the film as book 12.30.2004, 9:50 AM
One of the year's big stories in film was Jonathan Caouette's haunting autobiographical feature Tarnation (trailer), famous as much for its methodology and tiny budget as for its strength as cinema. Made entirely on Apple iMovie on a desktop computer, and costing a mere $218.32, Tarnation is a patchwork quilt of sound, image and testimony, chronicling the troubled life of its author and his relationship with his fractured mother.
The remarkable thing about Tarnation is that Caouette made it in much the same way he might have written a print autobiography - alone, at a computer, pouring over a lifetime's accumulation of notes, scraps and memories. Only, the notes and scraps are in the form of VHS and Super-8, photographs and answering machine tapes. Growing up in the Houston suburbs, Caouette became literate in a multitude of forms, weaving a rich web of fiction as a blanket between him and his often-grim reality. These fictions ranged from eerie staged "confessions" by an 11-year-old Caouette impersonating a battered woman, to glamorous lip-synch music videos, to high school slasher flics. Tarnation is as much the story of this self-education in alternate forms of writing as it is of Caouette's family and upbringing.
Watching Tarnation isn't quite like watching other films, and the fact that it was made by a single, solitary person has a lot to do with this. It has long been taken for granted that film is the product of collective labor, that behind each frame lurk dozens of invisible hands. But here, as with a book, there is a single author, and you sense palbably that you are witnessing the craft of a private forge, far from the world of studios and crews - far from our usual notion of "the production." And as with a book, our encounter is very personal and unmediated - we are brought directly into the dreams and psychedelia of the author's mind.
Caouette describes the experience on the film's website:
"TARNATION is designed to mimic my thought processes so the audience can also feel like they're in a living dream, which can be scary and intense, but also beautiful and glorious. TARNATION is a documentary in the sense that it's a true story but it's also a happening, an encounter, and a way for you to meet me and for me to meet you."
Caouette's film demonstrates the possibility for lone artists to engage powerfully in media that were previously very difficult and expensive to access. Already, people are producing highly polished videos made with digital snapshot cameras. The modes of production - of writing - will continue to increase and expand.
Tarnation is also a clue to possible new directions for documentary and autobiography in the digital age, and hints at ways that films and books might begin to merge.
Gus Van Sant, who became one of the film's executive producers, told Wired in January: "People assumed that one day film would be as accessible and inexpensive as writing, and now it practically is. For the price of a typewriter, you can make films with sound and burn them on a DVD."
predicting 2005 12.24.2004, 5:20 PM
For the holiday lull - a couple of gazes into the crystal ball:
"A Look Ahead" on Searchblog
"Ten Ways Communications Will Change In 2005..." on Andy Lark
Everyone is predicting another big year for blogs, though conspicuously absent from these lists is any mention of big intellectual property cases headed for the courts, most obviously the Supreme Court-bound Grokster case. And I would guess it's just a matter of time before a high profile case emerges testing fair use practices in universities and beyond.
p2p for profit 12.22.2004, 3:05 PM
The Washington Post reports that mashboxx, the latest venture of Grokster president Wayne Rosso, intends to "clean up and legitimize" peer-to-peer music file sharing on the Internet, and to give record companies a piece of the pie (in spite of Rosso's past demonization of said companies). Mashboxx will employ SnoCap - a "copyright management interface" technology developed by Napster creator Shawn Fanning, enabling copyright owners to trace the movement of files containing their content, and to extract fees from the people sharing them. SnoCap essentially "fingerprints" files so that content owners can keep track of them and set the rules and rates of their trading.
I suspect that the rates will be too high, of the dollar-a-song variety, which seems downright exploitative given the ease and inherent cheapness of p2p networks. While I'm cautiously optimistic that the mashboxx move presages an eventual overhaul of the music industry, and may be a small step toward reconciling copyright concerns with networked free culture, this seems more like a hostile move to squeeze music sharers. Given the scale of the p2p phenomenon, a nickel-a-song could amount to sizeable profits. Remember: it's no longer about a single point of sale, but multiple points of exchange. But the recording industry is a rapacious animal, and is loathe to believe that it can actually make profit without extortion. Remember the long tail...
And this issue doesn't just pertain to music sharing. As ebooks become a more frequently trafficked commodity on p2p networks, we will see the same struggle arise. Already, questions abound about Google's library initiative and readers' access to copyrighted texts. And the New York Public Library seems to think that ebooks are a threat that must be subdued before all hell breaks loose.
google takes on u. of michigan library - the numbers 12.22.2004, 12:48 PM
- 7,000,000: Volumes in the U-M library to be digitized.
- 2,380,000,000: Estimated number of pages.
- 743,750,000,000: Estimated number of words.
- 1,600: Years it would take U-M to digitize all 7 million volumes without Google's special technology.
- Fewer than 7: Years it will take to digitize the volumes with Google's technology.
- $1 billion: Estimated value of the project to U-M.
Source: John Wilkin, associate university librarian, library information technology and technical and access services, University of Michigan
digital torah 12.21.2004, 4:28 PM
Varda Books, in collaboration with The Jewish Publication Society, has over the last few years been publishing a series of electronic editions of sacred Jewish texts, commentaries, historical studies, and critical resources, all leveraging the dynamic analytic capabilities of digital media. Popular on Varda's online retail site, ebookshuk, are book "bundles" - collections of sacred texts and critical commentaries that enable nimble and complex intertextual analysis, or, as described for the "JPS Digital Torah Library," serve as the "cornerstone of one's personal, open-standards, inter-linked, cross-file-searchable, digital Jewish library." Other bundles include "Judaic Scholar Digital Reference Library I" and "The Rabbinic Bookshelf."
Jewish scriptural study and the Talmud have often been cited as among the earliest great hypertext traditions. Layered interpretations and non-linear modes of reading have long been central to this tradition, which continues to evolve into digital space.
tower of babel or trivial pursuit? 12.20.2004, 3:59 PM
Read New York Times Article
In an article in yesterday's NY Times, Alberto Manguel compares the Genesis story of Babel and the library at Alexandria with their alleged modern-day counterpart--Google's commitment to digitize all human knowledge. Are we constructing a modern-day tower of Babel? A monument to the hubris of what might be possible if we could just get a little smarter. Will Google help us find answers to the big questions: where did we come from, and what's the meaning of it all? I went online to find out. I Googled the question "What is the meaning of it all?" and got the following:
In an article in yesterday's NY Times, Alberto Manguel compares the Genesis story of Babel and the ambitions of the library at Alexandria with their alleged modern-day counterpart--Google's commitment to digitize all human knowledge. Are we constructing a modern-day tower of Babel--a monument to the hubris of what might be possible if we could just get a little smarter? Will Google help us find answers to perennial puzzlers like: where did we come from? Is anyone or anything in charge? And, what's the meaning of it all? I went online to find out. I Googled the question "What is the meaning of it all?" and got the following:
The Meaning of Emmanuel
... "What is the meaning of it all?" "What is its purpose?" The human tendency always is to forget origins. And now that Christmas has grown to be such a ...
The Kubrick Site: John Morgan on 2001 vs. 2010
... What is the meaning of it all? Is there a God? What is the purpose of Art? Is there a merging of Art and Science?' Where Clarke in comparison only asks ...
The meaning of life, the universe and everything
... What is the meaning of it all? 'Antennae' colliding galaxies. When we contemplatethe unimaginable vastness of the universe, the incredible diversity ...
London theater musical on stage in London's West End Shaftesbury ...
... But what is the meaning of it all? Well, mainly that the dreamy idealist, Boney, had all he needed in Anastasia Barzee's sweetly trilling Jo and never ...
'Rings' actor: 'It'll be the biggest film of all time'
... What is the meaning of it all? In some ways, that sort of inquiry is completely unfashionable. "I often think one of the reasons people are dismissive ...
Becoming a Wise Elder
... Questions such as "What is the meaning of it all?" and "Does my life make any kind of difference to anyone?" were very unlikely to arise. ...
Psychology Today: Still news
... PT: What is the meaning of it all now? BB: There was a recklessness in Kennedy's life that I didn't see, a sexual recklessness I don't understand. ...
None of these offerings brought me closer to a substantive answer. Demoralized by the thought of having to go through the other 517 possibilities. I decided to respond to the suggestion at the top of my page:
Tip: Have a question? Ask the researchers at Google Answers.
I clicked "Google Answers" and entered my question: What is the meaning of it all?
Then I had to set a price for my question between $2 and $200. I clicked on "How do I price my question?" And found the following guidelines:
*The more you pay, the more time and effort a Researcher will likely spend on your answer. However, this depends somewhat on the nature of your question.
