My Favorite Book I’ve Read in 2023

Joshua Adams
5 min readApr 11

Often the best books give us language for things we already knew but maybe can’t always put into words, and “Enjoyment Left & Right” by Todd McGowan certainly did that for me.

McGowan, a professor in the English department at the University of Vermont, is an expert on Hegel, psychoanalysis and existentialism, and the intersection of these lines of thought within cinema (he explores these ideas in the podcast with professor Ryan Engley called “Why Theory”). The book uses the lens of Enjoyment to “overcome the contradictions and conflicts that arise in a world that appears split between right and left.” By showing the distinct ways in which the Right and Left “enjoy,” McGowan provides a theoretically rich yet accessible guide for readers to understands the psycho-analytical dynamics that undergird these respective political and ideological movements.

Though there are numerous passages I can point to, one that stood out is that despite its “structural advantages, the Right operates with an enjoyment that it cannot universalize, in contrast to that of the Left, which is inherently universalist. Universality is the basis of the leftist emancipatory project. It leaves no one behind, whereas the rightist project depends on some not just being left behind but actively ostracized.”

As someone whose politics more closely align with that of the political Left, I’ve often thought about how the Right has some engrained advantages in the political sphere. One of them is Us vs. Them ideation, which allows the Right to say, do, think, etc. things beyond what Leftists can, since universalism and pluralism are limiting principles; on the Left, any Them is a (potential) Us. Electorally, the Left is overwhelmingly more diverse than the Right, and so ostracizing undermines its project in ways it simply doesn’t for the Right. This asymmetry manifests itself in everything from rightwing comedy (to me, the conservative comedian is at bottom Nelson from The Simpsons pointing and saying “ha ha!”), to their (in my estimation, evil) push to link LGBTQ people and their allies to pedophilia, to Republicans saying things about “Blue States” that, not just Democrats, but the entire political spectrum would find unconscionable if voiced by Democrats about “Red States.”

Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is a journalist from Chicago. UVA & USC. Taught media and communication at DePaul & Salem State. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA