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<nettime> Reviews of books I like in the midst of God my God of Sickness
Alan Sondheim on Fri, 22 Sep 2006 13:03:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Reviews of books I like in the midst of God my God of Sickness

Reviews of books I like in the midst of God my God of Sickness

Reviewing under the sign of fever:

Principles of Stratigraphy, Amadeus W. Grabau, Dover, from the 1924
edi- tion. This was written at the end of the period of descriptive
geology; computers and seismic analyses, tectonics and satellite
surveying would come later. The principles, however, can be considered
a non-GIS analysis of surface features through comparison, tracing,
mineralogy, and so forth. I'd recommend this to anyone in the
humanities concerned with informal analysis of data-sets; it's also
an extremely good read, staying close to example. the last section on
Correlation might be immediately useful.

Tinnitus worse, eyes smarting in the light:

The Works of the People of Old, Na Hana a ka Po'e Kahiko, Samuel
Manaiakalani Kamakau, translated Mary Kawena Pukui, edited and
arranged by Dorothy Barriere, Bishop Museum Press, 1976. This is a
collection of articles originally published in an Hawaiian newspaper
1869-1870; the articles cover numerous aspects of Hawaiian life,
including cultivation, fishing, crafts, etc. But what makes the book
wonderful I think are the beginning sections on the calendar, space,
geography, and the horizon. Here we find an amazing phenomenology
of the world which, I think, is applicable as a means of understand
the situated body - for example, the horizon in relation to the body
becomes inordinately complex, not in the sense of coordinates, but in
terms of site, range, immensity, and stance.

Sniffling, difficult breathing.

The Powers of the Word, Rene Daumal, edited Mark Polizzotti, Grove,
1991. Daumal is an anomalous author, and all the work in the book
fascinates. But I want to focus on his essay on The Powers of the Word
in Hindu Poetics, since this presents the theory of the Natyasastra
coupled with the analysis of poetry and poetics found in The Mirror of
Composition, written between the 12th and 16th centuries. "Poetry is
a sentence whose essence is Savor" (rasa) tends towards a brilliant
poetics, opening new territory for all of us. Coincidentally, I have
the full Mirror of Compo- sition, which I've delved into repeatedly;
it's an obscure publication: Bibliotheca Indica, Volume X, The
Sahitya-Darpana or Mirror of Composi- tion, A Treatise on Literary
Criticism; by Viswanatha Kaviraja, revised by Dr. E. Roer, translated
into English by James R. Ballantyne, Calcutta, 1851. This is bound
into a volume on the Nyaya philosophy, also revised by Roer. The
presentation of rasa reminds me of the Natyasastra, which is also
based on a theory of classification. Savor can be taken as a mode or
modes of being-in-the-world; language, word, and vocable are inter-
related. Vocables are words-in-use, not parole, but enunciation; two
attributes are proximity and expectancy - language resides in the
imminent - in the moment, and a sentence started one day and ended
on another problematizes enunciation. If proximity is external (i.e.
the space-time framework holding language together), expectancy is
internal - the forms a sentence takes, for example, in terms of syntax
or meaning (Schutz's relevance theory comes to mind as well). For the
rest, try to find these books (as well as the Natyasastra, which is
available in two large English volumes); you won't be disappointed.

Slightly feverish:

Google Hacks, Tips & Tools for Finding and Using the World's
Information, 3rd edition, Dornfest, Bausch, and Calishain, O'Reilly,
2006. I think this is the one book everyone working the Web should
have - not that I want to ignore the politics of the Google monopoly.
Google is fast, highly config- urable, and as everyone knows, offers
a lot of applications; as a portal to the 'World's Information' it's
suspect, but as a tool, it's more than useful. The book covers things
that I've always wanted to know - for example, how to download your
GMail directories (it's a python program), how to scrape sites for
information, how to program Google (I've used this section from past
editions for creative textwork), things to do with Google maps, how
to scrape and work with Google groups, and so forth. (Does anyone
work with newsgroups anymore?) Once you get the hang of it, Google is
similar to regular expressions; you can filter and manipulate quickly
with all sorts of filtering. I think this book is the best guide
I've seen; although it's in the Hacks series, it gives fundamental
information. Some of the hacks require programming, by the way, but
the programming is relatively simple.

