Front Table - 12/24/2018

December 23rd, 2018

On our Front Table this week, explore the philosophical bases of social critique. Start with authors who draw on Kant and Hegel to reformulate standpoints for the evaluation of modern forms of life and posthuman intelligence. Then find a turning point in the development of Martin Buber's theory of dialogic relations, and a seminal work in the deconstruction of gendered identities. Find the following titles and more at

Puma (Manchester University Press)
Anthony Burgess

Puma is Anthony Burgess's lost science fiction novel, disentangled from the three-part structure of The End of the World News and published here for the first time in its intended format. Set some way into the future, the story details the crushing of the planet Earth by an intruder from a distant galaxy - the dreaded Puma. It is a visceral book about the end of history as man has known it. Despite its apocalyptic theme, Puma is a gloriously comic novel, steeped in the rich literary heritage of a world soon to be extinguished. In Burgess's hands this meditation on destruction, mitigated by the hope of salvation for a select few, becomes powerful exploration of friendship, violence, literature and science at the end of the world. It is both the perfect way for readers new to Burgess to discover one of the twentieth century's unique literary voices, and an essential addition to his better-known writings for those already familiar with his work.

Intelligence and Spirit (Urbanomic/Sequence Press )
Reza Negarestani

In Intelligence and Spirit, Reza Negarestani formulates the ultimate form of intelligence as a theoretical and practical thought unfettered by the temporal order of things, a real movement capable of overcoming any state of affairs that, from the perspective of the present, may appear to be the complete totality of history. Intelligence pierces through what seems to be the totality or the inevitable outcome of its history, be it the manifest portrait of the human or technocapitalism as the alleged pilot of history. In these formulations, Negarestani engages Hegel's account of Geist as a multiagent conception of mind and Kant's transcendental psychology. This remarkable fusion of continental philosophy (in the form of a renewal of the speculative ambitions of German Idealism) and analytic philosophy (in the form of extended thought-experiments and a philosophy of artificial languages) opens up new perspectives on the meaning of human intelligence, the real potential of posthuman intelligence, and what it means for us to live in its prehistory.

Balkon (Steidl)
Orhan Pamuk

In the winter of 2011 Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk took 8,500 color photographs from his balcony with its panoramic view of Istanbul, the entrance of the Bosphorus, the old town, the Asian and European sides of the city, the surrounding hills and the distant islands and mountains. Pamuk has been taking photographs for more than 50 years, but as he obsessively created these images he felt his desire to do so was related to a strange particular mood he was experiencing. He photographed further and began to think about what was happening: Why was he taking these photos? How are seeing and photography related? What is the affinity between writing and seeing? Balkon presents almost 500 of these photos selected by Pamuk, who has also codesigned the book and written its introduction.

Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (Syracuse University Press)
Martin Buber, trans. Maurice Friedman

Better than any other single work, Daniel enables us to understand the significance of the transition Buber made from his early mysticism to the philosophy of dialogue. The book is written in the form of five dialogues, in each of which Daniel and his friends explore a crucial philosophical problem: the nature and interconnection of unity, creativity, action, form, and realization as these illuminate the relations of man to God and the world. Daniel occupies a central position in Buber's life work.

The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary
(W.W. Norton & Company)
Translation with commentary by Robert Alter

A masterpiece of deep learning and fine sensibility, Robert Alter's translation of the Hebrew Bible reanimates one of the formative works of our culture. Capturing its brilliantly compact poetry and finely wrought, purposeful prose, Alter renews the Old Testament as a source of literary power and spiritual inspiration. From the family frictions of Genesis and King David's flawed humanity to the serene wisdom of Psalms and Job's incendiary questioning of God's ways, these magnificent works of world literature resonate with a startling immediacy. Featuring Alter's generous commentary, which quietly alerts readers to the literary and historical dimensions of the text, this is the definitive edition of the Hebrew Bible.

Countersexual Manifesto (Columbia University Press)
Paul B. Preciado, trans. Kevin Gerry Dunn

In Countersexual Manifesto, Paul B. Preciado challenges even the most radical theorists of gender, sexuality, and desire (Derrida, Foucault, Butler, Haraway), arguing that they have not gone far enough in their attempts to deconstruct the naturalization of normative identities and behaviors. His claim that the dildo precedes the penis - that artifice, not nature, comes first in the history of sexuality - forms the basis of his demand for new practices of sexual emancipation. He calls for a world of sexual plasticity and fabrication, of bio-printers and "dildonics," and he invokes countersexuality's roots in the history of sex toys, pornography, and drag in order to rupture the supposedly biological foundations of the heterocentric regime. The Manifesto is now available in English translation for its twentieth anniversary, with a new introduction by Preciado.

Critique of Forms of Life (Belknap Press)
Rahel Jaeggi, trans. Ciaran Cronin

For many liberals, the question "Do others live rightly?" feels inappropriate. Liberalism at least seems to demand a follow-up question: "Who am I to judge?" Rahel Jaeggi sees the situation differently, and she draws on traditions of Hegelian social philosophy to formulate a version of "immanent critique." Based neither on external, universal standards, nor internal standards peculiar to a given society, immanent critique begins with the recognition that ways of life are inherently normative because they assert their own goodness and rightness. They also have a consistent purpose: to solve basic social problems and advance social goods, most of which are common across cultures. Withing this framework, and against both relativistic and absolutist accounts, Jaeggi aims to show that rational social critique is possible.

Posted in: