Non-fiction: formative books

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fearandpanic
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Non-fiction: formative books

Post by fearandpanic »

What I'm curious about are those books or writers that have formed your outlook and general orientations, whatever the area: history, philosophy, science, politics, culture, anthropology; and that you consider to be particularly important to you for that reason.

will
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Post by will »

Fernand Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism, the Marx-Engels reader edited by Robert Tucker, Pierre Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice, Arjun Appadurai's paper "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy", James Scott's Seeing Like a State, A bunch of critical theory and cultural studies readers... old copies of the Whole Earth Quarterly / Co-Evolution Quarterly. Oh and The Order of Things by Michel Foucault. I think that his collected works have influenced my thinking more than any single other author's.
I'll think of more, I'm sure.

edit: and here it is - A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, a bunch of books about US interventions in Central America, and whatever political stuff Noam Chomsky had written by the mid-90's, these were all a big part of my getting interested in politics, and though that, social science, while in high school.

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Post by faster »

The biggest ones hit me in my early 20's, after finishing school: Foucault, Spinoza, Deleuze & Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, Douglas Hofstedter's Goedel, Escher, Bach and a book about Gordon Matta-Clarke that I don't know the author of. Some years later, Zinn and Bruce Cumings's North Korea and Korea's Place in the Sun.

I was also hit pretty hard by Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era.

I've definitely been more directly affected by poetry and fiction, though, I think.
You, of all people, should understand

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Post by user_5154 »

Faster wrote:I've definitely been more directly affected by poetry and fiction, though, I think.
I feel the same way. And so, for fiction, I would say The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

etbtc wrote: I feel the same way. And so, for fiction, I would say The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.
No cheating.

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Post by Tanner »

Here are some big stuff from about the time I was 16-23 years old:

Edward Abbey "Desert Solitaire" and "The Journey Home"
Dave Foreman "Confessions of an Ecowarrior"
The 4th Dimension by Rudy Rucker
The Global Brain: Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century by Howard Bloom
Essays and books by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis and Rupert Sheldrake
T.A.Z and Millenium By Hakim Bey
Robert Anton Wilson "The Cosmic Trigger"
Too many books from Terrence Mckenna
Chaos, Gaia, Eros : A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History by Ralph Abraham
The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler
Guy Debord "Society of the Spectacle"
Various essays/books by M. Bakunin, E. Goldman, N. Chomsky, R. Vaneigem

Many more...

Unfortunately, I haven't been reading too much non-fiction the last couple of years... You can see I was really digging the Invisibles and Grant Morrison from above for a while. . .

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Post by will »

I should add Edward Abbey's stuff to my list as well. I liked the Invisibles despite the corny Maaaaaaaagick stuff that ran through it. I have the feeling that if people post in this thread it's going to wind up being a repat of some ihe thread last year that revealed that almost everyone who posts here is a bespectacled, bearded bicycle enthusiast who likes comic books...

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Post by P. Wretch »

Probably the oft-quoted opening sections of Marx & Engels's The German Ideology: enough to make one a critical materialist even if one subsequently rejects (as I have done) the more utopian trappings of Marx-ism.

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Post by user_5114 »

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Post by negative potential »

Noam Chomsky - What Uncle Sam Really Wants (read as a teenager. Political views which I would be embarassed to uphold today, though every American teenager should go through a Chomsky phase)

C.L.R. James - Modern Politics

C.L.R. James - The Black Jacobins

C.L.R. James, Cornelius Castoriadis, Grace Lee - Facing Reality

various writings and pamphlets of Martin Glaberman, many now collected in the volume Punching Out and Other Writings

Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin - Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. A Study in Urban Revolution

Kim Moody - An Injury To All: The Decline of American Unionism

Freddy Perlman - The Reproduction of Daily Life

Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey (editors) Race Traitor anthology

Michael Heinrich - Kritik der politischen ?konomie. Eine Einf?hrung

Karl Marx - Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen ?konomie Erster Band
Buch I: Der Produktionsproze? des Kapitals

