Adam Kotsko's Off-Topic Reads

November 18th, 2018

Adam Kotsko teaches in the Shimer Great Books School of North Central College. He is the author of The Prince of This World and Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television, among other books, and his writing has appeared in venues that include The GuardianThe Washington Post, and n+1Adam Kotsko will discuss Neoliberalism's Demons on Monday, November 26 at 6pm at the Co-op.


Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon - I've always loved Pynchon's work, but I recently reread Gravity's Rainbow and was reminded of what an amazing prose style he has -- he creates an endlessly surprising narrative voice that can turn on a dime, with often hilarious results.

Being and Time, by Martin Heidegger - One of my philosophical first loves, Heidegger uses the most abstract possible question (what is the meaning of Being?) as a starting point for rethinking the meaning of everyday life, including our relationship with our stuff, with the people around us, and with our ever-shifting moods.

The Trial, by Franz Kafka - I love all of Kafka's work, but this is the one I keep coming back to, because it is weirder and creepier and more disturbing every time.

The Art of Biblical Narrative, by Robert Alter - This will change the way you think of the Bible. He takes what is strange or opaque about biblical storytelling and shows how it opens up unexpected possibilities for literary art.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston - This is my absolute #1 favorite novel to teach. There is no better text to introduce students to the joys of literary analysis, as they get past a deceptively simple surface to find a rich and complex meditation on relationships and personal growth.

The Divided City, by Nicole Loraux - This seemingly very specialized study of Athenian democracy has a lot to tell us about the necessary conflict in politics and the ways that we try to evade that conflict through fantasies of unity and harmony.

God of the Oppressed, by James Cone - This text holds a challenge for everyone, religious or secular. In all my writing on theology, I have tried (and probably failed in some ways) to hold myself accountable to that challenge.


About Neoliberalism's Demons: By both its supporters and detractors, neoliberalism is usually considered an economic policy agenda. Neoliberalism's Demons argues that it is much more than that: a complete worldview, neoliberalism presents the competitive marketplace as the model for true human flourishing. And it has enjoyed great success: from the struggle for "global competitiveness" on the world stage down to our individual practices of self-branding and social networking, neoliberalism has transformed every aspect of our shared social life. The book explores the sources of neoliberalism's remarkable success and the roots of its current decline. Neoliberalism's appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills. By tracing the political and theological roots of the neoliberal concept of freedom, Adam Kotsko offers a fresh perspective, one that emphasizes the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality. More than that, he accounts for the rise of right-wing populism, arguing that, far from breaking with the neoliberal model, it actually doubles down on neoliberalism's most destructive features.

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