Twitter updates

After much reflection and thought, I have decided to create a new “professional” Twitter account that will consist solely of selected blog updates and links related to my publications and public appearances. I have arranged things so that it has inherited my old handle of @adamkotsko. It has also inherited my old block list, thankfully, but not its followers — so I encourage you to follow if you haven’t already done so. I have moved most of my social media activity over to Facebook, where I am eager to make new friends.

Magazine subscription recommendations?

Over the years, I have been an avid magazine subscriber. At times, I’ve had four going at once. I’ve done Harper’s (my first and longest, though I finally had to give up after the “maybe HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” article), The New Yorker, The Atlantic, n+1, New Left Review, New York Review of Books, Bloomberg Businessweek, and London Review of Books. The latter two kept me busy for a couple years, but I finally let my Businessweek subscription lapse and am now at a critically low level, contenting myself with LRB alone.

Hence I come to you, dear readers: should I add anything to my arsenal? Should I return to one of my past subscriptions? (For instance, has Harper’s bounced back?)

The Golden Age of “Good Enough” TV

Though there are some who would still embrace the rhetoric of the “Golden Age of Television” for marketing purposes, we all know that that storied era is over. If there was any question about it, the conclusion of Mad Men — part of the undisputedly canonical Big Three that also includes The Sopranos and The Wire — dispels any ambiguity. While we might dispute whether a particular show belonged to the classic “high-quality cable drama” genre as established by The Sopranos, no currently running show belongs in that category.

And you know what? That’s okay. The final season of Mad Men reminds us how exhausting the “high-quality cable drama” can be — how much pressure there is to watch, to have an opinion, to be up to date on the online dialogue. You probably felt many things when that Coke commercial came to an end, but the emotion you should have been feeling is captured in a timeless Don Draper line: “That’s relief.” Freed from the burden of High Art Television, we can finally get back to enjoying Good Enough Television — a genre that is truly entering into its own golden age.

It was High Art Television that made the blossoming of Good Enough Television possible. First, there were the aesthetic innovations — the greater artistic ambition on the level of the visual experience (more creative shots, lighting, experimental dream and hallucination sequences, etc.), the greater range of acceptable subject matter (including but not limited to supposedly “edgy” themes), the focus on very specific geographical regions (New Jersey, Baltimore) or milieux (the culture of advertising) as opposed to the generic “suburbs or New York City” format of most previous TV. All of those experiments have born their fruit in the Good Enough Television of today, and the result is more visually interesting television that has more room to explore. Second, there are the commercial innovations, above all the explosion in competition to produce original dramatic content among cable networks. Even AMC may never be able to recapture the cachet AMC once enjoyed, but it has given birth to a number of “middle-brow” cable networks (FX) as well as more mass-produced content (USA).

Against all odds, some of these benefits have even accrued to the traditional networks. For me, The Good Wife is the ultimate Good Enough show — attractive people in an attractive setting, with a plot that (with rare missteps, like Khalinda’s husband) keeps moving you along and sometimes even manages to trick you into thinking that you’re pondering an actual idea. There’s a reason we all marathoned the whole thing when it was first released on Hulu, and that’s because it gives us all the beautifully packaged #pureideology we crave from television at its best.

My current reading queue

I am currently about halfway through Davis Hankins’ The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence. I had vaguely thought of writing something on Job some time in the future, but I am pleased to announce that his book renders anything I might do redundant. I also quietly note that this is a book that seems to have no title, but only a subtitle.

Future (non-class, not directly research-relevant) reading, in no particular order:

  • Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune
  • David Porter, Constantine the Emperor
  • Knut Vikør, Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law
  • Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

(I am also on volume 2 of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, but that’s more of a lifestyle choice than an item on a reading list.)

What about you, dear readers? What is populating your to-be-read pile?

A Debate over the Generic and the Secular

Some of the readers here already listen to my occasional podcast, My Name Is My Name w/ APS, and so will have seen this already. Daniel Barber, Alex Dubilet, and myself have been working on a tri-authored book over the past few months. The impetus for the idea goes back a few years though to discussions occasioned by discussion of the “generic secular” in the Editors’ Introduction that Daniel Whistler and I wrote to After the Postmodern and the Postsecular. We are carrying out the work on the book in public through a series of workshops. At these workshops we aim to present very evocative versions of our work to elicit discussion amongst those working the various disciplines we are engaging with. The first of these workshops, for example, took place at Berkeley where serious work in anthropology and rhetoric around post-secularism finds its home. We recorded our papers for that event and you may listen to them via the podcast.

We will be presenting the next phase of the work this week in Liverpool for the biannual Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion, an important audience for this work. We will be recording our talks there as well. However, these workshops are expensive and we are hoping to cover some immediate costs as well as planning for future ones. If you are able to support us please check out our GoFundMe page where you can find more information about the project as well. These funds are only to cover our costs, including future renumeration for a fourth participant in the project who will be acting as a moderator for one part of the book.

The political theater of cruelty

The Donald Trump phenomenon is the logical end point of the “politics as entertainment” model championed by the right-wing media.

And from that perspective, the embrace of a similar model among liberals is alarming — the hegemony of the Daily Show, the endless clickbait about how some right-wing politician said a right-wing thing, etc., etc. Like the right-wing variant, liberal “politics as entertainment” is mostly a theater of cruelty, where we derive joy from mocking those stupid people and feeling superior to them….

It’s not that they’re not worthy of mockery or that people don’t have a right to let off steam. It’s the dominance of this mode of political “commentary” that seems troublesome. Will we get our Trump? Have we already?

GAIN Critical Conversation

Carl Raschke interviewed me for the Global Arts and Ideas Network’s Critical Conversations, about some of my church practice and my forthcoming book, The World is Crucifixion, a second book on preaching the death of God.  The video is up on the YouTube, embedded below. Read the rest of this entry »

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