Off the cuff is a new feature at The Immanent Frame, in which we pose a question to a handful of leading thinkers and ask for a brief response. Our question this week is about summer reading.
With the dog-days of August already at hand and the fall semester just around the corner, we’ve been curious about what our contributors have read these past few months. So we asked: What are the best books and essays you’ve come across this summer? What are you most looking forward to reading in the near future?
The summit in summer reading for me is reading Greek newspapers, two per day, four on Sundays. I don’t know why I do this—I can hardly get through the NY Times with any sort of regularity. But these maculate figures of daily news are, in innumerable ways, the epitome of secular pleasure. Even when they bear ill tidings, or convey profoundly depressing facets of human behavior, they are nonetheless replete with that wondrous sense of the ephemeral, the incidental, the outrageous, the mundane. I’m a lover of the leisure of literature and there is surely plenty of that in reading Greek newspapers in the shadow of a fig tree during a hot afternoon after lunch and before siesta.
Sunset time, between the evening swim and a drink at the bar on the beach, invites the sort of reading whose pleasure lies in uncovering the various dead-ends in one’s thought. Such was the experience of reading Cornelius Castoriadis’ Fenêtre sur le Chaos (2007), a collection of writings on humanity’s artistic capacity, especially in poetry and music, which includes a couple of brilliant interviews and a long and previously unpublished section of one of his notorious seminars at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. This book brims with Castoriadis’ inimitable panache for straight-shooting at whatever feigns mysteriosity, and it includes some memorable pages on the abyssal physis that instigates the imaginary of the sacred.
Another such book was Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s classic Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (1972), a work that launched so-called new biology studies. What’s remarkable about this book is not only that it conceptualizes how an organism is, at an elemental level, the force of self-creation, but that this force itself—as living being—is an epistemological condition. Even more, the brilliant writing brings out the exhilaration of encountering a truly literary sensibility.
Aspirations of future reading are best not to be communicated, I’m afraid. Their realization falls far short of one’s expressed appetite.