*Above all - try to pay what the information is worth to you, not what you think you can get it for - that is the best way to get a good answer - but only you can know the value of the information you seek.
Hmm, what is the information worth to me?
I took a look at Google's examples to get an idea of where my question might fit on the pay scale. Fifty dollars is the "minimum price appropriate for complex, multi-part questions. Researchers will typically spend at least one hour on $50 questions and be very responsive to follow-up questions." One hundred dollar questions merit two to four hours of "highly thorough research." Examples of hundred dollar questions included "Parking in New York City, and How does infant-family bonding develop?" The two hundred dollar question required researchers to "spend extensive amounts of time (4 hours plus)." Examples of $200 questions included: Searching for Barrett's Ginger Beer, Applications using databases, What is the impact of a baby with Down's Syndrome on its family?
None of those examples seemed to be in the same league with "what's the meaning of it all?" Can a Google researcher find the answer in 4 hours? probably not, although I do wonder what they would come up with. Anyway, the point of all this is that Google is set up to search out trivial, quotidian sorts of things and it will be interesting to see how/if they can make the transition from those who can tell you how to "search for Barrett's Ginger Beer," to gatekeepers of all human knowledge.
city chromosomes - an sms chronicle 12.20.2004, 1:29 PM
Found this on textually.org. The City Chromosomes project is a sort of scrapbook of the city of Antwerp made entirely from text messages beamed in from mobile phones. Further evidence of the new genres emerging from this technology. An english version has just been published under a Creative Commons license.
Also take a look at this sister project, CityPoems, from Leeds. Posts from the Leeds project are interspersed through the english version of "Chromosomes."
From the introduction to "City Chromosomes":
"The city of Antwerp is full of writers. And many of these writers describe their city, often in splendid stories, novels and poems that gain a wide readership. In this way, they determine a large part of our image of the city. But what about the people who only readers, or even those who do not care for reading, what do they think of the city? And would it not be possible to persuade them to write this down?
"This was the point of departure for the City Chromosomes project. We got the idea of gathering sms messages. Nearly everybody has a mobile phone. Everybody has a moment to spare to type in a message. This was the ideal way to make the project accessible to everybody. The people of Antwerp, and anyone else with something to say about city, could submit their impressions anonymously. We established 25 text sites across the city, and the contributors could indicate with a simple code to which part of the city their message applied. By means of posters, flyers and ads, we asked people for their impressions. The only restriction: the messages should not be longer than 160 characters."
enter the cybrarian 12.18.2004, 3:02 PM
The recent buzz surrounding Google's library intitiative has everyone talking about the future of research, which inevitably raises the question: how will the digitization of library collections change the role of the librarian? I would guess that, far from becoming obsolete, their role will in fact be elevated in importance, if not necessarily in status. They could very well come to be our indispensible guides through the labyrinth - if perhaps invisible, engineering behind the digital walls.
It's also important to consider the question of visualization. When you run a search on Google you are given an enormous list. This is already deeply ingrained in the day-to-day business of finding information. But these lists are basically the electronic equivelant of scrolls, with the items algorithmically determined to be most relevant placed at the top. But sooner or later we have to admit that using scrolls for this kind of business is ludicrous. There has to be a better way of arraying these vast harvests of information in a way that allows the researcher to zoom across degrees of specificity and through associative chains of context and meaning. I see no reason why a search shouldn't take place in some kind of virtual library, emulating the physical architecture of research settings, and allowing for some of the associative or accidental echoes that so often enrich a paper trail blazed through a brick-and-mortar library. Or cannot knowledge resemble a tree, or an arterial matrix? Must we be bound to the scroll?
Returning to the question of the librarian's role, I recalled this passage from James J O'Donnell's 1996 paper The Pragmatics of the New: Trithemius, McLuhan, Cassiodorus:
"The librarians of the world have, moreover, already led the way, for academics at least, into the new information environment, not least because they are caught between rising demand from their customers (faculty and students) and rising supply and prices from their suppliers, and so have already been making reality-based decisions about ownership versus access, print versus electronics, and so on. In short, they are just now our leading pragmatists. Can we imagine a time in our universities when the librarians are the well-paid principals and the teachers their mere acolytes in a distribution chain? I do not think we can or should rule out that possibility for a moment"
Also, I found this on Searchblog. For a trip down memory lane, check out the original Google in the Stanford archives (click on picture to right). Unfortunately, although it seems interactive, a search just brings up a bunch of stylesheets.
light reading 12.17.2004, 3:49 PM
"The Book as Object and Performance exhibition (through January 22 @ Gigantic Art Space in New York, curated by Sara Reisman) presents work by over 20 artists, each using the book as a point of departure to explore the physical, sensual or conceptual dimension of reading and the written word.
But despite lofty ambitions, the exhibit provides little more than light reading. Though several works are visually arresting, few do more than glide over the potentially bottomless themes at hand. Most stick to playful reorganization of materials: a pile of wooden hoops culling newspaper headlines from around the globe; a precarious tower of books with a gaping acid-chewed hole at the top; a doorway filled with crumpled sheets of paper; a dictionary with words dislocated from their definitions. A collection of small, easily forgotten pleasures.
An exception to this is a mysterious piece titled "Perseverance" by Jenny Perlin consisting of a small, worn book in a glass case, above which plays a strange film of man battling anxiety, chewing his nails to the quick. Also memorable was a one-night-only "reading" of the ten commandments by Polish-born artist Maciej Toporowicz, a piece first performed in communist Poland in 1980, and part of small program of live explorations last night, filling out the "performance" part of the equation. The gallery lights are extinguished and Toporowicz takes his place in front of an illuminated glass bowl of water, perched atop an open Bible. He places his face in the water, as though reading through the aqueous medium, and remains there long enough for the audience to start imagining.. what? That he is drowning in this sacred, much-abused text? That he is drawing impossible sustenance from its power? He begins to twitch and tremble. Finally his head rips up out of the water, gasping.
The photo above shows bottles containing philosophical texts that have been literally chewed up and spit out. Click below to see more pictures from the exhibition...
lizards! defying the laws of mass market physics 12.16.2004, 5:25 PM
Found this yesterday on changethis.com - a site devoted to publishing and disseminating manifestos. Documents are smartly designed pdfs, spread primarily through the viral channels of the blogosphere and personal email mentions.
In "The Long Tail" Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson predicts a new age of abundance, in which the Internet elevates niche markets and makes mass market quotas irrelevant. Of course, this is already happening, much to the distress of mass media dinosaurs, who are scrambling to protect their creaking architecture of revenue.
The "long tail" refers to the slender expanse of obscure niche sales enjoyed by a web retailer, as represented on an x-y graph. It extends from the body of high volume, mainstream sales (Wal-Mart and the like) like the caudal appendage of a lizard.
google and big brother 12.15.2004, 7:35 PM
Can Google remain true to its promise to "do no evil," now that it has shareholders to worry about, advertisers to please, and an ever-increasing reach into the repositories of human knowledge? Google still gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. It's got the goofy name, those cute seasonal tailorings of its masthead, the lava lamps. And this is not to mention the various amusing pastimes - the "Google Whack" game in which you try to find two words that cohabit only one of the search engine's eight billion web pages; or every writer's guilty pleasure, the Googling of the self, the "auto-Google," that delicious act of cyber-onanism.
But where might it lead? One day, when I open my fridge, might a sensor not read my searching eye and know that I am looking for milk? And knowing that I have run out, suggest an array of retailers who might be able to replenish my supply? Could Google come to mediate every exchange of information, no matter how inane, or how carnal?
Or could it come to resemble something like the Central Intelligence Corporation in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash - a cross between the CIA, the Library of Congress, and DARPA's "Total Information Awareness" program?
the book as object and performance - exhibit in New york 12.15.2004, 5:59 PM
"The Book as Object and Performance is an exhibition of artworks that takes the format of the book as a point of departure to deconstruct that which is bound up in text, image and the physicality of books."
Through January 22 @ Gigantic Art Space
*Plus: tomorrow night, in conjunction with the exhibition!
Thursday, December 16, 6-8pm: an evening of performances by AUX (Reynard Loki and Christopher Shores), Joseph A. Fish, Jesal Kapadia, Pia Lindman, and Maciej Toporowicz..
Dr. Dial-up 12.15.2004, 1:05 PM
Click here to read more
There is a new initiative underway to make biomedical research immediately available on line and free to the public. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 66% of those with internet access have used it to look for health/medical information. That means that over 85 million Americans (and who knows how many people worldwide) went online last year to doctor themselves. Is this a new kind of do-it-yourselfer, the amateur physician, Google-ing a diagnosis and a cure? And when all of this new "information" becomes available, will the office visit--which the HMOs are already putting the squeeze on--become a thing of the past?
