James Batcho, PhD | Name Dropping
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Name Dropping

CHIANG MAI. Yesterday I completed my 100th reading for my dissertation since becoming ABD. (It also marks just over a year since I became ABD.) I can be meticulous about projects such as this, so when I finished classes last August I decided to chronicle every source, in the order of completion.

It’s interesting of course now to look back over the reading path. I began with Graham Harman’s Heidegger Explained. I didn’t really care to read a secondary source on Heidegger, but I had taken Harman’s class and was curious about his take. I started that I think on 9 September, the day after I arrived in Chiang Mai, and finished a couple days later. My 100th source, just completed, was Plato’s Theaetetus. In between those two is the chronicle of a plan. I can see it in the list, but I can also see the occasional distractions and diversions. This latter bit I blame on two writing projects and two conference presentations, so I had to shift my focus.

I started in proper philosophy—Descartes and Merleau-Ponty—then went into Plato and Aristotle for a foundation on perception and metaphysics. There was a move in mid-November toward sound theory essays because of a journal article on animation sound. Then things became scattered: current essays on phenomenology of sound, a bit of film theory, secondary sources on Plato, subjectivity and cognitive science, even some zen. Then in the winter it went deep with Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Then a shift to semiotics, then another to Pythagoreans and back to Plato.

In springtime I wrote the afterword for my friend Jeremy Fernando’s latest book, so I dug into his writings and some literary works, plus a re-acquaintance with Bergson. April was the month I discovered Charles S. Peirce and I devoted almost the entire month to his works. In May I was again bouncing around: more current sound theory, Barthes, Heraclitus, Nancy. This continued into June as I was absorbing essays for my paper presentation in Copenhagen. After Copenhagen, thanks to a conversation with Anders Kølle, I was ready for Deleuze, for whom I’ve developed something of an ongoing obsession.

There were some mighty tomes over that year of reading. Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, totaling 530 dense pages, took me the longest to read. (I read most of it sick in bed in Luang Prabang with a brutal bout of influenza.) The shortest was a 2-page Agamben piece. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if pressed I’d choose two standouts: Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation is perhaps the most enjoyable philosophy text I’ve ever read. Even though it isn’t featured much in this work, I read it right when I needed to. The other is Deleuze’s Proust and Signs, my first of his, which blew my mind and, as with Schopenhauer, was exactly what I needed at the time I read it. Most helpful have been anything by Peirce, Eva Brann’s The Logos of Heraclitus, Heidegger’s Essence of Truth, Kant’s Prolegomena, and Gallagher & Zahavi’s The Phenomenological Mind. I’d say all but two or three I didn’t complete to the very end. One of them is Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition,* the most difficult source I tried. (Actually, I didn’t count this one among the 100 because I only got through 50 pages.) There are many texts I didn’t care for, but I tried to give them all a good chance. Without question, the one book I disliked more than any other was Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. I did not care at all for his method.

I’m now in my critical writing stage, but the reading doesn’t stop. I’ve got a list of 25 sources I want to complete before I hope to finish at the end of 2014. In September I’m shifting primarily to film theory. But on the list are five Deleuze books, two Heidegger texts, and a few sources on Terrence Malick. This is fun; just gotta keep plugging along.

*Note from October, 2015: Since this writing, I went back to Difference and Repetition and read it with much greater care. Although it was featured little in my dissertation, it will play a large part in the book re-writes.