T.W. Adorno - Einleitung in die Soziologie

Robert Kurz - Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus: Ein Abgesang auf die Marktwirtschaft

Robert Kurz - Marx lesen. Die wichtigsten Texte von Karl Marx f?r das 21. Jahrhundert

Anselm Jappe - Die Abenteuer der Ware. F?r eine neue Wertkritik

Bini Adamzcak - Kommunismus. Kleine Geschichte, wie endlich alles anders wird

Leon Trotsky - History of the Russian Revolution

Isaac Deutscher - The Prophet Armed, the Prophet Unarmed, The Prophet Outcast

and like everyone else here, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States.

edit: and the two books which were responsible for introducing me to the Frankfurt School: Enzo Traverso's Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism After Auschwitz and John Holloway's Change the World Without Taking Power

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Post by user_5154 »

fearandpanic wrote:
etbtc wrote: I feel the same way. And so, for fiction, I would say The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.
No cheating.
Okay. I've thought about a non-fiction choice:
Art Nature Dialogues by John K. Grande. It's a great book on the current environmental art movement, which focuses greatly on the ephemerality of art.

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Post by Jesse »

Adolescence to early 20s:

Jerzy Grotowski Towards A Poor Theatre

Norman O. Brown Love's Body

Shunryu Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

http://crowwithnomouth.wordpress.com/

Experimental music should be something that suggests a way of organizing your thinking, your attitude toward the world, which suggests that the world could be different.
Christian Wolff 2014

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Post by Stevo »

There's a book on computer interface by Alan Cooper called The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum that I found could be extrapolated to apply to most interface between man and tools or man and systems. Could draw parallels between how chance or very situation specific set ups ossify into being the basis for more widespread system formulae. & also how node points on more mercurial career paths make great basecamps for more staid thinking.

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Post by user_5170 »

Going to second Angelus Novus: Chomsky was quite 'formative' for me as well. And continues to hold my interest.

I haven't read the mentioned book though -- but I think his politics have remained pretty internally consistent from his 60's writings through to today -- Interventions, which is actually just a collection of recent newspaper editorials, was the last book I finished. Not to hijack, but I do wonder what's embarrassing in his politics today.

Another formative book: The Political Consequences of Modernization - John Kautsky. This was a freshman PoliSci assigned text in the early '80s, and though I frankly remember little in detail, I do remember that it was an for me eye-opener in terms of making an explicit link between the demands of powerful states and the realities of weaker ones.

Heidegger's What is Called Thinking was another, unregretted influence in my youth.

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Post by user_1463 »

Felix Guattari, The Molecular Revolution.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus.
Essays written by Walter Benjamin including, "Technical Reproduction" and "Critique of Violence."
Books and essays written by Louis Althusser.
Baruch Spinoza, Ethica.
Michael Hardt & Antonio Negr, Empire.
Karl Marx, Grundrisse.

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Post by fearandpanic »

P. Wretch wrote:Probably the oft-quoted opening sections of Marx & Engels's The German Ideology: enough to make one a critical materialist even if one subsequently rejects (as I have done) the more utopian trappings of Marx-ism.
Didn't they already do that with the rest of their work (right up to Anti-D?hring and Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy?). The German Ideology is very early; The Poverty of Philosophy is a great and witty attack on Proudhon's idealist socialism.

That aside, I do enjoy reading some of the utopian socialists proper, not merely for anticipating something that would later be worked out less fancifully but as poetry in their own right and as a reaction to the turbulence of eighteenth and nineteenth-century political upheaval. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction (trans. & ed. Jonathan Beecher & Richard Bienvenu) is an excellent collection. I also like William Morris's essays (usually collected with his utopian, proto sci-fi novel News from Nowhere); the essays "Useful Work versus Useless Toil," "The Hopes of Civilisation" and other ones on art, design and architecture.
Aphidhair wrote: Raoul Vaneigem
I always found Vaneigem to be the weakest theorist among the Situationists. His Revolution of Everyday Life is no match for Debord's book (not that I'm the greatest admirer of either). What I did find useful by him is his A Cavalier History of Surrealism (trans. Donald-Nicholson Smith). It does well in preserving the radical spark of the movement and in tracing it through Dadaism into the post-Second World War years, but it's so bogged down in time-capsule anarcho-Trotskyist "attacks" and "analysis" (the standard Situationist emphases they picked up uncritically from the Socialisme ou Barbarie group) as to be almost unreadable. Worth sticking with, all the same, to rescue what was worthwhile in Surrealism.

