books


In 1920, Mao and his friends established the Cultural Book Society in Hunan. This was to be – through spreading new modes of thought – one part of a larger effort to establish an independent state of Hunan. In each of the books sold, the following notice was placed.

A Respectful Notice from the Cultural Book Society to the Gentleman Who Has Bought This Book

The fact that you, sir, have purchased this book will undoubtedly have a great influence on the progress of your thought, and on that we wish to congratulate you. If, after you have read this book, your unslakeable thirst for knowledge inclines you to buy a few more books to peruse, we invite you, sir, either to come once more to our society to purchase them, or to do so by correspondence. We are prepared to welcome you!

The items which our society has for sale have undergone a rigorous process of selection. They consist exclusively of comparatively valuable new publications (We want nothing to do with stale and outdated thought.) … Our goal is that the thought of everyone in Hunan should progress as yours has done, so as to bring about the emergence of a new culture …

We are profoundly mortified that our abilities are too meagre to shoulder the great responsibility of propagating culture, and we hope that superior men of goodwill from all walks of life will grant us their assistance. If you, sir, can help us by taking the trouble to introduce us by word of mouth, we shall be extremely grateful …

We wish you, sir, continued good health.

Colleagues of the Cultural Book Society

56 Chaozong Streetm Changsha

Happened to stumble upon this review of Criticism of Heaven:

What a brilliant, wide-ranging, boundary-scoffing book. Boer rampages through Western Marxist thought for almost 500 pages, dissecting and challenging the theological and Biblical aspects that are part of the approach of these thinkers. Fine. Others have noted such influence. What’s magnificent is that by the end, Boer’s helped you understand these major, fascinating figures more deeply and also inspired you to think about the continued possibilities as we move forward from here to seek to build a better world.

I’m not sure how many people are anxious to read 50-page chunks on the theological/Biblical aspects of Bloch, Benjamin, Althusser, Lefebvre, Gramsci, Eagleton, Zizek, and Adorno. But if you think that might be you, hie thee to your browser and order this delight from Haymarket Books.

It is on Goodreads and has given me a swollen head and rather good feeling for the rest of the day.

One of the most derided item in Marx’s works is the idea of primitive communism. To be sure, it has some problems, such as the narrative that moves from undifferentiation to differentiation. But did Marx pinpoint something all the same?

One of the discoveries I made in The Sacred Economy was the crucial role of what may be called the institutional form of subsistence survival in ancient Southwest Asia. Given that 90% of the sparse population was engaged in agriculture, this is the key to ancient economics. How did it operate? Typically, crops were grown via a system of land shares, reallocated every year or two by means of a village council or elders (and with much debate). These were long and non-contiguous strips that were reallocated depending on a range of factors. Animal husbandry focused on flocks of 2/3 sheep and 1/3 goats, regularly milked and culled for meat, fibre, and bone. Bovines were few and far between, since they need massive amounts of fodder and water. They were used for traction and lived until they dropped. In places with more water, pigs also appear. The focus was on optimal rather than maximal use of resources. Above all, there was little sense of private entrepreneurship, and the idea of private property is simply unhelpful. If people tried that, they simply wouldn’t survive. So, it’s not for nothing that Soviet-era Russian scholars of the ancient world called this the ‘village-commune.’

What is most intriguing is that the subsistence survival regime was by far the most stable. Petty potentates might come and go, their estates might drain labour for a time, hated cockroaches (tax collectors-usurers-merchants-diplomats-landlords all rolled into one) might appear for a time. But given half a chance, people would hasten the destruction of unstable little and big kingdoms. They preferred subsistence-survival, the dominant economic form in periods of what is, from the perspective of the ruling class, called economic ‘crisis’. In the politically and economically marginal zone of the Southern Levant, where Israel appeared belatedly on the scene, subsistence survival was the persistent form.

But did this approach end some time in the first millennium BCE? Not at all. It was still present in Russia into the twentieth century, as also in Iraq, Greater Syria and Greece, to name but a few. What about now?  Recently, I was in a village in Transylvania, Romania. Here the capitalist ‘shock therapy’ of the 1990s has led to deindustrialisation and reagriculturalisation. In response, old and trusted methods have returned. My host and I came across a herd of goats and sheep. I inquired about their numbers and was told they were 1/3 goats and 2/3 sheep, with regular culls and an optimal size of about 40. And Christina sent me this link to a story from the Andalusian region in Spain, concerning the village of Marinaleda. Since the 1970s, they too have developed a village-commune, operating in terms of the long history of subsistence survival that I outlined above. Of course, it has been reconfigured in light of wider socio-economic circumstances, but the basic principles remain the same. Nowadays, the villagers call this a version of socialism.

A socialist mural in Marinaleda.

The publication of the fifth volume, In the Vale of Tears, means that The Criticism of Heaven and Earth is complete. Ten years in the making, with 2000 pages of text, it deals with Western Marxism and religion. And you can get it as a box set – the ideal Christmas gift. Who could want more for a long summer of reading? Or, if you wish to wait for the paperback of In the Vale of Tears, due out in July, you can get the box set at a much cheaper price from Haymarket Books.

