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<nettime> Book Reviews - Books I like and some hardware/software as well
Alan Sondheim on Wed, 6 Jun 2007 18:17:46 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Book Reviews - Books I like and some hardware/software as well


Books I like and some hardware/software as well (not much)


I'm behind in my reviews; the last few months have been a mess. I may be
missing some books. I may have misplaced. others. I hunger for reading,
but it's all transparent, pathetic, collapsed. There's nothing to say
about reading that hasn't been said before. Humans compress history's
repetition until the world's squeezed out. If I'm missing a book in what
follows, forgive me; the oversight wasn't deliberate, just an effect of
physiology. The following books are in no particular order; for the most
part, they're books that have been more than useful, have been inspira-
tional, works I've returned to at times. I'm including some miscellaneous
reviews of software/hardware as well. (First off, apologies for the poor
style below; it's hard for me to convey sustained excitement, but such
underlies most of what follows.)

Buddhist Dictionary, Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, Nyanatiloka,
Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka. This is an amazing and often
technical work, documenting the terms of the Pali Canon and beyond; it has
information I literally haven't found elsewhere. The Pali vocabulary is
extensive, often highly structured conceptually, and this has proved, not
only to be an invaluable guide, but also an interesting read in itself.

I am a Cat (three volumes), Soseki Natsume, translated Aiko Ito and Graeme
Wilson. The original Japanese work appeared in the first decade of the
20th century; it's an amazing rumination on everything by a cat. The work
is reminiscent of Sterne and I found myself enveloped in it (in a manner
similar to reading something like The Journey to the West); it says a
great deal about Japanese modernization and city life, and is beautifully
written. It's not an 'animal' story in any sense of the term. The work's
available from Tuttle. (Alexanne Don introduced me to this years ago.)

Murray's Hand-Book, India, Burma, and Ceylon, 1898. The world's population
around the time of the French Revolution was twenty-million (according to
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums - required reading). This is another travel-
er's guide, along the lines of the Baedeker's, and is incredibly illumina-
ting in terms of British/colonial attitudes towards the 'Far East' at the
end of the 19th century. It also provides descriptions of places long
since transformed by modernization and war. I've been collecting travel
guides from 1850-1940 for a while now; they're fairly inexpensive, and one
can learn so much by reading, say, the Baedeker on Weimar Berlin. (I used
a Baedeker on Switzerland, late 19th-century, when we were working in the
Alps - the differences in glaciers and routes were of great interest.)

Body Voyage, A Three-Dimensional Tour of a Real Human Body, Alexander
Tsiaras, Time-Warner, 1997. Remember the Visible Human Project? This is a
pictorial overview of the body slices that appeared at the time in another
Time-Warner publication, a cdrom with 'flights' through the body. Both
were and are, even in the current climate of war and plastination, wonder-
ful; they've led to my rethinking avatar phenomenology. Unlike the plas-
tination approach, these images are grounded in the real, but entrenched
in the virtual; they relate to the continuous problematic/aporia of
online/offline life. Check this out if you can.

Japan's Sex Trade, A Journey Through Japan's Erotic Subcultures, Peter
Constantine, Yenbooks, 1993. The title says it all; this is an excellent
and detailed history/description of sex clubs, practices, economies, and
so forth, centered in Tokyo. Think of avatar behavior and imaginary
contact, think of contact with the imaginary; this book is useful.

The Book Before Printing, Ancient, Medieval, and Oriental, David Diringer,
Dover reprint from 1953 original. I think this might be valuable to anyone
thinking through online literature; we tend to take the book and it's
overall topography for granted, but this is a bit ethno-centric. This work
presents a wide range of writing and reading technologies; it's a bit
dated at times in its attitude, but somewhere in it a thesis lurks on
hypertext and the Net.

Competing with the Sylph, The Quest for the Perfect Dance Body, L.M.
Vincent, M.D., Dance Horizons, 1989. Because I work with dancers, who are
already partaking of the imaginary, I've been interested in dancers'
bodies, disorders, and so forth. I deal with this issues, and this book,
however rambling and strange, is one of the better accounts of at least
some of the issues. Read the book, build an avatar, dream of escaping
Second Life: they're all related. Now the book is almost twenty-years old,
admittedly; the material might be out of date.

New Media Art, Mark Tribe, Reena Jana, ed. Uta Grosenick, Taschen, 2006.
Everything is new media art; there is no new media art; there are no new
media; everything is new media, etc. etc. It comes down, I think to what
one's interested in; I find manifestos and exclusionary politics detri-
mental in an environment of over a billion communicators. That said, this,
for me, has been one of the most interesting accounts of at least some
online work; Carnivore, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Jodi, Natalie
Jeremijenko, etc. are included. I'd get this one and then get as many
others as possible and then stay online for hours on end, read the entire
archives of nettime, install linux, check out all the websites you can;
then you might get at least an image of new media, or maybe not, and you'd
have to repeat the whole thing the following week anyway.