Slight chills:

Sound Dirt, Jim Leftwich and John M. Bennett, Luna Bisonte Prods,
2006. Well this is wonderful; if you're not familiar with their
collaborations, you should be. I tend to like anything John Bennett
does; his poetics reflects particle theory, ignores time, gives
into space only because that's how you get the words there. (As
I've been saying recently - and this has political repercussions -
'There is there there.') The book has immense numbers of short poems;
some remind me of the early Clark Coolidge, but they're cooler, not
developing a poetics, but loosely using anything in sight. Bennett's
publications are prodigious and full of energy and delight; they
relate to code work but barely and aren't. You might reach him at
"John M. Bennett" <bennett.23 {AT} osu.edu> and see what works he's got

More chills:

Unix in a Nutshell, A Desktop Quick Reference, covers GNU/Linux, Mac
OS X, and Solaris, Arnold Robbins, O'Reilly, 2006. I tend to use this
book and the earlier editions a fair amount; I know you can a lot of
information through the man or apropos commands, or forums, or on-line
pdfs, etc. etc. - but I prefer a book by my side, that holds the keys
to the worlds know- ledge. This is the 4th edition, and contains just
about any command you might ever have to use. On editing alone, you'll
find regular expressions, emacs, vi, vim, ex, sed, and awk. There are
useful sections on package management (i.e. software downloads and
configurations) and the various shells. One thing I miss - which is
in the earlier editions - the command 'fold' which allows rough text
justifying that is quite useful; although it's deprecated, it still
seems to be around.

Heartburn and increasing fever:

Web Design in a Nutshell, A Desktop Quick Reference, O'Reilly, 2006.
By now you know I have a connection with O'Reilly - I receive books
gratis for review; I'll only ask for books I feel are useful and worth
owning. O'Reilly books tend to be sophisticated and pricy, but they
also go out of date much less often than other manuals, etc. You can
learn principles as well as technique from them. I began using them in
1994-5 when I bought linux 2.something from them in a small book to
get started; it's continued from there. Anyway this is the 3rd edition
which contains large sections on XML and (X)HTML, the presentation
layer, the behavioural layer (including JavaScript), web graphics,
etc. The web graphics section reviews gifs, jpegs, pngs, animated
gifs, etc., and this is really useful; there's a lot of technical
information on compression, transparency, etc. The final section is
on audio and video media including flash. My own work is primitive in
terms of layout but (hopefully) sophisticated in terms of format; the
book helps.

Headache and shuddering:

Armenian Architecture, 4th to 17th century, Edouard Utudjian, Morance,
Paris, 1968. At the risk of sounding moronic, the structures in this
book seem stripped down; everything depends on location and surface
against or through elementary shapes. There are wall inscriptions,
buildings partially carved out of the rock matrix, and extremely early
fortresses. The architecture is incredibly beautiful, something one
might dream after reading Wittgenstein (go with it). I know next to
nothing about this area; the book is a revelation.

Sore throat:

Early Temples of Central Tibet, Robert Vitali, Serindia, 1990. Tis
book covers some of the few remaining temples after the cultural
revolution in China; 7000 temples and monasteries were destroyed. The
iconography is intense. If humanity is remembered among the world's
organisms for any- thing, it might well be Buddhism, an early and late
outcry against suffer- ing and violence. The plates are stunning,
as are the commentaries. What has been lost is immense; worlds have
disappeared, and in this sense, the book is an elegy as well.

