Books

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In The Destroyed World and The Guilty Self, David Levine and Mathew Bowker explore cultural and political trends organized around the conviction that the world we live in is a dangerous place to be, that it is dominated by hate and destruction, and that in it our primary task is to survive by carrying on a life-long struggle against hostile forces.

Their method involves the analysis of public fantasies to reveal their hidden meanings. The central fantasy explored is the fantasy of a destroyed world, which appears most commonly in the form of post-apocalyptic and dystopian narratives. Their special concern in the book is with defenses against the painful consequences of the dominance of this fantasy in the inner world, especially defenses involving the use of guilt to assure that something can be done to repair the destroyed world.

Topics explored include: the formation of internal fortresses and their projection into the world outside, forms of guilt including bystander guilt and survivor guilt, the loss of and search for home, and manic forms of reparation.



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“M.H. Bowker’s rich, refreshing, and sometimes startlingly personal work is an intellectual-spiritual foray into the void at the center of our missing experience of being actually interested in our lives. It reminds us how often we seek and accept false substitutes for deep thinking and for truly coming alive. But it also guides us in coping with tedious academic pretense, with groupthink, with the artifices we layer over conflictual desires. Through his elegant, graceful, amusing, genuine, and welcoming writing, Bowker opens us to encounters with surprise, novelty, and provocation without cynicism. His singularity of voice and rarity of perception are reminiscent of the simultaneously trance-inducing and startling first-time effects of Winnicott, Bion, and Phillips. You will emerge from Misinterest awakened and with renewed focus and intentionality, as if from the best kind of guided meditation.”

— Jill Gentile, author of Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire

“Psychoanalysis is a psychology of absences, a mode of thinking about the significance of what’s missing. M.H. Bowker makes use of this psychoanalytic heuristic in his wonderfully provocative Misinterest. The book combines poetic, expository, and aphoristic forms, inviting readers into his stream-of-consciousness meditation on modern states of ennui. The essay “Is Sex Interesting?” is alone worth the read.”

— Janice Haaken, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Portland State University

“Misinterest is a meditation on how we choose (Do we choose?) to pay attention; that is, to engage, or not to. Written with a Zen-like quality, I sometimes found myself wondering just what kind of volume was I reading — perhaps another mode of misinterest. Dr. Bowker’s volume reads as part poem, part koan, part psychoanalytic free association. An indeterminate journey half-way between a documentary and a dream-book, I found Misinterest impossible to ignore.”

— Dan Livney, Clinical Psychologist



Critical Thinking: The Subject of Inquiry is intended for teachers and learners of critical thinking who wish to engage in a facilitative and substantive (content-oriented) course of study. As we will see, these two methods of teaching critical thinking are inextricably linked, since a facilitative approach requires that learners be provided with rich, substantive content about which to think.

The purpose of this book is to consider the mental work of critical thinking, itself, both as a subject worthy of study and a central part of what it means to be a subject: an autonomous person who can think critically and, therefore, make meaningful judgment and undertake meaningful actions in the world. 

The links between the facilitative and the substantive approach to teaching critical thinking and the development of the student-as-subject is why the book is titled: Critical Thinking and the Subject of Inquiry.



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“In recent years, issues surrounding identity politics on campuses of higher-education have been the subjects of a good deal of commentary. Much of this commentary, unfortunately, has cast off more heat than light. In A Dangerous Place to Be, Matthew Bowker and David Levine not only bring a fresh and lively new perspective to these issues, but — and this is the great achievement of the book — recast the very terms of the question. Focusing on the place of Colleges and Universities as transitional spaces between family and civil society, Bowker and Levine argue that the character of controversies over race, trigger warnings, and campus speech must be understood within the context of, on the one hand, early identity formation, and, on the other, the changing economic functions of the University. This is a rich and ambitious book that raises the level of conversation. It is, at times, provocative, but never fails to be thought-provoking. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the analysis of any of the particular topics it addresses, it will leave one with a more complex sense of what is at issue.”

