10 Texts that Made Stanford Worth It

by - Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10. The first is a tie between Frederic Jameson's "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's "The Political Constitutions of the Present"(from Empire)- When I am having early morning car rants about the state of the universe, especially about how we are all more valuable as consumers than creators or laborers, I basically always bring something these fellows said up. I would probably read Jameson again, sometime after I have detoxed graduate school out of my system with fiction and fun reading.
9. Saba Mahmood's "Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival"- Reading this essay was the first time I realized the imperialism inherent in the feminist "saving" of more conservative cultures. I still don't have good answers to some of the binds Mahmood raises, but I am glad they are on my mind in a way I can't shake off. It is no easy task to let go of the idea that other people might be better off if they were more like ourselves, but I keep at that, without falling into easy loose relativism.
8.Alexander Rodchenko's "Against the Synthetic Portrait, For the Snapshot"- In my dream course on photography, this essay is paired with Barthes' Camera Lucida. This one is also very short and clear, so if you have a hankering to think critically about photography and where the meaning comes from (and eve if you don't think you do, trust me, you do), this would be a great introduction.
7. Rosalind Krauss's "Notes on the Index, Parts One and Two" (you can find these in Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths)- You know you are solidly into graduate school when you can see the rhetorical patterns of Rosalind Krauss. I kind of think everyone must have their favorites, and these two essays are mine. Indexicality is usually grouped with theories of photography, but Krauss explains how indexicality became a common thread through much of the art being made in a certain moment. If I had kept going, I think these essays would have been really important in my life.
6. Judith Butler's Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex-  Dude, I love this book (and Gender Trouble, they basically go together). That was supposed to be funny, maybe only to me. Butler is the kind of academic that shows that if you have a really sound theory, it will resonate out past the academic sphere. Even if you have never read Butler, if you have a cursory understanding of gender theory and feminism, you would find her arguments familiar. The more familiar platitudes about how gender is a social construct are the low key reverberations of her argument. I am glad I had the chance to study more than once, including with the great Peggy Phelan (her books should also be on this list, because some of the debates she sets up are on my mind quite a bit).
5. Susan Sontag "Notes on Camp"- Susan Sontag is an absolute intellectual badass, but this essay on camp matters the most to me, because when great minds decide that something that was once widely ignored or discredited in mainstream culture is valuable and interesting.
4. Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality: Volume One: An Introduction- I can remember HATING the grad school douches in my senior classes who always loved name dropping Foucault. In general, he is a great guy to cling on to, because he makes great, often counter-intuitive points (very often he narrates the common thought, only to dethrone it later) in a way that is clear and easy to understand. You can read Foucault and really feel like you have your arms around it.In this book, he debunks the idea that no one ever talks about sex. People talk about sex all of the time, but there are highly coded situations in which this is acceptable. He then charts the history of the discussion of sexuality and the many contexts where sex is approached in veiled but universally agreed upon ways.  He explains in the end that sex is most openly discussed in science and art. It's a great book, and artists whose work are about sex and sexuality love it. At one point, I was supposed to go in public dressed as a jellyfish and discuss it, but alas, that day has not come yet.
3. Allan Sekula's "The Body and the Archive"- I just love Allan Sekula. In this article, he talks about photography as a tool for order. He notes that photography was used in criminal archives, and how the 2 key techniques in that field showed two modes of thinking at that time. I would read this essay even if I wasn't an academic (which I guess I no longer am, so I should go read it again)!
2. Craig Owen's "Posing" and "The Discourse of Others"- Craig Owens is my favorite. These are my two favorite essays of his, but I really love them all. "Posing" is a relatively short little piece of writing, but it reframes old ideas about womanhood, the pose, and stillness that are generally equated with artifice (women being "fake") and passivity.
1. Lucy Lippard "The Pains and Pleasures of Rebirth: Women's Body Art"- I will forever want to grow up to be Lucy Lippard. She is the bomb. She was a badass, who hung out with artists and refused to put up with the bullshit and misogyny of academia. This is one of my favorites of her essays, which is identifying and encouraging women making art as it was happening. I love this essay forever.

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