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<nettime> Review of Books I Like (and think you might too)
Alan Sondheim on Mon, 18 Feb 2008 10:57:13 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Review of Books I Like (and think you might too)





Review of Books I Like (and think you might too)


I'm remiss on reviewing for the past few months; I'm been jammed with any
number of things from current research to the death of a loved cat, my own
bad health, moving to West Virginia for close to a year. The books aren't
in any particular order - which I prefer, hopefully giving an element of
surprise.

The Essential Blender, Guide to 3D Creation with the Open Source Suite
Blender, edited by Roland Hess, blenderfoundation, 2008. The book comes
with a cd-rom including Blender 2.44, otherwise downloadable of course.
I've used Blender for years now; it's an amazing and lean 3D program that
runs on pretty much any platform, and has become increasingly easy to use.
When I began, there wasn't any menu bar; now there are complete menus,
keyboard shortcuts and the like. The program does everything from inverse
kinematics to gaming to video or still image output; you can even program
Python with it. The book introduces the program, gets you started; it's
the first in a forthcoming series presenting specific information in
relation to gaming, design, etc. I strongly urge you to get it, download
the program, and begin! While there is a tremendous among of online
information at blender.org etc., I've always found a manual more conven-
ient - it's faster, leaves the screen alone, makes good subway reading.
Like all the Blender manuals, this one is excellent and abjures the
over-the-top design of some of the others. By the way, Blender is great
for design/art/multi-media courses; consider introducing your students to
it.

Windows Vista Annoyances, David A Karp, O'Reilly, 2008. I needed a high-
powered desktop cheap, ended up with an HP quad w/sata, etc. But I didn't
need Vista. I had no choice, given the particular configuration I wanted
and could afford. The result is a terrific rendering machine with a horrid
operating system; I won't go into the problems of user account control,
disappearing files, insane terminal error messages, absence of such useful
programs as telnet, and just plain craziness. I'm using the free version
of TweakVI and a program called TweakUAC, CCleaner, CoreFTP Lite, AVG, and
Desktop Maestro; I can't afford more. I looked at a LOT of Vista books,
and found this the best for configuration and resource. It doesn't get rid
of UAC, but it helps. Enough said.

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, John Powers, Snow Lion, 1995. I have
been working through Tibetan, Madhyamaka, and Pali Canon philosophies
recently, in order to reconfigure distinctions among real, virtual, anal-
og, digital, dream, hallucination, sign, anysign, and world and true
world. I needed a guide into the complex culture of Tibetan Buddhism in
particular, and can recommend this one in particular; it's extremely
detailed, lends itself as an introduction to other texts, and cleared up
some confusion I had in relation to doctrine, sect, and history. If you're
going to read one book on the subject, I would think this would be it.
(Another approach of course is to read one or another originary text in
translation; see below.)

Contemporary Poetics, edited by Louis Armand, Northwestern, 2007. I'm in
this volume, so I'm prejudiced, but I see few anthologies giving much
credence to codework of any sort. The book has materials from McKenzie
Wark, Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff, Bruce Andrews, Gregory Ulmer,
Steve McCaffery, Armand, and others; there are references to Frege, Joyce,
Acker, Cage, etc. and the essays are terrific. Do check this out!

Living on Cybermind, Categories, Communication, and Control, Jonathan Paul
Marshall, Peter Lang, 2007. Again I'm prejudiced, since Michael Current
and I began Cybermind together near the beginning of 1994, and the book is
a lengthy and detailed ethnography of the list. That said, I was pleased
at its brilliant analysis of online communication in general; on a person-
al note, it was oddly rewarding to find myself one of a number of subjects
of ethnographic research. This is the most detailed work I've seen on
online communication; it avoids the usual statistical approaches (although
an appendix presents these) in favor of a phenomenological attitude that
emphasizes terms like _asence_ ("The suspension of certainty between
presence and absence which is experienced online. Asence is often resolved
by acknowledgment.") and _aura_ ("The 'total communication' which occurs
in the background or off the particular Internet social formation it
surrounds."). I _use_ this book constantly in my work, and you might find
it useful as well.

Tibetan Religious Dances, Tibetan text and annotated translation of the
'chams yig, Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Paljor, (reprint) 2001. This book
is a translation of a manual for sacred dances with an amazing root text
running through it. The major part of it was written by the fifth Dalai
Lama, 1617-1682 and was for use of a lamasary within the Potala precincts.
I've used this book in thinking through ritual movement within the true
world, Second Life for that matter; you might find it of great interest as
well, particularly if you're concerned with movement, ritual, rite, and/or
Tibetan Buddhism in general.