In the Vale of Tears 01

In the Vale of Tears 02

A new piece on the reverend Thomas Malthus, one of the not-so-great classical economists, and the doctrine of evil is now up on Political Theology.

A number of blog items have appeared recently on other sites:

The Revelations of Belarus

The Art of the Moscow Metro

Stalin’s Seven Sisters

These are on ‘Voyages on the Left’, while the following is on Political Theology:

John Locke, the Fall, and the Origin Myth of Capitalism (a snippet from Boer and Petterson, Idols of Nations)

Lhomme à la houe The Man with the Hoe

No sooner is the hardcover of In the Vale of Tears published than the paperback appears. Or rather, the good lefties at Haymarket plan to publish the paperback in June 2014.

The front cover image is already available:

In the Vale of Tears 02

Volume five of The Criticism of Heaven and Earth series is at last published. In the Vale of Tears: On Marxism and Theology V brings to a close my study of Western Marxism and religion, offering a statement of my own response to that tradition. To my complete surprise and great pleasure, the series has become widely read, commented upon, and even translated into other languages. You might want to wait for either the Haymarket paperback of this book or the free download  that someone will put up soon (they tell me such free downloads actually assist with people buying the book).

Table of Contents (brief):

Preface

Introduction

Of Old Timber and Lovers

On Theology

Relativising Theology

Theological Suspicion

Synopsis

Chapter One: Atheism

Banishing the Gods?

Marxism and Theology

Chapter Two: Myth

Prolegomenon

Political Myth

Anticipation, or Utopia

For Example …

Chapter Three: Ambivalence

Scandal And Folly

Folly to the Rich

Towards a Marxist Theory of Political Ambivalence

By Way of Conclusion

Chapter Four: History

Method: Search for an Anti-Fulcrum

Paul’s Shaky Transitions

Between the Sacred Economy and Slavery

The Fate of Christian Communism

Chapter Five: Kairós

At the Crossroads of Time

Eschatology

Ákairos

Measure And Immeasure (Negri)

By Way of Conclusion: Political Grace

Chapter Six: Ethics

Ethics, Morality and Moralising

Care of the Self

Greasing the Other

Towards Ethical Insurgency

Chapter Seven: Idols

That Hideous Pagan Idol: Marx and Fetishism        628

On Graven Images: From Liberation Theology to Theodor Adorno

Conclusion: On Secularism, Transcendence and Death

In the Vale of Tears 01

As a writer who happens to be connected with universities (for a pittance), the issue of publishing is somewhat important. I have also been involved extensively in major editing roles over the years, with both journals and books. A question that keeps coming up is where one should publish? I do not mean the best press for the sake of one’s career. I mean whether one uses conventional publishing at all. Perhaps the biggest threats to conventional publishing for profit are free access to books (such as library genesis) and open access publishing. I have commented on the free book matter earlier, when library.nu was closed down through court action by a consortium of publishers. And I have observed that publishing as an intellectual is probably one of the most exploitative exercises around, for you do all the work and receive virtually nothing for your efforts. Any profits made and retained by the publisher, let alone the copyright.

As many know, open access publishing is another dimension to that challenge. No wonder, then, that there is open warfare between traditional publishers and open-access publishing. Open-access is characterised as dodgy and third-rate. Example of scams abound, such as the Review of European Studies, which asks for a few hundred dollars to submit your article. Universities also play the game, or rather an old game. In the past, they have shored up publishing by constructing an aura of respectability around certain ‘reputable’ publishers, whether commercial or university presses. Positions rely on publishing in such places, as does the obnoxious practice of promotion, as do research assessment exercises, as do grants. Open-access publishing continues to be frowned upon by many. I recall a left-wing scholar saying to me that he always found material in print by traditional publishers much better than open-access work. But then, I guess that figures if you are after a conventional career in the star system of academia. It’s refreshing, then, to view once again the Hitler video concerning open-access:

So what would it mean to say that you will no longer publish in, review for, or do anything to assist profit-based publishing. That you will give your energy only to open-access publishing? The question is as much one for me, since I have published and continue to publish widely in conventional forms. So it was sobering to read through some of the journals listed in the Directory of Open-Access Journals. A vast number of them are from places in the world where money is very tight, where people can hardly manage rent and food, let alone journals and books. Of course, we like to forget the fact that genuinely new ideas always appear outside the mainstream avenues of intellectual work and publishing. A few of those include Spinoza, Negri, Darwin, Descartes, Leibniz, Rousseau, Kojeve, Schweitzer, Guattari, Lacan, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao …

A new piece over at Political Theology Today on ‘How to Read Ancient Texts’. Obviously, I’m not the first to reflect on that perennial question, but these reflections relate directly to how one reads texts in relation to socio-economic life.

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