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Ten Interesting Reads During 2014

Due to a lack of blogging energy to engage with anything significant, I've decided to spend a post talking about some of my favourite books of 2014 (not necessarily published in 2014, but definitely read in 2014)––mainly so that January does not pass with only a single (though notable) post.  I want to write something on the recent SYRIZA victory, and how we should assess it as communists, but that will take more energy and time.  Until then here is a list of my most favourite reads of 2014…

1. On the Reproduction of Capitalism (Louis Althusser)

Finally published in english in 2014, this was the book from which Althusser's famous "ISA" essay was culled.  In many ways it is brilliant, and fills in a lot of holes of Althusser's thought, but in other ways is rather disappointing: it is a conflicted text.  On the one hand Althusser critiques economism, on the other hand he embraces it; on the one hand he attacks revisionism, on the other hand there are entire passages (which sometimes feel tangental to the overall work) that are a defense of his refusal to break from his revisionist party; on the one hand he justifies rebellion, on the other hand he makes snide comments about his former students' activities in May 1968; on the one hand he defends the necessity for a revolutionary party, on the other hand it often reads as if the party he is defending as necessary is something that resembles the PCF.  There was a moment when, reading this book around a year ago, I had a eureka moment: "so this is why his former students, such as Ranciere, broke from his project!"  Not that, for all that, they were necessarily successful in establishing something philosophically significant.

2. The Philosophy of Marx (Etienne Balibar)

An older book, of course, but one that I never managed to get around to until this past year since: a) it was sitting on a shelf at my job's bookstore when I had some money to spend on professional development; b) the fact that I've been working on a book about marxism and philosophy meant that I would have to get around to this small volume eventually.  I already wrote something about this book when I first read it, so I won't repeat myself here.  Only thing I will say is that, whether or not the reader disagrees with Balibar's thesis regarding Marx and philosophy (and I wasn't in full agreement) won't undermine the value of this book––it is also a good overview of marxist philosophers in the 20th Century, summarizing the key concepts of their thought.

3.  The Southern Reach Trilogy (Jeff Vandermeer)

A trilogy released in a single year: Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance.  Good literary fantastic fiction: beautifully written, strong concepts, and a thoughtful utilization of the trilogy structure. Think a paranoid update of the Strugatsky brothers' A Roadside Picnic (the Soviet sci-fi novel that was the basis for Tarkovsky's Stalker) with all the weirdness that entails.  Lovecraftian without being Lovecraftian.  Frightening, haunting, sad, moving, obscurist, and compelling.  Loved the way in which the second novel broke from the style of the first and how the third embraced both the first and the second.  Adam Roberts wrote a great review at Strange Horizons and anything I would say here would probably be redundant.

4.  The Worker Elite (Bromma)

I already wrote a review of this book.  Also a meta-review about what I took to be Stephen D'Arcy's poor engagement with the way in which Bromma was attempting to explain the problematic of the labour aristocracy.  Apparently D'Arcy has written a reply to my review, but I haven't bothered to read it since, from what I've been told, he ignores my main criticisms and clings to his own shitty economistic reading.  Oh well.

5.  Philosophy and Non-Philosophy (Francois Laruelle)

Actually this is one of the more annoying books I read this year, but figured I'd put it here because it annoyed me in that "epic" face-palming kind of way that reinforced all of the biases of my analytic philosophy training: here was another great example of continentals that, in an effort to be so fucking obscurantist that they'll gain a whole bunch of followers, might possibly be frauds.  Like the Balibar, I decided to get around to read this because of that book of philosophy I was working on and, after winding my way through it and wondering why anyone thinks it is worthwhile, was forced to concluded that, once you cut through all of Laruelle's pet jargon and clever ways to snitch-jacket the history of philosophy, he's not doing anything new.  In fact, he's saying the same kind of thing Feuerbach was saying (and this was brought home when I began to prepare to teach Feuerbach, which coincided with me finishing Laruelle's book), only in a more obscurantist manner.  Hell, Feuerbach also called his philosophy a "non-philosophy"!  And since Feuerbach's project makes no sense in the shadow of Marx's eleventh thesis, neither does Laruelle's… except that Feuerbach had the excuse of writing before Marx and Engels.  What's Laruelle's excuse?