Children and Books: Forming a World-View 12.14.2004, 9:44 PM
When I think about the part books played (and still play) in forming my world-view, I have to think about them as tethered to a set of circumstances. It is impossible to say, for example, whether it was Gardner's Art Through the Ages that awakened my passion for visual art, or my teacher Gretchen Whitman, who introduced the book to me and led me through it.
The book is part of a matrix that is difficult to parse. How is one's world-view formed? Certainly books are a part of the process, but maybe they function more as "tools" then as "beings." Insofar as they are extensions of the people or circumstances that drove us to them. With this in mind, it's not surprising that very few of these lists are the same.
It's interesting that nobody confesses that children's books formed their world-view. I was profoundly influenced by the books I read when I was a child. The Little House on the Prairie series, and the Wizard of Oz still resonate with me. Dorothy and Laura Ingalls were pioneers--girl scouts, who were always prepared and never complained. They were independent, pragmatic survivors. I'm not saying this is the best collection of virtues one could strive for, but, nevertheless I recognize them in myself and think they were engendered, to some extent, by those books. Also, I must mention the fantastic strangeness of Dr. Seuss (who prepared me for surrealism), Maurice Sendack, Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson.
Children's books are there at the beginning, digging into our consciousness. The fact that children must, initially, be read to, illuminates something about how the book functions for humans. My son is 14 months old and he loves books. That is because his grandmother sat down with him when he was six months old and patiently read to him. She is a kindergarten teacher, so she is skilled at reading to children. She can do funny voices and such. My son doesn't know how to read, he barely has a notion of what story is, but his grandmother taught him that when you open a book and turn its pages, something magical happens--characters, voices, colors--I think this has given him a vague sense of how meaning is constructed. My son understands books as objects printed with symbols that can be translated and brought to life by a skilled reader. He likes to sit and turn the pages of his books and study the images. He has a relationship with books, but he wouldn't have that if someone hadn't taught him. My point is, even after you learn to read, the book is still part of a complex system of relationships. It is almost a matter of chance, in some ways, which books are introduced to you and opened to you by someone.
I think people who are resistant to electronic books worry that this intimacy will be lost in a non-paper format. But clearly, it's not the object itself, it's the meaning brought to it by and through people. The medium won't really change that.
books behind bars - the Google library project 12.14.2004, 4:34 PM
How useful will this service be for in-depth research when copyrighted books (which will account for a huge percentage of searchable texts) cannot be fully accessed? In such cases, a person will be able to view only a selection of pages (depending on agreements with publishers), and will find themselves bombarded with a variety of retail options. On a positive note, the search will be able to refer the user to any local libraries where the desired book is available, but still, the focus here remains squarely on digital texts as simply a means of getting to print texts.
Absent a major paradigm shift with regard to the accessibility and inherent virtue of electronic texts, this ambitious project will never achieve its full potential. For someone searching outside the public domain, the Google library project may amount to nothing more than a guided tour through a prison of incarcerated texts. I've found this to be true so far with Google Scholar - it turned up a lot of interesting stuff, but much of it was password protected or required purchase.
Intertextual Community 12.12.2004, 9:58 PM
When I read about Shelly Jackson's new project--to "publish" a story by tattooing each of its 2,095 words onto the body of a different person--I thought what a great idea, and I wondered if it might actually be telling us something about the direction books are going. As the digital book begins to emerge--glorious, ephemeral, and electric--are we going to feel compelled to make something even more intimate and rarified as counterpoint?
Lawrence Lessig on "writing" 12.11.2004, 6:17 PM
Closing the USC conference "Scholarship in the Digital Age," Lessig spoke on "free culture" and the current legal/cultural crisis that in the next few years will define the constraints on creative production for decades to come. Due to obsessive fixation by a handful of powerful media industries on the issue of piracy, the massive potential of networked digital culture that has briefly flowered in the past decade could be destroyed by draconian laws and code controls embedded in new technologies. In Lessig's words: "never in our past have fewer exercised more legal control."
Lessig elegantly picked up one of the conference's many threads, multimedia literacy, referring to the bundle of new forms of cultural and scholarly production - remixing, reusing, networking peer-to-peer, working across multiple media - as simply "writing." This is an important step to take in thinking about these new modes of production, and is actually a matter of considerable urgency, considering the legal changes currently underway. The ultimate question to ask is (and this is how Lessig concluded his talk): are we producing a legal culture in which writing is not allowed?
more from USC conference: useful dichotomies for reconsidering scholarship in the digital era 12.11.2004, 11:48 AM
from Tara McPherson:
- practice/theory (practice as research in action)
- process/product (embrace productive failure)
- open/closed (what does versioning mean?)
- dialogue/argument (new ways of marshaling evidence; what does it mean when argument shifts into dialogue?)
- pedagogy/scholarship/service (tenure system is archaic; most non-traditional modes of scholarly inquiry are considered nothing more than community service)
- many/single (how do we rethink collaboration?)
- tools/theories (blurring that boundary)
Tara McPherson is Associate Professor of Gender and Critical Studies; Chair, Division of Critical Studies, School of Cinema-Television, USC; and editor of the forthcoming Vectors, an electronic peer-reviewed journal.
Live from "Scholarship in the Digital Age" Conference at USC: The New Story 12.10.2004, 2:53 PM
Scholarship in the Digital Age
This morning's presentations got me thinking more about the narrative of the future--the multilayered, accreted story style that John Seely Brown referred to. How is that story going to be told and received? Will the novel become the dinosaur of alphabetic literacy?
Is the new book going to be a game, conversation, multi-layered, multi-authored, highly mutable and never-ending story? Assuming that the story is a conceptual device the culture uses to deconstruct reality, to make meaning, and to create, in some cases, a kind of anthem to rally around, what happens when our traditional narrative structures are replaced? If the single author, plot-driven novel is not the form of the future, then what do you get when you ask a million gamer/authors to shape an epic on the fly? What happens to our perception of reality if our stories are unstable, mutable, and open source?
NYPL ebook collection leaves much to be desired 12.10.2004, 1:51 PM
I just checked out two titles from the New York Public Library's ebook catalog, only to learn, to my great astonishment, that those books are now effectively "checked out," and cannot be downloaded again by anyone else until my copies time out.
It boggles the mind that NYPL would go to the trouble of establishing a collection of electronic titles, only to wipe out every advantage offered by digital texts. In fact, they do more than simply keep the ebooks on the level of print, they limit them further than that, since there are generally multiple copies of most print titles in the NYPL system.
The people responsible for this catalog have either entirely failed to grasp the concept of infinitely accessible, screen-based books, or they grasp it all too well and are trying to stunt it at its inception, perhaps out of fear of extinction of the print librarian. More likely, they are under heavy pressure by a paranoid copyright regime. Whatever the reason, the new ebook catalog shows a total lack of imagination and offers nearly no tangible benefit for the reader.
Beyond that, the books themselves are poorly designed and unpleasant to read. My downloaded copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (which, by the way, I found in the "Romance" section) evidences no more than ten minutes worth of design work, and appears to be simply a cut-and-pasted ASCII file from Gutenberg with a garish graphic slapped on the cover. My copy of Chain of Command by Seymour Hersh was a bit more respectable - more or less a pdf facsimile of the print edition.
On an amusing note, the "literary criticism" section is populated almost entirely by Cliff's Notes.
3,000 electronic titles at new york public library 12.09.2004, 2:26 AM
This is the third Times article this week on e-books. What's happening?
An Exchange With Alan Kay 12.08.2004, 5:39 PM
Hi Bob -
I've been asked questions like this several times in the past, and have never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. I estimate that I've read between 15,000 and 20,000 books, with about 1/10th of these being really worthwhile, and perhaps another 1/10th or more really useful as "how not to think about it" that serve as a large field of comparative and contrasting ideas. I think a central answer to your question from me is that I would simply not have my world view if it weren't for books, and not just a few books but the wealth of multiple perspectives that the printing press made possible and encouraged.
The most important events in my life were learning how to read fluently before school age, and having read many books by the time I got to the constricting dogmas of school learning. This allowed me to resist and to gradually build my own mind, again largely through reading. I believe this is also an important answer to much of the good that has happened in the last 400 years. It's hard to pick 3 books that changed the world, but there is no doubt in my mind that the combination of new kinds of argumentation and many more points of view from thousands of books broke apart a lot of the rigidity of thought that has characterized most of human existence. Sorry, best I can do ...