Sleepiness, throat and eye pain:

Dictionary, Samuel Johnson, my editions Vol. 1 1799 8th edition and
Vol. 2 1785 6th edition. Wow! I traded like crazy to get this; I've
used it for my own work. The book is a total delight - it's clearly
meant to be read for pleasure, not just used as a look-up. Now I know
where a lot of other English dictionaries get their start; some of the
words seem exported from Johnson (and used nowhere else). Johnson's
everywhere in the work; it's hardly neutral, and I don't think was
intended to be. This is one of the beat 'reads' I've had in a long

Unbelievably bleary:

Ka, Roberto Calasso - I hadn't heard of him before - ignorance - he's
written a series of amazing books - Ka is concerned with the myths and
gods of India - it's a poetics of groundlessness - I haven't read any-
thing like it - reviews from India seemed incredibly favorable except
for one from (I think) an Indologist - I'm not sure. The Upanishads
and sutras have found their way into my work; this book resonates
with both literary and philosophical interests. It's part retelling
mythos, part commentary, part literature, part phenomenology. Of
course recommended in my ignorance. (The book's not in front of me -
details on Amazon etc.)

Increasing feverishness (is that a word?):

Isvara-Pratyabhijna-Vimarsini, Abhinavagupta, Doctrine of Divine
Recog- nition, 3 volumes (two Sanskrit with commentary by Bhaskari),
edited by Prof. K.A. Subramania Iyer and Dr. K.C. Pandy, Motilal
Banarsidass, 1986. This is the fundamental work of Kashmiri Saivism
around the 9th century. The sutra is concise; each phrase is packed,
and the whole is difficult to understand. But amazing, yes! Ahnika
VII of Jnandhikara (there are four sections each with sections) is
titled 'Presentation of the Lord as the One Basis of All' - but the
lord turns out to be related to Kristeva's chora. The work espouses
a theory of the foundation of knowledge, the shining of objects,
one's place in the order of things - that actually need not turn on
divinity. I've just begun to penetrate the book (the third volume is
an English translation without the commentary), and it's eye-opening.
Read through luminosity into luminosity; it's worth it.

Coughing and sneezing:

The novels and so forth of Philip K. Dick - which I came to just
recently. Mixed feelings brought on by an essay written in relation to
The Man in the High Castle, which appeared somewhat anti-semitic (in
Philip K. Dick, Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings); I find
myself tiring of his Christology, gnostic though it may be - on the
other hand, the rewards are enormous. Ubiq may be my favorite in its
intensity; in almost all the novels there are shifted realities which
fray at the edges - one's never sure of the ground of the real, and
instead holds desperately onto memory-objects which begin the split,
one way or another. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, is great, not
the strongest; The Man in the High Castle and Through a Scanner Darkly
shouldn't be missed; The Divine Invasion is a little too much for me;
I can't get through VALIS; and he may be one of the best writers of
the 20th-century, hot in relation to Ballard's cool. In Dick, the plot
dissolves, oh well, there's got to be a wrap-up at the end, otherwise
forget it; it's 'about' states of knowledge in fictional form; it's
astonishing. We saw a DVD documentary on him; I forget the title, but
stay away; it was the worst video I've seen and that's saying a lot.
Check out what you can find of the Exegesis. Stay away from fans. In
any case I can't understand all the bother about God which is just
about everywhere in some of the novels, and in our culture at the
moment; it's a waste of time, derails any sort of intelligent approach
to (to what? Paine's The Age of Reason, which is terrific) - anyway,
you get the idea.

Feverish again, ready to fall over, medicated:

Nightjars, A Guide to Nightjars and Related Nightbirds, Nigel Cleere
and Dave Nurney, Pica Press, Sussex, 1998 - oh man, these are
wonderful birds - you know them - beautiful calls, amazing aerial
displays (watch the nighthawks!), some echo-location - the birds
that sit on the ground - hardly nest at all - the Oilbird, Potoos,
Frogmouths, all the Nightjars, Whip-poor-wills - some of these were
called goatsuckers, medieval super- stition - then the various
Owlet-nightjars which are somewhere between those groundsitters and
owls and perching-birds and the book is full of wonder! We have a
number of bird books, ornithology books, etc. around here, but this is
one of the most magical; it's technical, but the details are unusual
and these birds are rapidly becoming my favorite (along with the
English sparrow, the anhinga, various cormorants, least terns, etc.).


