[NetBehaviour] New - Reviews of books I like:

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sat Nov 19 07:02:53 CET 2005

Reviews of books I like:

(Unnecessary proem from the low road:) On webartery, I wrote this in the
heat of a discussion: "This is coming home with a vengeance, as the
federal budget here cuts back on food stamps and student loans, and FEMA
tells victims to get out of their hotels in two weeks - they have no place
to go - after all the talk about 'the poor' - whoever 'they' are - and
'their' appearance after Katrina. This is utterly obscene in the so-called
richest nation on earth - the poor are again out of sight - how often can
we starve them? Capital is about this; this is its symptom (and in a
sense, it's only one). And while the 'poor' may be redefined and fined
(for that matter), most of the people in this horror of a country are now
hurting financially, there's close to starvation elsewhere as well, and we
continue our slaughter (excuse me, Iraq 'nation building') under the aegis
of another word. capital = 'freedom.' Freedom's just an ugly word for
something left to use..."

And within this, on the margins, trembled discourse continues, the
following are books I have found useful, wonderful at times, worthy of
your attention. Again, I've received the O'Reilly books gratis; I ask for
ones I feel capable of reviewing, and that might well be of use to those
actively engaged in online culture/art.

Ambient Findability, Peter Morville, O'Reilly, 2005. My brother, who is in
GIS, found this of great interest, as do I. The book examines the se-
mantics of search in relation to communality, ambiance. There's something
wonderfully primordial about it - a kind of relocating of human intention-
ality after the savanna. At one point of course, all members of a group
were known to each other; culture changed all of this with its implica-
tions of unknowable and unknowing others. The web performs a kind of
familiality for us; we're back in-relation, even with strangers. Ambient
Findability charts in practical (i.e. the phenomenology of del.icio.us),
psychological ('Social Life of Metadata'), and theoretical ('Language and
Representation') terms. In Morville's book, all of these intermix. I did
find the material on marketing, as well as issues of privacy, depressing;
transparency always plays into power. As a model, however - as a vision of
what's occurring, sticking close to the real online/offline world - the
book is great. Recommended, along w/ Marx's 1842 notebooks.

Linux Desktop Pocket Guide, David Brickner, O'Reilly, 2005. This covers
distributions, protocols, desktops, etc. etc. mostly for the beginner, but
not entirely. It's one of the Pocket Guide series, which are relatively
cheap for O'Reilly (usually $9.95 or $10.00 in other words, another
marketing ploy), and quite useful. If you're using Linux already, there
are two indispensable books, as most of us know - Linux in a Nutshell
(compendium of commands and everything else, now a relatively huge nut-
shell), and Running Linux. Get the latest editions. As an intro, or
desktop reading Linux Desktop is fine. I'd also recommend the ones on sed
and awk; vi; google; and so forth.

By the way, why review O'Reilly books? I'm committed to their seriousness
and I'm poor. The two aren't contradictory. Over the years I keep return-
ing to them; they don't tend to date quickly - the older stuff for example
on peer-to-peer, or the various unix handbooks, are still current in a lot
of ways. I like Peachpit Press for specific software. I haven't found much
use for anything else, except for specialized texts like Wolfram's enor-
mous Mathematica book. - Now for the third and last of the O'Reilly's, but
not the least -

Windows XP Cookbook, Robbie Allen and Preston Gralla, Windows XP Cookbook,
2005. Okay, where to start? I use WinXP a great deal; everyone else I know
uses Mac (I do at times as well). I like the OS - I find it stable, and
there are an incredible number of applications for it. On my notebook, I
can run up to 10 Quicktime videos at once on it, without crashing the
system, with good file management, and with other apps and directories
opening and closing - all necessary for laptop performance. I hate the
policies of MS, don't like the proprietary outlook (or Outlook for that
matter, which I don't use - most of the time, like now, I'm in a unix
telnet shell or on my linux PDA), but the media stuff works great. In any
case, O'Reilly has followed suit with a huge number of books on WinXP,
some of which I've reviewed before. You can only use so many! (Most of
what anyone has to do in the beginning is tweak and tweak and tweak -
WinXP out of the box is unbelievably clumsy. But the tweaking isn't hard,
the registry isn't that scary, etc.) So the Cookbook, with 'Over 325
Recipes,' is one of the latest in the Cookbook series; it's designed for
'Power Users and Administrators,' which means there's a huge amount of
information on command-line stuff - which is the heart, as far as I'm
concerned, of WinXP, DOS or no-DOS. (Yes, no-DOS.) There are explanations
of the obvious - the 'Classic' Windows look and ClearType, but there is a
lot of excellent material on performance tuning, logs, routing and wire-
less, registry mechanics, and so forth. It's perfect if you're a sysadmin
with a network; I'm not, but still have used a lot of the material
directly. There are sections on anonymous surfing, RSS feeds, and there's
VBScript throughout. Recommended, along with books such as Windows XP
Hacks. I've purchased some of these directly; since I'm in WinXP so much
(if just as a portal at times), I need to get the maximum out of the