The Story of Tibet, Conversations with the Dalai Lama, Thomas Laird,
Grove, 2006, is one of the best introductions to Tibetan history and
culture. Laird is not a 'believer,' however defined, and his conversations
are dialogic; one gets an insight both into Tibet and the Dalai Lama. This
book came highly recommended to me, and for good reason; it should be read
by everyone interested in the philosophy and moment of Tibetan Buddhism,
as well as recent Tibetan history. Like Powers' book above, this is
extremely illuminating.

A Theory of Semiotics, Umberto Eco, Indian, 1976. This might well be the
best background or theory book on the phenomenology and semiotics of code
- and of everything else - I've seen. I've always been surprised it hasn't
been required reading in any theory 'canon'; perhaps its complexity is the
reason. In any case, it's essential, fundamental. There are 110 pages on
the theory of codes. I think the book a classic; if you find a copy, buy
it. I think it goes well with Instruments of Communication, An Essay on
Scientific Writing, by Patrick Meredith, Pergamon, 1966; I hadn't heard of
this book until I found a copy in Pittsburgh. It too deserves to be better
known; it works through forms of representation, issues of meaning, and
the instrumentality of language. It reminds me of Kripke's Meaning and
Necessity. I can't review it; unlike the Eco (which I studied intently),
I've been reading into this, on and off, for a while. Do check it out if
there's a university library around.

Kalachakra Tantra, Rite of Initiation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
translated, edited, and introduced by Jeffrey Hopkins, Wisdom, 1999. This
book is great and at least for me is a core text itself for comprehending
the true world, the inherency and emptiness of 'real' and 'virtue,' any-
sign, the image/imaginary, and so forth. Hopkins' introduction is amazing
and he 'walks' you through the Kalachakra mandala. The book requires
careful attention, and it's problematic whether it should be 'public' at
all, since the tantric rites are generally protected, somewhat secret, and
are of course for initiates. So I'm reading this as an outsider who at
best is a fellow traveler; as such, I more than recommend it.

Apparitions of the Self, The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Vision-
ary, Janet Gyatso, Motilal Banarsidass, 2001. The visionary is Jigme
Lingpa. The autobiographies are Dancing Moon in the Water and Dakki's
grand Secret-Talk, and they took my breath away. The book has copious
notes and commentary, the texts are classics in any number of genres, and
if you can find this online or at your local Tibetan bookstore, pick it
up. (There was one in Brooklyn, where I found this and many other texts;
it's unfortunately closed.)

The Emptiness of Emptiness, An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamika,
C.W. Huntington, Jr., and Geshe Namgyal Wangchen, Motilal Banarsidass,
2003, but first published by U. Hawaiian Press, 1989. This is a trans-
lation of, and commentary on, Candrakirti's Madhyamakavatara, The Entry
into the Middle Way, which itself is a commentary on Nagarjuna. Candra-
kirti's text is referenced everywhere; I have two translations of it. I
find the work tough going, but illuminating (in both versions), but I
wouldn't read it without reading Nagarjuna first, of course.

I want to speak briefly of my inclusion of so many Buddhist/philosophic
texts. I find them immensely useful and interesting, in light of a general
movement, online, towards virtual communalities, etc.; my work with
emanents, avatars, SL, and so forth, is part of this. These texts tend to
emphasize emptiness, imagining, virtual deity, co-dependent co-origina-
tion, issues of purity, and other concepts or areas that move elsewhere
than the subject/object or language/psychoanalytics orientation of most of
the western (European, American, etc.) theory I've read. I found myself at
an impasse. It's too easy on the other hand to move towards or through
'spirituality' with these texts - something I resist at any rate. Rightly
or wrongly I find a philosophic Buddhism without issues of rebirth, and I
find enough without these issues to give me hope in a different way of
looking at the world, a different way of inhabiting it. My recent writing
reflects this direction, murky as it (my recent writing) is. Now back to
reviews. -

