilities of collective self-identification to come.

2. For this reason democracy and deconstruction locate the we in a future that transcends any possible transcendence of time, and therefore that remains utterly contingent and extinguishable, able to be obliterated in an apocalypse of the name.

3. Democracy and deconstruction attempt to respond to a demand—untraceable to any face or mind, to any consciousness—for absolute justice.

4. To this end, and because “we are all heir, at least, to persons or events marked, in an essential, interior, ineffaceable fashion, by crimes against humanity” (Derrida, Of Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 29), democracy and deconstruction demand of the citizen to come an attitude of radical forgiveness and hospitality.

5. To this same end, and for similar reasons, democracy and deconstruction also entail a radical affirmation—that is, they are ways of saying “Yes?” or “Who’s there?” in the absence of any determinate voicing.

6. This means that democracy and deconstruction respond to a call that comes from an unimaginable and indeterminate future.

7. For all these reasons as well as the fact that “all nation-states are born and found themselves in violence” (Of Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 57), democracy and deconstruction are provisional names for an historically unrealized ideal.

8. Thus, democracy and deconstruction require an incessant work of critique.

9. Democracy and deconstruction are ways of working toward forms of community that must necessarily exceed, transgress, transcend, and therefore remark all political borders, most especially those that define the sovereignty of the nation-state.

10. The spirit of the spirit of democracy and deconstruction has no single emotional marker, cannot be contained within or encompassed by any single emotional apprehension, is not identifiable as an affective state.

11. Democracy and deconstruction are inseparable from the fictionalizing, virtualizing power of literature.

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

As that most sacred of holidays, Halloween, draws closer, Biblioklept begins our annual celebration with a review of 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to future cult classic 28 Days Later. Look forward to all kinds of horror for the rest of the month!


At Sam Kimball’s talk at UNF last week, he put forth several ideas that would not be wholly unfamiliar to students and former students of his, or to anyone who’s read his book, The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture. Just a few of these ideas: cultural and biological evolution rests on an encoded infanticidal threat that no one wants to own up to, existence costs, and the ability of humans to smile represents a Darwinian miracle. The first two of these ideas provide an excellent lens from which to examine 28 Weeks Later; however, I’m not going to strain myself looking for smiles or hope in this awfully bleak, absolutely horrific movie.

It’s instructive to begin with a paraphrase of the infanticidal logic Kimball suggests underpins social order, and I think that can be done best by using Kimball’s own re-reading of the Oedipus story. The story of Oedipus, who outwits the Sphinx, kills his father, marries his mother, brings a plague to his city, and then stabs out his eyes, is–and here comes an understatement–a story foundational to psychoanalysis. In most readings, Oedipus is the tragically flawed hero who brings shame, disease, sin, and death to an entire society through his multiple transgressions. Kimball points out that most readings of this story focus on Oedipus’ relationship with his mother and father (sex and death), and that little attention is paid to the very beginning of the story. Recall now that the infant Oedipus is cast by his royal parents (metonymy for all parents), feet bound, into the wilderness to die, for fear that he will bring about chaos and death. The story is thus initiated in an infanticidal gesture, the willingness to kill a child for the good of the family, the tribe, the kingdom (see: Abraham and Isaac, Saturn gobbling his kids, Noah and flood, the crucifixion of Christ, etc. etc. etc.). Kimball sees structural infanticide as the blame for sin and corruption and death being put on the child; Oedipus is not the sinner in this reading, but the one who has been wronged from the beginning. Let’s see if we can’t apply some of this to a zombie flick. And, uh, a SPOILER WARNING is in order, I suppose (although I don’t think anything I’ll write can really spoil this film).


28 Weeks Later opens up with a last supper, the communion of a childless, makeshift family who’ve managed to avoid the infected zombies that plague Britain, spreading murder and chaos wherever they go. The communion is interrupted by a child who bangs on the door. After some indecision, he’s admitted by the wary adults, who ask him, of course, “What happened?” “My parents…they tried to kill me,” he answers. Within minutes of his arrival, the zombies are at the door, ready to spread their infection, annihilating the dinner party: the child, on the run from his infanticidal parents, brings disease and death to the community. Only Don (Robert Carlyle) escapes, and he does so by abandoning his wife, who clings to the newly arrived child.

