Looks: A Reading List

ICA Bookshop

7 May 2015

To accompany our exhibition Looks, the ICA Bookshop has picked ten books you should be reading.

To coincide with our exhibition Looks, exploring the construction and performance of identity in the context of mass digital culture, the ICA Bookshop has put together this fascinating reading list. All titles are available online or in our bookshop on The Mall.

The Internet Does Not Exist
e-flux journal
Well, we used to think the internet was a thing, but now, with the advent of the internet of things, what is this thing we thought was the internet? Even Heidegger would be confused. Apparently the internet is a name that describes everything and nothing at the same time. A network of contradictions which don’t resolve, to be surfed across using empathy, cats, porn and emotional blackmail. So, what you need to do is reformat your consciousness and cognitive capacity to absorb entire worlds made of contradiction, and read this book.

Ordinary Affects
Kathleen Stewart

"Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences. They're things that happen."

From gambling and dieting to nuclear waste and ebay, life is a dense network of social and personal connections. But while it's easy to be overwhelmed by the social dynamics of the political world, Kathleen Stewart's beautifully written book reveals how intimate experiences and ordinary impacts can add up to a strangely empowering experience.

Vilém Flusser
Flusser defines a gesture as “a movement of the body or of a tool attached to the body for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation.” Flusser's perspective on the ways we share and preserve meaning, via close analyses of different gestures, from writing or speaking, to listening to music or searching, is as useful and insightful as they were when they were written. Particularly now that they're making them for iPads.

Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories
Elizabeth Freeman
Freeman’s history is an erotic, embodied experience. One of carnal enjoyment. One which attempts to reclaim the political potential of pleasure, without forgetting the racialised and gendered legacies of pain that it can carry. Via an eclectic archive of queer literature, film, video, and art, Time Binds emphasises the critique of temporality and history as crucial to queer politics.

Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
José Esteban Muñoz
For Muñoz, the LGBT agenda has been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military for too long. It has been stifled by a myopic focus on the present, which is short-sighted and assimilationist. He contends that queerness is a futurity-bound phenomenon, a "not yet here" that critically engages pragmatic presentism. Part manifesto, part love-letter to the past and the future, Cruising Utopia argues that the here and now are not enough and issues an urgent call for the revivification of the queer political imagination.

Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway
Arthur Kroker
Individuals no longer inhabit a body. They occupy a multiplicity of bodies. Gendered, sexualized, labouring, disciplined, imagined, and technologically augmented. Should we despair at the political and social crisis in which technologies of abjection, disappearance, inertia, and substitution increasingly triumph? Or should we celebrate the multiplicity of bodies that we are and the multiplicity of hopes that we engender, and begin to dream again of counter-trajectories of resistance, hope and solidarity? Kroker looks to Judith Butler, N. Katherine Hayles, and Donna Haraway for guidance.

Thierry Bardini
Are we made of junk? Yes. Or so says Thierry Bardini having interviewed some ‘crackpots.’ And also some scientists. Unravelling the presence of junk at the interface between science fictions and fictions of science, he shows that molecular biology and popular culture since the early 1960s belong to the same culture: cyberculture. This is essentially a culture of junk. And junk DNA represents a blind spot in our understanding of life.

The Posthuman
Rosi Braidotti
When some are not considered fully human as it is, the idea of the posthuman is potentially a disturbing one. But for Braidotti “the end of classical Humanism is not a crisis, but entails positive consequences.”

The Posthuman analyses the escalating effects of post–anthropocentric thought, which encompass not only other species, but also the sustainability of our planet as a whole. Where the challenge lies is in  seizing opportunities for new social bonding and community building, while pursuing sustainability and empowerment. Read this book, whatever you are.

Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism
Elizabeth Grosz
Human biology is a system of signs. Incomplete and inherently social. With Volatile Bodies Grosz attempts to undermine previous dualisms in academic thought which obscure complexity and justify power inequities. Examining female experience, she lays the groundwork for developing theories of sexed corporeality, rather than merely rectifying the flawed models of male theorists.

The Cultural Politics of Emotions
Sara Ahmed
Emotions are cultural practices rather than psychological states. They endow bodies with value and align them in relation to powerful ideologies. Ahmed explores their role in constituting both the social relations of capital and the alternative relationships necessary for sustainable political movements. From pain, hate, fear, disgust and shame to queer feelings and feminist attachments. ■