Popular Physics, Peck's Ganot,, or Introductory Course of Natural Phil-
osophy, for the use of Schools and Academies, edited from Ganot's Popular
Physics, by William G. Peck, A.S. Barnes, 1873. revised from 1860. This is
the book I've described with a section on 'electrical recreations'; it
also formed a basis for rethinking the phenomenology of matter, both
'real' and virtual, in light of the sections on electrostatics and elec-
trical fluid. The engravings, often of young men demonstrating sparks,
etc., to young women, have been useful, and eventually led me to getting a
copy of Ganot's Traite Elementaire de Physique, Paris, chez l'auteur,
1854, third edition. This is an advanced university text; Peck's text was
modeled on Ganot's rewrite of the Traite for younger students. The young
men and women, even electrical recreations, are gone, but the illustrat-
ions are by far the best steel engravings I've seen, and amazingly useful
- they provide an accounting of the state of knowledge, both magnetic and
electrical, static and dynamic (not to mention the other subjects of
physics), of the mid-19th century material world (which may or may not be
the same as our own). A philosophy of matter is presented here, in short,
and, again, it relates to online versions/visions of worlds, something I'm
drawing out at the moment.

A System of Natural Philosophy, J.L. Comstock, Pratt Woodford Farmer and
Brace, 1854, fifth stereotype revision, and the same, Robinson and Pratt,
1841, 'Stereotyped from the fifty-third edition,' but most likely the
first revised edition (if that). These, again, are elementary physics
texts for use in the United States; they are equally fascinating in their
presentation of matter, and odds and ends (which is where such things as
Sharp's Rifle and House's Printing Telegraph are found). The descriptions
of matter, electrical fluid, and the like, augment Peck and Ganot; I've
been working with all four volumes. If you're interested in the social
phenomena of electrostatics, I'd recommend Peck; if you're interested in
the technical details, go back to Ganot. But all of them differ in inter-
esting ways - in the description of electrical machines, for example.

Several other older texts:

Radio Phone Receiving, A Practical Book for Everybody, by various, van
Nostrand, 1923. An excellent guide to the state of early radio on the
verge of widespread broadcasting. Sections on crystal radio, vacuum tube,
commercial broadcasting, etc.

The Telegraph Instructor, G.M. Dodge, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1908, fourth
edition. From the only telegraph operator's school in the US at the time.
This book has proved one of the most useful on codes and early communica-
tions technology; while the telegraph originated decades earlier, its
increasing complexity led to the development of more codes and more com-
plex codes, which I've described elsewhere. They were needed for trains,
for ships, for crossings of all sorts, for press corps, for private and
public communications, and so forth; they were required to be succinct,
and almost without redundancy, since cable space/time was money. They were
also required to be checked for accuracy. If a cable went down, either
shorting or left open, the location of the break had to be determined as
fast as possible. All of this required an enormous amount of knowledge, and
all of this is described in Dodge's textbook.

Hawkins Electrical Guide, various editions, Hawkins and Staff, Audel,
1914-1917, etc. I use these constantly; the volumes I have (which still
can be found, relatively inexpensive) cover such things as electric
trains, trolleys, and cars; crystal radio receivers and transmitters;
therapeutic and medical uses of electricity and x-rays; electrical meas-
urement; motion picture camera and projector technology; and telegraphy
(codes, printouts, sounders, etc.). You can build from these books; you
can also get an understanding how, for example, electrostatics ended up in
the form of vaginal and rectal electrodes (among other things). I do want
to praise the Audel's series/handbooks in general; they cover everything
from rouge to automobiles, and they're authoritative.

Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic Satirist, Culture and Catastrophe in Habsburg
Vienna, Edward Timms, Yale, 1986. Kraus is one of my favorite writers, in
spite of his problematic, feminism/anti-feminism, occasional conservatism,
etc. His writing and condemnations of war, anti-feminism, misuse of lang-
uage and psychoanalysis, is fierce. His Jewishness is odd; he turned
towards and then away from, Catholicism. Timms goes as far as possible
into understanding him. I found a first edition of Die letzten Tagen der
Menschheit (Last Days of Mankind) and was thrilled; I'm amazed he wasn't
hung for it. One of his books, Spruche und Widerspruche, has been trans-
lated by Jonathan McVity as Dicta and Contradicta in a very neat volume
published by Illinois, 2001; I most highly recommend this (I find the
German so compressed, I can't read it without the translation) which
resonates with his more-than-aphoristic style.

The Concealed Essence of the Hevajra Tantra, with the commentary Yogarat-
namala, G.W. Farrow and I. Menon, Motilal Banarsidass, 2001. This is one
of the main non-dual Yogini tantras, and I love it; in particular, there
is a lot on secret sign language, on the fire sacrifice, on purification,
on nonexistence, and so forth. Translated from Sanskrit and Tibetan. For a
Chinese version, somewhat different but again quite beautiful, there is
The Chinese Hevajratantra, Ch. Willemen, Motilal Banarsidass, 2004.

