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<nettime> Reviews of Numerous Wonderful Books
Charles Baldwin on Sun, 19 Nov 2006 14:55:06 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Reviews of Numerous Wonderful Books


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forward from Alan Sondheim - Sandy

>>> Alan Sondheim <sondheim {AT} panix.com> 11/18/06 11:33 PM >>>


Hi Sandy - You might forward this to nettime; these are books that
people should know about! Although I'm not on the list, there might be
subscribers who would find the stuff useful. I don't want to short-
change anyone because of my personal dynamics.

Thanks, Alan (please send with this preface, thanks again)


Reviews of Numerous Wonderful Books

I haven't done these in a while; I'm fairly behind schedule. But there
are so many exciting things, new and used, that I feel the need to
begin, even if the reviews are encapsulated.

1 Prevention of Railroad Accidents or Safety in Railroading, George
Bradshaw, 1912. This is a small semi-paperback, profusely illustrated.
There are sections on how to move explosives and warnings about not
climbing on the front of a locomotive while it's moving towards you.
"Don't try to open knuckles as cars are about to come together." This
curious work opens a whole new world of course. Look for it!

2 The Book of Talismans, Amulets, and Zodaical Gems, Thomas and
Pavitt, 1914. This is a wonder; there are ten plates plus one colored
plate, covering gnosticism, Egypt, India, the Koran, and so forth. A
lengthly section deals with the mystic qualities of gems. I believe
this has been reprinted..

3 The Ochre Robe, an autobiography, Agehananda Bharati. This is a
troub- ling book by an Austrian who wrote the brilliant The Tantric
Tradition. Bharati was somewhat of a follower of Bose; his account
is oddly harsh, "no-nonsense," and thereby wonderful. Bharati was
an expert, among other things, on Wittgenstein and the British
philosophical tradition; his use of language is precise. I can
recommend both of these books without hes- itation; The Tantric
Tradition for example has an important section on intentional
language. (1970-80)

4 Selected Writings, Walter Benjamin, edited by Jennings, Eiland,
and Smith, Harvard, 2005 paperback, five volumes from the original
hardcover four. All I can say is Wow! These are absolutely amazing.
I've been working on a theory of "defuge" - the roots are here.
There's enough to keep cyberspatial theorists busy for years. The
entries range from frag- ment to extended essay, and there are
probably a couple of hundred of them. This, along with the full
Arcades, has to be one of the monumental philosophical/literary works
of our time.

5 HTML & XHTML, The Definitive Guide, 6th edition, Musciano and
Kennedy, O'Reilly, 2007. I love this book (I received a review copy);
I've used the previous editions as well. It is intelligent, packed
with information, clear, and prescriptive; I can't recommend a better
book for Web authors. Everything from CSS and XML through URLs is
clarified. Even if you only use GUI editing software for Webpages,
this gives you useful information on what goes on "under the hood" -
information that allows you to tweak pages any way you want. There's a
useful webpage for the book as well. The book is also "Safari Enabled"
- which allows you to access it entirely on the Web for a fee. I
used Safari for a while but realized I prefer my books next to me;
not everything has to be on the screen, not even texts about online
organization.

6 Death Scenes, A Homicide Detective's Scrapbook, Katherine Dunn,
text; edited by Sean Tejaratchi, Feral, 1996. I hadn't seen this
before; it's hard to look at. Bodies are blown apart, dismembered,
hung, torn apart, shot, knifed, and so forth. The detective is Jack
Huddleston, who worked in LA from the 20s to the 50s. Dunn's essay
frames the material. The book exposes one beyond CSI coolness;
it's difficult to view without becoming involved; instead of
desensitization, one becomes aware, to a very raw degree, of
humanity's propensity towards violence and annihilation. There's no
way to "bypass" the images. I'd recommend this to everyone, although
one might have nightmares for days after.

7 Pancoast's Tokology and Ladies' Medical Guide, A Complete Instructor
in all the Delicate and Wonderful Matters Pertaining to Women,
1901-03, with "many illustrations," by S. Pancoast M. D., enlarged
and revised by Wesley Cook. There's a description of plates - and the
plates aren't there. There are other plates that aren't listed. The
text sometimes leaves the page altogether due to printing errors, and
the result is something like John Furnival's concrete poetry. The
text is also wonderful; testes, but not the penis, are described;
there are images of anomalies of the vagina, but none of the "normal"
vagina; images of deformed and joined babies accompany the section
on ("normal") childbirth, and the authors on one hand applaud the
emancipation of women and on the other decry suffrage. What comes
through with all of this is the incredible frailty of child- birth
at the time - so much could and did go wrong, as well as a medical
habitus that can report cases from 1650 or so as if they were relevant
and accurate in the early 20th-century. The book in other words is a
pastiche of anecdote and "strict" medical knowledge; it's troubling on
all levels.

8 Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, reprinted numerous times from
1896, by George Gould and Walter Pyle. My edition is two volumes from
1937. This work, composed largely of anecdotes, many of which are
illustrated, is a guide to the monstrous; the images are in extremism.
The result is a semiotics of the plasticity of the human form; the
stories read something like Stekel or Ellis in tone. I think of this
as an antique cabinet of wonders, of course. One of the directions
emphasized by many of the older books above is the relative lack of
structural principles; rumor and exaggeration from the Greeks onward
characterize a kind of fascinating pseudo-science; the greater or more
exaggerated the transformation, the more it holds our interest.

9 The Baburnama, Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, Thackston,
2002. The emperor Babur, 1483-1530, wrote this personal chronicle
of ethnog- raphy, poetics, brutality and war. As the back cover
says, this is "the first autobiography in Islamic literature". The
text is wonder to read out of order; I found myself uninterested in
the historical aspects, but very interested in the description, for
example, of Kabul. The introduction is by Rushdie. I highly recommend
this; it's like nothing I've ever read before.

10 The History of Humayun, Humayun-Nama by Gul-Baden Begam, translated
by Beveridge, first published 1902. Gul-Baden Begam is Babur's
daughter; this account reveals a great deal about a mystic palace,
weddings, court life, and battles, from the viewpoint of an Islamic
woman. I personally found this the more interesting of the texts, but
very different; the two should be read together.

11 The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453, edited Cyril Mango,
Toronto, 1986. Wonderful accounts of the building of St Sophia among
other things. I knew nothing about these texts, which are arranged
thematically and chronologically; there's a mystical account of the
construction which is quite beautiful. The book is texts only; there
are no illustrations.

12 Ancient China's Technology and Science, "Compiled by the Institute
of the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences,"
Beijing, 1983. The sections on mathematics, the south-pointing chariot
and odometer are of great interest. There is a description of the
abacus as well as counting- or mathematical- sticks, which, for me, is
quite important; I wonder if the sticks are related to the Mah Jong
counting sticks. In any case, the sticks are used in quite a different
manner than the usual; the positions determine to some extent their
orientation, and the numerical value is calculated by horizontals and
verticals. There's more than a bit of the old Maoist propaganda here,
but the book is invaluable as a resource.

13 Emotions and Relations, Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Mark
Morrisroe, Jack Pierson, and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, curated F.C.
Gundlach, Taschen, 1987. These photographs are friends and worked with
and through one another at times. The images are stark, disturbing,
discomfiting no matter how you try to frame them. In a different
way, they remind me of the work of Araki, who is also a disturbance,
Larry Clark, others. When an image abandons the punctum for a field
incapable of recuperation, something works on the subject in a
radically different way. These aren't death scenes but life scenes
that simultaneously refuse, slide easily. I do recommend the work of
these photographers, Araki as well, creepy though he may be.

14 A New Course in Reading Pali, Entering the Word of the Buddha,
James W. Gair and W.s. Karunatillake, Motilal, 1998-2005, and
Introduction to Pali, 2nd edition, A.K. Warder, Pali Text Society,
1984. Thanks to Gabe Gudding for the first of these, which contains,
right from the beginning, texts from the Canon. The Pali Canon is a
large and complex collection of works that stem from the time of the
Buddha; they're the heart of the Theraveda. Pali is the language of
the Buddha as well; the texts that survive are spiritual. Pali has no
endemic, specific alphabet; there are a number in use, including the
Roman. The second book contains a more detailed grammar as well as an
extended Pali-English, English-Pali dictionary. Both are beautiful;
I never will learn Pali (I have no patience for anything, including
myself, at my age), but I begin to understand the grammar, the "flow"
of the language, which is tremendously exciting. I'd recommend the
first of these books primarily, but the second is necessary (I think)
as well.

15 Assyrian Language, Easy Lessons in the Cuneiform Inscriptions,
L.W. King, Routledge, 1901, reprinted by AMS. Cuneiform is impossibly
diffi- cult; I find that this book, although antiquated and quite
possibly incorrect, gives a good introduction to the syllabic aspects
of the script. It's a way in. Assyrian is related of course to
Babylonian, Akkadian, Hebrew, Arabic; it's semitic (and therefore
fun!). This book has proved far more useful than I thought it would.
The book goes well with Beginner's Assyrian, D.G. Lyon, reprinted by
Hippocrene.

16. Fijian Grammar, G.B. Milner, Government Press, Fiji, 1972. I'm
fascinated by Hawaiian, Tahitian, Fijian. This is a somewhat complete
grammar; the author immediately departs from western categorizations,
using instead bases, common, particles, voice, etc. The bases and
particles are of particular interest, since they seem to point the way
towards another non-Indo-European semantics of great interest. This is
one of the most interesting language texts I've seen.

17 A Cultural History of Tibet, David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson,
Shambhala, 1968. As with almost all the other books mentioned here, I
have no idea whether or not this is considered "accurate" by today's
standards. I wish I had known about this book earlier; it clarifies
the country (at least for me), provides somewhat of a foundation
for thinking through all those texts and practices in translation.
There it is, at the beginning and end of my library. Recommended as
essential.

18 Nonduality, A Study in Comparative Philosophy, David Loy,
1988. Yes, this is also recommended, also provides a path of
thinking; western references include Derrida; Buddhism, Vedanta,
the Bhagavad-Gita, etc. are covered in detail. I found the work
illuminating; nonduality is opened and released.

19 Field Theory in Social Science, Selected Theoretical Papers, Kurt
Lewin, Harpers, 1951. Mix with Lacan; Lewin developed a topological
field theory of personal and psychological processes; there are
numerous examples (with, I believe, dubious mathematical formulas)
throughout. One can go from here to Lacan to Sokal (who I think
should be given a bit more credence than he is). On the other hand,
the topological tools and notion of a field are quite useful; dynamic
group processes, for example, are analyzed in detail.

20 Revolt, She Said, Julia Kristeva, Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents
Series. Semiotext(e) is the Museum of Modern Art for theorists;
it's simultan- eously hip and canonical; the Semiotext(e) seal of
approval extends far beyond the size of the paperbacks. Be that as
it may, Baudrilliard aside, this is a great book, particularly for
those who love Kristeva (as I do). There are three interviews, the
longest by Philippe Petit; one should definitely read this, but not
as an introduction to Kristeva - instead, a kind of summing up,
metacommentary, analysis.

21 Counter Daemons, Robert O. Harrison, Litmus Press, 2006, and
Elemental Song, Robert O. Harrison, <Answer>, 2006. Harrison sent me
these books. I thought they'd be problematic (he mentioned connection
with computers). This worried me. Instead, they're two of the most
brilliant books of poetry I've read, period. I hope to review them
at greater length later. Counter Daemons reflects both daemons
in unix/linux and Socrates' daemon. The "I" is insistent all the
way through. Computer ideas are used beneath the surface; they
don't dominate, they're not codework, not subtext. They're the dark
matter of the writing. They suffuse the surface which is the depth;
they're not beneath it. The "I" reminds me (everything reminds me of
everything, apologies) of Nicanor Parra's Individual. It's demiurge,
Vedic. In Elemental Song, the stanzas are unrhymed triplets. There
is an "a" that begins the first five; there's a relation with the
longer work. I want to mention these because everyone should buy them.
They're two of the few books of writing I can carry around; they have
that intimacy. The cover of CD is by Brenda Iijima, one of the best
I've seen.

22 Mary Magdalen, The Essential History, Susan Haskins, 2005. This
is just a terrific book to delve into. MM refuses framework, seeps;
there is little to go on historically. Sexuality is there from the
beginning, as perhaps are penitence and leadership. My Nikuko was
partly based on MM; I think she figures through the Preraphaelites and
the Victorian in general. In any case this is thoroughly researched
stunning book that goes to the heart of western culture.

23 The Dark Philosophers, Gwyn Thomas, Library of Wales, 1946-2006.
These three novelettes lie between Proust and P.D. James; the back
cover insists Thomas Hardy and Damon Runyon. I want to recommend the
depths of these; there is coal everywhere in the townscape, and the
violence combined with almost feudal conditions resonates with the
coal regions of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I'm mesmerized by the
stories (still haven't read the third).

24 The Talmud, The Steinsaltz Edition, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Random
House, 1989. The Talmud and its hermeneutics are useful and originary
for textual analysis that mixes surface and depth inextricably. I want
to mention in particular A Reference Guide, which accompanies the
Tractates. There are sections on The Essential Nature of the Talmud,
Aramaic, The Book, Talmudic Terminology, Talmudic Hermeneutics,
Halakhic Concepts and Terms, etc. Some of the concepts defined and
discussed: "There is no absolute chronological order in the Torah."
"If it does not refer to..." "The verse speaks about the present."
"Revealing something." This can usefully be read in conjunction with
Marc-Atain Ouaknin's The Burnt Book, Reading the Talmud, perhaps the
best book I've read on hermeneutics and the phenomenology of the text.

25 Tumult on the Mountains, Lumbering in West Virginia, 1770-1920,
Roy B. Clarkson, first published 1964. I recommend this to anyone
interested in forestry and its environmental impact; almost all
the old (first growth) forest in West Virginia has disappeared. I
never realized either the extent of the damage or the density of the
original forests; they remind me of the old growth on Victoria Island.
The Appalachians were almost tropical; now almost all of this is lost,
and the rest is disappearing with the advent of mountain-topping. It's
horrible; the Appalachians constitute literally one of the thickest
and most variegated ecosystems in the world; as with the tropics, it's
disappearing fast. The book is mainly revealing photographs; there's a
great deal on logging locomotives which operated on somewhat different
principles than the usual engines.

26 Hesiod's Theogony, translated and edited by Richard S. Caldwell,
Focus Classical Library, 1987. Caldwell makes sense of the genealogy;
that alone should give him a Pulitzer. The commentary is lengthy and
excellent; if you're interested in the text, this will be of great
use.

27 The Complete Kama Sutra, Alain Danielou, Park Street, 1994. The
KS is one of the most and worst translated Sanskrit texts. This is
an excellent one (as far as I can tell), with two commentaries, one
traditional and one more or less modern. Because it's complete, there
are sections on morals, economics, conduct, and so forth, in relation
to sexuality and mores. It's far more interesting than the abbreviated
versions.

28 Technological note again: I've been working with PAL cameras, both
in Europe and the US, and find them so far superior to NTSC that the
con- version and difficulty (in the US) is worth it. The reds stay
red; they're not mixed in with the luminance, and don't blur. The
additional lines make for a much sharper picture, somewhat close
to HD. These cameras are more than sufficient for anything online,
relatively inexpensive, and a joy to operate.

29, 30, 31, ... I wish I could read more, could go on! I'd like to
cover, in depth, the work of Joe Amato and the post-Yasusada work of
Kent Johnson. Amato's Virga Under is wonderful; I've been reading
it on and off, but not enough to do anything but recommend it. The
same goes for Kent Johnson's eloquent Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz.
... I've mentioned Marguerite Young before; at this point I think
I have all of her work here - do check it out, give it time, delve
into it; it's worth it. ... And I think I've mentioned Paul Young's
The Cinema Dreams its Rivals, Media Fantasy Films from Radio to the
Internet, which covers the interrelation- ships between film and
video/cyberspace/radio and so forth; film is one of the most inert,
"insoluble" media - the others are aerial, virtual, always already
elsewhere. The interconnections among all of these reveal a lot about
our culture. ... Just found, literally on the sidewalk, Donald E.
Knuth's The TEXbook - TEX is a markup language developed by this
famous programmer, and this book, from 1984-86 is a complete guide to
it. There are a lot of escape keys and backslashings; the description
is worth reading even if one doesn't employ TEX. ... In French:
Dictionnaire de la prehistoire, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, Quadrige, Presses
Universitaires de France, 1988-97 - a beautiful book for delving
into the (roughly) current state of research in the field; there are
probably thousands of sites listed. ... Les Guerres de Demain, Pascal
Boniface, Seuil, 2001 - so many ways to die, so many types of war,
we're always under the gun. I've been reading this on and off; it's
not fun - it's eerie. ... La Suisse de la formation des Alpes a la
quete du futur, pub Migros 1975 - I'd been looking for a book dealing
with the political/cultural/geographic/histor- ical/etc. background
to Switzerland; this seemed the best, in spite of its age. It was 5
fr for 700 pages! Something to read on the plane trip back. - English
again: poems for teeth, Richard Loranger, We Press, 2005 - a wonderful
book of poetry (pardon the use of the same superlatives over and over
again) dealing with... teeth and their condition; it's oddly uncom-
fortable to read, and I hope to get to this later. Each tooth has a
section and a description - "Tooth of Memory" for example. I recommend
this not only for its oddness, but for that very discomfort; teeth
are an aporia of the body-bone itself, this is sensed throughout the
book. - Finally, why not end on The Ladies' Home Journal Treasury,
edited by John Mason Brown, Simon and Schuster, 1956? The writers
include Eugene Field, Helen Keller, John Steinbeck, Bill Malden,
Ethel Waters, Marianne Moore, Daphne du Maurier, Vachel Lindsay, and
Jerome K. Jerome. There are full- color illustrations from covers,
advertisements, and page layouts. Really recommended; it's a great
view of America from, say, 1883 on.

== I offer no apologies for this close to endless listing (providing
one is doing modular arithmetic!); all of the above are useful and
exciting. I've been reading like a fiend, trying to keep up; so many
of these back- ground my own writing (which admittedly is a poor
excuse, but ah well...) - do check them out!

- Alan





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