Even though he's a pig and a war-loving chauvinist arsehole, Betrand Russell prepared a useful enough book in his History of Western Philosophy (1945), despite its complete inability to deal with philosophers beyond his sympathies (like Nietzsche). Its curt and journalistic style makes it a useful introduction to people you can then follow up yourself.

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Post by P. Wretch »

fearandpanic wrote:Didn't they already do that with the rest of their work
Well, I would take issue with the following assumptions which can still be found to varying degrees in the later work, and certainly as interpreted by their later Communist/Trotskyist followers: i) that there is anything inherently revolutionary about the proletariat; ii) that the specifically capitalist mode of production is responsible for the majority of modern woes; iii) that the state could ever 'wither away'; iv) that a classless society could ever exist; v) that total social equality, supposing it could be achieved, would bring total happiness/emancipation/etc. to humanity; vi) that non-revolutionary attempts at political reform merely amount to a collusion with capitalist interests.

That sentence makes me sound potentially quite right-wing (not in fact the case), but I still aspire to Marx's basic project of seeking a critical analysis of existing economic/social relations. And like you, I find utopian writers (such as Morris) to be of great historical interest; without idealism, few political movements would ever gain momentum.

Still, I think one needs to supplement Marx with more pessimistic writers, such as Freud (namely Civilisation and its Discontents) and Weber (e.g. the essay 'Politics as a Vocation'), to counter the development of a quasi-theological optimism.

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Post by Tanner »

Fear-- I'm by no means into the Situationists as I used to be, but I remember that while Vaneigem wasn't as compelling as Debord, I liked his style better. Of course I'm going by essays that I read rather than The Revolution of Everyday Life, which I didn't think I really needed to read. I actually used a quote from him for a Senior quote in highschool... eh, yeah... But I'll definitely check out A Cavalier History of Surrealism, as I would always see that around but never checked it out. I've been meaning to return to some of that stuff.

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Post by will »

P. Wretch wrote: i) that there is anything inherently revolutionary about the proletariat; ii) that the specifically capitalist mode of production is responsible for the majority of modern woes
I had trouble with (i) until a re-reading of the German Ideology this fall had me interpreting it more as "the proletariat is so totally screwed that they're functionally the leading edge of capitalist reality" than "the proletariat is some Justice League bunch of superheroes waiting to be activated by a couple of thinkers". In other words, the proletariat as thus described may be at the cutting edge, but not by their own choosing, they have little agency in this description of their condition. This made more sense to me, and satisfied me in thinking that (ii) just has to do with the totalization of misery made possible through the passing of all things through money (somethingsomethingfungible commodity somethingsomthing).
I get the feeling that this is probably pretty obvious to anyone who has spent time with these readings, and / or is a committed socialist. I mostly know Marx / Engels as a springboard for knowing about other stuff...

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Post by Tanner »

Will, what do you mean? The magick in the Invisibles is killer! You suspend enough disbelief to buy that there's a war between yin/yang cosmic forces, personified by, on one side, a shaved headed, S and M hitman (not to mention a transsexual shaman and a timetraveling woman), and on the other Cthulu-esque, fascistic old Gods. But you don't buy the magick? It's half the fun and one of the most important plot points. And the fact that Morrison had a sigil based wank off to save his comic book in the first volume is great. oh well... It did make me buy a chaos magick book when I was 15, as of yet unread.