6.  A Stranger In Olondria (Sofia Samatar)

I cannot rave enough about this novel.  A fantasy that is in some sense "traditional" because of its "world building" geekery (and she really demonstrates that she knows how to build a world first before writing a story to inhabit this world, it's so bloody organic), but is not some "boys own" tale of adventuring, swords and sorcery, and what-not.  A story about someone from the margins of a literate civilization who finds himself drawn into the intrigues of the civilization centre only to encounter all the ugliness of factional disputes.  Where books are seen as "magic" because they can permanently record stories by those who still possessed mystified views of the world, and this muddies up the fantastic terrain: just what is fantastical when entire civilizations within the narrative view the printing press as "magic"?  Answer: a lot of weird fucking shit.

And a poignant ending that made me very, very sad that the book ended.  Made even worse by the fact that Samatar decided to mention the problem of a good novel's ending in the book itself, as if she was aware that her book was just that good: "Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward the end. Still, you consoled yourself. You were not quite at the end of the story, at that terrible flyleaf, blank like a shuttered window: there were still a few pages under your thumb, still to be sought and treasured. Oh, was it possible to read more slowly?––No. The end approached, inexorable, at the same measured pace. The last page, the last of the shining words! And there––the end of the book. The hard cover which, when you turn it, gives you only this leather stamped with roses and shields."  The reason I bothered to quote that passage was just to demonstrate how well Samatar writes: the prose was beautiful, I lost myself in it.  Glad that she won the World Fantasy award of 2014 and that, following Nnedi Okorafor, we might be witnessing a movement of award-winning fantasy from the imperialist centre to the margins.

7. Amazon Nation or Aryan Nation (Bottomfish Blues, Butch Lee)

Again, I wrote a review of this book so I won't repeat myself here.  Loved encountering Butch Lee's earlier work, the DNA of Night-Vision so to speak, particularly the essay about black genocide that pulled no punches with the title "Kill the Kids First."  Fast read: angry and strident in a good way.

8.  The Femicide Machine (Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez)

Yet another book previously reviewed––this shouldn't be surprising since I tend to review the things I like.  Great analysis of Ciudad Juarez by the radical journalist of Juarez who still needs to have his main book on the Juarez femicides published in english.  Very upsetting to read, and the ending was upsetting in the right kind of way.

9. Turning Money Into Rebellion (edited by Gabriel Kuhn)

I reviewed this collection of essays by the so-called Blekingegade Group at Marx & Philosophy Review of Books.  Reads like a thriller of the previous anti-imperialist error in parts, a good setting-the-record-straight on the part of those who predated what is now known as "Maoism Third Worldism" but followed this politics to its logical conclusion in practice: robbing the first world state and sending the money to third world revolutionary movements.  Kuhn did a great job putting this together, he's a delightful fellow to exchange emails with (though I think I failed to write him back for over a month––sorry!), and I look forward to his upcoming book on sports and politics.

10.  Scale-Bright (Benjanun Sriduangkaew)

Nobody is supposed to like this novella now that Sriduangkaew––a queer woman in Thailand––has been outed as one of the big-bad trolls of the sci-fi/fantasy community.  Once she was doxxed as the person responsible for causing R. Scott Bakker to have a break-down, and then blamed for also targeting people of colour in the "community" (for not being political enough), there has been a veritable storm of self-righteous SFF liberals complaining about her "abusive" behaviour and complaining about the fact that her novella and short stories were award-winning.  Indeed, some GoodReads reviews of Scale-Bright amount to little more than: "I hate this woman for attacking people because of the politics of their literature so I'm going to give her book a poor review while admitting I haven't and won't read it."  Lovely stuff.  Considering that the same people probably read Lovecraft despite the fact that he was a racist piece of shit, the self-righteousness in the case of Sriduangkaew is somewhat amusing.

But forget the current context and focus on her actual writing: it's fucking good.  Beautiful prose, lovely story construction, and everything that made me wish––long before she was outed as acrackedmoon and all her other aliases––that she would write a longer novel soon.  Also, her science-fiction stories are absurdly good.

