Deleuze and Playlists

The latest issues of Cultural Anthropology is out, featuring new editors Anne Allison and Charles Piot. A new feature of the journal that I was surprised to see was the inclusion of ‘playlists’, which the editors define as “a feature of iPods that list one’s top song picks of the moment”. This slightly awkward attempt to signal an understanding of Apple products doesn’t really ring true to people who actually make playlists in iTunes, but that’s ok since the feature itself is not a list of music anthropologists listen to (which would be rad) but actually just a list of books that members of the editorial board are currently readings (as far as I can tell this is open access).

Did you get that? A list of the books that members of a top-tier journal’s editorial board are reading? This is the sort of inside scoop that I think a lot of people will be interested in: content filtered by a source whose taste you (presumably) value. Cultural Anthropology is not alone in doing this — my alma maters are increasingly sending me “give us money, here is what your old professors are reading” junk mail, so perhaps this is a growing trend.

Most of what I’ve learned from this list is that I am just fine not reading what Michael Hardt reads. But one thing did stand out for me: more than one person is reading François Dosse’s new biography of Deleuze and Guattari. When you get more than one person reading something, and that something is on the Theorist(s) Of The Moment, and those theorists write insane, incomprehensible prose (“the black hole acts as a central computer, Christ, the third eye that moves across the wall or the white screen serving as a general surface of reference”) you start looking pretty seriously at the secondary sources the big shots are reading.

Especially when it’s from François Dosse. Dosse does a variety of popular intellectual history that is distinctly Parisian: it is the sort of thing that you might find on the front table of book stores on the Left Bank, based on extensive research and yet written as if intellectual history belonged in a gossip column. I haven’t read this newest book, but in his past work Dosse’s prose has been extremely — even excessively — racy. It makes them accessible and great fun to read, but also and very difficult to translate.

Dosse specializes in movements and schools — one of his early works was on the Annales school and quite good, but the translator took his long subordinate clauses and adjectival phrases (which are elegant in French) and turned them into an English that is just soupy. His more well-known two-volume History of Structuralism received much better treatment and is a lot of fun to read and quite informative, especially for sketches of intellectual figures who once were taken seriously.

It looks like Glassman, who translated the structuralism book, did the Deleuze and Guattari one as well, which is a good sign. I am not sure how many people want to plop down thirty five bucks on a six hundred and fifty page book but if this thing is your idea of reading for spring break then this should keep you busy while we wait to hear about what is actually on Aihwa Ong’s iPod.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

7 thoughts on “Deleuze and Playlists

  1. “When you get more than one person reading something, and that something is on the Theorist(s) Of The Moment, and those theorists write insane, incomprehensible prose…you start looking pretty seriously at the secondary sources the big shots are reading.”

    YES. I hear that one. I, for one, greatly appreciated Brian Massumi’s foreword for the edition of A Thousand Plateaus that I wandered through last semester. Massumi writes pretty clearly, and some of his suggestions helped mitigate some of the insanity. Especially the parts where he provided some ideas for how to go about approaching the madness of D&G (play it like a record, he says).

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. I’ll have to look into the Dosse book.

  2. Did you get that? A list of the books that members of a top-tier journal’s editorial board are reading?

    In reviewing the playlists we would do well to remember that there tends to be a difference between what people say they do and what they actually do. But maybe anthropologists of a certain age do really read that much Foucault.

  3. I was not surprised at all. Foucault? So nineties. What an overkill! Deleuze, Guattari, Zizek? No different to the reading lists of my brother’s roommate, who is taking philosophy classes at Orange Coast College. What’s happening to cultural anthropology? The list would have been impressive if it includes cyber-ecology, virtual systems, Online ethnography or anything about globalism/globalization, which should be studied thoroughly since it involves change, development, and new systems and institutions.

  4. Ong has some good choices on her list. I agree that Latour’s book on ANT has some really fascinating ideas going on. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a pretty good sense of humor throughout. I especially like some of the metaphors he uses to explain his analytical approach (we’re always following pre-established theoretical ‘highways’ when we should take the detailed, albeit arduous, unexplored little paths and trails). He has a pretty solid regard for anthropology as well. Good stuff.

Comments are closed.