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Reading List

New Works of Theory in Context

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Theory never takes place in a void. The greatest advances often come through work that finds a way of engaging critically with arguments of the past, building on them and putting a new spin on the deepest questions of politics, economics, psychology, culture, and social life. The list below is organized around conversations between texts, from new releases to Verso classics.

All these books are 40% off until March 11, 2022 at 11:59PM EST.
 

Political Theory

Imperium is Frédéric Lordon's latest work in political theory, examining claims for the need of "horizontality" in Left political organizing today through Spinoza's concepts of multitudo and imperium. Lordon considers how different social forms lead to different modalities of both human fragmentation and political grouping, with the nation-state being only one among many. What are the forces that produce this fragmentation, engender such groupings and prevent them from being perfectly horizontal, but also lead them to disappear, merge, or change form?

Read Imperium with: 

The Concept of the Social by Malcolm Bull

Bull's radical re-thinking of the most fundamental premises of political theory, including how we think about structures, organization, and the aims of political activity. Bull develops new interpretations of the role of concepts like contingency, structure, and skepticism through novel readings of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Marx, and Arendt. 

Fanaticism by Alberto Toscano

Imperium is in part a book about how political groupings are created out of parts, and also how they fracture. In Fanaticism, Toscano looks at how forms of extremism result from the inadequacy of the liberal political imagination. When liberalism fails to create truly democratic institutions and an adequate emancipatory project, especially in times of general social crisis and breakdown, fanaticism often moves in to fill in the gaps. 

The Philosophy of the Encounter by Louis Althusser

Althusser's later writings, in which he pairs political reflections with what he called the “philosophy of the encounter”: a hidden and subterranean tradition in the history of Western thought which stretches from Epicurus through Spinoza and Machiavelli to Marx, Derrida and Heidegger.

Spinoza and Politics by Etienne Balibar

Spinoza's philosophy is a major touchstone for Lordon. In this now classic volume, Balibar provides an overview of the political relevance of Spinoza's thinking, from his radical notion of democracy developed in the Theologico-Political Treatise, the theory of the state advanced in the Political Treatise, and the psychological and anthropological basis for subjectivity and politics in the Ethics.

Willing Slaves of Capital by Frederic Lordon

The question of why, despite domination being at the heart of late capitalism, more people do not revolt is a key question for contemporary politics. Why must we not only work, but "love" our work? What is the role of desire in this equation? Lordon argues that a thoroughly materialist reading of Spinoza's Ethics might provide answers. 

Philosophy

With a new introduction by Enzo Traverso, The Destruction of Reason is Georg Lukács' classic, controversial text on the roots of fascism in Western philosophy. For Lukacs, after Marx and Hegel, Western philosophy started to run radically off-course, with terrible consequences. While the main targets are Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche, Lukacs takes aim at almost every major tendency within continental philosophy. Schopenhauer, neo-Hegelians such as Leopold von Ranke and Wilhelm Dilthey, existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre, the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers, and Jean-Paul Sartre all come in for a share of criticism. 

Read The Destruction of Reason with: 

Critique of Dialectical Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre

Volume One of Sartre's intellectual masterpiece, introduced by Fredric Jameson. Sartre blends his philosophical discussion of dialectics with concerns around the structure of class struggle and the fate of mass movements of popular revolt, from the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century to the Russian and Chinese revolutions in the twentieth: their ascent, stabilisation, petrification and decline, in a world still overwhelmingly dominated by scarcity. 

The Hegel Variations and Valences of the Dialectic by Fredric Jameson

Variations sets out Jameson's reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit as the pre-system of Hegel's thinking, a moment of spontaneity and openness that allowed Hegel to infuse philosophical concepts with literary references, theology, and other materials. Valences of the Dialectic can be read as an attempt to follow Lukacs in his critique of Western modern philosophy: a monumental work that traces the use of "dialectical thinking" through Rousseau, Lukács, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, and Althusser.

Less Than Nothing by Slavoj Zizek

Zizek's magnum opus on his career-long engagement with Hegel, and an application of dialectical thinking to critical dialogue with key strands of contemporary thought—Heidegger, Badiou, speculative realism, quantum physics, and cognitive sciences.

Georg Lukacs From Romanticism to Bolshevism by Michael Lowy

Lowy provides the major interpretation of the extraordinary mutation of Lukacs' thought, from the early humanism and intense literary studies through his major work History and Class Consciousness and his turn to Bolshevism.

Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche: Or the Realm of Shadows by Henri Lefebvre

Another attempt by a major thinker to reconstruct three of the most influential philosophers of modernity. 

Psychology and Social Theory

In The Third Unconscious: The Psychosphere in the Viral Age, Bifo Berardi examines how our digitized reality is beginning to shape the most fundamental impulses of contemporary psychology, to the point where these new technologies have started to constitute and direct our unconscious. To capture this, we need a new anthropology. For Berardi, the Unconscious is shaped by ever-changing historical conditions: its form depends on the unique ‘psychosphere’ of each historical age. From Freud's theory of the dark side of reason to Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the unconscious as a magmatic force that ceaselessly brings about new possibilities of imagination, Berardi considers the function of the unconscious within digital capitalism-what he calls the "third unconscious." 

Read The Third Unconscious with: 

Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han 

Trenchant description of a regime of technological domination that, in contrast to Foucault’s biopower, has discovered the productive force of the psyche. Psychopolitics contains an early philosophical formulation of Big Data and a lucid phenomenology of emotion. 

Scorched Earth by Jonathan Crary

Crary's full-on assault on the notion that social media can be emancipatory. Charts what digital life does to our mental life, relationships, and capacity for imagining another world. 