P.S. If you had to pick one for the 17th century, it would be Newton's Principia Mathematica. I came upon this in my late 20s or early 30s and it would be my pick for the number one "amazing book" ever written. However, my course and POV were already set by the time I actually got around to buying and reading it.
to which Bob replied:
So . . . do you think books are playing the same role today as they did 40-50 years ago when we were growing up? My instinct is no . . . but even if i'm right, i'm not sure if it is because times are different or because the media landscape has changed so dramatically.
to which Alan replied:
No [in answer to "do you think books are playing the same role today ... ] and I think that much of the new technology in the 20th and 21st centuries has been used to automate old oral forms (telephone, radio, movies, TV, voice mail, etc.) and this has taken quite a bit of day to day reading and writing out of most peoples' lives. We are wired for oral discourse and most are happy to stay there. The larger scheme of things was greatly aided by having writing be the only long distance replicable technology around for a long time -- and given that only 1% in Europe in 1400 could read, it really took the printing press to spread the hard to learn and literally mind-changing technology around sufficiently.
Also, McLuhan and Postman were pretty much right: that TV, especially, is a media form that delivers a 24 hour wall to wall environment that seems total, but lacks many important message carrying (and carrier) properties that the "written symbolic" media has. So, it's not that TV actually tells people how to think, but, as an environment, it is what people try to learn to be fluent in and adapt to, and this makes it difficult for most people to formulate non-TV kinds of thoughts (many of which have been critical to the development of the last 400 years). And TV is much easier to "learn". In simple: if you don't read and think for fun, you won't be fluent enough to read and think for purpose. This is why, when asked, I advise parents to treat TV and other similar media (including computer) like a cabinet of loaded guns or liquor. Locking it up is good, but not having in the house is probably better. But, since they are avid TV watchers and non-readers themselves, this advice has no effect. I think things are getting worse in part because TV is progressively making many more bad ideas seem normal.
...and again, later on...
Hi Bob --Your questions got me thinking about certain books over the years. I stand by my earlier claim that it was the totality of many many books that did the job on me. But, still, there were a few, especially some very early ones that got me thinking one way and not another. For example, the first adult book I read all the way through -- maybe at age 4 - was my father's copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I originally read it because I had gotten interested in the ancient Greeks (he was quite interested). But the last part of the book contained Norse myths and these were in some cases similar to the Greek ones. This got me to realize that these were just stories and needed more than claims to back them up. This helped tremendously in resisting the Bible during later attempts to force this on me. Another early book was a long one, also my Dad's, Breasted's Ancient Times, maybe read at age 6 or 7. Again, I originally started reading it because I though ancient (and "lost") civilizations were cool (and loved the different architectures, etc.). But, I started to realize that human beings are driven to similar forms under similar conditions, etc. This led me to Anthropology later on.
A Life Magazine on the Holocaust (published in 1945, but I saw in 1947 at age 7)completely horrified me, and made me afraid of adults to this day (and rightly so).This was likely one of the earliest insights and shocks that motivated my later long standing interests in helping children to think better than most adults do today. Willi Ley's Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel around age 8 had a big effect. One memory from this book was the strange idea that you couldn't just aim a rocket at the planet you wanted to go to, but had to create an orbit for the rocket that would cause it and the planet to meet many months in the future. I can't quite explain why this had such a big effect on me. Science fiction, especially of Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, etc., had a huge effect, and got me to read many deeper books, like Korzybski's Science and Sanity. To have a conversation with a professor who didn't like grad students but did like McLuhan, I spent the better part of the summer of 67 really understanding Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. This was one of the biggest most useful shocks I got from a book. Marvin Minsky's Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines had a great effect on getting me to think more mathematically about computing (maybe 1968), and this led to McCarthy's meta definition of LISP in the LISP 1.5 Manual (a book of sorts), which was the key to really inventing objects "right". And so forth ...
microlit looms large 12.08.2004, 8:28 AM
We've been hearing more and more about the phenomenon of books downloaded to a cell phone screen, so much so that even the mainstream press has been talking about a resurgence of e-books - a topic they almost entirely dropped after the efforts of Microsoft and Gemstar failed to take off a couple years back. And people are doing more than simply reading books on their phones - they can surf the web, watch soap operas and, of course, play video games as they throttle through the subway or break for lunch.
Perhaps most interesting is that while many cell phone readers are downloading conventional print texts - novels, popular nonfiction etc. - there are many more, especially in Asia, who are downloading literature that is being written exclusively for this new medium, particularly serialized novels. These stories are intended for bite-sized consumption, peppered throughout the day, week or month. And they often employ the new technology as literary device - SMS romances, mysteries spun from a single errant text message. Once again, the medium proves to be the message..
It's hard to tell where this is going, but it's certainly more interesting than the prefab model promoted in the first generation of e-books. There is something totally original, totally native, about this new wave of digital reading.
Three Books That Influenced Your Worldview: The List 12.07.2004, 5:06 PM
Yesterday I was thinking about the fact that books were the crucial element in the formation of my world view and wondered if that is the case with younger people. My guess yesterday morning was that people over 40 would easily come up with a list of books that influenced their way of looking at the world. Also - and this was probably the key idea I was testing - I assumed that when baby boomers came of age, specifc books (let's say a dozen titles) were a crucial element in a shared cultural zeitgeist. By contrast, today I don't see particular titles dominating the scene as they did 35 years ago.
Well . . . turns out I was pretty much wrong, at least as far as the 100+ people in my 40+ and 35- sample groups were concerned. Very few titles made it on to more than one list and I don't see dramatic differences in the lists based on age.
One remarkable fact which you'll notice when you look at the lists is the fantastic diversity in print culture. One can only dream that we will one day have such rich variety among works which are born digital.
This experiment of course hints at the bigger question: are books as important today in terms of forming world view as they were 35-40 years ago, and if not, what is taking their place? Most importantly: if not, what effect does the shift in dominant media have on the creation of world view?
If this gets anyone's juices flowing, we'd love to have suggestions about how to explore these questions further.
Continue reading for the list...
Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Norman O. Brown Life Against Death
Paul Goodman Growing Up Absurd
Jack Kerouac On The Road
The Universal Traveler, Koberg and Bagnall
Summerhill, A.S. Neill
The Whole Earth Catalog
1. Ayn Rand's _Anthem_ (I know, I know...liberal me shouldn't like such
things; but it came to me in a period that I needed to hear it was OK to
stand up to evil things going on all around me).
2. Mark Twain's _Letters from the Earth_ (his very dark, late writings that
completely transformed how I looked upon human belief and action)
3. Kenneth Burke's _Language as Symbolic Action_ (I didn't encounter this
one until graduate school, but his definition of man--"the symbol-using &
symbol-misusing animal"--has been indespensible on understanding things like
the latest election...).
merleau-ponty 'the visible and the invisible'
william mc donnaugh and michael baumgarten's 'cradle to cradle'
simon critchley 'on humour'
tho i might say that william gibson's 'neuromancer' ranks closely as
formative through being what i resist rather than embrace
1984, George Orwell
Independence Day, Richard Ford
The Marketing Imagination, Theodore Levitt
Story of O
Masterpieces of French Cooking
Mysterious Island, Jules Verne
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Candy, Terry Southern
Language, Thought, and Reality
(Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Psycholinguist)
The Tao Te Ching
The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty Soetsu Yanagi
here are three that come to mind, for different reasons, in the order I
Boris Vian, L'Écume des jours
Jean-Paul Sartre, Les Chemins de la Liberté
Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
In Dubious Battle/John Steinbeck
Feeling & Form/Susanne K. Langer
The Art of memory/Frances B. Yates
beckett waiting for godot
kuhn structure of scientific revolutions
wallace stevens the necessary angel
Life After God - Douglas Coupland
Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Rebel - Albert Camus
early books would be People's History of the united states and the underside of american history collection and probably some literary work like Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations.
Catcher in the Rye, Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Katie John-- Mary Calhoun, A book for adolescents about a tomgirl who lived in a brick house in Mississippi and was a bit of a female Huck Finn.
books I read young enough that they may actually have had an impact on my
Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (well, the early parts) (James Joyce)
books that were crucial in forming my world view because they led to a
violent rejection, at least at first:
S/Z (Roland Barthes)
House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
poets who helped to form my sensibility:
Rilke (Duino Elegies)
Milton (Paradise Lost)
books that had a big impact but partly because I spent time learning about
the dictionary / the OED / History of the English Language
the works of Anna Trapnel (obscure 17th c. prophet)
Vas de Caminha
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
To Kill A Mockingbird
Catcher in the Rye
1. Karl Marx - Capital (honest!)
2. Georges Bataille - Visions of Excess
3. Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States
4. David Harvey - The Condition of Postmodernity
5. Mike Davis - City of Quartz
Female Man by Joanna Russ
Synners by Pat Cadigan
The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckman
Hegel, Phenomenology of MInd
Virginia Woolf, Waves
Rilke, Duino Elegies
100 Years of Solitude
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance
When God Was a Woman
i'll bet all of the men list Catcher in the Rye. ;-)
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (probably the same for architects but who would ever admit it?)