Counterexamples in Topology, Lynn Arthur Steen and J. Arthur Seebach, Jr,
Dover, 1995, from the 1978 edition. The book gives around 150 counter-
examples of topological spaces, which are quite useful in thinking through
analog/digital (or discrete) issues and their meeting at the limits. It's
also fun to read, imagining some of the oddest mathematical models around.

The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, Michel Foucault,
Pantheon, 1971. This slippery text, which you must know better than I do,
deserves a closer look; it resonates, I think, with Buddhist epistemology
in its problematizing of language and statement, its diffusion, and at
times the language reminds me of the Flower Ornament Sutra. Ok, far-
fetched, and I'm deeply Foucault-ignorant, but it seems that the work is
increasingly useful in considering outdated real/virtual distinctions.

bash Cookbook, Carl Albing, JP Vossen, and Cameron Newham, O'Reilly, 2007.
I asked O'Reilly to send me this as a review copy; I love the bash shell,
and this book presents the world of it. There are chapters on scripting,
shell tools, getting started, novice 'goofs'; there are numerous reference
lists as well. As I've said before, the O'Reilly books have been a guide
for me, from Linux 2.0 stuff on. They're intelligent, amazingly well-
written, authoritative, and backed up online. There's no wasted space and
they're well-printed, rarely going out of date - I'm using ones that are
twenty years old. I particularly like the degree of detail which allows
someone, from a novice to a programmer, to quickly find the tools she
needs. I also like the fact they're _books_; for a while I subscribed to
Safari (when I could afford it!), but I ended up carrying the books around
instead - they make good reading away from the computer as well. I highly
recommend this book to anyone working in Unix/Linux; you won't regret it,
and you'll use it often.

Overview of Buddhist Tantra, General Presentation of the Classes of Tan-
tra, Captivating the Minds of the Fortunate Ones, Panchen Sonam Dragpa,
translation by Martin J. Boord and Losang Norbu Tsonawa, Library of
Tibetan Works and Archives, 1996. This text is from the 15th-16th century;
I read it in conjunction with F.D. Lessin, Alex Wayman, Introduction to
the Buddhist Tantric Systems, Mkhas-grub-rje (1385-1438), Samuel Weiser,
1980. I prefer the latter which is elegant and beautiful to read. (I know
I'm using 'beautiful' as well as 'useful' a lot, and this text is of
course both.)

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle way, Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakar-
ika, translation and commentary by Jay L. Garfield, Oxford, 1995. This
sets out the Middle Way, and is _the_ philosophical text, I think, under-
lying almost all the others I describe here. A great deal of Nagarjuna's
work - including works on logic - has been translated, and is well worth
reading. I'm currently stumbling through Nagarjuna's Refutation of Logic
(Nyaya), Vaidalyaprakarana, translated from the Tibetan by Fernando Tola
and Carmen Dragonetti. The paradoxes _matter._ Emptiness resonates with
true world, at least in my mind. What more can I say?

Cabaret Performance, Sketches, Songs, Monologues, Memoirs, Volume II:
Europe 1920-1940, selected and translated, with commentary by Laurence
Senelick, Johns Hopkins, 1993. This book is important to me, as are any
number of others dealing with Weimar (etc.) cabaret; I'm influenced by
such figures as Valeska Gert and Anita Berber. (This comes out clearly in
the SL performances.) Cabaret Performance presents material from them and
a number of other people; there's been a _lot_ of material on cabaret from
this period, which was way ahead of its time. I've reviewed The Seven
Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber before; you can begin
there, or online with google, etc.; in any case the material in Senelick's
book ranges over far wider territory and is an absolute revelation.

Prehistoric Digital Poetry, An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995, C.T.
Funkhouser, Alabama, 2007. Disclaimer: my work is in it. Claimer: This is
by far the most generous text I've seen on the origins and meanderings of
digital literary-plus forms; I think it's fundamental, if anything is.
Funkhouser ranges over a vast territory, from codeworks through concrete
poetry, from Mac Low to hypercard. This should be essential reading in any
experimental/new media/electronic literature/writing class; it's also fun!

