04 January 2011

Year in (surface detail) Review

Update: Links below are to previous posts on relevant topics

Okay, so, well, um...this hasn't been my most awesome year in many respects (losing my job of nearly a decade way back last January being the major, and really, only drawback) but much that I've enjoyed and will enjoy has evolved because of it.

But what has remained consistent is my inability to forge a lasting achievement of any intellectual cohesion. I've tried to make a positive attribute out of my "ranging mind" but really feel that I have the inability to settle into one thing or one idea and grind it down to the nub and so find out the truth in it. Instead, I praise the breadth of my passions as a mode of internal synthesis: by learning so much and seeking common threads in all of these researches I will have a more centered understanding of the wide world.

Are you laughing yet?

So, just to illustrate this fact here is a list of books I've started and either abandoned for another subject OR decided that I would need to "read more deeply" within that subject and so start other books on the same subject. I am not going to give you much info on any of these as that would make this a monumental post. If you are interested in any thing below just let me know and I'd be happy (and likely elated and excited) to correspond with you about it.

Beginning in January, let's roll tape.

Works by Susan Howe--poet and literary scholar: I bought multiple titles of her poetry but was most impressed with her work as a critic/explicator of certain strands in our national literature. These titles include My Emily Dickinson and The Birthmark and a very interesting "mash-up" (to appropriate that Glee-friendly term) of a text dealing with Charles Peirce called Peirce-Arrow.

[As an aside, I found my way to Howe via Eliot Weinberger, not listed as he was decidedly 2009! But maybe, just maybe, I feel a vocational wish to be "like" Weinberger.]

So, Howe's MED leads me to Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael and William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain and to William Bronk's The Brother in Elysium. A modicum of "completion" occurred within the Howe titles--I did nothing but peruse the Williams and/or Olson and spent some time with the Bronk (Melville and Thoreau).

At this time I also read a lot of Chomsky and bought several books on the evolution of the human diet. Fire saves and kills--a Promethean curse.


Fire and chemistry bleeds into February as I now "hate" my former employer and the science it supports. I want to call them to the floor and blame our modern horrors on them publicly. I will expose their evil. I do not achieve this, but late in the year I will excoriate them for their evil Creed! Take that!

For some reason I buy Perec's Life: a User's Manual. No clue why.

The big idea for February turns out to be exposing the shallow philosophy of the Right as they represent themselves in economics and "philosophy" (must use quotes as this is Ayn Rand territory).

Here I dance about in Proudhon, Bakunin and Max Weber and go so far as to open the pages of Keynes and JS Mill. Dancing is all I do. Until I think the exposure of Rand's shallow selfishness needs a proper intellectual foil and decide on Lewis Mumford. I can show that Mumford, writing and publishing in the same years as Rand, said so many wonderful prescient things with so much of history at his back that one would come away from a Mumford text with a depth of knowledge and understanding that could not be found in Rand as she and her ilk eschew actual history for the history of the privileged gadabouts. I come to this idea, which strikes me as still worthwhile, after reading Gore Vidal's review of Mumford's The City in History.

For some reason I buy a book called Transcritique: on Kant and Marx that is way way way over my head. And you must have guessed by now that I also got all three volumes of Capital.

I must tell you that Mumford's The Myth of the Machine is fairly amazing.

March Madness:

At this same time I discovered there are actual philosophies of the ethics of war and killing. Seriously, there is a lot out there on how to justify killing and how killing cannot be justified. My personal favorite philosopher in this field is Jeff McMahon. Check out his Killing in War. I actually read most of it! A close second in this line of work is Jonathan Glover.

This is a big month for philosophy as I happened upon the podcast Philosophy Bites and I make several very ridiculous purchases of philosophy books that will never be cracked open. And seriously, I know many, many philosophers reference this, but you try to get through Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons.

I happen upon John Rawls at this time but spend more time with David Harvey who will give me an "easy" understanding of Marx. You could do much worse that listening to his course on the first Volume of Capital. Though I buy several of his books I spend most of my time with the podcast of his lectures. He does also have a good book on the Neoliberalism. I also try to get into Adam Smith as it turns out that he's not the evil genius apologist of "capitalism" that I had understood him to be. The Theory of Moral Sentiments entertains me for a few bathroom sessions.


Animal Rights creeps in. Philosophy in a "minor" key to most of us but this is serious business. Tom Regan and Gary Francione give us the Abolitionist approach while Peter Singer tries to push the welfare approach. I find Gary Steiner more to my liking because he surveys the history of anthropocentrism in our moral philosophy to show where and how philosophy loses its "humanity" in dismissing the "beasts". This is my focus for the whole month!!!

May and June:

Ah, this might be a bit of a watershed period or one that finds me becoming more oriented around and idea. I find Robert Pogue Harrison's work (Forests, in particular) and from there begin my obsession with Gilgamesh and all things related to this from Samuel Noah Kramer's work on Sumer to any number of interpretations by such folks as Jean Bottero. And VICO's New Science! Of course, I focus on the secondary literature and find Vico through Donald Verene's work. Technology, Death, Institutions...human ends!

July--I let the recently deceased Guy Davenport direct me and I find in the New Directions catalog Ronald Johnson (Radi Os; The Valley of Many-colored Grasses) and the Pound Era and Guide to Kulchur. I also buy and don't open The Essential Brakhage. Also, there is the Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew...good luck with that one--a kind of biography and critical work by Parker Tyler.

August/September-I dabbled in some Shakespeare (filling in my Arden collection of the plays and discovering "Shakespeare's Ovid") and read a little more Dickinson. I seem to have continued seeking in Marx--starting a biography--and beginning Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital. I know capitalism sucks and I'm going to find good reasons for it!

October: back with Robert Harrison (Dominion of the Dead; Gardens) and I revisit some Frank Kermode, recently deceased (whose reviews I've been enjoying for many moons), his Sense of an Ending is wonderful and draws heavily on Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of Millenium and Henri Focillon's Year 1000. Some Heidegger...why? Thomas Sheehan made him sound really very interesting on the podcast Entitled Opinions.

I then jump back into ecological concerns and find work by William Catton (Overshoot) and Joseph Tainter (Collapse of Complex Societies) both of which were published in the 80s. And so I begin to get angry that there has been so much written so many decades ago predicting, nay, guaranteeing the state we find ourselves in now. Who was listening? Why do we think anyone is listening now? And so I buy several history books on the 70s when the world seems to really have gone off the rails as a kind of 60s backlash. Most interesting to me is Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s. More Heidegger.

I also begin to get "survivalist" and enjoy, in my free time (all the time) reading about how to make bows and arrows and carving such--I buy a pretty big knife and a hatchet--and I actually go to my dad's to cut some Osage Orange wood from his back yard.

November: More Gilgamesh, more Marx and Feuerbach. Really, a lot more Gilgamesh. Probably the best single volume is Jeff Tigay's The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic. Highly recommended.

December: my next big idea...don't steal it, please. Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring in 3 parts in the New Yorker in 1962. At approximately the same time Hannah Arendt publishes in serial form in the New Yorker her "reporting" from the trial of Adolph Eichmann--Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. In just two years the New Yorker publishes possibly the two most important texts of the century. Here we discover the Evil that is the "unthinking" scientific mind of man (atrocities on the whole are the work of man and not woman)--and we're back to chemistry again.

As far as we allow technology to usurp our "nature" and believe that we are the masters of such we will visit destruction on all we survey.

Ta-da! A year in literary scattershotedness.

Do you discern any patterns? (Did you make it to the end of this?)

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