June 20, 2004

Still feeling lost and wandering from book to book unable to decide what to read.

This weekend, though, did finish Judith Butler's Precarious Life which suffered some from the public intellectual trap (the trap that happens when you get a big name and suddenly people want you/let you write on current issues in which you really don't have that much background and your usually rich and insightful writing starts to feel like an expanded version of the opinion page of a major paper). The best part of it is the prose, which had that wonderful round aboutness that seems to sometimes drive people to distraction but I love because it seems so musical. But in general, felt that most of it had been hashed through before and better by people with backgrounds in the Middle East and/or international policy. The twist, I guess, is the theory that Butler adds. There is a chapter on Levinas and the face, for instance. But in general, a lot of the book already feels somewhat out of date--although its complaints and critiques are still very resonant--just because Guantanamo Bay abuse seems like child's play next to the Abu Ghraib abuse. Whatever one can say about the Abu Ghraib photographs, they seem like they require a whole new level of theorizing in order to say it. The best chapter is "Violence, Mourning, Politics" which I had heard as a talk at CUNY a few years ago. At least I think this is the chapter that is the talk I heard. It is very good on issues of public mourning and those obituaries that were in the Times after 9/11 of all the dead. I remember though the talk at CUNY ending in this sort and now queer theory will save us note and finding that so very strange (queer theory feeling of so little help with current political issues because it has been so western and done so little in investigating the responses that people have to different sorts of economic inequalities and also because it has done so little theorizing about western/non-western sexualities in the contemporary moment). But this sort of rah-rah-ism is gone from this version, leaving a fairly tight essay.

Also read Wendy-o Matik's Redefining Our Relationships which is sadly thin and reads at moments like an advice column from Cosmopolitan. I wanted to like it. I feel like a pinhead academic complaining about it. But no Foucault? No Reich?

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