#books I read in 2019 thread - I want to make a blog post of all of these at the end of the year so here are my notes so far:
#books Mark Fisher - Ghosts of My Life -- Three types of Mark Fisher readers: depressed, communist, and having good taste in music. As a depressed communist the pagecount bulk of this book felt like nodding along to interesting observations about things I had no clue about but could apply elsewhere, the essay about Joy Division and depression however was really good and will stick with me.
#books Laboria Cuboniks - The Xenofeminist Manifesto -- I super liked this. Was wary going in bc some guy told me he felt it was "kind of problematic" bc "accelerationism" but it seems to have much more in common with the Low Tech philosophy to challenge the idea that technology and scientific "rationalism" are inherently "progressive" and instead look at detourned uses of tech in the past and present. Pro web 1.0 and housewives making drugs!
#books Ali Smith - How to Be Both -- I always talk about bi subjectivities and the historical portion of this book is really "it"-- in her dealings with both men and women Francesco is never straight or gay, plus the ambiguous relationship to gender both protagonists have is a nice alternative to the frequent misogynistic/biphobic presumption that bi women somehow uniformly have a happy relationship to (hetero)femininity. And also it's just.. beautiful. lol
Almost all of the contributors were very clear about HOW they managed to pull off such a varied and whole-life art practice and that was, squatting, free art schools, and collectively living off what they could get from grants and social security. So like, we gotta bring those things back or at least work on structures that provide similar benefits to foster that type of community and experimentation again.
#books Hamja Ahsan - Shy Radicals -- A loving pastiche of various forms of revolutionary writing, a revenge fantasy (maybe), an elegant exploration of why neoliberal capitalism often compels people to rout out or blabber over those who are shy, quiet, contemplative, sad... most importantly against "social skills" and integration. Funny, but extremely real.
#books Ursula K LeGuin - The Left Hand of Darkness -- This one was more of a struggle for me than The Disposessed, which I blazed through and loved, I had to go back and reread sections because I have trouble following changing perspectives and characters with multiple names and fantasy sci-fi words for things, and this book has... a lot of all of that. But I ended up totally loving Estraven and finding the world so interesting. I love the thoroughness of LeGuin's curiosity for her own fictional cultures
#books Simone Weil - An Anthology -- Marxist thought is scientific, of course, but the limits of empirical science are also thoroughly theorized. Weil's work offers interesting ways of dealing with these contradictions, rethinking what kind of world we want to work for not because it's provable but because it's good. I liked it a lot even if it was challenging and I sometimes disagreed with it...
#books - Russian Cosmism ed. Boris Groys -- Collection of writings by a group of utopian anarchists who heavily influenced both soviet sci-fi and the space program. General concept is to develop a speculative politics of biological immortality, deep space travel, terraforming and so on... Groys' intro and curation of the texts doesn't fawn over the writers as unrecognized geniuses (the writer of the piece arguing for mass blood transfusions died of... an experimental blood transfusion! and --
some of the arguments are what we'd today recognize as ableist eugenics.) but instead he provides context for the innovation and failings offered by an uncompromisingly utopian perspective (which some have argued the left currently lacks), putting texts side by side that move between the absolutely crazy and the crazily prescient.
#books Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism - Marina Warner -- Okay, MAYBE I read this bc of FGO but it is a really wide-ranging and fun to read biography. Rather than try and present a unified true narrative Warner combines historical record, Joan's legendary and later saint status, and a variety of analytic perspectives to present all our images of her... I especially liked the chapters focused on her androgyny, contrasting depictions in france and england, and issues of class mobility in her story
#books Art After Money, Money After Art - Max Haiven -- A wide-ranging deep dive on the inherent entanglements of art and money. Rather than try and argue one can be saved from the other, Haiven's position is for the abolition of both. Stopping short of utopianism, I admired how, despite criticizing much of the art being made today, Haiven still centers creativity and aesthetic pleasures as vital, where many others I've noticed will just stop at the dismissal of any advanced or not easily politicized art.
#books Seasonal Associate - Heike Geissler -- This one got a bit of hype as the first novel "about" working at Amazon but really it is much more revealing about the broader issues at "friendly" "flat hierarchy" workplaces that tend to churn through workers. Everyone is either a petty tyrant or being talked to like a child, sometimes moving between the two, and the book is really good at conveying how this environment invades even private, off the clock psychological space.
#books Her Body & Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado -- Is this the first time on this list that I'm reading something vaguely "trendy" ie, I see other ppl discussing it still? Going to sound like an absolute fuddy-duddy but some of these were a bit too sexy for me (esp. the first few), but they're also all very good. Favorite is "Especially Heinous," which is just a generous and fun piece of work, but "Eight Bites" was the one that made me cry. Made me want to get back in touch w my own weird fiction.