— Jeremy Elkins, Bryn Mawr College

“…In this timely and important volume, Matthew Bowker and David Levine set out a different perspective, psychoanalytical at its core, which uses Winnicott’s Object Relations Theory as the lens through which to examine how early experiences within the family establish identities which may subsequently struggle with voice, safety, self-realisation, and being, and how universities in their own socio-economically imposed re-identification may inadvertently replicate and reinforce these forms of damage. Bowker and Levine insist on the deployment of understanding, not moral posturing, and remind us that the empathetic but objective calm of the psychoanalyst’s intervention could offer spaces for the safe, contained development of self-knowledge more useful to young people than being dismissed as ‘over sensitive’ or taken entirely at face value. Mindful that university staff also feel threatened and frightened, in a study of organizational anxiety that Menzies would have been proud of, collusion is identified as another destructive dynamic that academics in their working world ignore at their peril. Carefully analysed examples of case studies of  recent campus conflicts also provide opportunities to re-evaluate one’s possibly too blinkered and unserviceable position by examining the unconscious as well as social dimensions of these unhappy, pervasive, over-exposed troubles. Ironic as it seems, in relation to a study which so carefully avoids didacticism, to issue instructions, actually I would like to advocate that this book should be made compulsory. Everyone who works in, thinks about, studies in, or believes they have the measure of the contemporary campus really should read it.”

— Liz Frost, UWE Bristol, Editor, Journal of Psychosocial Studies



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“True scholarship must encompass the rediscovery of sorely neglected sources of valuable knowledge. Bowker and Buzby and their likewise excellent contributors do us a great service in bringing Winnicott’s profound psychoanalytic wisdom back into the fray of political theory, front and un-decentered. I couldn’t recommend this stimulating and provocative volume too highly.”

— Kurt Jacobsen, University of Chicago, USA and author of Freud’s Foes and of Pacification and Its Discontents

“The shared premise of this book is illustrated with admirable deftness, theoretical sophistication, and lucidity across a wide spectrum of themes. The result is a volume which, in its totality, is much more than the sum of its parts. Anyone interested in the potential of free, humane subjectivity, and in the critique of anti-humanism, will find it deeply rewarding.”

— David N. Smith, Professor and Chair of Sociology, University of Kansas, USA

“This book is a fine volume of uncommon depth and reach. A clinician rather than a political thinker, Winnicott’s work nevertheless emerges as a significant resource for our understanding of political agency and what a good society might be. Readers already persuaded of that fact will find their thinking taken in new and surprising directions.  Those unfamiliar with Winnicott’s ideas will find many reasons to take seriously his relevance to political thought and to matters of pressing political concern.”

— Peter Redman, Editor of Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society



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“In this unflinching, unconventional meditation on the understanding of self and identity, filtered through an ethical struggle with visitation and privilege, M.H. Bowker creates an odd, beautiful song of the self.”

— Chris Abani, author of The Secret History of Las Vegas and The Face: A Cartography of the Void

“Escargotesque, M.H. Bowker’s restive, memoir-driven meditation on experience, immerses the reader in a mood of sustained contemplative urgency, the peculiarly forceful pull of which inheres, I think, in the unnerving experience of gradually coming to appreciate, with the author, just what a maddening, grasp-slipping Ouroboros of a concept “experience” is — as, e.g., when he cites Freud citing Lichtenberg’s joke that “experience consists in experiencing what one does not wish to experience,” and we glimpse with him the koanic impossibility, the uncrackable kernel of encrypted (non-? anti-?) wisdom this remarkable book winds sinuous coil on coil around, in dexterously flexible prose (plus the occasionally interspersed pencil-sketch and snatch of verse) that when called on to do so adroitly tone-shifts from assured, Montaignian savoir faire to bursts of Kierkegaardian intensity.”

— Jonathan Callahan, author of The Consummation of Dirk, Winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction



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“Bowker rescues absurdity from literary and philosophical neglect, showing how it affects the work of diverse authors such as Dylan Thomas, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, and Emmanuel Levinas, not to mention a television show about zombies. Absurdity, he argues, is a protest and defense against the meaningful experience of loss. Especially valuable is Bowker’s playing off the literature of absurdity with his own qualitative research on the topic. The book is a dazzling display of erudition by an intellectual who has his feet on the ground, a rare combination of virtues.”

