August 31, 2010

summer reading wrap-up

My summer reading list was a cross-section of texts I've been anticipating for quite some time. Among the many false starts (failed attempts at reading Joyce's Ulysses, Jean-Luc Marion's God Without Being, and Ernst Bloch's Atheism in Christianity: texts which will no doubt be attempted again), I actually did finish reading a few books that were on my list.

For me, summer reading projects are always more successful when others readers are involved. I was part of reading group for Dante's Divine Comedy (something I've tried and failed at reading in the past), which led to a series of posts on the Inferno, Purgatorio, and some reflections on Milton.

I finally got around to reading Violence by Slavoj Zizek. Thoroughly enjoyable, not least for passages like this: "The characterization of Hitler which would have him as a bad guy, responsible for the dead of millions but nonetheless a man with balls who pursued his ends with an iron will, is not only ethically repulsive, it is also simply wrong: no, Hitler did not "have the balls" really to change things. All his actions were fundamentally reactions: he acted so that nothing would really change; he acted to prevent the communist threat of real change. His targeting of the Jews was ultimately an act of displacement in which he avoided the real enemy -- the core of capitalist social relations themselves. Hitler staged a spectacle of revolution so that the capitalist order could survive."

I did some proofreading at my previous job and was therefore given the opportunity to read through The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation, edited by Chris K. Huebner and Tripp York.

Finally, two days ago I finished Moby Dick, which is quickly climbing the list of my favourite novels. Today, by happy coincidence, Brad Johnson over at AUFS, posted a link to a PDF download of his dissertation entitled, The Characteristic Theology of Herman Melville: Aesthetics, Politics, Duplicity.

But now I must begin reading for my courses. To work!


  1. I also find it easier to finish reading something in company. I've been reading The Gift of Difference throughout the summer as well. Any particular thoughts on it?

  2. Plenty. My initial criticisms were quite similar to David Driedger's. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of engagement with Radical Orthodoxy theologians beyond Milbank (as student of literature, I'm more interested in Graham Ward's work); and on the RR side of things Yoder seems to dominate most discussions. Then again, I think a lot of the engagement in the volume is quite fruitful, and I'm very proud of what we were able to produce. Peter Blum's essay on Derrida and the "im/possibility" of forgiveness may be my favourite essay in the volume -- such a great way to start; Craig Hovey's essay on testimony was another highlight, and Stephen Long's essay on desire and violence struck a major chord. What are your impressions of the volume?

  3. I also really liked Peter Blum's essay. I'm particularly interested in further exploring the ramifications it has for thinking about peace and justice. That is, not only "non a la violence!" but also peace as im/possibility --the positive. I'd like to work this out more with peace theologians such as John Paul Lederach and Yoder (can't seem to get away from him). Secondly, Kevin Derksen's essay helped me re-think a previous essay I had written on why I couldn't wrap my head around Milbank's insistence on not being a pacifist. ( I haven't quite finished reading the book yet but another one that interested me was Peter Dula's essay on Fugitive Ecclesia. I think Sheldon Wolin is quickly becoming one of my favourite political/cultural commentators, especially with the rise of radical conservatism in the West. To bring him into conversation with theology is, I think, a fruitful project.

    When the book came out, my initial thought was "how appropriate." With everything I hear people like Chris talking about in regards to gift exchange, this book seems to be a very appropriate gesture to the RO community. This is the kind of thing the church in its academic mode does (our ought to do). I think.

  4. If only I had submitted a Graham Ward essay!

    I've been thinking I should read more Zizek. Would *Violence* be your recommendation?

  5. Re: Ward -- No kidding! Keep it on hand for the next volume.

    Violence is short and sweet. Not very in depth, but it's probably good introduction to Zizek; most of his main conversation partners are there and he doesn't lean as heavily on Lacan as he does elsewhere, so, on the surface at least, it seems a bit more accessible.

    I confess I haven't read too much Zizek, but reading The Fragile Absolute in my second year (for Chris' class on Paul and the Philosophers--shouldn't you have been in that class?!) was incredible. It was my first encounter with contemporary Marxist theory, as well as the first time I'd seen a serious critique of postmodernism. It also features Zizek at his most theologically engaged. Both titles are short; but if you're interested in something heavier I'd recommend The Ticklish Subject.

  6. I just finished teaching Moby Dick in my Impossible Books course and preached in chapel with Dante as my guide. When I get some time I'll send you my reflections on this.

    By the way, you are way too smart.