There were a lot of other books I read (and reread) in 2014, but the above list are composed of the ten that stood out.  Hopefully some reader somewhere finds one or more of these reads interesting enough to follow up on––happy reading!


  1. interesting apart from the unprovoked and misplaced attack on Laruelle. Laruelle is one of the most exiting and ground breaking philosophers in the world at the moment. Laruelle wrote 'Against Maoism in Philosophy'. perhaps that is the reason for your personal remarks on Laruelle? There is also a 'non maoism' which, heretically, deals with maoism as another philosophy, together with its teleology, it hangovers from Hegel, etc.

    it seems to me you are criticizing Laruelle but you haven't properly grasped his non philosophy, nor the possiblility of non Maoism.

    1. 1) How is it "unprovoked" when I read the book?

      2) It is a typical tactic amongst rhetoricians, sophists, and obscurantists to claim that someone who rejects their beloved grey eminence hasn't "properly grasped" their thought. Withou an argument as to why this is the case, though, it is little more than an empty claim.

      3) And what, pray tell, would "non-Maoism" even look like? This is just balderdash, and typical of someone who cannot grasp (and unlike you I can explain this not grasping) that Maoism-qua-Maoism didn't emerge until 1988. Before that it was anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism or Mao Zedong Thought.

      4) Laruelle isn't very remarkable, and the fact that you think he is "the most exiting and ground breaking philosophers in the world at the moment" is a matter of personal taste. My colleagues, who are philosophers and who live around the world and work in various areas (many far more successful than me), didn't find him very exciting. So on what basis is your truth claim here premised? On his beliefs about himself? On your beliefs that are just a bland statement of opinion?

  2. Laruelle has inspired the movement of Speculative Realism, although his work goes far beyond that. He has put together the science of non-philosophy, which is a revolutionary way to look at texts and traditions. Many people found Derrida difficult to read, also Deleuze, and dismissed their work. Likewise with Laruelle.

    I think Laruelle has a lot to offer leftists and revolutionaries to develop a non marxism, that is democratic and not heirarchal, such as that of Alain Badiou.

    1. You have told me nothing I don't know, and nothing about what makes Laruelle's work worthwhile aside from vast generalizations that have no conceptual content. My argument is not because of "difficulty"––I have a doctorate in philosophy, for crying out loud, and am used to dealing with difficult texts. My problem is with obscurantism that, once you clear away the linguistical obfuscation, says nothing really ground-breaking or interesting.

      Laruelle has nothing to offer a revolutionary tradition aside from telling people they should but "non-" in front of theoretical terrain x. In fact, most of his work boils down to throwing "non-" in front of the things he is talking about, justified of course for the *very same reason that Feuerbach called his project "anti-philosophy"* and not saying anything really interesting for those who are actually involved in struggle.

      As for Laruelle inspiring "Speculative Realism", my thoughts on Speculative Realism aside (not a fan, not a fan of anything that smacks of reasserting ontology-qua-ontology when it should have been dismissed after Marx), this is debatable. Brassier likes Laruelle, but seems to only have started liking him after we had the semi-school of Speculative Realism named. Harman does not really like him (and has even written a negative review of Laruelle's philosophy), and Meillassoux was definitely not inspired by Laruelle.

      Again, your defense of Laruelle lacks content. My argument is not that I dislike him because he is a "difficult read" (if that made me dislike work then I wouldn't have completed my doctorate years ago) but because he is an obscurantist who represents the reason why most analytics (who have their own problems) think continental philosophy is the academic equivalent of a mountain mystic babbling pseudo-profundities. Laruelle's problem is that his entire philosophy [or non-philosophy, which he admits is still philosophy] is premised on defining the entire object of his critique according to a certain ontological problematic and then basing his approach on the negation/rejection of this problematic. If he is wrong in the way he defines philosophy as a whole, and how he defines science (this latter point is what would make him a laughing stock, and for good reason, amongst both scientists and analytic philosophers), then his entire project falls apart. And he is wrong because his ontologization of philosophy is incorrect except where he recognizes those very problems with past philosophizing that, again, Feuerbach recognized. But we're now long past Feuerbach.

