Summer Reading List, 2018

There has never been a better time to get off-line, soothe your spirit, and build your brain with a stack of books. We’re back again with reading recommendations for just that. This year, our 15th, we have ideas from newcomers Nisi Shawl, Veronica Fitzpatrick, and Penni Jones, as well as the return of Rick Moody, Douglas Rushkoff, Cynthia Connolly, André Carrington, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Zizi Papacharissi, Jussi Parikka, Peter Lunenfeld, Joseph Nechvatal, Lily Brewer, Dominic Pettman, Paul Levinson, Brian Tunney, Mike Daily, Paul D. Miller, Alex Burns, and myself. We know what you’ll read this summer!

As ever, the book links below lead to the title at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the best bookstore on the planet. Read on!

Veronica Fitzpatrick

“Summer reading” will forever conjure the halcyon months after I graduated college. Condensed milk lattes and serial killers; my metabolism may have changed but my taste in therapeutic pleasure reading is evergreen.

I just reread The Likeness (Penguin, 2009), the second of Tana French’s Dublin murder squad novels. The series is literary catnip for international police procedural enthusiasts, but the real draw is French’s focus on the intimacy and perceptual acuity of detection. Her books are populated with eyebrow hitches and side-cut glances, all the little ways people read each other and give themselves away. This one is about a doomed undercover op set among reclusive The Secret History-style grad students—thus my favorite, and a fine place to start.

Before that was Sally Rooney’s  Conversations with Friends (Hogarth, 2017), the merits of which are hard to describe without sounding unduly condescending (“more than the sum of its parts!”). If the premise of an affair seems simple, and the prose style minimal (plus texting transcripts), Conversations is plenty complex and abundant in original insights re: interiority, hooking up, and radical politics, plus it’s a real, rare pleasure to read young women described and describable as wielding “a remorseless intelligence.”

I fell for Antonia Quirke via this essay on Antigua in CN Traveller and was floored to learn she’s primarily a film critic. Choking on Marlon Brando: A Film Critic’s Memoir About Love and the Movies (The Overlook Press, 2007) chronicles Quirke’s life through her near-spiritual devotion to specific actors; a terrific, weird example of writing about performance that celebrates the horniness at the heart of cinephilia.

Finally: the only book(s) adjacent to travel I want to read are L.S. Hilton’s Maestra series (so far Maestra [Putnam, 2016] and Domina [Putnam, 2017]), which follow a young female sociopath with an extensive art history education and impeccable style, sort of American Psycho on the Rome leg of Eat, Pray, Love with more niche sex clubs. And every coming-of-age novel I picked up in the last year, I read out of the pain of missing Elif Batuman’s romantic Ivy League epic The Idiot (Penguin, 2017).

Joseph Nechvatal

Bernard Stiegler The Neganthropocene (edited and translated by Daniel Ross; Open Humanities Press, 2018): In the essays and lectures here titled Neganthropocene, Stiegler opens an entirely new front moving beyond the dead-end “banality” of the Anthropocene. Stiegler stakes out a battleplan to proceed beyond, indeed shrugging off, the fulfillment of nihilism that the era of climate chaos ushers in.

Maria Stavrinaki Dada Presentism: An Essay on Art and History (Stanford University Press, 2016): Dada is often celebrated for its strategies of shock and opposition, but in Dada Presentism, Maria Stavrinaki provides a new picture of Dada art and writings as a lucid reflection on history and the role of art within it.

Jonathan Fineberg Modern Art at the Border of Mind (University of Nebraska Press, 2015): Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain is a broad investigation by one of the foremost scholars of modern art of the relationship between modern art and the structure of the mind and brain. Based on Fineberg’s Presidential Lectures at the University of Nebraska, this book examines the relationship between artistic production, neuroscience, and the way we make meaning in form.

André M. Carrington

I have such a delightful summer and fall lined up that I’m feeling a great deal of gratitude. I expect some of the things I’m going to read will reinforce that feeling. As usual, my habits are geared toward nonfiction:

Madison Moore Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric (Yale University Press, 2018): A stunner by a wonderful, brilliant friend & colleague.

Jenifer Lewis The Mother of Black Hollywood (Amistad, 2017): I bought this in audiobook format, because I love her voice. From interviews, I think this will be a truly humbling and inspiring read about her extraordinary career and the challenges she’s faced with bipolar disorder.

Riley Snorton Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2017): Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction!

Mamadou Dia 3052: Persiguiendo un Sueño (Hahatay, 2017): The story of the author’s life from Senegal to Spain. Every couple years, I try my best to make it through a book in Spanish; this one, recommended by my esteemed colleague Dr. Jeffrey Coleman, is a little hard to find stateside, so I might have to take a field trip.

Douglas Rushkoff

James Bridle New Dark Age (Verso, 2018): Exposes the myth that quantifiable data can provide a coherent model of the world.

David Lynch Catching the Big Fish (TarcherPerigee, 2006): David Lynch (director of Twin Peaks and many great movies) shares why mediation is so important and how to access the unified field.