The Lankavatara Sutra, A Mahayana Text, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Motilal
Banardsidass, 1999, from the London 1932 edition; and Studies in the
Lankavatara Sutra, D.T. Suzuki, Mushiram Manoharlal, 1998, from the
original 1930 edition. Everyone knows D.T. Suzuki; this is clearly his
masterwork - his translation of the sutra, and subsequent analysis. I find
his emphasis on Zen somewhat biased (as, elsewhere, his emphasis on
Bushido and Rinzai Zen), but he's done an invaluable service in this
translation - and better yet, it's now available, along with commentary,
in relatively inexpensive Indian editions. The sutra is wonderful, if for
no other reason than the amazing list of questions and answers propounded.
This is an important sutra, and Suzuki discusses the theory of mind,
externals, and egolessness inherent in it. Not to be missed I think.

Introduction to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with
Commentary By Jamgon Mipham, translated by the Padmakara Translation
Group, Shambhala, 2002. This should be read in conjunction with the other
translation listed above; this is by far the most poetic. The text is
highly compressed in the original, and both commentaries help elucidating
Chandrakirti's meaning.

Tantra in Practice, edited by David Gordon White, Motilal Banarsidass,
2001. This is a great collection of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Islamic
texts; it's incredibly wide-ranging and includes both contemporary
commentary and translations. One of the best detailed collections of
tantric rites.

Beautiful Code, Leading Programmers Explain How They Think, edited by Andy
Oram and Greg Wilson, O'Reilly, 2007. All I can say is this is currently
my favorite computer book; I'm learning more about programming practices
than I have from years of kludging! This goes well with another currently
my favorite computer text, Paul A. Fishwick's Aesthetic Computing, MIT,
2006. Both of these chart out territories of deep code and visualization -
from the visualizing of programming itself, to interfacing and image pro-
duction. I think these are the two books to get, in terms of coding and
new media; I frankly prefer them to any of the straightforward anthologies
out there.

Feynman, Lectures on Computation, edited by Tony Hey and Robin W. Allen,
Perseus, 1996, reprinted with corrections, 1999. This is an interesting
guide to coding, communication, computation and thermodynamics of com-
putation, quantum computers, etc. There's a good section on the physical
aspects of computation. If you like Feynman or are interested in a very
readable exposition of difficult material, you'll like this, in spite of
the fact some of it is out of date (but not the basic material).

Maps of the Profound, Jam-yang-shay-ba's Great Exposition of Buddhist and
Non-Buddhist Views on the Nature of Reality, Jeffrey Hopkins, Snow Lion,
2003. The original dates from 1689. This version contains both the root
text, which is terse and difficult, and commentaries, which are terse and
difficult. This enormous work is a presentation of tenets text, used to
systematize a number of schools and viewpoints. I've not read it straight
through, but it is terrific to dip into, follow the strands of philosophy
and disputation. Among other things, it's indicative of the depth of the
Tibetan/Buddhist philosophical tradition, and what it has to offer to the
rest of us, mired, I believe, in issues of subject/abject/object and all
their inconsistencies.

Chasing Clouds, A decade of Studies, Emily Cheng, Timezone 8, 2008. I've
followed Emily's work for years (she was also cameraperson on the Blue
Tape with Kathy Acker), and have admired her paintings, drawings, and
graphics and their relationships to history, aesthetics, and issues of
Buddhism/Taoism, and multiculturalism in general. This book focuses on her
studies, which are small, intimate, often intricate, and remind me of
Taoist talismans; they're also wonderfully beautiful and meditative. It's
not often a collection of reproductions functions on its own as a book to
be cherished, but this one does! The reproductions are beautiful as well.

Second Life, a Guide to Your Virtual World, Brian A. White, Que, 2007 -
the most useful book I've seen on Second Life, with the least amount of
fluff; it even covers the use of bvh files and Poser. This is the one to
get. It takes you through particles, economics, scripting behavior, model-
ing, etc. Highly recommended.

The Embodied Mind, Cognitive Science and Human Experience, Francisco J.
Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, MIT, 1991. I hadn't seen this
before; Sandy Baldwin pointed it out to me. It discusses mind and self
with an approach based both on Madhyamika philosophy and cog sci and
should be read by anyone interested in the topic. Again, highly
recommended; I'd been looking for this kind of approach for a long time.
The last sentence is prescient: "At the very least, the journey of
Buddhism to the west provides some of the resources we need to pursue
consistently our own cultural and scientific premises to the point where
we no longer need and desire foundations and so can take up the further
tasks of building and dwelling in worlds without ground."






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