  3. also, can you give me a definition of science? there are several definitions, and some would deny that Marxism or psychoanalysis are sciences ie Popper..

    1. I already have several articles about this on this blog. A passage in my recent book also explains what is meant by science and why hm [not just "marxism"] fits this qualification. There is no reason to repeat myself in a comment string.

    2. i'm not asking you to repeat anything. only- why is Laruelle's Non-philosophy not scientific. It is just as scientific as Marxism or Psychoanalysis.

      thus, if it is a science, then its procedures, including non-marxism and non-maoism are scientific and valid,

      Laruelle is quite brilliant, and his work is on the cutting edge of philosophy, heretically reading texts, and traditions. If you cannot see it, or dont want to see it, then what can i say?

    3. So far you have not made a single argument as to why Laruelle's "non-philosophy" possesses worthwhile content or any justification for why it is a science except your vague opinion that it is "just because". You keep repeating vague platitudes about it being "the cutting edge of philosophy" or that it is "heretical" (it really it isn't, it's kind of banal really), and that I simply just do not see what you see. These are not arguments or reasons.

      If Laruelle is somehow doing science then explain this: how is he producing truth procedures within a given scientific terrain that demystify the world, provide explanatory depth, and lead to develops within the terrain in and of itself? What laws of motion has he uncovered, how do they accord to the inference to the best explanation, and everything that at minimal defines the concept of science. It does not provide anything in this scence, as marxism does as a scientific approach to society/history by uncovering the general laws *and* according to the principle of falsifiability (despite Popper's claims to the contrary) through a development of successive revolutions that in their successes also encounter limits and ways to test whether or not they fail. Laruelle is "scientific" just because, because you can make the concept of science mean whatever you like it to mean? If that's the case then anything can mean whatever you wish it to mean… Including Laruelle, which is why I suspect you actually like him: you yourself do not understand what he is saying but want to make him say whatever you wish him to say.

      Moreover, my complaint with Laruelle and science was not that his non-philosophy was "not scientific" but that he misunderstands science and philosophy's relationship to science. In fact I think it is *misreading* of Laruelle to claim that he is asserting that his non-philosophy is a science. He talks about the importance of science as opposed to philosophy, and there are points where I do agree with him but think his definition of both is either vague and/or problematical.

      In any case, since I'm sure you will respond with the same pseudo-argument in different words I am going to delete your response if it simply repeats the "I think Laruelle is brilliant but you can't see it." This is not an especially clever argument, and is barely more than rhetoric, and so far has demonstrated that you yourself aren't sure what Laruelle is saying aside from the fact that you think it is brilliant and that anyone who disagrees with it must not understand it… And, based on this defense of Laruelle, if you really do think that his "non-philosophy" is a "science" then you've pretty much provided grounds that violate even the simplest definition of science that has been agreed upon by scientists and philosophers of scientists since the enlightenment and provided me with a defense of mysticism: that which cannot be proven or disproven must be true!

    4. ok, get your point. i am curious what you make of Derrida and Deleuze? Do you dismiss them as continental charlatans as the analytics do, or see a need to engage with their thought. Guattarai wrote 'communists like us' and the Autonomist Marxism of Negri and Hardt have put forward their groundbreaking Empire. It seems to me that Marxism-Leninism is rather outdated theoretically, a kind of fish out of the water of the 19th century. Marx in his day was theoretically advanced, but marxists have not kept up with the debates in philosophy, most importantly the thoughts of Levinas, Derrida, Deleuze, and Laruelle.
      Badiou's attempts to rehabilitate Mao, and Zizek's comments on Mao point to the fact they take a post maoist view of maoism. which is not a NON-maoist view.

      Badiou's position is, i believe, post-maoist.
      non-maoism is not the same as post-maoism.

      it seems to me that Laruelle proceeds from the philosophy developed in post war France, and uses those terms and insists on familiarity with the texts and arguments.