— C. Fred Alford, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park

“Matthew Bowker has written a welcome exploration and critique of the treatment of subjectivity in contemporary literature. Especially notable is Bowker’s treatment of grief and the insistence on the part of some authors that acceptance of loss is neither possible nor desirable. In developing his ideas, Bowker poses and suggests answers to a number of genuinely important questions including whether what he refers to as the “absurd experience” offers freedom from illusion or instead “a regressive and melancholy illusion about the value of perpetual grief whose goal is to incapacitate subjects so that all may share the same absurd fate.” This is an engaging book filled with sharp insights into matters of importance. It offers a much needed counterpoint to the celebration of suffering that is so much a part of our intellectual and political landscape.”

— David Levine, Professor Emeritus, University of Denver

“A valuable addition to the literature that contests the fashionable celebration of an absurd existence. This is an insightful and important work.”

— Stephen Eric Bronner, Board of Governors Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University



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“Bowker’s book examines Camus’ notion of the absurd in relation to the findings of modern psychoanalytic theory of ambivalence. His reading sets aside the ‘ontological’ questions most often associated with the absurd—the ‘human condition,’ ‘the silence of god,’ ‘the deprivation of transcendence,’ ‘metaphysical revolt’—in favor of an analysis that treats the experience as a ‘psychological disposition.’ By means of this approach, Bowker succeeds both in overcoming the fruitless logical and epistemological debates about Camus’ achievement that have dominated the literature for decades and in opening up a space in which the anthropological and experiential depth of Camus’ analysis might be regained. Paradoxically, he also restores the ontological realities he initially sets aside to their rightful place in Camus’ thought—‘more as overpowering love-object[s] than an unthinkable ‘is-ness’.’ A thoughtful and engaging book.”

— Ron Srigley, Laurentian University of Sudbury

“Matthew H. Bowker’s study, Albert Camus and the Political Philosophy of the Absurd: Ambivalence, Resistance, and Creativity, is arguably the most insightful, thoughtful, and well-researched book on Camus studies to appear in recent years. . . .Every once-in-a-great-while there comes a book that is so engaging, so thorough, and so enjoyable to read and comprehend that it becomes a classic and a necessity for all academics in that particular field to own, study, and know. Bowker’s Albert Camus and the Political Philosophy of the Absurd is that book. There is no doubt that it will indelibly shift and change the foci of Camus’s political thought in addition to offering a fantastic and clarified understanding of the Absurd. Without reservation, every serious scholar of Camus studies needs to have this book in his or her library. It is invaluable.”

— Peter Francev, Editor, Journal of Camus Studies

“Bowker’s approach . . . opens the way, he suggests, to advances in contemporary psychosocial understandings of moral and creative action and interaction. . . . This book is a cogent and thought-provoking reappraisal of Camus and key aspects of political philosophy.”

French Studies 



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“While Ostranenie takes its title from an obscure Russian term for feelings of defamiliarization, and while its form foregrounds the cerebral, footnotes pushing poetic text off the page, and while its author is shamelessly intellectual, dropping, for instance, “Verfremdungseffekt” in the book’s first fifty words, and while we might thus expect coolness, austerity, or flippancy from such a set of particulars, quite the opposite is true: this is a deeply moving book about the experience of grief, about how our books do and don’t prepare us for it, about how our closest human connections are both alienating and familiar, how grief takes us out of ourselves and returns us to ourselves. Bowker comes through the books and thinkers and languages to a very human place, as if to say,why shouldn’t thinking also make us human? And, why is this a surprise?  Required reading for grad school people from working class roots.”

— Ted Pelton, Chair, Dept. of English, Tennessee Tech University

“Mourning is a state that’s perpetuated because we understandon some deep level that we’re incapable of recapturing what has been lost. Bowker further seems to argue that one cannot take solace in consolation, that it is something lost in the act of attainment. A photograph, for example, might over time become just another object in the world, void of associations. To revitalize a memory of something that’s been lost is an exhausting struggle.One must be vigilant, keeping memories alive through the endless machinations of footnote-producing thought. Toward the end of the book, Bowker writes: “It is sometimes as if we longed to feel simultaneously alive and safe, but pursued this desire in performances of theology, philosophy, poetry.” To feel all there is to feel, to grasp all the details he can about his mother, requires that he perpetually begin the project of resuscitation anew: fill out the details,gather together the disparate constellations of thought and image and tactile memory, and breathe life into it. I wish there were more books like Ostranenie,which demand from me a critical engagement, my trusty dictionary by my side—, which has left me eager to read M. H. Bowker’s next offering.

— Andrew Powers, Prick of the Spindle: A Journal of the Literary Arts