One of my former students, with whom I’ve remained friends over the years, once asked me if I was able to maintain focus on one/two books at a time or whether my reading habits, like his, tended to slur across pieces of books picked up and discarded only to be picked up and discarded again months or weeks or years later. My reading habits are, for the most part, like his. In that sense, I’m currently reading about 100 books. But, I’m really reading about 4 with the kind of intensity that warrants mention here.
I do feel like the meandering process of my reading has its own logic, and I tend to believe that logic is guided by something mysterious (even sacred). The main thing prompting my view here is the high incidence of coincidence (“God winking at you” as someone in some garbage-y TV program I saw this week described it). I wonder what Zizek would say about that…
I’m very excited about two books published by the University of Michigan press. I’m the Editorial Director of that press, but I was not on the job when these titles were published. One is Genesis by Michel Serres and the other is Cosmodernism by Christian Moraru. The former is a powerful post-heideggerian meditation on microscopic ontological networks and the full spectrum of possibility (or what he calls “ichnography”: “the complete chain of metamorphoses of the sea god Proteus”) as the wellspring from which viable creative life (including creative political life) must be drawn. Very lyrical and playful in the continental style. Also very inspiring to me. Ultimately, this proposes itself as a re-thinking of what it means to “be” and “be human” or post-human, and as such it situates itself as a new book of Genesis. Humility isn’t a big part of what Serres is up to, but he’s on to something:
“Pay attention to those who give way, for they are the ones who are on the move. Any displacement is their deed. They are the very displacement themselves. Driven out, expelled from the first place, remember our first parents…. We are the children of those who gave up the place. We are the children in history of those who stepped aside. We are all children of exiles. The whole of culture is this excluded third… We are, through history, sons of those who made history or invented history in giving up their place… children of meanderings. … The third seeks a completely blank space, finds it on rare occasions. The miracle of a flat projection space doesn’t happen every morning” (78-79).
Cosmodernism is most related to Genesis, in my mind at least, in its emphasis on self-formation/meaning-making as a relational process. Moraru’s argument is one of the better recent articulations I’ve seen of a post-1989, global ethics. The answer is not “tolerance” of otherness but “being with” or “coming into being with” the other. Moraru reminds us that, whoever we are, whatever our cultural background, self is as dependent on relationships of differentiation (i.e., constitution by negation) as it is on relationships that reify and confirm through identification. He argues for a social engagement and cultural/literary engagement that emphasizes the value of meaning making through differentiation rather than through identification, and makes a compelling case that it is in everyone’s interest (and not in a merely realpolitik sense).
These two books are talking to each other (at least in my bedroom, where I read them), but I entered into reading them without any expectation that they would, and it’s only fitting they should be related to a “project” already under way in my personal world…
A weird project that my mind calls Lapsaria, in which I am taking note of every place in the synoptic Gospels where reference is made to the “Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God.” These are the phrases Jesus typically uses to refer to what he means by “salvation” (at least in the KJV). At some point in the last year, it occurred to me that while I basically believe in some version of original sin and a kind of genetic brokenness that goes back (at least narratively & lyrically) to what Serres calls “our first parents… those who gave up the place,” I had no idea what Jesus had to say about what he was really offering when he talked about salvation. Is it supposed to look like Eden? I didn’t think so, and so I started combing through the Gospels looking for it. He does, of course, have a lot to say, but I actually think he talks around it, mainly (parabolically… in parables…). So, then I started to think about the parables, too, which I’m still doing. The kingdom of God is like… The kingdom of heaven is like… etc. I’m not the first to notice that a) this sounds like two different kingdoms, b) kingdom sounds oddly grand, sterile, political, AND c) that the examples of what it is like are all incredibly mundane. Heaven is pretty much like where we are already. I came to a paradoxical view of heaven and exile occupying the same ground. I think that’s right, but now what?
I’m also about 10 pages into Dickens’ Bleak House. Why? I feel guilty that I’ve never read any of his gigantic novels. Terrible reason. I don’t expect to finish.
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