Twenty-eight weeks later, the US military has quarantined part of London, and begun the repatriation of British citizens, including Don’s son and daughter, Andy and Tammy (played by the improbably named Mackintosh Muggle and Imogen Poots). Chief medical officer, Major Ross is deeply upset when she sees the children disembark the plane, declaring that the Green Zone the US military has established is not equipped for kids. Furthermore, she points out that they know little about the disease, and that kids might actually facilitate spreading it. Sure enough, Andy and Tammy run away from the Green Zone, heading back to their apartment, where they find Mom, who’s gone feral. Their Mom has some kind of genetic resistance to the effects of the disease (figured in her mismatched brown and blue eyes, a trait shared by Andy); she exhibits mild symptoms and is a carrier. This is discovered by Major Ross when the trio are forcibly returned to the Green Zone. Don, swamped in guilt, sneaks in to see his wife. He kisses her, immediately gets the disease, then goes on a murderous rampage. The US military, in a moment of shining brilliance, move all the non-military personnel to a locked basement. Don gets in nonetheless, the infection spreads like a dirty rumor, and the army begins killing everyone indiscriminately. Again, the children bring the infection to the community, and the entire society must pay with wholesale apocalyptic genocide, ultimately figured in the firebombing of the city.


Andy and Tammy escape this fate when Major Ross and Sergeant Doyle, a kindly sniper, escort them out of the city. Ross and Doyle symbolize a set of “good parents,” in direct opposition to Don, a rampaging zombie who somehow singles out his children in particular. Just like the child at the beginning, the two are on the run from not just the patriarchal US army “protectorate,” now annihilating everything that moves, but also their own biological father. In the course of aiding the children’s escape, both Ross and Doyle meet grisly yet heroic ends. Believing that the children may carry a genetic clue to a vaccine for the virus, the “good parents” give their own lives to save the children. Still, the children are the cause of their death. Don eventually catches up with his kids and bites Andy, before he’s shot to death by Tammy. Andy, like his mom, doesn’t go nuts when he gets infected, but he’s still a carrier. Doyle’s buddy, helicopter pilot Flynn, transports the kids across the English Channel (that is, after making the tough decision not to just kill them). The movie ends with shots of rampaging zombies near the Eiffel Tower: a child has again carried infection, disease, and death to a once-pure, contained area, continental Europe.


Upon its theatrical release earlier this year, most critics focused on 28 Weeks Later as an allegory of US military involvement gone awry, a thinly-disguised critique of the Iraq invasion. And while many arguments could be made for this analysis, I think its important to realize that the actions of the US military in the film are not ultimately the cause of the apocalyptic genocide at its center; rather, the military responds appropriately to contain the very real threat of contagion, the risk of total death figured in the disease the zombies carry. The cost of continued existence here is the realization that everyone in the Green Zone must die. The movie invites us to see both the military and the zombies as the bad guys, but ultimately the movie blames the children for the downfall of mankind: the army is just trying save the rest of the world, making a calculated cost analysis (albeit, one measured in human lives); the zombies are, well, uh, mindless rampaging zombies–animals, running ids with teeth, but not really evil. No, it’s the kids here who bring about sin and shame, death and disease. The infanticidal structure of the film argues for the execution of children, those dirty little harbingers of contagion. Paradoxically, the film hides this gesture under the heroic self-sacrifice of the “good parents,” Ross and Doyle, who give up their lives to save the kids. The audience is invited to empathize and identify with Ross and Doyle, who reject both the patriarchal authoritarianism of the US military (despite the fact that they are both military officers) as well as the mindless entropy of zombism. In the end though, their self-sacrifice is pointless–Andy spreads disease into another “pure” area, putting the entire world at risk. Flynn should have executed the children, like he was supposed to. The movie thus acts as a warning against the dangers of sin and infection that are presented in the children, and in turn, 28 Weeks Later upholds patriarchal, sacrificial, infanticidal values.

In my ranting and raving and raging and rampaging, I forgot to point out that I enjoyed the movie very much: it was truly terribly awfully bloodily unceasingly horrific.

Resident Genius Samuel Kimball to Speak at UNF


UNF English Professor and super smart genius Sam Kimball will give a talk entitled “When Does Jesus Smile?” on October 11, at 7:00 pm in the UNF Gallery. In the talk, Dr. Kimball will explain the thesis and outline the content of his new book, The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture. Dr. Kimball has also promised to try to answer the question posed in the title of his presentation.

Dr. Kimball specializes in psychoanalysis and deconstruction. He’s an expert in sci-fi movies and Greek myths, etymology and pop culture, nineteenth-century American literature and Derrida (basically, all that is cool). Dr. Kimball tends to produce disciples instead of students. He’s consistently challenging, bewildering, enlightening, and affirming, one of those teachers who manages to turn a “no” into a “yes.” Plus, his initials spell “A.S.K.” So there’s that. The UNF Gallery isn’t that big, and space will undoubtedly fill up quickly. Check it out if you can.