Books I like and some hardware/software as well

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

(This is a list produced by Alan Sondheim – not me – and something that he does maybe once or twice a year. I’ve known Alan online for a good few years now, in fact since I was first at University as an undergrad, and his eclectic and curious reading patterns are reflected in his strange and fascinating work as both a theorist and artist. He also simply offers leads and possible avenues of research that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else and as such is a fantastic connection to plug into. In this list I’m particularly interested in the The Alpbacj Symposium 1968 papers, the Steve Talbott, The John Franklin Bardin Omnibus and the Olympus WS-300M, …the last list of these I posted was in November last year and you can see some of Alan’s current work on avatars, utilising the Second Life interface, over here on YouTube.)

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 inspirational, 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 traveler’s guide, along the lines of the Baedeker’s, and is incredibly illuminating 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, wonderful; they’ve led to my rethinking avatar phenomenology. Unlike the plastination 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 detrimental 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’remaking 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 portrays 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 explication 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 accusations of witchcraft in Zaire. Davis is known for theatrical, almost romanticized, 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 wonderful 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-Regulating 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_ important 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 vatamsaka 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 programmar. 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 dissimilar. 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 produces. 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 awww.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 something 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 Buddhist scriptures to China, and I wonder how many people were alive then and what were they carrying?

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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