Jason Louv John Dee and the Empire of Angels (Inner Traditions, 2018): Jason Louv, world’s leading expert on Enochian magic, reveals the occult roots of the British Empire, and our own.

Nisi Shawl

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2017), is an audaciously optimistic near-future book about immortality and consensus. Also beer, massages, and anarchy.

The Dreamquest of Vellitt Boe (Tor, 2016) is arch-storyteller Kij Johnson’s feminist take on Lovecraftian fantasy, with bonus cat.

The Good House (Washington Square Press, 2004) is prime Tananarive Due. It’s horror, but of the redemptive sort, and deals with a particularly African American issue: the violent deaths of our young men.

Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brisset (Aqueduct Press, 2014), is a gorgeously elegiac tale of love and planetary cleansing, told in cleverly overlapping narratives that gradually reveal what has been saved and lost over the numberless eons covered. It’s a swift read, but a deep one.

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press, 2013), is a nearly perfect sojourn in an imaginary land. It reminds me very much of early Ursula K. Le Guin.

Rick Moody

I have been reading a lot of poetry recently, in part because I have been co-teaching a class at Brown called Writers on Writing that’s half prose and half poetry. I taught this course in the spring with the poet Sawako Nakayasu, whose book The Ants (Les Figues Press, 2014) would be on any list of contemporary collections I really love. (It’s about ants!) In the fall I’m teaching with the excellent Monica de la Torre, whose Public Domain (Roof Books, 2008) is likewise a contemporary poetry must-read.

Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press, 2017) was the last book we read for class in the spring, and I’m still thinking it through. It’s sort of half experimental poetry, half incredibly powerful and moving critique of official governmental responses to the treatment of indigenous peoples in the United States of America. The experimental part demonstrates the struggle of First Peoples to deal with the oppressor tongue of American culture in a way that seems unique to me. What a great and powerful book.

Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War (Wave Books, 2016) came to my attention through Monica, and it is in part about Don Mee Choi’s father’s photographs of wars and conflicts in Southeast Asia. (The author is Korean, but her father, as a photographer, ranged as far as Cambodia, as I understand the story so far.) Photos are included in the text. Again, there’s a mixture of poetical methods here, far more than in a conventionally “confessional” work. The poems are sly, funny, devastating. Don Mee Choi’s voice is a knowing, tragic, and comic thing that orbits around the work in ways that deepen and complexify the field of investigation.

David Grubbs is my friend and occasional collaborator (and I can’t overlook to mentioned his first book, a work of criticism called Records Ruin the Landscape [Duke University Press, 2014] that I admire a great deal), and an unparalleled musician, above all, but his first book of “poetry” is now out, a book-length prose poem called Now That the Audience is Assembled (Duke University Press, 2018), which is sort of a long meditation on experimental music making and the ekphrastic route through which one might describe such an endeavor. I have used quotation marks to describe the work as “poetry” simply because I think there’s such a great area of hybrid activity between prose and poetry these days that things that people are describing as poems to me are also very conventionally be understood as “prose” as well. Grubbs’s book might also be understood as music! It’s an incredibly promising and funny first imaginative work by an artist who seems able to produce in almost any medium.

Penni Jones

Mark Haskell Smith Blown (Grove Press, Black Cat, 2018): I’ve been a big fan of Mark Haskell Smith for about eleven years. His novels are clever and fun, with one-word titles packed with innuendo. His protagonists are often regular folks who find themselves plunged into worlds where they don’t belong. The stakes are high and the outcomes are hilariously subversive.

Ariel Gore We Were Witches (Amethyst Editions, 2017): Gore’s raw honesty while challenging the status quo is enlightening and inspirational. Her latest release is a “memoirist-novel” that draws on her experience as a struggling artist and single teenage mother in a time when the phrase “family values” was synonymous with women like her being demoralized and demonized.

Christopher Buckley No Way to Treat a First Lady (Random House, 2002): I read several of Buckley’s political satire novels in rapid succession of seeing the movie Thank You for Smoking which was based on his 1994 novel of the same title. Somehow I missed No Way to Treat a First Lady, which is about a United States first lady on trial for murdering her philandering husband. For some reason the plot is very attractive to me right now.

Alexandra Sokoloff Stealing Hollywood (Amazon Digital Services, 2015): This book is meant to arm authors with screenwriting tricks that will strengthen and simplify novel writing. Is it too good to be true? I’ll let you know.

Charles Salzberg Second Story Man (Down & Out Books, 2018): If Salzberg’s previous works are any indication, this novel won’t disappoint. Second Story Man is a crime caper with alternating points-of-view between two lawmen and a master burglar. The criminal taunts the men who are hunting him as the stakes grow higher. Sounds like the perfect beach read to me!

Paul Levinson

I’m writing at least half a dozen things right now, with no time for reading, but here are three recommendations, all fiction, of books I’ve recently finished and much enjoyed:

Peter Watts’ The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Tachyon) was [is due to be] officially published on June 12, but I was fortunate to get an advance copy. Watts is a gifted science fiction writer, with a knack for combining disparate threads of science rooted in hard-as-nails science, and he does this par excellence in his latest novel. This time it’s far-future humans far away from Earth, in a tense web woven of AI, biology, cyberpunk in the flesh and robots with music. Not only that, the novel is just 192 pages.