Catch 22 by Kurt Vonnegut (which is why i understood that i could put the Fountainhead first)
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard (which took me to structuralism and politics before I knew it)
Franny & Zooey - Salinger
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Be Here Now - Ram Dasst
to kill a mockingbird
the sun also rises
a doll's house (okay, it's a play, but still...)
all of Plato
Birth of Tragedy
Rem Koolhaas's DELIRIOUS NEW YORK
Elaine Scarry's THE BODY IN PAIN
Joyce's PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST...
Genet by Edmund White
Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
Against Nature - Huysmans
Morris's Disappearing Bag - Rosemary Wells
Universe - Freedman & Kaufmann
Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler)
The Long-Distance Runner (Michael Harrington)
Don Quixote (Cervantes)
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning
Ulysses, James Joyce
Behavior in Public Places, Erving Goffman
The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels
Camus, The Rebel & L'etranger (count as one book ... read in Jr. High)
Old Testament, New Testament, Koran, Gita (count as one book ... read in High School)
Falukner, Yoknapatawpha Co novels ... read in HS & college (actually lots of different books could have gone in this slot ... Blake, Ginsberg, Kesey, Hemingway, Hesse, etc. come to mind ....)
Zorba the Greek
Call It Sleep
Crime and Punishment
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
The Book of Genesis
William Butler Yeats: Collected Poems (specific ones: Leda and the Swan, The Second Coming, A Prayer For My Daughtar, The Collar-Bone of a Hare, Under Ben Bulben,Lapis Lazuli, The Circus Animals' Desertion, and so many others).
I've listed three books that had, shall we say, an "early" influence and then three books that have been part of a more "mid-life" re-arrangement of this world view:
Three formative books:
1. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams
2. Tristan Tzara, "Dadaist Manifesto" (not a book) along with Lao Tze, Way of the Tao
3. Nabokov's Pale Fire
Three RE-formative books:
1. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey
2. Hardt & Negri, Empire
3. Virilio, War and Cinema
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
The Big 3 books:
-- In college years, Jack Kerouac, beginning with "On the Road" and moving to " Dharma Bums," "Visions of Cody," "Big Sur," and "Dr. Sax." The whole beat category had the greatest single impact on me in the pre-Vietnam years. But if a single book of the batch has to be named, it's "On the Road." Not the best, but the one that put the rest on the map.
-- young adult, Thoreau's "Walden Pond," "Civil Disobedience," and essays
-- after 40, Jerry Mander's "In the Absence of the Sacred"
Thomas Mann's " The Magic Mountain
Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine,
Thomas Kuhn's "Scientific Paradigm"
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Woman by Natalie Angiers
Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut
Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
The Killer Angels, Michael Schaara
Nory Ryan's Song, Patricia Reilly Giff
the truly disadvantaged by william julius Wilson
my varian microeconomics textbook
catcher in the rye.
Forming my world view huh?
Well, just to warn you, you're not going to get my favorite books or one's that I would necessarily recommend to others,
Respond back if you meant novels, more contemporary works, or were looking for an answer with greater utility. I can make lists all day.
but answering the question as literally as possible...
Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil
Gottlieb Frege - The Foundations of Arithmetic
Emile Durkheim - The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
HARD QUESTION, perhaps:
Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Neruda's Canto general.
Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment
The Arabian Nights
Mann's The Magic Mountain
and much more. Take your pick, I can't.
nikos kazanzakis, Report to Greco
tolstoy, war and peace
michel foucault, the birth of the clinic
Camus The Stranger (big bang in high school, not sure how i came across it but remember my father recommending i put it aside and read augustine instead)
Aristotle Poetics along with Pre-Socratic fragments (freshman year, raptured by how the ancients put the world together)
Henry James Portrait of a Lady (while hitchhiking through europe and sleeping in train stations, it emboldened me to think i could put my own life together how i pleased. tho, when i reread it in my 40's it was an entirely different book)
Malcolm X Speaks (the first book I ever read that talked about a world as I saw it--found it when I was about 18)
Mao Tse Tung Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art (actually the book is Mao on Lit and Art. But the essay was most important. It spoke to questions I was trying to solve within my art as a young artist. Then I began to get into how he is really exploring questions of work in a united front under the leadership of the proletariat. I literally read the cover off the book I read it so many times)
Dictatorship and Democracy and the Socialist Transition to Communism by Bob Avakian. Though this is a very recent book it is quit challenging and it encouraged me to deeply question some fundamental assumptions that I had held about Marxist theory and practice.
Because I have trouble counting, I want to put Beloved by Toni Morrison on the list. It is the most amazing piece of literature ever written. It doesn't form worldview in quite the same way as "political theory" but I wouldn't be the same person without having read this book.
geneaology of morals -- nietzsche
epitaph of a small winner -- machado de assis
birds of america -- lorrie moore
The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
Fanshen, William Hinton
Constantine Cavafy, Poems
It's tough to narrow it down, of course. I guess The Invisible Man, The Bright Shining Lie (Neal Sheehan as I recall) and A Room of One's Own. As achild I read everything James Thurber wrote several times over. So I guess that would count for the absurdist streak that still reigns over all --but the formative stuff was all about injustice and deception.
The Iliad/The Odyssey
The Book of Job
At 42, Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival
When I was 17, Joseph Conrad, Victory
When I was 27, Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
this is a difficult request. my list isn't very stable. three books i keep returning to are,
society of the spectacle by guy debord
illuminations by walter benjamin
and lastly the publications of semiotext(e), particularlly the foreign agents series. these little books are wonderful. favorite titles include, speed and politics by paul virilio, nomadology by deleuze and guattari, communiist like us by negri and guattari. if i had to reduce this down to one book it would be the recently published hatred of capitalism/a semiotext(e) reader, edited by chris kraus and sylvere lotringer.
a bonus pick hit just for the pleasure of the rant is t.a.z. the temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchy, poetic terrorism by hakim bey
The writings of Rumi
plays of Shakespeare
most recently -
Golas' The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment
a while ago
Watzlawick, Weakland, Fisch - CHANGE
and a long time ago
The Wind and the Willows
samule beckett murphy, molloy, waiting for godot
Richard Dawkins- The blind watchmaker
Edward O. Wilson- On human nature
Steven Pinker- The language instinct
A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
The Soong Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave
I guess I'd really have to say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was huge for me. I know that's not massively intellectual but it was the first time I cut class (stayed in the dorm 3 days and devoured the whole thing). It shaped my views about courage, among other things. It's so pop now that it may not count.
More seriously speaking, you are probably going to chuckle, but Alan Watts' The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are was seriously formative. Going back earlier still, Stranger in a Strange Land was a huge deal when I was a teenager, and I've re-read it several times since. Finally, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
I could go on and on about formative fiction but somehow I suspect that's not where you're going with this. Discovering magical realism as a genre was almost as important to me as discovering science fiction. My favorite fiction authors are Louise Erdrich, Charles De Lint, and Sue Miller at the moment.
As a reader of plays it's hard to separate books out.
Hmmmmm, that's tough, but this morning I'll go for
1. Ulysses, Joyce: made me realize how vast eternity is if one day can be so large
2. St Joseph Sunday Missal, the standard Amercican Catholic prayer book of the 50s and 60s and likely still. Catholics didnt read the Bible as such, so the Sunday Gospels and Epistles (Latin facing English) are all upbeat New Testament stuff and I was largely unaware of the violent, vengeful, nasty God of the Old Testament. Jesus still sounds good, if you actually look at what he says.
3. Lolita, Nabokov. At 20 I was only dimly aware of the scandal of older Hum with teenie Lo: the fun of the language and dark hilarity of the hero were enough to tip me permanently into life as satire.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Thought and Action by Stuart Hampshire
The Hidden INjuries of Class by Sennet and Cobb
Capital by Karl Marx
The Informed Heart by Bruno Bettelheim,
oops over already and that does not include fiction and works about love, sex and etc.
I guess Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth qualifies.
Discovering Paul Valery's notebooks and M. Teste was monumental.
In lieu of a third, you get the list including authors that were more affirmative than formative:
Borges (Labyrinth, Fictions)
Diderot (Jaques Le Fatalist)
Didion (everything, but especially White Album) and
Nabokov (Speak Memory if I had to pick)
wait, I forgot an entire category:
the classic dystopias I read in junior high:
Lord of the Flies
not to mention The Diary of Anne Frank ...
one more category:
the civil rights lit from the 60's:
Black Like Me (no one reads that or even knows about it any more)
Soul on Ice
Autobiography of Macolm X
They qualify as formative, but they never come to mind when I get these questions.