Film as a Subversive Art, Amos Vogel, Random House, 1974. Find this, buy
this, read it. This is one of the most inspiring books on film, from
experimental to counter-culture to, yes, subversive, ever. If you're
making film, read this; if you're watching Turner Classic Movies late-
night, read this. The book is heavy on the 60s, but does a good job on
very early cinema as well - and it stresses those auteurs, etc. who turned
film and culture upside-down. There's an image of Fred Baker's Events with
the comment "The most dangerous image known to man (sic.) Though it por-
trays the most universal, most fundamental, most desired human act, it
must not be shown (either in its joining of bodies or coupling of organs),
be it because sex is (still) considered sinful or because of an atavistic
fear that the act will spring from the screen and invade the audience with
its heavenly power. As long as this image is forbidden, its presentation
will be a liberating act." There's a romanticism in this and the book as a
whole for that matter, but its emphasis on the materiality of film and
filmic representation is a great antidote to the smooth swallowing of
current mass media.

Bharata, The Natyasastra, Kapila Vatsyayan, Sahitya Akademi, 1996, and Dr.
Manomohan Ghosh's translation of the full Natyasastra by Bharata in two
volumes, Calcutta, various editions. The first is somewhat of an explica-
tion of the second, and invaluable in its analysis of the 'implicit and
explicit text'; it also lists all the known mss. of the Natyasastra. The
original may or may not have been written between 200 b.c.e. and 100
a.c.e. or earlier. It is a compendium of Indian dramaturgical theory which
includes poetry, song, drama, dance, art, theater construct, and music; it
is perhaps the first phenomenological treatise of performance and its
theory of rasa is still influential today. I've used the work in my own
studies and writings on performance. I can't say enough good about it! One
has to wade through endless listings, read between the lines and as many
introductions as one can find, in order to understand the theory and its
foundation. But such a reading provides an inexhaustible sourcebook for
current art - particularly for understanding avatars and their positioning
culturally and in relation to the body. You can find cheap editions on abe
and other second-hand sources; order both volumes (as well as Vatsyayan's
introduction) from India.

How to Play Tabla and Bongo-Congo with Pictures; and How to Play Flute,
both by Vikas Aggarwal, Creative Publication, Delhi. These are excellent
introductions to Indian music and tabla/flute technique (forget the bongo-
congo (sic)!), although the English is so bad, and there are so many
untranslated terms, that I've been literally driven crazy, trying to make
heads or tails out of these. But if you have patience, look up the terms
online, and so forth, these will prove quite useful. Order from India;
when they're imported, the prices seem to rise unacceptably.

Avatars of Story, Marie-Laurie Ryan, Minnesota, 2006. I love this book,
although my method of reading has been to bounce around in it. Everything
from offline through Eliza and Olia Lialina is considered in terms of
avatar and narrative; there's a useful typology of games and a discussion
of narrative metalepsis, transgressive break of the 'narrative stack.'
Codework and Memmott and Cayley are brought up in relation to this. I must
admit I don't see Cayley's work as 'codework' but he's cited over and over
again; I'd be a lot happier with Cramer or Baldwin or anyone else really
working in the area (obviously I have a stake in this). If we don't get
down to the abject heart of the semiotic, we'll never understand this
area, if area it is. Ah well; do read the book; again, it expands the
notion of avatar/s which seems to dominate these reviews.

The Barons' Wars, Mymphidia, and Other Poems, Michael Drayton, Routledge,
1887. He's a contemporary and probably friend of Shakespeare. I've been
reading his sonnets, which seem half towards Donne and half oddly post-
modern and for that reason alone, they're really worth a look.

The Singing Life of Birds, The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong,
with CD, Donald Kroodsma, Houghton Mifflin, 2005. If anything this book
indicates how deaf we really are; birdsongs are amazing, starlings sing
recursively (previously thought a primary condition of human language),
some species have upwards of 2400 different songs; there are regional
dialects; some species sing instinctual patterns, most don't; and so
forth. We're dealing with languaging here, not 'bird-brains' in any sense
but the literal, of the word. This book not only has extended accounts of
a number of species, but also a tight correlation with the cd; I began to
understand what I was listening to. This is really highly recommended; we
have to do everything we can to break down anthrospeciation (is that a
word?) - and begin to understand, if not the consciousness, at least the
cultural manifestations, of animals in general.

