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Timotheus Vermeulen is assistant professor of cultural theory at Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands where he also heads the Centre for New Aesthetics. He has written about contemporary aesthetics and culture for, among others, The Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Screen and Texte Zur Kunst and is a regular contributor to Frieze. Vermeulen’s latest book is Scenes from the Suburbs (EUP, 2014). He is co-founding editor of the academic webzine Notes on Metamodernism.

Immanuel Kant, On History. Edited by Lewis White Beck. London: Pearson, 1963.

There are many books that have influenced my thinking. Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung is amongst them, as is Musil’s collection of essays, Gertrude Stein’s Biography of Alice B. Toklas, and Christoph Bataille’s Le Maitre des Heures deserves a mention. However, a book I return to again and again is Kant’s On History, edited by Lewis W. Beck, which collects the philosopher’s writings on the philosophy of history, among them “What is Enlightenment,” “Perpetual Peace” and my favorite, “Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.” In these texts, Kant proposes an understanding of history, mankind’s evolutionary tale, in terms distinct from the one Hegel and Marx would later claim as their own. He suggests, as much through his argumentation as through the modality of his prose––in particular the so-called Konjunktiv II, the grammar of possibility, of “could” and “may” and “might”––that there may well be a pattern to history but that we can never be sure; we just have to act as if there is so as to suffuse our lives with meaning and direction—a brilliant method of analysis as well as pretty decent life advice.

Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Some books help you develop an argument; these are often the books that receive, and deserve, praise. But there are also books that help you formulate, find the words to articulate, a thought. They are less often celebrated but are just as important. Cavell’s The World Viewed is such a book for me. Whenever I lose grip of my writing, whether because I no longer control it or because I get stuck, I take this little book of essays about the nature of cinema from the shelves. In it, Cavell contemplates in the most straightforward and simple of languages the differences between cinema and the associated arts: painting, photography, music and theater. What is the distinction, he asks, between a sound and a sight? A record, to Cavell, reproduces a sound, but can we say a photograph reproduces a sight? Or: What is the difference, ontologically speaking, between the frame of a painting and that of cinema, or between a screen actor and a stage performer? Lots of questions, a few answers––not always convincing––but so original, creative and yet clear that it always opens up whatever chaos lies before me.

Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking. New York: Picador, 2012.

A book I have been reading, and rereading, recently is Camille de Toledo’s brilliantly incisive Coming of Age at the End of History, a part autobiographical, part fictional, philosophical account of growing up in the 1990s as well as a program for an alternative adulthood in the 2000s. However, the books that have most occupied my mind recently are Siri Hustvedt’s Living, Thinking, Looking from 2012 and her husband Paul Auster’s subsequent memoir Winter Journal. Both of these are moving meditations on what it means to live in, or with, or from our human bodies; bodies that are both familiar and strange to us, that are terrorized by migraines and involuntary spasms, that are attracted to others before our minds realize it. I agree with those philosophers who want to think about the ontology of the world, but let’s not forget that we can only do so from the slab of matter we inhabit: our bodies.