Crime and Punishment: the complexity of ethics
Anna Karenina: how tragic love is
Marjorie Morningstar: how not to marry a boring guy
off the top of my head i can think of john berger's ways of seeing. parts of the old testament are also pretty powerful to me. as are many companion books of feminist theology... i could say 'standing again at sinai' by plaskow.. and there were years of holocaust related books which informed my world view alot. it's hard to narrow it down... of course.. just here to help!
Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm
Don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantez
The Prince by Machiavelli
The Odyseey by Homer
"Sex, Time and Power" by Leonard Shlain
"Constantine's Sword" by James Carroll
"The Origins of Consciousness in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" by
"The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra
"The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram
"The Holgraphic Universe" by Michael Talbot
The Count of Monte Cristo
A History of the 20th Century (still reading)
Michael Strogoff (Jules Verne)
Niels Holgerson's Wonderful Journey (Selma Lagerlof)
The Red and the Black (Stendhal)
As a child, I was mesmerized by fairy tales, Aesoph's ables and Greek mysthology, loved Tom Sawyer and the Wizard of Oz, books by Erich Kaestner, as well as a
bunch of Croatian books.
As a teenager, up to my mid twenties I was very drawn to dark, existentialist literature. My favorite book of all times is "The Return of Filip Latinovicz," a
brilliant Croatian book by Miroslav Krleza, the best author we ever had. Also, I was extremely shaken up by "Kinder von dem Banhoff Zoo" by Christianne F. And
for good reason.
Then much later the Tao Te Ching came my way and I immediately connected on it very deeply. Never been the same since. Guess Hesse's books also had a pretty
deep influence on my, particularly since my father was very fond of them too.
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior.
Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity
"nine stories," j.d. salinger
"self help," lorrie moore
"the portable dorothy parker" (her fiction is grievously underknown and
under-read; focus is placed on her poetry, which indeed was witty and clever, but her fiction was so much more than that - hugely sensitive and insightful, as well as angry and politically/socially astute)
is it strange that these 3 "world-view forming" books are works of fiction? and not overtly political? nowadays, i'm reading more nonfiction than fiction, and almost everything i'm reading is politically oriented. but when i was a teenager/ college student, my leisure reading was fiction mostly.
when does a world view form, anyway? when are we officially finished forming one? i was fairly politically active in college; then i basically slept through the entire clinton administration, and through most of bush the elder, too; but in recent years i've read more and done more, in terms of politics and activism, than i ever had before. and i'd say i'm more to the left than i used to be? or maybe it's that the democrats, in whom i used to place a decent amount of faith, are more to the right than they used to be. ?when i went to sleepaway camp at age 12, there was a vegetarian meal-plan option, and i picked it. i'd never been a vegetarian before and hadn't realized i was about to become one. but when presented with the choice of a good diet with meat or a good diet without meat, there was, for me, no question. i've been a vegetarian ever since. you could say that the meal-plan option changed my world view by showing me that if i did not have to eat meat if i didn't want to, an idea that, at 12, i hadn't yet grasped on my own.
"fear of flying" was one more world-view-shaping book for me, when i was 17 or so. seriously. it's known for the sex but honestly it is not very sexy, in my opinion: it is an honest, well-written, well-woven story of family, partnership, religion, autonomy, monogamy, ambition, and how to survive these things.
Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Circles of Confusion by Hollis Frampton
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Though the early Marx, Benjamin's essays and he Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas H. Kuhn would be contenders as well.
I picked these because I was totally immersed in them (read them over and over and over) when I was very young. (I have a few books that I do that with as an adult too, but I don't think it's the same.) I actually don't know if these had any particular effect on my world view, but I figure they must have, because the exposure was constant and intense.
Before I could read: Goodnight Moon
Right after I learned how: a beautiful, large-format, illustrated Cinderella (I know. Yikes.) I don't know who the illustrator was or what the edition was. I could probably find out from my mother.
A couple of years after that: Mad magazine, supplied by my older brother
Narcissus and Goldmund
A Soldier of the Great War
1. "A Pattern Language", Christopher Alexander et. al.
2. "On Growth and Form", D'Arcy Thompson
3. "Codex Seraphinianus", Luigi Serafini
it sort of depends on what stage of develoment of that view you are getting at. like the lion the which and the wardrobe has always been on my bookshelf since I was a kid. marshall mcluhan got me interested in what i do today . . . but now i don't find his books really relevant or even interesting. so i am not even sure how to answer this one, but here's a shot. i'm giving
1. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility: The Ideas Behind the
World's Slowest Computer, Stewart Brand
2. The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord
3. Silence, John Cage
4. it's not a book but was like a book on tape for me - Laurie Anderson's box set
5. Andy Warhol Diaries
The Communist Manifesto _ Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Corazón de Piedra Verde_Salvador de Madariaga
Bersonism _ Guilles Deleuze
Doris Lessing, Golden Noteook
Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers
Carl Schorske, Fin-De-Siecle Vienna
grimus by salman rushdie
the bluest eye by toni morrison
a people's history of the united states by howard zinn
mont st. michele and chartres adams first edition (the book)
a timeless way of building christopher alexander
essentials in education rudolf steiner
medium is the massage mcluhan
the idea of / lovers discourse roland barthes
Brave New World
A Portrait of a Marriage
Film as a Subversive Art-- Amos Vogel
The Origin of the Family, private property and the state-Fred Engels
Amazon Odyssey--Ti-Grace Atkinson
Fanshen by William Hinton
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffith
Trotsky (3 volumes) by Isaac Deutcher
Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas (sad but true--but it was a way of getting to Aristotle)
Hard to remember back to when my world-view was forming, but
here's some things that had some influence (in all cases there were probably several books by the same author involved, I've picked one)
Abbie Hoffman: Revolution for the Hell of it
Hunter Thompson: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
Noam Chomsky: The Chomsky Reader
Then there's the books that started my obsession with quantum mechanics,
like Werner Heisenberg's "Physics and Beyond", but that's kind of a different story...
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
The Electronic Word, by Richard Lanham.
Stranger in a Strange Land (but only until I reached the age of 25)
100 Years of Solitude
Turning The Tide, Noam Chomsky
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
Homage To Catalonia, George Orwell
A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars
Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner
Son Rise by Barry Kaufman
The Grapes of Wrath
The Diary of Anne Frank
Walden (pond) h.d.thoreau
Lipstick Traces, greil marcus
Max Jamison wilford sheed
Melville, Moby-Dick (the power of metaphor/ambiguity)
Gaddis, The Recognitions (the place of artistic creation w/r/t forgery)
Joyce, Ulysses (structure & style, design)
Taylor Caldwell's Captains and Kings
Leon Uris's QB7
Orwell's Animal Farm
The Iliad by Homer
War and Peace by Tolstoy
The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez,
all because they take the long view on human nature.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Albert Camus, The Outsider
Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women
When books were still able to rock my world - that was in my teens.
So the first most shattering experience with reality (in Germany) was the follwing book I read in high school:
Christiane F. - Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo
(10 years later they made it into a stupid film)
much later: no2
Sculpting in Time, Andre Tarkovsky
much much later: no3
"The Book of Kings vol 2y" - Klaus Theweleit
The Telephone Book - Avital Ronell
1. Marx, German Ideology
2. EP Thompson, Making of the English working class
3. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature
4. Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and the Super Rich
I'm not sure that the last holds up but I remember being affected by it in reading it in the late 1960s when it first came out.
thomas kuhn, structure of scientific revoultions
john donne, devotions
william burroughs, naked lunch
Gulliver's Travels - Johnathan Swift
Gödel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter
Prometheus Rising - Robert Anton Wilson
for my early self
chronicles of narnia or the hobbit
for my college self
left hand of darkness
for my grad school self toss up between
discipline and punish:the birth of the prison, michel Foucault and
gender trouble, Judith butler
also: jeanette winterson's, the passion
Autobiography of Malcolm X
We the People, Leo Huberman
History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Jean Daubier
A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilbur
The Hydrogen Economy, Jeremy Rifkin
Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan
The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume II (The Power of
Identity), Manuel Castells
groups. for shaping how i see and interact with the world, i have 5. aside from the first they're in no particular order.