Letter to a King, A Peruvian Chief's Account of Life Under the Incas and
Under Spanish Rule, Huaman Poma, translated by Christopher Dilke, Dutton,
1978. I definitely want to draw your attention to this book, since I
haven't heard of it (and should have). It not only complements the
'classic' accounts of the conquest and its aftermath; it reads as new and
vital material. If you're interested in this area of culture and history,
find and read the book. Given the quality, I'm amazed it's been unknown
(at least to me) for so long. Heavily illustrated by the original author.

Planet of Slums, Mike Davis, Verso, 2006. This book is critical; everyone
should read it. Material on the future of the world; I saw this first-hand
at work in Ciudad Juarez and now it's fifteen years later. This isn't
virtual, but virtuality plays a role, Harry Potter as catalyst to accusa-
tions of witchcraft in Zaire. Davis is known for theatrical, almost roman-
ticized, accounts of Armageddon; the problem is they're true. The work is
excellent as source-material, bibliography, as well.

The Alpbach Symposium 1968, Beyond Reductionism, New Perspectives in the
Life Sciences, edited by Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smythies. There was a
brief period when semiotics, holism, cybernetics, mini-computers, systems
theory, Waddington's evolutionary theory, etc. came together in a wonder-
ful synthesis. One doesn't hear Waddington's name anymore, and most
syntheses have broken apart in the light of dark matter, Iraq, extinctions
and global warmings. But this book and others like it serve as a reminder
that there might be hope yet, that visions might still, on some level,
cohere. This book has Koestler's Some General Properties of Self-Regulat-
ing Open Hierarchic Order, which is well worth the read.

Overtime, Selected Poems, Philip Whalen, intro. by Leslie Scalapino,
edited by Michael Rothenberg. My fault, but I never had a 'hold' on Whalen
before, and this book (like the one following) is an absolutely wonderful
and deep and wry collection; this is an important - perhaps _the_ impor-
tant strain in American literature, giving as it does some knowledge of
space and the wild in the very strain of the language. It's a book I can
return to again and again (that sounds idiotic but it's true). I would
recommend everyone get a copy of this as well as

The Gary Snyder Reader, 1952-1998. (See the above.) Not to mention the
obvious connections w/Buddhism and perhaps a bit of Bon.

Semiotique, dictionnaire raisonne de la theorie du langage, A.J. Greimas
and J. Courtes, Hachette, 1979. One can have fun with serious French
dictionaries, and this one is inspiring; I hadn't heard of it before
(which indicates my ignorance), but I've found it very very useful.

Mind-Seal of the Buddhas, Patriarch Ou-i, translated J.C. Cleary, Sutra
Translation Committee. This book is distributed freely and the Sutra is
beautiful, as is the description of the Pure Land. And I think I've
mentioned before Thomas Cleary's translation of The Flower Ornament Sutra
(referenced by the Mind-Seal), The Avatamsaka Sutra, the most beautiful
Sutra I've ever read, and a masterpiece of world literature - it's also
one of the longest Sutra around! (Are the Clearys related? The Clearies?)

Introduction to the Middle Way, Chandrakirtis Madhyamakavatara with
Commentary by Jamgon Mipham, translated by the Padmakara Translation
Group, Shambhala, 2002. I can't really review this, since I've been
reading in it very inconsistently, but if you're interested in Buddhist
philosophical discourse or the Madhyamika school, this book is perfect.

Devices of the Soul, Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines, Steve
Talbott, O'Reilly, 2007. This is a collection of articles originally
published in The Nature Institute's online newsletter, NetFuture (they've
been revised for the book). I must note his comments on bird-feeders are
off; he states that 'A feeder draws a dense, "unnatural" population of
birds to a small area. This not only encourages the spread of disease, but
also evokes behavioral patterns one might never see in a less artificial
habitat.' In fact recent studies have shown feeders are not detrimental,
that birds can go easily with or without them, but that they're convenient
- and the animals don't become dependent. But then this might not be right
either; in any case, he calls for a conversancy with the natural world
that rings true. The book is written simply, which is wonderful; at first,
I thought too much so - then I was irritated, now I love it. One has to
approach machines with care, one has to deconstruct the rhetoric around
them. This isn't a Luddite work at all; it's an interesting analysis in
favor of a conversant humanism. He takes for example Rodney Brooks to task
for his analysis of humans-as-machines. This book is a must for anyone
working on the social-machine interface, from someone in the field.
(Talbott wrote The Future Does not Computer and has been a software pro-
grammar. He writes from the inside-out.)

