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jenks
30-11-2004, 03:23 PM
to be honest i mainly read novels and poetry and i am someone who managed to get through H E without reading any theory - yes i am that old! recently i hav read Eagleton's After Theory and found it enjoyable, if, at times slightly perplexing, so i thought i'd visit my bookshop to try and bone up on some contemporary theory. the problem is this - there was so much of the stuff that i didn't know where to start ( and it wasn't cheap either).
my question is this: what would some of you lot recommend? something entry level - i ahve currently got Role's book on derrida (old hat, i dunno) which i am just clinging on to and a beginner's guide to Isiah Berlin - i liked the cover!
i know this is vague and if someone came to me wanting to knwo where to start with contemporary novels i would want a bit more help but i really enjoy my visits to this forum but at times the blizzard of unfamiliar names makes me wonder what it is i might be missing.
thanks

infinite thought
01-12-2004, 01:37 AM
Well, a bit self-referentially, I would recommend you to read Badiou's collection of essays entitled, *ahem*, 'Infinite Thought'. Short, concise and relevant. Also Zizek's 'Welcome to the Desert of the Real' (about the state of politics/thought post-September 11th). Frederic Jameson's 'Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism' is useful, perhaps some Deleuze interviews ('Negotiations' or 'Dialogues'). Baudrillard is always interesting. Especially in the bath.

As someone who doesn't distinguish very sensibly between 'theory'/philosophy/politics/journalism/thought, I never think that any book is necessarily off-putting. Difficult sometimes, perhaps, but always amenable to one kind of interpretation or another. Hope these suggestions are helpful.

&catherine
01-12-2004, 04:40 AM
Fredric Jameson is a good place to start, for a general entry (The 'Postmodernism' one), as is Eagleton's 'Literary Theory'. I suggest these because they are a handy way to fill yourself in on the most general shape of the conversation, before getting into the very 'meaty' stuff. Or perhaps just randomly pick one of the names that you have seen flying by, and pursue them if they sound interesting? One entry point is probably as good as another, so long as you remember that your biases tend to remain with whoever you read first. (Well, that's been my experience, at any rate ;) ) Above all, don't panic if you pick something horribly difficult. With this sort of reading, it seems that you often need to read at least two or three things before you start to form a context for yourself and feel somewhat more 'in the picture'.

It's really quite good fun :) In a rigorous kind of way.

Rambler
01-12-2004, 11:39 AM
I second Eagleton.

Ramon Selden's A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory is a really straightforward, good entry level book to theory/lit crit. - it also comes with a handy companion Practising Theory and Reading Literature in which Selden goes through each type of criticism and shows how it works in practice. It can be a bit like the Noddy Guide to Theory, but if you're after an entry-level introduction it's unbeatable.

Melmoth
01-12-2004, 02:16 PM
Royle's book on Derrida is pretty good, but many of those little introductory squibs leave you none the wiser really, they're a waste of time, as I know from long experience. Eagleton's Ideology of the Aesthetic and Robert Young's White Mythologies are useful surveys that explore the terrain from particular angles, though both are slightly dated. But the best way to begin is to find someone you like and plough through their work unfortunately. :) It seems to me there are three overlapping and contending areas of european thought at the moment (to be reductive): Zizek, Badiou and that who are interested in a new universalism as a basis for political critique; Deleuze's various epigones many of whom are exploring the virtual and the digital and the post-human; and then the Derrida/ Levinas/Blanchot lot who are into ethics, literature and otherness. So its probably worth trying to find out which of these crews interests you the most and then going for it. Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology is a pretty accessible and informative book I think.

&catherine
01-12-2004, 03:27 PM
many of those little introductory squibs leave you none the wiser really, they're a waste of time
Sure, the introductory things are an abridged version of the menu, rather than the meal itself, but I still think it's helpful to have some idea (even if the idea is revised radically at a later date) of what the terrain is. It saves you pulling out your hair, if you are of the disposition to panic. (Which I was when I started, but then, I think I also had essays bearing down on me at the time, so that sort of reaction is probably quite understandable ;) )

owen
01-12-2004, 03:42 PM
whatever you do don't read the cheap and deceptively nice looking 'postmodern encounters' books, they're little essays on the usual suspects (lacan, foucault, etc etc) - i bought them as an undergrad as an intro to this sort of bizness and they put me off 'theory' for years.
not sure about all the eagleton love here, i find him incredibly annoying...but starting with zizek is a good idea as he is deceptively easy to read and will make you laugh.

Rambler
01-12-2004, 03:51 PM
I think as a theorist Eagleton probably is difficult to get on with, but in the introductory things I've read (and I'm not a lit theorist by trade, so I've not read any of his more substantial books), he comes across as a good teacher - passionate, lucid, that sort of thing.