    5. (This comment was in the spam filter, sorry if I didn't post it in time. A lot of anon comments end up there and then get auto-deleted after a while, which is one of the reasons why I demand that posters use non-anon accounts.)

      I do not think all these people are charlatans. If you have been around this blog long enough you would know that I used to be an autonomist and that it was autonomism that caused me to shift from anarchism to marxism. I still have a fondness for some autonomist theory, as well as a fondness for Deleuze and Guattari (who I used primarily way way back for my MA work)… hell, I even have an essay available on this site that attempts to recognize some aspects of Deleuze and Guattari's *Anti-Oedipus* (though with serious qualification) with some MLM ideas.

      This does not mean, however, that I agree with their analysis/assessment of society, history, theory, etc. in toto. I'm not an autonomist anymore for reasons I've mentioned at multiple points on this blog. Nor do I think (and didn't even think when I *was* an autonomists) that later Negri, writing with Hardt, has anything useful to contribute to revolutionary theory. Why? Because the theory of Empire is just a terrible understanding of political economy. I didn't think it was ground-breaking at the end of my MA and the beginning of doctorate for a whole variety of reasons, and I have even a lower opinion of it now. (If you check out the essay I mentioned above, where I talk about Deleuze/Guattari's concept of deterritorialization in light of Amin's theory of imperialism you'll see why). It's just not materialist.

      And yes, I agree that Badiou is a post-maoist. I don't think Zizek is even that, though. Post-leninist maybe, but not a post-maoist. As for what can constitute "non-Maoism" in a Laruellian sense… well the problem is that even Badiou, when he was a "maoist" was not what is meant by a maoist pre-PCP/RIM. We have an entire rearticulation of the meaning of that theory that was unknown in his maoist days. With this in mind, to wager a "non-maoism" (in the Laruellian sense) based on an understanding of something that was not yet MLM misses the point.

    6. I disagree very strongly with your claim that Marxism-Leninism is out of date, particularly since this is extremely ethnocentric. Because it does not enter into first world academia, because its adherents due not get published because they aren't popular? Moreover, MLM is something that emerges between 1988 and 1993 (before that we have "maoism" as being "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought) and this is a significant rupture. In any case, the point is not that the adherents of a revolutionary theoretical terrain, the most important examples who have been engaged in people's wars since the late 1980s that, at least in my opinion, is far more important than a lot of the history of philosophy that is shot through with idealism. Rather, philosophy has the duty to engage with these developments, since philosophy always tails theory and should figure out (if it claims to be radical social philosophy because most of the analytics, and I say this with all due respect, live in their own little social bubbles) the significance of a revolutionary theory that has been developing since the late 1980s until now at the social margins.

      Beyond this, and as someone whose entire academic training from BA to PhD was in philosophy (and so do love it to a certain degree), I don't think that the debates in philosophy as a whole are very interesting. They definitely are not always "theoretically advanced" simply because they invent new terms and go down idealist rabbit trails… But this is because philosophy is *not* theory and, as I have maintained in so many places, becomes terribly assimilationist and unable to do what philosophy can and should do once it conflates itself with theory. And, at the end of the day, theory is that which is produced outside of philosophy and demands philosophical intervention.

      All in all, and returning to my original point, I do not dismiss all of continental philosophy as charlatanism––no more than I dismiss all of analytic philosophy as useless mental masturbation. (Less offensively, I could probably use that analogy of the knife of reason being sharpened until there is nothing left that Horkheimer used in his critique of positivism.) Both have their own errors. I was trained in both at various times; I have my complaints about thinkers in both traditions.

  4. Speaking of SYRIZA, have you read this, JMP?

  5. how do you rate Jean Paul Sartre's late marxism, such as the critique etc?
    do you think structuralism destroyed that or he still relevant?

    1. I'm not a structuralist, though I do think Althusser was a very important marxist philosopher (just as important as Gramsci and Lukacs, each for different reasons) who was asking questions that others did not. I have some sympathy with the later work of Sartre and feel that Althusser's rejection of the subject goes too far in the other direction, but I change my mind on this issue day in and day out, usually I'm in debate with myself here.


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