And Whatever You Do, DON’T READ LACAN
When I say “don’t read,” I don’t mean it in a fascist kind of way. I’m not suggesting these thinkers should be burned, or that they’re dangerous, or that they’re subversive. I’m just suggesting that reading them not the best possible use of your time. If you want to waste your own time, be my guest. Reading Zizek’s 60 or so books is a lot like watching reality shows on Bravo - it’s pretty much all the same annoying shit with a slightly different packaging each time, and after a while you lose track of the words and all you can see is the flying spittle.
What I mean more than anything when I say “read” or “don’t read” is ignore people who tell you you should be reading these thinkers and not these other thinkers. Obviously, that gives you carte blanche to ignore my advice, too, but since I get pretty frequent messages asking me what and how to read in the history of philosophy, I’m putting in my two cents. Think of it this way: our ideal of the humanities is to have as many people thinking as many different things as possible, right? We want, ideally, to avoid both ideological blind spots and the kind of homogeneity that stifles innovation and creativity. Well, there’s a statistical excuse right there to read the people I’m recommending - every English major has heard of Lacan and Hegel, very few of them have heard of Epictetus. Bring something new to the table. Take a chance. This is exactly what Deleuze calls “minor philosophy.”
Obviously, this razor cuts both ways. In an imaginary future academy where, as Foucault once predicted, the 21st century has become Deleuzian, perhaps reading Hegel will be an act of subversion. Perhaps. But for now, all we have is a nihilistic obsession with the Master-Slave Dialectic and negation, while Spinoza’s pure immanence and Hume’s common sense remain largely ignored.
I have walked through the hell of phenomenology. I’ve read Ecrits, Being and Time, and The Phenomenology of the Spirit. I’ve read pretty much everything Derrida ever wrote and I’ve worked my way through all of Kant’s critiques. And I am alone escaped to tell thee: thinking doesn’t need to be so painful. Just trust me. Start reading. You have no idea how much more beautiful your intellectual labor will become when the motor of your critical thinking stops being the dialectic of anxiety and starts being the experience of joy.