What new academic texts are strange and challenging?
April 19, 2009 10:27 PM   Subscribe

What's the new, strange and exciting writing in the humanities?

I'm looking for new and newish academic writing (written this decade) that is strange and challenging. I'm specifically looking for texts in the humanities. They can be short or long, books or articles, either is fine by me. They can be from anywhere in the world but I require it to exist in English translation, unfortunately, as neither my French nor Danish are good enough to read heavy academic texts.

What's the hip new thing all the humanities students and professors are excited about?
posted by Kattullus to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I suppose I should give some sort of example. Back in the late 60s a lot of French theorists (Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Kristeva etc.) caused quite a stir with their publications. I'm looking for something that's similarly challenging, not necessarily in the same way, just something that one needs to read three times over before getting a grasp on.
posted by Kattullus at 10:32 PM on April 19, 2009

Best answer: Giorgio Agamben (State of Exception, Homo Sacer) is quite strange and is in vogue right now. You should also check out François Laruelle (a bunch of translations are here)--apparently he's up-and-coming, but I have no idea what to make of him, it's all too weird to wrap my head around. He's associated with the Speculative Realists, some of whose work is very very strange (lots of stuff at the same site, here--they really deserve a MeFi post, I think).

I'm not sure what counts as strange or challenging in my field. One contender would certainly be Michael McKeon's massively interdisciplinary Secret History of Domesticity (which is challenging in part because of its size; I've only gotten through a few chapters). In a similar vein, you would certainly enjoy Eric Slauter's article "Being Alone in the Age of the Social Contract," William and Mary Quarterly 62, no. 1 (Jan. 2005), 31-66. The way it uses sources is likely to be standard practice within five years, I think, but if you're used to more traditional academic work it's very strange. There's also Susan Buck-Morss's "hypertext" book Dreamworld and Catastrophe, which is an absolutely fascinating study of the ideology of utopia in the twentieth century (mostly the Soviet Union, but the United States as well).
posted by nasreddin at 10:58 PM on April 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Well, fwiw, nasreddin's blog has had a lot to say recently about the so-called speculative realists, who rock the world of a small handful of a theorists (they have a conference in the UK next week).

In general, however, I sense that the long era of faddish post-[fill in the blank] may be waning somewhat.

There are still people mining once heterodox areas with the old elan (see: Badiou, Zizek, etc), but if the recent APA-Pacific meeting is any guide, I think we're happily in a state of pluralism: lots of different people working in different areas; mostly without the need for any new thematic "-ism" prism through which to filter their work.

Beyond the demise of continental theory, within analytic philosophy the emphasis remains rather technical (see Timothy Williamson's interview in the latest TPM). But even there one finds some really (to my mind) exciting thinkers.
posted by ornate insect at 11:18 PM on April 19, 2009

Best answer: Some admitedly random possible stimulations:
2008 interview w/Robert Brandom
Shusterman's book Body Consciousness
Work of John McDowell
Apel and Tugendhat: two forgotten giants of post-war European philosophy
posted by ornate insect at 11:48 PM on April 19, 2009

Best answer: The Myth of Nations by Patrick Geary gets a lot of buzz. Working from the invasion period of the early Middle Ages, he aims to debunk the concept of ethnic and territorial-based nationalism. Seeing as there are still many countries in the world at risk of being chopped up due to various groups claiming ethnic cohesion and uniqueness, it's worth reading how such ideas spang up in Europe 1500 years ago with the fall of the Roman Empire.
posted by hiteleven at 7:23 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nasreddin, what do you think is unconventional about Slauter's use of sources? I skimmed the piece and the readings he was doing, if not common, seem fairly standard already--at least in lit and visual culture, which he's borrowing from, if not history . . .

It's been more and more common this decade--if you work in the field, you're already familiar with it--but if you look at work from, say, the early '90s, it's much less common to mix media and genres like that.
posted by nasreddin at 7:39 AM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: People around where I am are pretty excited about Michael Thompson's Life and Action. It's a bit drier than Kristeva et al but makes some interesting claims and leaves a lot of possibilities open. His personal web page is here, and has five essays on it that you can download. I would think the fifth is closest to the book, which is, again, where the buzz is. It's quite analytic in its orientation, but has heaps of Kant and Hegel as well.

I haven't read it yet but have attended a round table on it and read a paper here and there; that admitted, I think the gist of what he's doing is this: trying to come up with a viable way of thinking about action through a rehabilitation of the concept of life and life-forms, and through emphasis on the importance of natural historical descriptions (as opposed to purely causal or formal ones) to understanding what any living being is or does.
posted by felix grundy at 8:05 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Juliet Mitchell, "Siblings: Sex and Death"
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2009

They are fairly established by now, but Deleuze and Guattari succeeded the writers you mention in your OP, as do the movement-like marxist bodies of operaismo and post-operaismo.\

Short answer: read these essays
posted by billtron at 9:02 AM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Bruce Fink's Lacan to the Letter: Reading Ecrits Closely is great from what I hear. It came out in 2004, so for the humanities, it's new ;).
posted by hpliferaft at 10:58 AM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: That's Siblings Sex and Violence
posted by mdoar at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2009

Sounds like you want some Zizek.
posted by scribbler at 8:32 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Long day but I thought of another on the train. Jean-Luc Marion has been publishing these phenomenological/theological tomes for a while now, but he also has a slim little book called The Crossing of the Visible. I read it for a class I was auditing (read: too quickly) so I can't pull the arguments out so ably, but the first essay at least is about the presence of the invisible as it shows up in perspective paintings (as that which allows perspective and the mobilization of space) and as it appears in paintings of icons (as God made available through the gaze of the visible saint). These two general types also sort into paintings that present themselves as objects and painting which present themselves as intentional toward the viewer/supplicant (with portraiture as a strange inbetween region).

Any Marion scholar is probably gnashing her teeth right now, but that's what I remember. It's not an easy read, but it's interesting. It is also way sexier than the Thompson I recommended above. Whether it's strange I leave to your cosmology—I'm for saturated moments but I don't buy his presentation.
posted by felix grundy at 9:08 PM on April 20, 2009

Sorry for the self linksiness of this but from the publisher I work for I would recommend this:

Frauenlob's Song of Songs, a new English translation by Barbara Newman, who played a significant role in shedding light on the long neglected Hildegard of Bingen. This time she looks at an obscure erotic ode to and by the Virgin Mary that really challenges how we think about the late Medieval. A brilliant translation and analysis by a scholar at the top of her form. And (Que thumpin' bass) Oh yeah, hot, German, medieval erotica about a three way between the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Mary producing, the love child that is—Jesus Christ. You probably haven't read anything quite like this.

Read the first chapter here. But for the good stuff, you'll have to buy the book.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:14 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

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