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Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (Jacobin) Paperback – March 11, 2014
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“Benjamin Kunkel has pursued a lonely and taxing crash course in Marxist thought, the results of which, set forth here, are nimble, clear, and brave. He dedicates the book to anyone who can use it, which I’ll take a step further: it’s for anyone who cares about historical necessity,
the crisis of capitalism, and our fate.” Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
"Playful and unfailingly lucid...the book is one of the most enjoyable pieces of Marxist criticism in many years." The Nation
“It’s wonderful to see Benjamin Kunkel turn his considerable talents from the business of novelwriting to these political essays—models of the genre, with plenty to offer to both newcomers to and veterans of radical thought.” Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer
"From Boris Groys to Slavoj Zizek, Kunkel translates tricky questions of economics, culture, and politics into easy-to-understand prose that distil the problems not only with American capitalism, but capitalism in general" Publishers Weekly
“Benjamin Kunkel, aside from having mastered the voice of bemused neuroticism in Indecision, has one of the most interesting minds around.” The Millions
“Those looking for alternatives, explanations, and a critical map of where Leftist thought stands in our current neoliberal age will find Utopia or Bust a must-read.” Mike Konczal, finance commentator and Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute
About the Author
Benjamin Kunkel is the bestselling author of Indecision and a co-founder of n+1. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books.
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They offered six books for fifty bucks around the Christmas of 2013.
I was like that meme of Fry where he’s saying “Take My Money!”
Basically, I have achieved a level of material success where I still have revolutionary desires and our household income is a bit more than the US household median income. So I have a need and a desire to give the money to the revolutionary presses that I can fulfill. My favorite thing is to sit on my couch and read and drink beer. I often read of revolution, and I can help create a future where the workers of the world, who once united, can lose their chains and drink beer and do their own reading. Verso and Jacobin will help facilitate that.
So I bought the books through the publishers, and ended up with the first batch. I read the other two books right quick, but for some reason I let this one sit. I think I had tried to read it once, but I was sad at the the structure of <add introduction + previous essays = book>. I put it down and on my shelf, even though I had not read any of the essays previously.
But last weekend, I picked it back up. The essays in the book are about writers, for the most part, that I admire or have read. There are a couple of ones about unfamiliar writers to me, so I can’t make a judgement on them, since I only know them through Kunkel’s lense. But the ones that we cross over the things I’ve read and he’s read, show the writers I like in a new light and made me think more and broader and deeper about them. His essay on David Harvey illustrates this - it just helps put my own reading of Harvey in context of other thinkers.
Here’s the best thing about the book. It broadens my horizon, in that I want to read more about the people who he talks about but am only tangentially familiar with. I guess it’s time for me to put Fredric Jameson on my reading list. But the real best thing is that it makes me want to write more just by engaging in the ideas that the author engages with. Kunkel is a clear and exact writer that holds the attention even when writing about unfamiliar subjects.
The profiles in this book represent a grab bag of Marxist thought. In my view, Mr. Kunkel has chosen well. Mr. Kunkle shares with us in relatable prose how he discovered these authors and why he found their works meaningful. Having read several of these authors myself, I believe that Mr. Kunkle has fairly represented their works. More importantly, Mr. Kunkle’s insights on the significance of these Marxist thinkers are right on target: we should welcome constructive thought on how to build a more sustainable, healthy and equitable economy, wherever the ideas may come from.
For example, Mr. Kunkel discusses how David Harvey’s work on the geographic expansion of capital including the connections between real estate speculation, boom and bust were proven to be prescient as the crisis of 2008 unfolded. Mr. Kunkel credits Frederick Jameson’s highly perceptive writing on the immersion of capitalist culture for helping to keep Marxist theory relevant during the neoliberal ascendancy of the 1990s. Mr. Kunkel believes that Robert Brenner’s analysis of excess production leading to surplus labor, debt and economic stagnation refutes the neoliberal myth that labor was at fault for destroying postwar prosperity in the West. Mr. Kunkel says that David Graeber's championing of debt forgiveness could be a positive step towards achieving a fairer, anarchist future. Mr. Kunkel admires the mercurial Slavoj Zizek's uncompromising critique of capitalism but earns demerits for offering little concrete action about what might follow the end of capitalism. Finally, Mr. Kunkel likes Boris Groys' idea that communal art can help society become more philosophical but finds fault in Groys' problematic analysis of Soviet-era art.
I understand that some have criticized Mr. Kunkel for restricting his analysis to male authors. On that point, if readers are interested in post-Marxist female authors, I believe a good place to start include Jodi Dean's The Communist Horizon and Martina Sitrin's They Can't Represent Us.
I highly recommend this excellent book to everyone.
Finally, Kunkel's evasion of women in this book is just gross. When he finally mentions one in the bibliographic essay that concludes the book -- Federici -- he gives her two sentences before he goes on to compare her to Lewis Mumford (!), about whom he proceeds to gush, providing a block quote, etc. The two sentences she does get also misrepresent her argument. Actually, there's also two sentences on Ellen Meiksins Wood, but you get my point.
I have to say, too, that for someone who is apparently considered the next big Marxist thing, I was really bummed to see his sneaking of Keynesianism into underconsumptionist readings of Brenner and (to a lesser extent) Harvey. This tendency reappears in the final essay as well. Minsky, Kalecki, &co. as our saviors?