Non-fiction: formative books

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will
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Non-fiction: formative books

Post by will »

The Invisibles was a neat story about time travel, virtual reality, gender practice, and shit blowing up. Then, on top of that there was this cornball stuff about magicK, which made the already complex story Morrison was telling feel bloated and aimless. I should probably point out that this is a sustained dislike of mine, contemporary fantasy / horror just isn't for me.

Tanner
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Post by Tanner »

Well, I always felt the whole thing was often over the top and corny. But that's part of the fun of it I always felt.

Well,I definitely agree with you about one thing-- I can't stand contemporary fantasy/horror, either. Nor do I read much old fantasy/horror either except for the odd Lovecraft or Blackwood story... Ok, sorry, I'll stop the thread rot.

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

I don't normally care for books on films (in fact, I'm close to being allergic to the idea of "cinephilia" and text-book "film experts"), but these three I've found to be very useful or insightful:

Amos Vogel - Film as a Subversive Art (1974). I don't actually accept the central thesis here that film was ever or could ever really be subversive in relation to society as a whole; and Vogel too has some very sloppy and suspect ideas about "science" being "destined" to bring about a better society--ideas that are extremely hard to tolerate in the light of Hiroshima, etc. and present-day technological invasions. But it's an extremely valuable reference book for obscure, experimental and generally non-commercial cinema, with more brilliant reproductions of film stills than you can shake a stick at.

Siegfried Kracauer - Theory of Film (1960). ("Film brings the whole material world into play.") Probably the only book of its type--comprehensive general theory--that I'd find worthwhile.

Alain Robbe-Grillet - The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on his films. (1992). Wide-ranging interviews with one of my favourite novelists and film-makers.

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Gerardo A
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Post by Gerardo A »

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negative potential
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Post by negative potential »

I second Gerardo's pick. Everyone should read Galeano's book. The finest single volume work I know of on Latin America.

P. Wretch wrote:
fearandpanic wrote:Didn't they already do that with the rest of their work
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
To the extent that Marx indulges in formulations like your point "i)" above, they generally belong to his propagandistic/agitational writings, not necessarily his more analytical work. The core of all three volumes of Capital is Marx's notion of the "fetish" nature of productive relations in capitalism. I think if one takes the analysis of the fetish-character of the commodity by its word, there's no way one can uphold the notion of an "inherently revolutionary" proletariat.

Admittedly, many of Marx's followers adhere to just such a notion. Lukacs tries to short-circuit the difficulty by bringing in the party as the mediating instance which is capable of seeing through the fetishized forms of social life. It's a sort of deus ex machina for him. Though I'm generally not an admirer of Althusserian structuralist Marxism, perhaps those authors need to be read as a necessary corrective to more subjectivist schools of Marxism.

But I doubt that either Marx or Engels had ever expressed any ideas close to Wretchy's point "ii)" above. No doubt various "Marxists" have, but I think it's unfair to lay that sort of crude determinism at the feet of M&E.

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Post by P. Wretch »

Angelus Novus wrote:But I doubt that either Marx or Engels had ever expressed any ideas close to Wretchy's point "ii)" above. No doubt various "Marxists" have, but I think it's unfair to lay that sort of crude determinism at the feet of M&E.
Yeah, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there is an implication in the work of some Marxist writers (and not only the most utopian ones) that human misery (or at least such practices as 'accumulation by dispossession' and disputes over property) would more or less cease under some future social configuration. To suggest that aggression, envy, domination and acquisitiveness might be recurring facets of 'human nature' (as all recorded history would indicate to be the case) is enough to get one branded a reactionary in some circles. (The argument that the concept of human nature is ideological - a reasonable enough assertion in itself - is too often used to justify abstract visions of universal fraternal harmony.)

Although I agree with Marx that the increased division of labour during the industrial revolution led to a dehumanisation of the work process, and a breakdown of regional communities, it seems impossible now that any future society, even a socialist one, would be able to roll back the mass-scale division of labour necessary for modern production, unless we witness some environmental apocalypse and have to start over again, or approach some techno-utopia in which all work is done by machines (wasn't that a possible hope of Marcuse?).

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

Angelus Novus wrote:I second Gerardo's pick. Everyone should read Galeano's book. The finest single volume work I know of on Latin America.
Although narrower in scope, Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude (published in English in 1961) is also excellent, a study of Mexico's culture and history in the light of colonialism and imperialism.

The most powerful book I know on colonialism in general is Aim? C?saire's Discourse on Colonialism; preferably taken together with his long poem "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land."

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

Angelus Novus wrote: To the extent that Marx indulges in formulations like your point "i)" above, they generally belong to his propagandistic/agitational writings, not necessarily his more analytical work. The core of all three volumes of Capital is Marx's notion of the "fetish" nature of productive relations in capitalism. I think if one takes the analysis of the fetish-character of the commodity by its word, there's no way one can uphold the notion of an "inherently revolutionary" proletariat..
Inserting a dualistic split between "agitational" and "analytical" writing in Marx appears to me to be a serious error and distortion of his thought. When you say "there's no way one can uphold the notion of an 'inherently revolutionary' proletariat," what can you make of Marx writing in the Critique of the Gotha Programme (published 1891) that the state in the transition to communist society can be "nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat"? I agree that it'd be a mistake to think of an inherently revolutionary anything, but if one can't uphold the notion of a revolutionary proletariat per se then one would have departed from Marxism.

This particular line you and PW are pursuing (on point i) seems to me to stem from the erroneous inclusion of the word "inherently." Inherence would fly in the face of historical materialism and the process of becoming conscious. Yes, the proleteriat has its roots in modern economic relationships, but their consciousness as such, along with Marxism itself, originated in the minds of the bourgeois intelligentsia. The absence of revolutionary spirit in the workers of the West, on top of the fetish character of the commodity, was attributed by Engels to the development of imperialism, in which both the workers and the bourgeoisie together enjoy the fruits of the domination of the workers of other countries. This non-radical ideological character (of "bourgeois workers") has only increased with the further entrenchment of imperialism and monopoly capitalism (and "late" or multinational capitalism). The profound psychological and ideological effects of the latter have been outlined effectively, I think, by Guy Debord, Erich Fromm and others (with Fromm's "optimism" and "idealism" regarding humanistic socialism and psychology being roundly attacked by Marcuse). If Freud is a useful corrective for Marx (as suggested by PW), then Fromm and Wilhelm Reich are useful correctives for Freud.

I agree with your (AN's) criticism of point [ii].
Pedantic Wretch wrote:it seems impossible now that any future society, even a socialist one, would be able to roll back the mass-scale division of labour necessary for modern production
The rebuttal of this idea is usually that the "modern production" you refer to (as a universalised standard) is at present wildly anarchic and excessive, and its rationalisation would eventually, presumably extremely gradually, reduce the amount of "labour necessary" (for what end? the satisfaction of needs, which is a only by-product and not the motive force of anarchic ("free") "modern production.")

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flies
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Post by flies »

two books i recommend:

zhuangzi: basic writings (or the full burton watson translation if you can afford it/find it in a library): the first chapter is called 'free and easy wandering' and that pretty much sets the tone. this is the second great classic of philosophical daoism and feels much less dated than its partner (the daode jing). brilliant anticipations of post-structuralist ideas, beautiful prose and beautiful ideas. Somebody asked me once, if there was a ook that i could make everybody in the world read, what would it be, and this is it.

the selfish gene: this is just a really nice book about evolution. dawkins has recently made a name for himself with books on atheism, but before he was a pundit he was famous as an oxford zoologist. If you're at all interested in biology then you should read this book. the basic premise of the book is to expound the leading theory of evolution, wherein the basic unit of natural selection is not the species, nor the individual organism, but the individual genes that assemble to form the genome of a given organism. they are 'selfish' because a gene that promotes its own survival over that of its competitors will procreate more than an 'altruistic' gene that promotes the survival of its species/neighbors/etc over its own survival. dawkins shows how, despite their essential 'selfishness', genes cooperate to form complex multicellular organisms and communities. The book uses game theory in places to show how cooperation fares against agression in different models - there's a great chapter on the 'prisoner's dilemma' toward the end which explains a lot about how economies work (though he doesn't mention human economies specifically, it's easy to infer).

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P. Wretch
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Post by P. Wretch »

fearandpanic wrote:The rebuttal of this idea is usually that the "modern production" you refer to (as a universalised standard) is at present wildly anarchic and excessive, and its rationalisation would eventually, presumably extremely gradually, reduce the amount of "labour necessary" (for what end? the satisfaction of needs, which is a only by-product and not the motive force of anarchic ("free") "modern production.")
I agree in principle with this ideal, but then I personally (along with many on the left) have vaguely puritanical tendencies, i.e. endorse the model of a society in which consumption is voluntarily restrained along roughly egalitarian lines. The problem is that capitalism survives by constantly creating new 'needs'. In the last two decades alone, we could point to personal computers, the internet, games consoles, mobile phones, DVD players, digital cameras, iPods, etc.

Now, you might argue (like William Morris did about railways and factory-produced goods) that these are 'false' needs created in an artificially consumerist atmosphere (call it 'The Spectacle' if you wish), but the fact remains that a generation is now growing up (in the wealthiest countries) for whom a Nintendo Wii (to take one example) has become a 'need' - it is their chief source of entertainment, just as television was for a previous generation. You and I might both agree that the dependency of modern 'lifestyle technologies' on massive energy wastage, pollution and built-in obsolescence is 'anarchic and excessive', but the majority of people would refuse to give them up as long as there is still a possibility of their existing.

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flies
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Post by flies »

i was looking at some statistics and found out that the amount of money we're spending on game consoles is ~5 percent of the annual US defense budget (see the government website)

from this link, it seems as though the number of consoles sold, including handhelds, is ~65 million. say they cost 300 dollars each and you've got 19.5 billion dollars. add an extra 150 dollars for games and accessories and you've got 22.4 billion. Keep in mind that these are lifetime sales figures, and my numbers are super-rough (all the consoles ever sold, not just this year - see link for details). the US defense budget in 2006 was ~500 billion.

i think it's important to keep perspective on what 'massive damage' is. as i'm fond of saying, the flu kills many more ppl than terrorism. 'rationalization' is the goal here, not telling people that they can't have their wii.

i think the main damage from wii's and the like are that they sap ppl of their energy to work for things that will materially improve their situation.

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maRi
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Post by maRi »

i was bad in chemistry at 16/17, though i could swallow soaps as presented by a chemist friend of my chemist parents, despite the fact that she would do this in her and her husband's library that i liked so much, and i'd be glancing over the shelves pre and post saponification. her husband was a philosophy professor and he introduced me to the presocratics. i really liked heraclitus who was then my main point of reference for quite a while (i read about him from various sources). i think i learned my chemistry from heraclitus.

then came kafka and his diaries. hopefully this fits the thread. his notes on the writers he admired, his observations regarding his own writing, inspiration and creativity, momentum and truthfulness, intimacy, his comments on being alone, acting like a human, the sense of belonging together, his judaism, education, family, friendship, marriage, offer an interesting critique of culture if pieced together meaningfully.

m. k. gandhi's an autobiography or the story of my experiments with truth was dumped by a university library and some friends brought it to me. i was very impressed by the idea of self-reliance as achieved through rigorous self-restraint, which i?d say is of central importance to his political struggle.

i should mention zen buddhism and psychoanalysis by d. t. suzuki and erich fromm, but mostly because it was my first coherent introduction to sumi(y)e and kōan.

and the linguists i just can't omit are joost zwarts (various papers on prepositions) and arnim von stechow (the semantics of comparison).

can't speak for the last few years yet.

will
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Post by will »

who are the linguists you can omit?

franz bieberkopf
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Post by franz bieberkopf »

fearandpanic wrote: I'm close to being allergic to the idea of "cinephilia" and text-book "film experts"
often not the same thing at all. i'm pretty sure you aren't conflating the two... (?)

at any rate, since i am still in my early to mid-twenties, and in the middle of the biggest reading binge of my life, i really should post anything here.