1) "men in dark times" by hannah arendt
2) "italian folktales" by italo calvino
3) "waiting for the barbarians" by j.m. coetzee
4) "the education of henry adams" by henry adams
5) "self-reliance and other essays" by r. waldo emerson
Movement for a New America
Brecht on Theatre
The Free-Lance Pallbearers (Ishmael Reed)
Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Stephane Mallarme, Collected Poems
CS Lewis Narnia titles
How to Lie With Statistics
Austen/Pride and Prejudice
...Shakespeare, Kafka, Machiavelli
A giacometti portrait
Hemmingway's "In our Time"
and maybe Ulysees.
Proust, La Recherche;
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind - Suzuki Roshi
A General Theory of Love - Dr. Thomas Lewis
Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein
Ficciones -- Jorge Luis Borges (in college)
Breakfast of Champions -- Kurt Vonnegut (in high school)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day -- Judith Viorst
(as a youngster)
Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)
On the Genealogy of Morals (Nietzsche)
Crash (J.G. Ballard)
a cool million by Nathaniel West
100 years of solitude, Marquez
Edie: an american biography. (edited by George Plimpton)
The Fourth Way - P.D. Ouspensky
The I Ching
Brother Karamazov - Dostoevsky
Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
We Would Like to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
Philip. Gourevitch (non-fiction about genocide in rwanda in '94)
Three books that have influenced my current weltanschauung (and when I read
1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (summer 2003)
2. American Woman by Susan Choi (winter 2004)
3. The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto (fall 2004)
Jürgen Habermas: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity;
Raplh Elison: Invisible Man
Harold Cruse: The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
I chose my three on the basis that I already get
unrestricted access to the bible and shakespeare and maybe
Freud thrown in... is that a deal??
The Alexandria Quartet. Lawrence Durrell. Actually first
published as four books initially...but also published as a
single volume very commonly..so I claim as one. Same story
four perspectives is not the same story
On Not Being able to Paint. Marion Milner. A diary of her
giving up trying to paint and draw according to
'instruction manuals' and embarking on a road of art self
Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. (Only read in
translation) stands in for all his writing that affected me
enormously as a student.
gaston bachelard, the poetics of space
salinger, catcher in the rye
T. H. White, The Goshawk
Anja Meulenbelt, The Shame Is Over
Aldous Huxley, Point CounterPoint
Travels With Charley
The Doh of Homer
1. Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
This is a tiny little book with an immense, immeasurable content. You read it in one breath, however, you constantly need to go back over and over again to "soak" dialogues/thoughts. It is about courage to be different, to be an early bird, to be considered and regarded "odd", weird, loose cannon, you name it. I have read it long, long time ago in Belgrade while I was in my high school, and believe you or not, I still remember reading it, the excitement to get to the end of the book. I may like this book so much as it reflects my own feelings about being brave to be different, in thinking, dressing, whatever, but still keep your integrity, passion, and take responsibility for this oddity that people perceive about you.....finally it also speaks about the price that each person has to pay to be what he truly believes in and not bend to the formality of the society. A lovely book, you should read it if you have not already, only about 100ish pages.
Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery
Another, little gem, written for kids apparently, however meant to be read by adults. This book has thought me about the value of friendship, and what each side has to give for friendship. It is not something as granted! A friendship is like a rose, as Little Prince was told, you have to water it to keep it alive. We so frequently take friendship for granted, and yet there is somebody out there who may be waiting for our call, a sympathetic ear etc. Also, it has thought me that in a relationship, any date, one should be punctual and this is for the following reason, as a Rose has told to Little Prince .....you should come as you have told me, not with such long delay. I have prepared my heart for you, and I have been excitingly waiting for you for hours before the moment you were supposed to come. My excitement has been building prior to that hour. If you do not come as
promised, I will be disappointed, and worse, I will never know when to prepare my heart for you, so when you come I will be indifferent. These are not the actual words, however this is a message that has been living with me ever since I read the book...again in my high school days. As a matter of fact, I was with a friend in Boston in February, and I brought myself the book in English.
3. Difficult decision for the third place, I am in between Demian - Herman
Hesse and Crime and Punishment - Dostoyevsky I will tell you about both. Demian - my high school favorite, it tells you about the magic and power of your wish! If you wish something deeply, deeply, from the heart and you never, ever has any doubts, not even for a split second, it will happen, it will occur, you will make it. Guess why it was my high school favorite.....I would meet a guy that I would like, he would not like me, but I would implement the advice from Demian......I will leave odds of my success to tell you in person.
Crime and Punishment - I love that book for the way it makes you feel about
the poor, underprivileged people./ I just loved Raskolnikov, the murderer, and Sonia the prostitute. My whole heart went for them. I guess this book has thought me that not everything is black or white when people are concerned. I know that I may sound very opinionated on many occasions, however, believe me, I do not judge people for what they are doing. I could only say that I do not like it and would not do it + everybody, everybody, including the worst murderer, still has a bit of something nice, it is up to other people to find out about it......if you do not believe me than go and read Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.
The Assistant, by Bernard Malamud
In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway
A Sentimental Education, Flaubert
Sadly also, Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
san mao ("three hairs")--chinese comic about impoverished, malnourished, semi-bald boy
the decisive moment--Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rudolf Otto's "Idea of the Holy" is hard to find these days, but was influential in terms of seeing "holy" as a broader thing than just Christianity.
I remember Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" moving me a lot in high school; made me think about all the development and urban sprawl issues more.
"Kenny's Window" by Maurice Sendak has come back to me again and again with different layers of meaning poking through.
The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand
The Kama Sutra
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Sound and the Fury
Henderson the Rain King
"Beat The Turtle Drum" (a "young adult" book) -- Life sucks, and people you care about die.
"The Grapes of Wrath" -- Life sucks, then you either die or work much too hard.
"Blown Sideways Through Life" -- Work sucks, and it can always suck more.
The Hitcher's Guide to the Galaxy, because it made writing seem fun and easy
Moby Dick, because it made writing seem laborious and futile
The Odyssey, because it is better told than written
Saul Bellow: Humboldt's Gift
Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse
Charles Dickens: David Copperfield
The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs
Advertising the American Dream
Lies My Teacher Told Me
as for 3 books forming my "world view" that's hard to answer i guess (maybe easier when aimed at truer Young People?) so i will maybe swipe at a broad interpretation and guess The Little Engine That Could, Franny & Zooey, and a third to hopefully be determined by the end of this email.
let's see, my third. maybe the jungle? i'm having an awful time placing myself back in time. perhaps i'm trying too hard
1. Georg Lukacs, "The Theory of the Novel"
2. Jacques Derrida, "Limited Inc"
3. Woody Allen, "Without Feathers"
(postscript: oh, and of course Leviticus.)
When I think about the part books played (and still play) in forming my world view, I have to think about them as tethered to a set of circumstances. It is impossible to say, for example, whether it was Gardner's Art Through the Ages that awakened my passion for visual art, or my teacher Gretchen Whitman, who introduced the book to me and led me through it.
The book is part of a matrix that is difficult to parse. How is one's world view formed? Certainly books are a part of the process, but maybe they function more as "tools" then as "beings." Insofar as they are extensions of the people or circumstances that drove us to them. With this in mind, it's not surprising that very few of these lists are the same.
It's interesting that nobody confesses that children's books formed their world view. I was profoundly influenced by the books I read when I was a child. The Little House on the Prairie series, and the Wizard of Oz still resonate with me. Dorothy and Laura Ingalls were pioneers--girl scouts, who were always prepared and never complained. They were independent, pragmatic survivors. I'm not saying this is the best collection of virtues one could strive for, but, nevertheless I recognize them in myself and think, to some extent, they were engendered there by those books. Also, I must mention the fantastic strangeness of Dr. Seuss (who prepared me for surrealism), Maurice Sendack, Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson.
Children's books are there at the beginning, digging into our consciousness. The fact that children must, initially, be read to, illuminates something about how the book functions for humans. My son is 14 months old and he loves books. That is because his grandmother sat down with him when he was six months old and patiently read to him. She is a kindergarten teacher, so she is skilled at reading to children. She can do funny voices and such. My son doesn't know how to read, he barely has a notion of what story is, but his grandmother taught him that when you open a book and turn its pages, something magical happens--characters, voices, colors--I think he has a given him a vague sense of meaning. My son understands books as ojects printed with symbols that can be translated and brought to life by a skilled reader. He likes to sit and turn the pages of his books and study the images. He has a relationship with books, but he wouldn't have that if someone hadn't taught him. My point is, even after you learn to read, the book is still part of a complex system of relationships. It is almost a matter of chance, in some ways, which books are introduced to you and opened to you by someone.
I think people who are resistant to electronic books worry that this intimacy will be lost in a non-paper format. But clearly, it's not the object itself, it's the meaning brought to it by and through people. The medium won't really change that.
