Philosophy and Literature: How to Read (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze stand among as the contemporary world’s most influential philosophers. Each have contributed dynamic new understandings of how to view the world and life itself through original ontological interpretations; while both thinkers once stood in stark opposition to one another—Badiou went as far as to denounce Deleuze’s philosophy as ‘fascist’—both share a kindred spirit: as Jean-Jacques Lecercle illustrates, both minds are bent on maintaining a dichotomy between literature and philosophy.

Lecercle’s effort in his short but dense book Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature is to give a comparative analysis of each philosopher; moreover, however, his effort is to do more than simply describe the differences but chart out how and why each thinker has based their hermeneutic outlook. Lecercle thus constructs his idea of a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ within the context of a ‘strong reading’ in order to demonstrate how Badiou and Deleuze are theoretically joined together and how from that union’s moments of divergence, each built their respective philosophies.

Because of the dense nature of Lecercle’s book, it is too much to be able to give an outline of even a fraction of the material. But it is of vital concern that readers at least understand the basics of this ‘disjunctive synthesis’ and the ‘strong reading.’

At its most base, a disjunctive synthesis is a Deleuzian concept. Lecercle writes of it as having “a strong paradoxical flavor, as it seeks to connect and separate at the same time, to keep together what must ultimately remain apart” (17). Indeed, it is a “logical operation” demonstrative of absolute difference instead of “the traditional philosophy of identity and representation” (19).  So the reader should see how it relates to Lecercle’s project in connecting two divergent thinkers within a literary matrix: he uses it, in other words, as a dialectical reformulation of post-Structuralist theory which seeks to decipher the road of intellectual intensification between Badiou and Deleuze.

But, of course, there is more, and this concept, however brilliantly utilized by Lecercle, is of little value unless directed by an overarching intellectual movement. This is where the notion of a ‘strong reading’ arrives. Lecercle outlines six characteristics of a strong reading, they are: (a) it goes against convention; (b) this fight against convention is aimed at the extraction of a problem; (c) once a problem has been extracted, the ‘construction which grasps it’ must be created—the central idea, in other words; (d) persistence is vital to a strong reading as unless one continuously returns to the problem, the reading lacks the staying power needed to problematize the text and legitimate the seemingly counter-intuitive reading; (e) that the sum total of the previous points amounts to not an interpretation, but an intervention—the uncovering of a truth rather than an formative opinion; (f) and finally, the last characteristic of a strong reading is that it provokes readers and summons a ‘counter-reading’ which initiates a new string of argumentation and research (68-70). For a textual engagement to qualify as a strong reading, it must have all of these six traits.

This outlook is all well and good, but the question still remains—is this idea of a strong reading guided by a disjunctive synthesis a proactive theory? Yes, it is very proactive. Lecercle’s engagement with Deleuzian and Badiouan outlooks is nothing short of astonishing. The reason for this book’s existence is because of an inflammatory book where, much to the dismay of Deleuzian loyalists, he seemingly savaged Deleuze’s thought. What Lecercle does in his effort is to provide context for Badiou’s form of reading Deleuze before embarking upon the theoretical journey meant to illustrate what would happen if a ‘strong reading’ where incorporated into Badiou and Deleuze proper; this is done via recourse to examining each thinker’s previous engagements with literary traditions—French poetry for Badiou, and Anglo-American literature for Deleuze. Through each chapter Lecercle interrogates the nuances of each of his subject’s reading philosophies and their logical conclusion.

In the end, Lecercle provides an experience not to be missed by anyone with an interest in literary criticism of a philosophic variety. Not only does his undertaking provide the basis for a thrilling intellectual engagement with two of history’s greatest philosophers, but it provides a simple introduction to each thinker’s thought. Anyone who enjoys critical theory, philosophy, literary theory, or just a strident academic work which broaches new horizons, should pick up a copy of this indispensable book.

Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

213 pages. Published by Eidenburgh U.P. $30.50 (Hardcover), $20.46 (Paperback)[1]. 2010.

 

[1] Prices were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

Doomware by Nathan Kuzack (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

In the century of Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama, what can really be said about the ‘End of the Earth,’ especially after epics like The Walking Dead, Left 4 Dead, and George A. Romero’s portfolio? Hard to say, personally, but evidently not for Natan Kuzack who manages to deliver on a (un-)surprisingly divergent take on the zombie end. Surprising for it being a well-written literary experience and unsurprising for its blasé take on technological determinism.

Plot wise, we see this: David is an ‘acybernetic,’ someone whose brain rejected the so-called ‘brainware’ which propelled humanity into the golden of near-immortality and Godlike biological and interconnected prosperity. He is a modern black sheep and faces discrimination due to his inability to fit in with the crowd. Fortunately, he does not have long to suffer his torment since a devastating virus wipes out humanity thanks to a ‘bug’ in the brainware; thus, billions of people are instantly killed while others become ‘reanimated’ carcasses who wander the Earth as biological machines—brainware working but biology long deteriorated.

So David leads a solitary life of scrapping by on whatever is left over from the great end. He scavenges for food, entertainment, and tries his best to cope with the unending horror of hostile dead and insufferable loneliness. That is until one day when he encounters a young boy; a fellow survivor who he eventually adopts as his son and has many heartwarming moments protecting. Not long after he meets his adoptive son, he meets a strapping solider-man who makes all of his romantic and existential dreams come true. Or, as many as possible when the rotting cadavers of Mom and Dad still walk about, screaming for your flesh.