24/7 by Jonathan Crary

Examines how this interminable non-time blurs any separation between an intensified, ubiquitous consumerism and emerging strategies of control and surveillance.

New Dark AgeTechnology and the End of the Future by James Bridle

Bridle argues that while new, faster, more massive flows of information do not make the world more comprehensible. In fact, the new digital age creates an incredibly disorienting sense of reality and time, foreclosing the radical imagination and aesthetic sensibility. 

The Plague of Fantasies by Slavoj Zizek

Zizek's contribution to the question of digital culture and ideology, focusing on the relations between fantasy and ideology and the deluge of digital phantasms surrounding us.

A Study on Authority by Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse's classic text on the dialectic of freedom and authority, never a simple binary, in a survey that includes Luther, Calvin, Kant, Burke, Hegel and Bergson.

Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility by Franco 'Bifo' Berardi

Berardi's theorization of what it might take to truly break through the ceaseless ideology of late capitalism to imagine what a truly different world might amount to. 

Art and Aesthetics

Rancière's ability to clearly formulate key questions of contemporary aesthetics is almost unequaled. In Modern Times, Rancière examines a key obsession of modern art: the concept of temporality. He shows how the break with the hierarchical conception of time implies a completely different idea of the modern, the fulfilment of which he sees in two arts of movement, cinema and dance, which at the beginning of the twentieth century abolished the opposition between free and mechanical people and exposed the rift between the revolution of artists and that of political strategists.

Read Modern Times with: 

Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art by Jacques Ranciere

Ranciere's major theoretical statement on modernism, specifically what he calls the "aesthetic regime of art" - a regime of artistic perception and interpretation was constituted and transformed by erasing the specificities of the different arts, as well as the borders that separated them from ordinary experience.

Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde by John Roberts

Roberts, one of the foremost theorists of contemporary art, thinks through what it means to call art "avant-garde" today. What is the relationships between advanced art and the philosophy of history and time? How can we consider art's radical potential without dissolving it into politics? 

The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde by Peter Osborne

Begins with a consideration of the main aspects of modernity and develops though a series of critical engagements with the major twentieth-century positions in the philosophy of history. Osborne concludes with a fascinating history of the avant-garde intervention into the temporality of everyday life in surrealism, the situationists and the work of Henri Lefebvre.

The Future of the Image by Jacques Ranciere

Rancière argues that there is a stark political choice in art: it can either reinforce a radical democracy or create a new reactionary mysticism. For Rancière there is never a pure art: the aesthetic revolution must always embrace egalitarian ideals.

Sociology, Capitalism, Critique by Klaus Dörre, Stephan Lessenich, and Hartmut Rosa

Further develops the peculiar sociology of time within capitalism, namely the sense that while people and things are forced to move faster all the time, nothing really improves or develops, and all the alienation that "capitalist progress" entails. 

The Postconceptual Condition by Peter Osborne

Essays toward an adequate theory of contemporary art, including Osborne's problematization of the very concept of "contemporaneity" as a meaningful category of historical time. 

Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War by Hito Steyerl 

In the words of Boris Groys, “The highest duty of theory and art is to grasp and articulate their own time. In our time Hito Steyerl fulfills this duty as nobody else." Steyersl investigates fate of images and text in the age of total globalization and extreme inequality. 

Economic Theory 

In Keystroke Capitalism How Banks Create Money for the Few, Aaron Sahr explains why contemporary capitalism must produce more and more money, debt, and inequality in order to keep functioning at all. These three trends have a common cause: the privilege of private banks to create money by means of accounting—with the stroke of a key. Why was this privilege unaddressed politically for so long—and who benefited from that negligence? At the heart of the answer lies the realisation that the power to create money has been hidden by the way we commonly think and talk about capitalism. Keystroke Capitalism traces the omission of money creation from theories of capitalism and maps its consequences. 

Read Keystroke Capitalism with: 

Economics and the Left: Interviews with Progressive Economists

Twenty-four leading Left economists on the major questions of capitalism, markets, social planning, crisis, monetary theory, and other topics. 

Making Money: The Philosophy of Crisis Capitalism by Ole Bjerg

What is money? Where does it come from? Who makes it? And how can we understand the current state of our economy as a crisis of money itself?

Money and Abstract Labour: On the Analytical Foundations of Political Economy by Ulrich Krause

A ground-breaking mathematical analysis of labor, money and exchange.

The Value Controversy 

One of the fruits of the revival of socialist economic theory has been a wide-ranging debate about the validity of Marx’s labour theory of value, as well as other fundamental premises of Marxist economics. This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive yet accessible overview of the discussion over value theory. 

Money: 5,000 Years of Debt and Power by Michel Aglietta

Looking over the last 5,000 years, Michel Aglietta explores the development of money and its close connection to sovereign power. 

How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System by Wolfgang Streeck

Capitalism is now in a critical condition. Growth has given way to stagnation; inequality is leading to instability; and confidence in the money economy has all but evaporated. The regulatory institutions that once restrained the financial sector’s excesses have collapsed. Streeck outlints how our world has come to be defined by declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption and international anarchy, and no cure to these ills is at hand.

The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good by Richard Dienst

Dienst re-conceives the world’s massive financial obligations as a social, economic, and political bond. What is the role of debt in failing neoliberal capitalism?

Fictitious Capital: How Finance Is Appropriating Our Future by Cedric Durand

Durand's seminal text on the relationship of finance to political power, examining the rise in private and public debt and the proliferation of financial products. The opaque logic of finance is analyzed as a force of dominance and inequality. 

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