Key to Pelton's Hemispheres, Designed for Schools and Academies, Sower
and Barnes, 1851. Okay, I've mentioned this before (as well as a few
of the other books here), but it's too weird not to include; this is
an early geography book written to accompany (now missing) school maps
- what's amazing is that the lessons are in rhyme and are meant to
be sung! Think of defining the earth or memorizing Asian lakesto the
tune of Auld Lang Syne, and you get the idea. It's charming and one of
'those books' which are of course way way non-canonic, but should be
read by every student of American lit who gets tired of Hawthorne or
Irving or Cooper. I keep thinking of a musical...

Bleary bleary nasal congestion:

Want to point out that in Johnson's Lives of the English Poets - the
life of Abraham Cowley contains a long section on metaphysical poetry
which is well worth reading; Johnson prefers plainer writing: 'What
they wanted however of the sublime, they endeavored to supply by
hyperbole' - which plays into Kant in an interesting way.

Am I still writing this, turning into flu-like symptoms?

Nick Carter, The Sign of the Prayer Shawl, A New Killmaster Espionage
Adventure, Award Books, 1976, no author: 'Within 48 hours, Airliners
will crash into the world's major financial centers - unless
Killmaster can stop Shintu's men.' The bad guys are Japanese; on the
cover, there's a small image of a passenger plane slamming into the
World Trade Center towers...

Some small tech through heavy vision:

Grundig or Eton Mini 300 World Band Receiver. This costs around $30
and is analog (which helps the sound); it's a simple short-wave with
limited coverage - but it's fairly sensitive and worth far more than
it costs. I use it on trips for both AM and short-wave; with analog,
station hunting is fun. Tuning can be a bit tricky, as the dial's
extremely sensitive. Recommended.

Cough cough:

Ubuntu/Kubuntu linux (the latter uses the KDE desktop, the former
Gnome). I've recently installed this on a fairly fast Dell
desktop. You could install it with your eyes closed. It's like
liquid. It updated 160 packages automatically. You can't log in
as root, but you can as super- user. You can mess things up only
so far. I'm using it for Blender 3D imaging (see for example
http://www.asondheim.org/prosthetic.mp4); it's far better than WinXP
for this. But video still lags behind; Kaffeine (and other players)
tend to crash a fair amount, and you just can't configure the way you
can with Quicktime Pro (which I recommend as well). Ubuntu comes with
OpenOffice, Gimp, and tons of other programs; it's a cinch to download
new things. It networked right out of the box (well, disk), It's the
standard for the CS department at West Virginia University. Definitely
try this, whether or not you're already familiar with linux.
(Actually, since I like to tinker, Ubuntu seems almost too clear, too
complete. But it does take care of all sorts of tasks you really don't
want to do, and leaves time for the fun things like trying to learn

Shake, shudder:

SimpleDrive Portable Storage 80GB external hard drive. My 'other'
external drive gave out; I bought this to use at the Virtual
Environments Lab at WVU. I can do video to and from it, and it reminds
me of a very quiet playing card; it was also inexpensive and runs from
a USB 2 cord (i.e. doesn't need a power supply). Recommended.

Sniff sniff sniff:

Anything by Marguerite Young - her masterpiece is Miss Macintosh,
My Darling, but her luminous prose moves through all her books. I
haven't found a bad one yet. She reminds me of Leduc or Anais Nin in
her poetics of prose; her content is a midwestern Americana with its
utopias, religions, and the lost. Angel in the Forest is great - but
everything she wrote is magical.

Fevered once again:

Apologies for not reviewing everything; I'm behind at the moment,
Please forgive me if your book isn't mentioned yet; it will be.

Thanks, Alan, wheeze wheeze wheeze (falls over dead)

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