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

Franz Bieberkopf wrote: often not the same thing at all. i'm pretty sure you aren't conflating the two... (?)
Nope!

Incidentally, have you as a film student (right?) any course-standard film textbooks that you'd either recommend or urge me to avoid? The only theoretical ones I've read are Kracauer's and Hans Richter's. The BFI (British Film Institute) produced a weighty book called The Cinema Book, which is good in part (especially for reproduction of stills and factual information), but it suffers from a certain formulaic academic approach and pretentious, jargon-filled language.

franz bieberkopf
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Post by franz bieberkopf »

fearandpanic wrote:
Franz Bieberkopf wrote: often not the same thing at all. i'm pretty sure you aren't conflating the two... (?)
Nope!

Incidentally, have you as a film student (right?) any course-standard film textbooks that you'd either recommend or urge me to avoid? The only theoretical ones I've read are Kracauer's and Hans Richter's. The BFI (British Film Institute) produced a weighty book called The Cinema Book, which is good in part (especially for reproduction of stills and factual information), but it suffers from a certain formulaic academic approach and pretentious, jargon-filled language.
mmm, i don't know. a lot of my best courses were built on coursepacks as opposed to textbooks. i can think of a fair amount of writers whose work i have enjoyed, but a lot of them are writing in magazines that are caught somewhere between academia and cinephilia (or just popular print). and some of the best critics i have only really read in bits and pieces. people that spring to mind include recent critics like Kent Jones, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, all of whom were involved in the really neat series of dialogues that comprise the book Movie Mutations. (Kent Jones in particular has been very bang on for me at times)
other older critics whose work i have enjoyed on occasion include Phillip Lopate, Manny Farber, Raymond Durgnat, Paul Willemen, Susan Sontag and J Hoberman. I have read what i believe is the only book by Serge Daney that has been translated into engish thusfar "Postcards from the Cinema" and i can understand why many speak of him as one of the best writers on film in the last 40 years or so. the only book i have really used extensively from study to study is Cinema II by Gilles Deleuze, but i'm pretty sure you aren't too keen on his own brand of jargon.
a lot of the cahiers writers are fun, and certainly Bazin has been a very useful touchstone, but i've really not read much of his actual writing... as in a lot of cases, it is as much the general idea of a certain critic or line of thought that was valuable to me, but not always the writing itself.

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fearandpanic
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Post by fearandpanic »

Interesting, a good few things for me to follow up there. Thanks a lot.

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Post by user_1950 »

Charles Thomas Samuels' Encountering Directors has very interesting interviews with Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, Renoir, Hitchcock, Antonioni, Bresson, Clair, Olmi, Carol Reed, and De Sica.

I've been enjoying Steve Vineberg's film essays in The Threepenny Review for many years. He also writes for The Boston Phoenix, iirc.

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Post by user_5240 »

I would deeply recommend a book by George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. This book truly changed my perception. It is a short book with a very rich content intellectually. Basically, the thesis is this: what is innovation? what does it mean to break with tradition and create something new? Kubler understand the progress of human arts and thoughts as very, very small changes of "series" or "sequences" of forms. Certain things change with rapid speed, some things stays virtually unchanged. (He has some brilliant remarks on, for example, buttons, that has remained in the same shape and design since stoneage). Anyway, the problem for all of us is that he is presenting (although this is never stated in the book, just the consequence after reading it) is this: what is avant-garde? To break with tradition and create something new always leads to a new tradition (or ongoing series) of the new (copys in new "styles" or forms, but however related). If the innovation is to be regarded as something absolutely new, that is: as fundamentally different to history, we would (somewhat paradoxically) never recognize it.

I have been reading the forums on this site for long with pleasure and interest, especially fearandpanic, and I registered just to mention this book. Sorry for the spelling, English is not my language

ryan
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Post by ryan »

Zhuangzi

Nietzsche

The Revolution of Everyday Life

A People's History

The Spell of the Sensuous David Abram

The Sense of the World/Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative Jean-Luc Nancy

The Accursed Share Georges Bataille

Bhagavad Gita

Tractatus Wittgensein