#books The Book of the City of Ladies - Christine de Pizan -- Christine de Pizan is considered one of the prototypical feminists in the Western canon at least, for writing against commonly held misogynistic beliefs. She was also widowed at 25 and supported herself and her children through her writing, which makes her arguably the first professional writer (freelancer?). Her comments on the psychological toll of rape on women are considered especially progressive for the time.
While this book is not a comprehensive gender binary critique, which is what I tend to want, it is fun to read, most of it is her retelling the lives of historical, legendary or fictional women in a way which highlights their virtue rather than arguing their actions show some sort of inherent female folly. Especially interesting is the use of the medieval syncretism of the time, so figures like Greek gods are discussed as real people and pre-christian pagan women are still presented as potentially admirable
#Books Hotel World - Ali Smith -- My second Ali Smith, and I REALLY loved this one so much I blazed through it one way on the train when I intended to read it over a round trip (back to that later). Again her use of detail is so vivid without just being paragraphs of self-indulgent description and I love how she handles usually schlocky and sentimental themes like death being a part of life and the interconnectedness of everything etc! also it was a very good hotel.
#Books Confabulations - John Berger -- Had to grab a book from the nearest bookstore while running to the train and luckily this was there, and cheap. It's a late collection of essays that are about kind of random topics, so I guess they swept together essays that didn't quite fit in all his other collections? (I get the feeling they weren't originally meant to appear all together bc there's a paragraph in each one about how we have to end capitalism, which is why I love him, also some beautiful drawings)
#Books Marx at the Arcade - Jamie Woodcock -- Really wanted to like this one but it's kind of two books and really short at the same time. The first half is about the production of games from mining to console factories to development to marketing and is great, timely, and could be expanded. The second half is more of an attempt to articulate some marxist frameworks for analyzing games as media objects which is comparatively pretty weak and uses most of the same examples of work everyone was five years ago
It takes such a quick tour of these perspectives that nothing is really new or incisive (almost all of the proposed perspectives were, in the field of games crit, very basic by now) and doesn't pause near enough on topics that could do with a real marxist-tinted unpackaging, like "flow" and "immersion." It ends up making a lot of rookie mistakes just reiterating oft-repeated "common sense" about videogames ("the 1983 crash was bc of bad games!") that took away from the obvious rigor in the other sections.
I am harsh because I wanted this to be good! And I feel like it so often stumbles because historical materialism as a lens by itself does not produce a sound analysis when you're taking people like the Atari guys and Jane McGonigall at their word!! There were so many points where I was like, wait, you're not going to unpack that?????
#books -- Universal Credit Otaku by Chris Michael and Other Rooms by Matthew Turner - two small press essay/autofictiony works that I kind of felt the same about so I'm putting them together. I mean, they're "interesting" in that they're both like, an obviously self-styled intellectual type guy putting a theory spin on some encounter with popular culture and/or the banal rich and what it says about contemporary capitalism more broadly...
but like... that's already such an en vogue format... kind of a self-consciously elevated thinkpiece, that once I figure out what it's doing it's like... "fine" but doesn't have any magic. Must a book be smart? is it not enough that it makes me feel something and/or enjoy life?
@coleoptera I don't think we measure nowadays how much the eugenics pseudoscience poison was widespread not so long ago, you find it pretty much everywhere I find, no matter how progressive the source
(same as antisemitism really, they have a lot in common ideologically)
@emptyfortress yeah like... it was never super explicit in the book but a thing they talked about was using technological developments to fix or eliminate any bodily inadequacy or abnormality... on the one hand the book is so sci fi you can kind of see them meaning like, providing cool cyborg solutions for people who want them but of course it's also dangerously close to forcing people to be a certain way or sterilizing people who have problems
@emptyfortress It also makes some of those nice broad, nonspecific to the point of meaninglessness statements about what is good and bad about how "primitive societies" are organized which was another huge early 20c thing that was largely unquestioned
Ah yes, french and british early 20th century sci-fi has those too, there's more to them than that but it's hard not to see them as a convenient justification for colonialism.
(If I'm not mistaken russia had its own version of it at the time with "internal colonization" and "russification" in the caucasus).
Still worth reading though, shame it requires that bit more mental energy to weed out the bullshit
@emptyfortress Yeah! I think it is very worth reading for the overview of a school of thought that is both kind of unusual and kind of overlooked in revolutionary history, but it also has many of the problems of the time
also i realised i kept missing your thread updates and they're all great, thank you for sharing them!
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