Reading for November 2016

…This thing still on?

DeLanda and Deleuze/Understanding Society Blog

I have always really appreciated the Understanding Society blog. This, on Manuel DeLanda’s new book on ontology and assemblage theory in the social sciences, is particularly excellent. (Understanding Society started this discussion back here).Although I have Manuel DeLanda’s new book on social assemblages in hand, I haven’t had the time to start reading it yet. I should note that I found his previous book-length attempt at dealing with assemblages to be his least successful work; this new one sounds like a considerable step forward.

I’ve been reading DeLanda for over a decade now, and have always found him to be the clearest exponent and expositor of Deleuze’s philosophy, though calling him an editor and synthesist of that philosophy might be a better description of DeLanda’s relationship to Deleuze.

Despite admiring aspects of Deleuze’s thought greatly, and always enjoying DeLanda, I have never once been genuinely impressed by anyone else’s attempt to apply Deleuzian thought to a social or historical analysis. Likewise, I’ve never seen how one could do it in practice (it was inspiring, but not practicable)

Nevertheless, DeLanda’s diligence seems to be paying off. Little by little, he is making Deleuzian thought seem closer-to-practicable within the academy. I suspect that the best of the Deleuzian socio-historical tradition (often, lately, focusing on military applications in the Middle East) will experience a quantum leap in clarity and reproducibility within the next 5 years.

Symbolic Value of the Safety Pin.

I’ve been an active anti-fascist for most of my adult life, and have a different view of the American right and fascism than most American liberals, I think, as a consequence. The rise of attempts to signify a personal relationship to changed political circumstances, such as with the display of the safety pin, has been interesting. I’m personally grateful to those who rather immediately demanded of the people promoting it whether they were taking any actual steps to help, or whether the mere symbolism of the safety pin was sufficient for their purposes. I think the notion that the safety pin is solely a means of alleviating (endemic levels of) white guilt and fragility, on the other hand, goes a bit far. I think this piece, on Sociological Images, is particularly good at demonstrating that the effect in certain locations – especially conservative, racist, or rural locations – is quite different than pinning on a safety pin in Manhattan after secretly voting for Trump.

Nuance is good.

Renewed Genocide in Myanmar/Burma

The attack on the Rohingya has renewed and intensified. Hundreds of homes and many villages have been razed; people fleeing or homeless as a result of previous violence are made more vulnerable. Here’s just one article

It’s been happening for a few years, and is ramping up again. But the West has been utterly silent on this except for a few sensationalizing pieces. The problem with international assistance is that our distance usually renders us dependent on compromised AID groups. The best thing those of us in the USA can probably do here is to publicize (will require self-education), demand action, lobby (if you’re active in the political system or have special access), etc. Those with money could donate to MSF. Other suggestions?

Higher Ed and “Identity Politics”

I’ve decided this piece on Academe, by Christopher Newfield, titled “Higher Ed and ‘Identity Politics,’ is the must-read piece on Higher Ed this week. It’s a takedown of the  nearsighted piece by Mark Lilla on the cause of the democratic loss in the election, which he identifies largely as campus identity politics. Whew.



A collection of articles

I’ve been talking to reporters a bit, lately. Here are some articles that resulted.

The cycle of rice: Part 3: Rice For the Spirits“, an article on Pchum Ben by Anthony Jensen and Kang Sothear, photos by John Vink, whose photographic series on “The Cycle of Rice” extends (far) beyond this article.

And, a nice short video!

Cambodian Pchum Ben festival is a time to feed hungry ghosts, another article on Pchum Ben, by Nathan Thompson

Buddhist monks, death rituals and black magic in Cambodia, by Erin Hale, a series of short answers excerpted from a lengthier interview on Deathpower.

Grave Lines: The democratization of Cambodia’s Coffin Industry, by Maddy Crowell and Mom Kunthear

The bewitching allure of magic tattoos, by Harriet Fitch Little, on the fad of non-Khmer getting ‘traditional’ Sak Yoan (Sak Yantra) tattoos.



Launching Deathpower in Cambodia

I’m particularly pleased that the first event for my recently published book, Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia [ahem: there’s a coupon code on that page], (available from the publisher, Columbia UP, here / Amazon here) will be in Cambodia itself. That feels not only appropriate to me, but important.

Tuesday, 19 January, 7 PM, at Meta House.

The work this book represents depends centrally and non-negotiably on those in Cambodia who spoke at length with me over the more than three years of fieldwork that constituted my engagement with the topic in Cambodia (primarily 2003-2006, but in shorter trips after that period as well). More particularly, it could never have been done without the tenacity, intelligence, and research of my friend and fellow-researcher Heng Chhun Oeurn, who worked with me throughout that period. She’s agreed to attend the book launch, though I’m not yet certain she’ll be willing to join me in addressing the audience, as I have asked.

So: if you’re in Phnom Penh or the nearby environs tomorrow night, at 7 PM, please join us at Meta House for the launch, organized by Mekong Review and Monument Books. And come up to say hello if you like.


Ontologies Project

My work has recently taken me into conversation with various disciplines about the nature of ‘ontology,’ by which different people, even within single disciplines, often mean quite different things (often without realizing it, apparently, and thus much of the discourse speaks past its interlocutors). Some of the work is fascinating, some infuriating, most of it knotty and complicated in ways I either love or loathe, depending on my energy and mood. Much of it is also unnecessarily ornately written, which I never appreciate, and will attempt to avoid, despite recognizing the value of technical jargon.

So, for myself, and intended as a fragment beginning of a project, here is a bibliography of things I have or intend to read, and about which I will eventually probably post a fair number of notes (or at least which will result in some writing of some sort). I’ll edit this as I go, not note the updates within this post [heads up!], and welcome suggestions and critiques in the comments. Continue reading