&catherine
01-12-2004, 04:06 PM
Re: the Eagleton, Zizek, Jameson love: the post-Marxists write good intros, no? All that dialectically incorporating everything, Hegel-style... It makes them comprehensive, if nothing else ;)

HMGovt
01-12-2004, 04:09 PM
You people really need to read something other than critical theory all the time. Maybe a bit of science now and then, otherwise you just end up in an endless circle-jerk of Aspergic reading, re-reading and Re:-re-reading the same tatty old texts.

Rambler
01-12-2004, 04:14 PM
Hey, I read plenty of different stuff. Only about 1/2 of it's theory ... :)

infinite thought
01-12-2004, 05:45 PM
erm, I also occasionally try and read Chomsky's linguistics works and any recent anthropology research, does this count?....what science stuff do you recommend, Mr non-autistic HMG?

John Bitumen
01-12-2004, 06:02 PM
Well, a bit self-referentially, I would recommend you to read Badiou's collection of essays entitled, *ahem*, 'Infinite Thought'. Short, concise and relevant. Also Zizek's 'Welcome to the Desert of the Real' (about the state of politics/thought post-September 11th). Frederic Jameson's 'Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism' is useful, perhaps some Deleuze interviews ('Negotiations' or 'Dialogues'). Baudrillard is always interesting. Especially in the bath.

As someone who doesn't distinguish very sensibly between 'theory'/philosophy/politics/journalism/thought, I never think that any book is necessarily off-putting. Difficult sometimes, perhaps, but always amenable to one kind of interpretation or another. Hope these suggestions are helpful.

coo. thanks for these infinite thought. if i get half an hour one day (please lord!) i shall investigate with relish. theory - it's pretty cool innit.

johneffay
01-12-2004, 06:41 PM
You people really need to read something other than critical theory all the time. Maybe a bit of science now and then, otherwise you just end up in an endless circle-jerk of Aspergic reading, re-reading and Re:-re-reading the same tatty old texts.
Outstanding. Somebody writes in asking for suggestions with regard to critical theory, people post their suggestions, and you conclude that all they read is critical theory :rolleyes:

I actually just wanted to say that if you're interested in Derrida, the best place to start is with his interviews which are actually very enjoyable. The secondary literature on Derrida can be divided into:
1. Stuff which is such a partial take as to be useless or just plain wrong.
2. Extremely detailed and careful readings which assume a knowledge of Derrida in the first place.

I take &Catherine's point that books that fall into the first category can be useful for blagging essays, but if you're looking into this stuff just because you're interested in it, they really are a waste of time.

dominic
01-12-2004, 08:37 PM
I had never heard of Zizek until K-Punk began to excerpt passages from him. Now he's at the top of my reading list. Along with Spinoza. Had paged through the "Ethics" several years ago, but figure I must now make concerted effort. In any case, any recommendations as to where to begin with Spinoza?

As for Deleuze, I've been intermittently paging through "Thousand Plateaus" for the past year or so. Find some chapters accessible and highly stimulating, as with the chapters on "Bodies w/o Organs" and "Nomad Thought," but other chapters impenetrable and seemingly not worth the buck for the bang

Also have copy of Jameson's "Postmodernism," but I don't rate it. Don't think I finished it, either.

GETTING BACK TO THE QUESTION, for a short primer I'd suggest "Modern French Philosophy" by Vincent Descombes . . . . Also worth checking out is Stanley Rosen's "Hermeneutics as Politics"

However, at the end of the day, there's no better place to start than with the Big Names themselves. Which is something that I need to get into habit of doing again

luka
02-12-2004, 10:27 AM
people tell me theory is interesting then i look at it and think, what the fuck is this?
i thought it would be nice, since theres so many theory bods here, if you post a few impenetrble passages of delueze or something, then explain it, thereby reassuring people who are intimidated by theory that some sense can be wrung out of the most opaque chunks of prose. i'm not on a wind up here, i'#m quite genuine, i want to see it in action.

rewch
02-12-2004, 01:04 PM
nice one luka...
i didd literature at uni & found theory to be very, very occasionally useful...mainly for winding up of tutor purposes...but it gets in the way of the actual text most of the time...unless it is the actual text in which case please ignore...but i think there is a tendency to trust theorists because they are impenetrable and appear to be authoritative...frequently they lead people away from their real concerns into frustration, fear and in extreme cases insanity...one's own instincts can be trusted...at least sometimes

eagleton i found to be deeply annoying...william empson, at least from a literary angle, i quite liked...and he did have a spectacular beard

Grievous Angel
02-12-2004, 01:22 PM
people tell me theory is interesting then i look at it and think, what the fuck is this?

Theory's dead useful. Conceptual modelling innit. From an architectural viewpoint: the building stays up. Why does it stay up? (Answer: engineering theory. True but dull.) Now. The building stays up, but doesn't seem to "work". What does this mean?

And off we go.