Eduardo Kac, Telepresence & Bio Art, Networking Humans, Rabbits, &
Robots, Michigan, 2005. This is a fantastic book - not so much for the
transgenic rabbit (which is been played/overplayed/reoverplayed endlessly)
as for all of the essays together, bringing new media history to light (no
pun intended, well yes). The older material - 'The Aesthetics of Tele-
communications,' 'The Internet and the Future of Art,' 'Beyond the Screen:
Interactive Art,' etc. - are clear, filled with examples, the very stuff
that leads to dreams. I was most impressed by his work 'The Eighth Day'
(which he described recently at the Society for Literature, Science and
the Arts Conf. in Chicago); there is a full description. Like Stelarc, I
think Kac touches a raw nerve, and it's through the clarity of his work/
writing/presentations, that it becomes more than art, useful for the rest
of us.

Stelarc, The Monograph, edited by Marquard Smith w/ a forward by William
Gibson, MIT, 2005, because here's the other end of the nerve, or the
primal end (of which there are others, of course, but these are _nerves_
grounded on and offline). Stelarc's name came up at the conference; at
this point, like the rabbit (_qua_ bunny), his work is close to over-
determination through no one's fault - it's just clear, theatrical like
Beuys or Abramovich, and serves as a touchstone for our pseudo-prosthetic
pseudo-cyborg pseudo-cyberspatial selves. Its very overdetermination gives
way to analysis here, which is all to the better. I find the work itself
both enthralling, male-oriented (which of course has been covered up, or
released), and oddly 19th-century in its presentation of the (male) body
as obdurate, inert (reminds me of Clement Rosset on reality); no matter
how wired we are, at least at this point in time, we're grounded by wires,
wireless, hydraulics, gloves, electricity, etc. etc. - to be jacked in is
to be part of the steam-locomotive (un)conscious. For better or worse, I
think we need this book. One minor point, the Kroker's 'We Are All
Stelarcs Now' - but we're not; in fact, we're increasingly like the
victims of Katrina. I get tired of technophilic hyperbole; I don't believe
for a second that 'Stelarc futures our body.' - instead, in the US, the
now underfunded Superfund sites of industrial pollution literally gone
amuck, do. I suppose I'm bankrupt, not theory, but theory divorced from
that same Rossetian idiotic real leads to hyperbolics of electronic
gadgetry as cultural foundation. (Btw I love the Kroker's work.)

Two books quickly mentioned, resonant with one another, important to
projects dealing with language and codework; one of these I'm also
reviewing for the American Book Review in the future):

The Tantric Tradition, Agehananda Bharati, Anchor, 1965. Bharati was born
Austrian, became a monk, taught in the anthro. department of Syracuse.
I've read this before, as well as Bharati's The Ochre Robe; this is the
best book I've seen, period, on mantra, mantric language, and phenomeno-
logy. It's not easy-going, and Bharati's arrogant (I think w/ reason). The
logic of mantra is described; there are references to the analytic tradi-
tion in philosophy that informs the work to a great extent. I think books
like these (as well as books on Nya'ya for example) are really necessary
to understand Buddhist/Hindu philosophies and logics. It's also an amazing

Echolalias, On the Forgetting of Language, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Zone,
2005, full review forthcoming. This is wonderful! - the interferences
among language, syntax, semantics, phonemics - the edges of phonemics in
relation to the rest - anyone concerned with codework will find a great
deal here - the microsound or granularity of languaging, a history and
phenomenology which need far more attention. The book is organized into
short chapters dealing with such things as Exclamations, Thresholds,
Strata, Endangered Phonemes, and Schizophonetics. More later.

