Copy/paste from an email, after I realized that this manic presentation of the insane about of time it can take to begin to grasp a single god damn academic text these days might be valuable to other people:
So the point of all this is to understand a 1972 book called Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, a poststructuralist and a post-psychoanalyst, respectively. It’s a book that could be summed up as a way to understand consciousness and unconsciousness, not in a spiritual sense or a neurological sense, but in a practical, everyday sense that can be used to combat fascism and save the world. But explaining it like that makes it sound very simple and even silly. The trouble with reading this book is that it’ll sound like 382 pages of riddles and inside jokes unless you build some foundation first–and even then I’m convinced it’s at least a third riddles and inside jokes! These guys are academics, have read WAY too many books, and are drawing from three thousand years of ideas to construct their theory of humanity, and they just don’t seem capable of speaking plain English. Well, of course not, because this was translated from French, but you know what I mean.
Since you probably don’t have time to read all of the Socratics and the Buddhist scholars and about how formal logic, linguistics, and knowledge production work, and because most of that stuff is a waste of time, I think the best place to start with philosophy–a general grasp of all philosophy is probably good before we focus on psychoanalysis, politics, and ontology–is a whimsical 1991 novel by Jostein Gaarder called Sophie’s World. It has kind of Alice-in-Wonderland vibes, but with this old nerd in it that gives the girl a crash course in philosophy along the way. Gives a sense of breadth and gets the gears turning–and if you hate it, you’ll be pretty sure that the rest is not for you XD
From there, I’d go to The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy by Donald Robertson, a 2010 nonfiction book illustrating how philosophy of goodwill and practical living evolved into psychotherapy, and what it lost along the way. It specifically compares CBT and Stoicism, but that is NOT because CBT is the be-all end-all therapy or that Stoicism answers all of life’s questions. CBT is just a solid tool, and Stoicism has some bad blind spots.
Then we take a trip through existential feminism with Simone de Bourvoir. Originally written in the 1940s, what I’m familiar with is a translation/compilation called The Works of Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity published in 2011. Apparently this is abridged work because she tended to ramble… a lot XD This stuff made me really open up my mind to complexity of identity and prejudice, and how to deal with problems that are more complicated than ‘If the trolly goes this way, this happens, and if the other way the other thing happens. Which way do you make it go?’ It was groundbreaking stuff, but of course she was a woman in the 40s so all the nerdy white guys tried to ignore it.
What is ethics? Rules? Laws? Social norms? Compassion and Moral Guidance by Steven Bien says, “No.” This is more contemporary, 2013, but draws from, well, three thousand years of the study and experience of how to care about and help other people. It turns out, facts DO care about your feelings, because facts are informed by feelings, and feelings carry with them factual data. Some people think the greatest good comes out of cold, calculated decisions, but here we learn that emotional intelligence is actually more important to making rational decisions about people and other living things. We can thank feminism for the reintroduction of kindness and compassion into the “what’s the right thing to do?” equation.
Then comes A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, 2015. This book is a god damned nightmare. Everything you’ve heard about what we did to MLK and the Native Americans and Hiroshima is just the tip of the iceberg. This is both an honest analysis of what the US has done to the common person since its inception, both at home and abroad, and a case study of what an empire is capable of. I was a very angry person while reading this book. You’ve been warned!
Aha, if you’ve made it this far you get to take a break! Is the pandemic over yet? Youtube time! I picked a selection of videos from both Marxists and anarchists (you usually can’t tell from the videos), in the order of more general to more specific in concept. I did this because the human is a social animal, and ya can’t understand what it’s like to be human without understanding how society is structured, and ya can’t understand how society is structured if ya can’t imagine what the alternatives are. To do that, you can either go further right (but, like, you probably don’t need to be convinced that Nazis are bad) or further left. The far right is simple: they just wanna kill everything that doesn’t belong, and then change the rules so fewer and fewer people belong, until there’s no one left but the king of the world. Unimpressive. Hard pass. The far left, however, wants people to, like, experience love and joy and peace and clean air. Maybe make friends with a donkey. More interesting. Let’s get started with some goofballs going over the basics:
I consider myself a pretty imaginative person, but I’ll be honest. I started getting into alternative ways to structure society, ways that put the needs of people and ecosystems first, and I couldn’t imagine what it’d look like. I was too brainwashed by rich people. So I turned back to fiction. The Last Capitalist: A Dream of a New Utopia by Steve Kullen, 2002, is a really short utopian story that illustrates a possible future that doesn’t suck. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercey, 1997, is a much more comprehensive envisioning of a communal, compassionate future, and is a time travel story that compares such a future to being poor, brown, female, and labeled as clinically insane in the USA in the 70s. It’s also one of my favorite novels, but somebody borrowed mine with my notes in it and never gave it back to me:(
Break time is over, but we’ll start back up with the heavy shit using fairly simple language in a piece that’s only 80 pages. There’s more than prejudice and poverty and war that’s killing us of course, and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, 2009, is the best introduction I’ve found to the subtler, more sinister elements of our culture that are toxic as hell. We’re not just “engaging with politics” at this point. We’re beyond academic interest. You’ll notice you have fewer friends XD
Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements by Julietta Singh, 2018. We’re having a psychedelic experience now. Study has become communion with nature. The mere concept of humanity is madness. Success is violence.
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, 2021. This is about how invisible markets work. About how all life is interdependent. Everything is economics, not money, and economics is life and breath. Everything is connected. I know the last blurb primed you for it, but this isn’t about psychedelic mushrooms;P
Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad, 2007. I know this title sounds like the white guy with dreadlocks just hit the bong and is about to ramble about his idiotic take on string theory, but we’re actually here to learn about how partical observation proves that nothing, not even quarks, have intrinsic, definable qualities, and that only things that interact, things (and people) that depend on each other, have meaning. The cult of the individual is a lie. All is one (kudos to the Buddha for getting that right without microscopes).
Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, 1981. You got a neat intro to this book in the Youtube section, but don’t think that means this’ll be easy. I might still know how to interface with normal people, if it weren’t for this book. This is where the art of philosophy really starts, and where it’s unclear what’s fucking around and what’s finding out. It’s more of an adventure than a study, a process of digging diamonds out of the rough. But you’re a total nerd now, so you’re fine with having to read a book more than once to start to get it. Right? Mark Fisher’s ideas are largely inspired by this stuff, but you’ll immediately see why it’s appropriate to read Fisher first. Welcome to the desert of the real.
And now… you’re not actually ready to read Anti-Oedipus. I lied. Nothing can truly prepare a person for Anti-Oedipus. But, like me, you’re ready to try;D Even if you’ve accepted all of the other radical shit up until this point, it’s going to convince you that the rest of the ideas you took for granted are also insane, in the weirdest way possible. You’re really going to feel like you should’ve studied Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan while reading this, but don’t; it’s a waste of time. Just let this delirius ego death wash over you, and reread a lot, and look up lots of words. Or don’t, and just let this delirius ego death wash over you.