Post childhood influence goes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude. And the book of Ecclesiastes, which I read during a particularly disturbing and enlightening business trip to Hong Kong in the late 1980's. I read Ecclesiastes several times during that three week trip, always late at night alone in my hotel room while eating spicy Indian food. I don't know if it was the food or the book, but I would have the most astounding nightmares after those sessions.
Graham Greene once wrote that "it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives," and in that spirit I'd have to answer honestly that the list would have to include:
Jack London's The Sea Wolf
Palgrave's Golden Treasury
Howard Fast's Citizen Tom Paine
There was one book that came to mind immediately as a transformative book : Love's Body by Norman O. Brown. There are other books that I can think of as extremely enjoyable (100 Years of Solitude) or books that definitely shaped my thinking ( Childhood and Society by Erik Erikson; I and Thou by Martin Buber). But, at this moment, only Love's Body was "crucial".
Tao te Ching, by Lao Tzu
The Animal Rights Handbook, by Linda Fraser (have read other material since
buying this book at 16 but it was the most revolutionary - and shocking - to me because it was my first on the subject)
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
women's room by Marilyn french
middlemarch by george eliot
surfacing by margaret atwood
or more recently
middlesex by jeffrey eugenides
Lord of the Rings
Redwall (by Brian Jacques)
urgent? is the book dying out that quickly?!?
jeez. in the interest of diversity, i'll name 3 philosophy books that have influenced my thinking; otherwise, i'd have a hard time answering such a tough and broad question:
kant's critique of pure reason
schopenhauer's the world as will and idea
kierkegaard's fear and trembling
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Dispatches by Michael Herr
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Sorry for the Vietnam focus, but I think both books belong on my list. The Herr because it so deftly lays out the folly of most wars, and the O'Brien because of what he says about more personal things, like love and courage.
Kind of like picking the three most important dandelions in a field, but:
Dune, Frank Herbert
The Essential Foucault
JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
okay, great, interesting question. I'm not sure i have 3, but i'll tell you what i can.
First, my favorite book of all time, and crucial to forming, or better yet, clarifying or explaining to me my existing worldview, is
Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey.
Also, The Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman.
Really not sure otherwise. i hope this helps. the Kesey is very true.
the toughest part is getting this down to three. to do so, I will avoid the cliche of The Bible, because that book was indirectly crucial; i think judaism in general was more crucial than the bible itself.
so I will say:
Moby-Dick by Melville.
Sacred Fragments, a book about Judaism by Neil Gillman
Greatest American Leaguers, a YA book about baseball
1) To Kill a Mockingbird
2) Brothers Karamazov
3) Old Testament
Burnett, The Secret Garden
Roth, Portnoy's Complaint
Saramago, The Stone Raft
Johnny Learns to Type
The User Illusion -- Tor Norretranders (about consciousness)
The Path of Blessing -- Marcia Prager
Moby Dick -- Melville
"Hiroshima" by John Hersey
"Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn
And third place is a dead heat between:
"An Actor Prepares" - Stanislavksi in combo with "Respect for Acting" - Uta Hagen; all of my high school text books in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, geography, environmental science and
calculus; and The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
If I have to pick, I'd say the textbooks more than anything else. If textbooks don't count, let's call it Stanislavski because he taught me how people work on the inside.
- The New Testament
- The collected writings of Bertolt Brecht
- Howards End by E. M. Forster
Howard Zinn: A Peoples History of the United States;
Where do I come from? (a sex-ed book for children, my mom gave it to me as a young kid, and I think it was fundamental in helping me have an educated and appropriate understanding of the process of reproduction from a young age);
English Grammar for students of Russian (without this book I wouldn't be where I am today)
SIX NONLECTURES BY ee cummings
NEW YORK TRILOGY by Paul Auster
DESERT SOLITAIRE by Edward Abbey
The Divine Comedy--Dante (does that count as 3 or 1?)
Various dialogues by Plato (apology, meno, republic) Machiavelli's 'The
1984--George Orwell--my world view has been much more laden with
conspiracy theory after this
People's History of the US--Howard Zinn
If This is a Man--Primo Levi
Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences--Howard Gardner
Ficciones - Borges
Allegra Maude Goldman - Edith Konecky (precocious Jewish girl growing up in Brooklyn)
Little Women - Alcott
-Twelfth Night because of what it says about sadness
-Yeats complete poems because it's Yeats complete poems
-Frannie and Zooey because it's comforting
-Waiting for Godot because I didn't realize that people talk different than they think
-War and Peace because if it were the only book in the world that would be fine
-The ecclesiastes part of the bible and some of the psalms
-The Lives of the Great Composers because it shows that good artists can come out of any era of history
-Reflections in a Golden Eye because it is possible to explain a certain aspect of the human psyche so exactly that there is no other way to explain it
-Winnie the Pooh because of what it says about anxiety
-The Aenied because I had to read the fucking thing in latin and the words are out of order
-Rimbaud's complete poems because he STOPPED writing when he was 24
-Sickness unto death because of what it taught me about sex
-To Kill a Mockingbird because it actually isn't cheesy
-Bonjour Tristesse becuase it was written out of revenge
-A Moveable feast because it taught me how to travel and because it's so mean
-Dubliners because every playwright has to read that
1) Geanology of Morals (F. Nietszche)
2) Being in Time (Heidegger)
3) Wasteland (Eliot)
4) Crime and Punishment (Dosto)
The Origin of Species - Darwin
Dr. Dolittle - Hugh Lofting
A Book of Nonsense - Edward Lear
Your questions got me thinking about certain books over the years. I stand by my earlier claim that it was the totality of many many books that did the job on me. But, still, there were a few, especially some very early ones that got me thinking one way and not another.
For example, the first adult book I read all the way through -- maybe at age 4 -- was my father's copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I originally read it because I had gotten interested in the ancient Greeks (he was quite interested). But the last part of the book contained Norse myths and these were in some cases similar to the Greek ones. This got me to realize that these were just stories and needed more than claims to back them up. This helped tremendously in resisting the Bible during later attempts to force this on me.
Another early book was a long one, also my Dad's, Breasted's Ancient Times, maybe read at age 6 or 7. Again, I originally started reading it because I though ancient (and "lost") civilizations were cool (and loved the different architectures, etc.). But, I started to realize that human beings are driven to similar forms under similar conditions, etc. This led me to Anthropology later on.
A Life Magazine on the Holocaust (published in 1945, but I saw in in 1947 at age 7) completely horrified me, and made me afraid of adults to this day (and rightly so). This was likely one of the earliest insights and shocks that motivated my later long standing interests in helping children to think better than most adults do today.
Willi Ley's Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel around age 8 had a big effect. One memory from this book was the strange idea that you couldn't just aim a rocket at the planet you wanted to go to, but had to create an orbit for the rocket that would cause it and the planet to meet many months in the future. I can't quite explain why this had such a big effect on me.
Science fiction, especially of Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, etc., had a huge effect, and got me to read many deeper books, like Korzybski's Science and Sanity.
To have a conversation with a professor who didn't like grad students but did like McLuhan, I spent the better part of the summer of 67 really understanding Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. This was one of the biggest most useful shocks I got from a book.
Marvin Minsky's Computation: Finite and Infinite Machines had a great effect on getting me to think more mathematically about computing (maybe 1968), and this led to McCarthy's metadefinition of LISP in the LISP 1.5 Manual (a book of sorts), which was the key to really inventing objects "right".
Parsing the Behemoth: Thought Experiments 12.06.2004, 10:33 AM
Bob talks about the book as metaphor. It is the thing that does the heavy lifting, a technology that allows us to convey our thoughts through a concrete vehicle. This site looks at how that vehicle is changing as a new electronic means of conveying written information begins to come of age.
When asked to imagine a metaphor for "the book," we come up with something more organic, a lumbering behemoth with a hundred arms, waving anemone-like through the air to catch out particles of human discourse. The creature has some kind of hair or fur entangled with innumerable flotsam and jetsam. It is buzzing with attendant parasitical organisms, and encrusted with barnacles. To ask if the behemoth has a future is not the right question because the book, as we are picturing it in this analogy, is an immortal. The electronic incarnation of the book does not kill the old behemoth, but rather becomes part of it.
In his afterword to "the Future of the Book," Umberto Eco noted that:
"In the history of culture it has never happened that something has killed something else, something has profoundly changed something else." We are interested in the nature of this change as it relates to the book and its evolution.
To examine this heavy lifting device, to define and to understand this aggregate behemoth is the project of our "future of the book" blog. To begin, we have initiated a few thought experiments and put forth several questions that we hope will engender productive discourse. We welcome ideas and suggestions for future experiments.