At the SLSA conference, there were continuous references to William James,
The Principles of Psychology, and Darwin. You can buy the former second-
hand as two Dover volumes, fairly inexpensively. James emphasizes stream-
ing (shades of Stein), process over product, flux of stasis. Gerald
Edelman (whose theory of reentry among other things earned him the Nobel)
mentioned both - James as a precursor and antidote to traditional AI or
other hard-wiring approaches to the mind, and Darwin in relation to
'neural Darwinism,' competitions among groups of cells in development.
Edelman's book, wider than the sky, the phenomenal gift of consciousness,'
presents a lay guide to his theory, which fascinates me. But Darwin and
James were really _everywhere_ at the conference - not in terms of
'intelligent design' - which is not only idiotic but self-contradictory
(_this_ world is an example of either?) - but in relation to an increased
interested in biogenetics and non-mechanistic nano-technology/culture in
relation to cultural production in general. (Another reference that might
interest you - C.K. Waddington, who was behind the Towards a Theoretical
Biology conference in the 60s. He's a bit of the culture behind Edelman's
science, I think. I asked E. about W.; he said his work was metaphorical -
they knew each other. I remember that stuff about the epigenetic land-
scape, chreods, etc. Anyway check it out.)

Life Histories of North American Birds, 20 volumes, Arthur Cleveland Bent,
Dover reissues from the 1920s. These are naturalist works; I'm not sure if
they're still in print, but if you get a chance, buy one or all of the
volumes. They're intensely descriptive and anecdotal, as well as filled
with ethological materials. Azure is taking an online course on Ornitholo-
gy from Cornell University (highly worthwhile); the textbook still
recommends the series. I have one before me on 'Woodcocks, Sandpipers,
Godwits, Snipes, Phalaropes, and Others' - Life Histories of North
American Shore Birds, Part One. Along the same line, with incessant detail
but not quite as interesting, is Birds of the New York Area, John Bull,
Harper, 1964. The best work I've seen on ornithology by the way is the one
used for the Cornell course - Handbook of Bird Biology, published by the
Cornell Lab of ornithology.

Coming of Age in Cyberspace, David S. Bennahum, Basic 1998. I literally
devoured this, realizing all I had missed growing up before the digital
revolution. He does better than anyone I've read at describing the
interior life of glowing tubes, screens, digital readouts, anything that
whispered to you of the other, maternal, surrounding, powerful, capable of
dialog with even the loneliest. The descriptions of computer labs are also
some of the best I've read. The book is easy to find, and should be, I
think, required reading, well before the theoretical sets in. I like
Turkle's work as well for similar reasons, although more analytical of

Some shorter comments -

Somewhere I have the Letters of the Younger Pliny in a Penguin edition;
I've more or less finished it, and it's one of my favorite books of the
period. The humanity (even given slavery, etc.) / humanism at work shows
what hasn't been gained in two millennia. The letters are simply beautiful
- not only the eyewitness description of the eruption at Pompey, but also
materials on Roman customs and life in general.

Another short text worth looking at again - Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the
Holy - there's also a book by Philip Almond, Rudolf Otto, An Introduction
to His Philosophical Theology. This might be read in relation to mantra,
glossolalia, etc. (see above); the idea of the numinous, etc. is quite
useful, although I always have trouble with Christology.

The Moment of Complexity, Emerging Network Culture, Mark C. Taylor,
Chicago 2001 - I'm reading this now, pleased with the references to
Wolfram etc. - certainly an antidote to Imagologies which for me was next
to useless -

I love Edwin Morgan - his translation of Mayakovsky into Scottish is
terrific. He edited Scottish Satirical Verse for Carcanet in 1980. (Odd
deja vu - I may have mentioned this before). The book has incredible
energy, and is more fun than Otto, even more fun than Ruskin - who I also
want to mention - read his biography, read things like Ethics of the Dust
in relation to it - and you're off and running.

I'm also not sure if I've mentioned Eugene O'Neill's Dynamo, Horace Liver-
ight, 1929, but I think it's somewhat of a critical text in relation to
American thought vis-a-vis Chaplin, mechanism, etc. It's one of the oddest
plays I've read - heavily influenced I think by German expressionism.
Electricity itself, and an odd humming (humans/dynamo) constitute the
literal driving force among libidos, spirtualities, and finance. If you
find it, pick it up. I think it's also available online, but I'm not

Meanwhile the dogs of the US House of Representatives are screaming at
each other, 82 died of violence in Iraq, and maybe more of us here at
'home' (such as it is) are realizing the slaughterhouse mentality of our
so-called elected warlords...

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