Recorders: I generally use Sony Minidisk for my work, but recently I've
been interested in different technologies. Here's an older one - the Sony
Mic'n Micro M-100MC micro-cassette recorder 'For Lectures and Meetings' -
and its fabulous for both. It has something called 'Clear Voice' built in;
the result is not very high-quality sound, but an absolutely perfect way
to record voice, which comes through loud and, yes, clear. The recorder
can be placed anywhere - on a table in a coffee-shop for example, and does
a good job taking out background noise, and focusing on speech. I almost
bought one of these new a few weeks ago, but found the same for $3 at a
garage sale. I also want to recommend the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder
WS-300M; this is also an .mp3 and .wma player, but more importantly, it's
solid-state, it's recording quality is quite good, and it can be plugged
directly into a USB connection. I've been using it for film/video work
since it also has a very delicate voice activation control which makes 03
interesting effects.

Head, w/ The Monkees, 1968. Check out this film written by Jack Nicholson.
Monkees deconstruct, implode. No plot, no beginning titles, pure celluloid
roll. Sequences break down, Vietnam images ending with blonds. Monkees
self-destruct. Play this against Apocalypse Now; they're not that dissimi-
lar. I was never a Monkees fan, but neither is this film. It's astounding.
Brilliant. Look for Victor Mature, Frank Zappa, Sony Liston, others.

GraphCalc - I was looking for a good scientific calculator to work with in
WinXP, and I found this free one on Sourceforge. It's excellent, based
somewhat I think on the TI graphing calculators, but with much more
computing power, of course. I found a TI-85 at a garage sale recently for
$2. It's much more useful than I thought it would be; not only does it
program, but it has built-in functions like cosh and tanh, does parametric
equations, polar coordinates, and has really good zooming capabilities. I
started working with the equation y = sqrt(k - f(x)*tan(x^2)) on it (which
is similar to just y = tan(x^2) in terms of the raster patterns it pro-
duces. Highly recommended for fiddlers.

The John Franklin Bardin Omnibus (The Deadly Percheron, The Last of Philip
Banter, Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly), Penguin, 1976. These novels are
amazing, reminiscent of Philip K. Dick; I hadn't heard of Bardin before.
These were written in the 1940s and are like nothing else in the period.
They're dark, psychological, ridden with issues of identity and potential
madness - check them out.

A few sites of interest - the Odyssey art and performance page on Ning,
http://odysseyart.ning.com/ and Odyssey in Second Life - the work of Gaz,
Sugar Seville, Patrick Lichty, Ian Ah, among others; Facebook but not
Myspace; and why are my listings going down in Google week after week?
Check out the amazing repository / archive of files at
http://www.textfiles.com/directory.html . For the best discussion of
climate I've seen, go to Real Climate, http://www.realclimate.org/ . If
you don't know NOAA weather, you should; the site has complete discussion
of current conditions in the US, as well as the phenomenology behind them
- NOAA at http://www.weather.gov/ .

Ossi Oswalda!!! - has become my favorite silent film star, after seeing
her in Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess (Die Austernprinzessin), 1919,
and I don't want to be a Man (Ich mochte kein Mann sein), 1920. Her acting
is furious and incredibly intense, comedic with a very dark edge something
like the early Courtney Love. I'm trying to find more of her work. I don't
want to be a man is way ahead of its time, and The Oyster Princess is so
over the top that it's interesting today - not as 'silent film' - but as
brilliant satire.

Abel Gance's Napoleon - this is just one of the most brilliant silent
films ever, almost unobtainable today. It was originally made for
simultaneous triple projection; the images were interlocked in all sorts
of ways. There's a VHS version you might find second-hand; I had it
converted to two DVDs (the film's quite long). If you haven't heard of
this, look it up online; needless to say it's amazing.

Siva Purana, Uttarakhanda, Text with English Translation and Introduction,
Dr. U.N. Dhal, Nag, 2000. Anything about Siva is going to be terrific -
this is a translation of a major portion of the Purana. Sanskrit and an
odd English rendering are given. You can find this, again, online - order
direct from India (through abe).

I don't feel I've done my homework on the Purana, done Steve Talbott
justice, understood the ins and outs of the Madhyamika; I travel far too
quickly through regions I know little about. I want to know Chinese and
Japanese and cuneiform, but don't have the time or ability to _sit still_
and learn them. I read Make magazine - an O'Reilly publication I swear by
- but I haven't built anything but a VLF radio and antenna in years. I
scurry too quickly - I worry too much about death and this summer I don't
have my favorite laboratory machines to play with. I'm afraid reading
novels take up too much time; Whalen and Snyder are caresses. I don't want
to end up like Ossi Oswalda or at least without doing something as good as
her work was. I want to learn more about the Planet of Slums and do some-
thing about the human condition. I'm lazy and arrogant and run around
signing petitions at best. In any case at one point I read a biography of
the (real) monk in The Journey to the West, he brought thousands of Bud-
dhist scriptures to China, and I wonder how many people were alive then
and what were they carrying?


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