I guess what I am trying to say is this—the story is well-written. The characters develop smoothly, and the internal machinations of the universe assist rather than degrade the uniqueness of the apocalyptic happening; the idea of implanted machines leading to the near-extinction of humanity after a virus shuts down the central processing center of the depended upon machines, makes for an interesting reading experience which is a breath of fresh air in a stale horror sub-genre. This is greatly welcomed since with every passing day, there grows more fetid pieces to capitalize upon the zombie craze, written by Johns and Jane Does who think they can pen an engaging zombie epic.

But, for all of Doomware‘s strengths, for how visceral the author is able to write action scenes and how much emotion he is able to convey, much of the novel is simply ‘good,’ not ‘amazing,’ just average.

My objections ultimately boil down to this—although the idea of brainware dooming humanity was a different take on how zombification happens, it was still an old-hat in the pantheon of reasons why humanity is overthrown; the notion that humanity unknowingly plants the seeds of their doom by being overeager to use technology as a crutch is a tired affair. Moreoever, it is a deeply reactionary affair, pessimistic in what humanity is able to achieve. It is the status quo screaming for stability in an economic order increasingly shaken by its own internal contradictions.

Doomware has multiple instances of the author preaching against technological dependence and, by extension, advancement. Entire pages are sometimes dedicated to religious-like soliloquies on technology and its boring, underlying neo-luddite ideology which hankers for the good old days of natural humanity. One may argue that the novel may not explicitly argue for a neo-luddite re-imagining, but considering that the digital version is free, it is also hard to argue that it is anything other than, in the very minimum, another unexciting piece of anti-technology propaganda.

I have other issues with the text—from the forced religious metaphors and stand-ins to the ‘trying too hard’ attitude of the author when it comes to self-referentiality—but the preaching against cyborg initiatives is my main beef primary because of its reactionary thinking, and partly due to its eye-rolling prominence  among modern artists.

Another moment which I found myself barking at was directed toward the romance… there was little need for it. I can enjoy reading a satisfying romantic entanglement between two people—hetero-or-homosexual—but this was one of those instances where you find yourself scratching your head at why it is important that these two people fall in love and what it adds to the story, especially since the romance itself does not seem to be the primary focus of the text’s consciousness: the protagonist survives, meets a boy he is grateful to save in order to redeem humanity, and then meets an intriguing older-man. The text wants to be about family but manages only to speak about familial relations on the periphery. What one ultimately reads is a familial-oriented story muddled underneath the exact motives of the protagonist and survival itself.

But the romantic deficiencies is simply a symptom of a deeper, subtending base, that of the rushed ending compounding its shortcomings. The book is short, at just under three hundred pages but feels as though there should be another hundred in order for it to feel whole. Case-in-point, the final twenty-percent of the book feels like it should be the final forty-percent; meaning, that when reading near the finale, one feels as though there should be, at least, another twenty-percent before your turn the last page. Instead, the book ends on an unsatisfying and vague conclusion which is closed enough for a stand-alone novel but open enough for the author to revisit should he choose to do so. In other words, the text gives you just enough closure mixed with just enough wonder enabling the author to have the best of both worlds. A rookie cop-out.

Even so, at the end of the day, Kuzack’s title is, as far as I know, his first full-length literary production. Because of this, certain shortcomings can be glossed over; every writer’s early work is to be expected to have some ‘bugs,’ so to speak. Ideological differences aside, there is much to enjoy in Kuzack’s writing since it is well-crafted and worth looking into since the Kindle versions of his works are free; so anyone short on funds should not be afraid to look at his library if you want a different take on sci-fi and horror. One should simply be prepared for the customary gulf of experience which comes alongside any new author.

Doomware

Nathan Kuzack

298 pages. Published by Nathan Kuzack. $0.00 (Kindle), $7.85 (paperback). 2014.

An Heir to Thorn and Steel (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

Fantasy, especially High Fantasy of the variety popularized by J. R. R Tolkein, has lately fallen into a malaise; the clichés and platitudes, predictable plucky farmboy protagonists, walking cardboard cutouts… and the plots… suffice it to say that fantasy lately has been plagued by a spell which attempts to do the impossible, i.e., bring Tolkein back from the dead, or at least his spirit. In the Indie scene this is all the more prevalent. One only need to briefly browse through the Amazon’s E-book marketplace to see what sort of cancer this impossibility has wrought; I will save you the trouble—scores of poorly written, unedited, textual shambles which deserve no role in the civilized literary world. So this is to say that whenever I delve into a new Indie fantasy novel, I am, in a word, suspect. So diving into M.C.A Hogarth’s An Heir to Thorns and Steel, I did not know what to expect. Would I enjoy discovering a new gem, or chide myself at slogging through yet another messy manuscript filled with half-baked ideas?

AS it turns out, I was able to pat myself on the back; not only was Hogarth’s yarn concerning a crippled graduate student’s struggle to find his origins between two powerful races while battling his own frailty, a beautifully realized tale in a skillfully written Victorian-esque setting, the book re-affirmed my faith in Indie authors to pen tales capable of challenging those published in the mainstream. Before I go any further, however, let me sketch the plot.

Morgan, the protagonist, is a graduate student studying at a prestigious university in a (American) Colonial era inspired country which, following their revolution to overthrow the monarchy, has become a republic; finding peace among his many books and classes, Morgan pines for the simple life of pain-free living, for you see, he has a debilitating illness which renders him useless and inflicts great harm on his body. One day, two furry creatures (‘genets’) named Almond and Kelu, emissaries from a far-away land, inform him that he is actually a prince, heir to an Elven kingdom. Though, of course, hesitant to believe them, Morgan reluctantly agrees to travel to this foreign land, lured by the promise of a cure to his illness; along the way he meets characters whom challenge him in more ways than one and toward a destiny which is something he never before imagined.

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