Easy peasy. Now...


thereby reassuring people who are intimidated by theory that some sense can be wrung out of the most opaque chunks of prose

Tricky. Acquired taste innit: takes a lot of knowledge to really grok where they're coming from. Sometimes the opaqueness is coming from cool word games. Sometimes it's just a lot of toss. It's like figuring out which are the good Zappa albums, and which ones aren't. 's alright, and I like books like "introducing critical theory" cartoons cos you can read them while holding a baby.

In the end though, I prefer RAW, who tends to really wind up the lit crit crowd, but I'm from Essex, so who cares?

rewch
02-12-2004, 01:31 PM
Theory's dead useful. Conceptual modelling innit. From an architectural viewpoint: the building stays up. Why does it stay up? (Answer: engineering theory. True but dull.) Now. The building stays up, but doesn't seem to "work". What does this mean?

And off we go.

Easy peasy. Now...

of course...but there's a difference between architectural theory (building not falling down) and a theory of architecture (form/content/style/function)...or is this an arbitrary distinction?

adruu
02-12-2004, 04:12 PM
doesn't anyone read marx anymore? start with the manifesto.

luka
02-12-2004, 06:34 PM
surely someone can rise to the challenge. if i get back to bethnal green and there's no response i'll find a passage myself and we'll turn this thread into a bookclub! discuss this passage...

xero
02-12-2004, 06:49 PM
of course...but there's a difference between architectural theory (building not falling down) and a theory of architecture (form/content/style/function)...or is this an arbitrary distinction?

actually it's structural engineers that ensure that buildings don't fall down and are insured so you can sue them if they do - architectural theory is generally based on a similar range of conceptual source material as most other forms of cultural output- deleuze still fairly fashionable at the moment

infinite thought
02-12-2004, 07:38 PM
I will attempt to respond later I promise! Have been v. busy teaching. Hope someone else will give it a go too....

jenks
03-12-2004, 08:12 AM
thanks everybody for all the ideas - the next time i am somewhere near a decent bookshop i shall be filling my arms with stuff. very generous of you to give up your time to this!
the main impetus for this request was that mnay ideas get recycled in novels, music crit etc and i feel i am getting bits/flavours. it was interesting the number of people who feel defensive about this stuff - my wife claims that it's bad writing because it seems impenetrable, i argue it's difficult writing but what they're trying to do is difficult - then agian she doesn't think most of the stuff on the shelf is music either. as my mate's wife once famously said "are we supposed to like this?"
re: Zizek, with the synchronicity that a list like this likes, after never hearing his name i see it twice in one day - a long letter in the LRB claiming that it may be better for left leaning types for bush to win - it will demark the battle lines all the more clearly (what happens to the world then for the next four years?) and then whilst trying to save my toast from the kids an article in the observer (it takes me a week to read the thing)about intellectuals - apparrently Birkbeck have appointed him to some public intellectual role.

Jamie S
03-12-2004, 05:36 PM
Re the impenetrability. I always thought a lot of that was to do with reading stuff in translation. I have this fantasy that these guys are writing the most lucid accesible stuff, that then gets turned into these difficult texts that all you theory bods find so terribly exciting ; ) Has anyone read a lot in the original to comment?

Mind you, if you read Claude Levi Strauss (which you should; can't dig post-structuralism until you've dug structuralism) it's beautiful (and clear and plain) in English, so who knows?



You people really need to read something other than critical theory all the time. Maybe a bit of science now and then.

I think he has a little bit of a point here in that it's always interesting to see how things are seen from different approaches or disciplines. For example, comparing the difference between how Freud is seen/used in Psychology and in Lit/Critical Theory is quite a laugh.

(Idea for new thread: Freud was wrong about everything and his influence on contemporary thought is entirely negative: discuss. - just kiddding)

Greg
03-12-2004, 10:36 PM
er... new request

Derrida "Writing and Difference"... frankly im struggling, can someone suggest a primer? introducing derrida or somesuch.

henrymiller
10-12-2004, 03:43 PM
i know what luka means. i think reading eagleton or jameson is non-starter because they are second-order exploiters of other people's ideas, and generally seem to follow the wind. these days eagleton praises raymond williams, e p thompson, et al, but he used to be a total shit about them. why? because althusser was 'the shit' way back when and he followed the money. for a general intro i'd recommend perry anderson's 'considerations on western marxism', which considers why bright people like the posters here read very politically involved tomes which are restricted almost exclusively to cultural criticism, hence crazy concentration on 'the subject' ect ect. not that one would want to write off *all theory* (how philisitne) -- even though theorists are quite happy to write off *all history* when the mood suits.

MBM
11-12-2004, 01:44 AM
Mate of Foucault's. Rare among theorists in that he is actually a very good writer. Poet even.

Currently rereading Genesis (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0472084356/qid=1102729330/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/104-8215692-4123119).

Accessible article here (http://www.devpsy.lboro.ac.uk/psygroup/sb/Serres.htm).