Heather, the Totality (Little, Brown, 2017) is also short – 134 pages – and is written by someone, Matthew Weiner, whose work you may well know in a very different medium, television. Weiner brings the same incisive understanding of the underside of human nature he brought to The Sopranos and Mad Men to this explosive little novel, which sports only one line of actual dialog. What’s it about it? Here’s what I’ll tell you: A few months ago, I noticed a guy eyeing a woman in a supermarket parking lot. It happened very quickly, and I stayed in my car until the woman got safely into hers and drove away. As I drove back on the highway, I realized there was something, I don’t know, really angry in his gaze, certainly more than just appreciation. That’s the ignition point for Heather, when her Manhattan father notices a construction worker ogling his 14-year old daughter.

And I’ll complete this triad by highly recommending for your summer reading pleasure Come Out Tonight by Bonnie Rozanksi (Amazon Digital Services, 2011; whose The Mind Traveler appeared on my list last year). This one’s not that short – more than 200 pages – and every page is worth reading. It’s mostly a police mystery, with a dash of science fiction, when a top-notch researcher working on a powerful new sleeping aid is savagely assaulted and left in a vegetative state. Her boyfriend, her father, and all manner of suspects abound, and Rozanski brings her unerring eye for New York detail to this story, noting how, after a subway car pulls out of Grand Central, it “futzes around” for a few minutes. Don’t futz around regarding this novel — snap it up!

Lily Brewer

Ordinarily, when invited to contribute to my husband’s famed Summer Reading List, I include more books, more force, more flourish; this summer, in between and during stops on my way to L.A. through Reno from Houston for my yearly research and exhibition road trip in preparation for my dissertation, my list becomes shorter and shorter. This is that short list.

This summer I have been and will continue to read Unthinking Mastery by Julietta Singh (Duke University Press, 2018) and Decolonizing Dialects by George Ciccariello-Maher (Duke University Press, 2017); Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis (Haymarket, 2016) and How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Haymarket, 2017); Supercommunity: Diabolical Togetherness Beyond Contemporary Art edited by Lulieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle (Verso, 2017). I also continue to wait as patiently as possible for Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin’s next couple books in their series Intercalations–Decapitated Economies and These Birds of Temptation–for K. Verlag at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Every day I still think, the word for world is still forest.

Matthew Kirschenbaum

My immediate reading right now is Johanna Drucker’s The General Theory of Social Relativity (The Elephants, 2018). Drucker will be known to some as a book artist, to others as a scholar of modernist art, to still others as a leading figure in the digital humanities community. Here, however, in this short chapbook, she is a diagnostician of the contemporary public sphere. Heady title notwithstanding, Drucker’s focus is squarely on the everyday of our collective media and discourse, both united under the rubric of what she terms aesthetics. Like other writers (Angela Nagle, #recentcontroversiesdulynoted) she seeks to dismantle the notion that there is anything inherently progressive in art or aesthetics, or that associated leftist tactics can in any simple, causal, or mechanistic way constitute a “resistance.” Instead, Drucker turns toward an account of cultural phenomena as “extrusions” or “manifestations” of our swirling, affective engagement with an all-consuming and resolutely non-partisan media spectrum. The key term to emerge here is the phantasmatic: no mere simulacrum, but the metastasizing of meme into reality fabric. In this there are also sympathies with the “eversion” hypothesis, a word William Gibson first introduced in Spook Country (Penguin/Viking, 2007) to describe the virtual’s quotidian intrusion into the real world, so-called. Likewise, Drucker offers a direct critique of digital dualism, the notion that what’s on our screens is somehow less real than our (somehow?) more authentic analog surroundings. By contrast, screen and the everyday now co-constitute the real, held together by the quantum gel of the social, presented here not as relation but as medium, a medium which one doesn’t have to be Einstein to see the Commander-in-Cheese has mastered. (Don’t like the thought of quantum gel? Call it covfefe instead.) This one is essential, folks.

Following the Drucker, my next project will likely be Justin Joque’s Deconstruction Machines: Writing in the Age of Cyberwar (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). I mean, come on, Justin, you had me at deconstruction, machines, writing, and cyberwar! Starting with the brute-simple observation that what contemporary militaries dub cyberwar or netwar is carried via malignant computer code—which is to say texts that literally take things apart (think Stuxnet)—Joque asks what it means to entertain the weaponization of a philosophy, namely the book’s titular deconstruction. Also on deck are a brace of books from the MIT Press’s Essential Knowledge series, Nick Montfort’s The Future (2017) and Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (2018).These entries are intended to provide fast and accessible but critically engaged introductions to a topic; still, the secret (don’t tell) is that one reads such books at least as much for their author as for their individual subject matter, and such is the case here. Tar for Mortar (Punctum Books, 2018), meanwhile, is still another short chapbook, Jonathan Basile’s archaeology of Borges’s multitudinous Library of Babel (Basile having also programmed a computer simulation of same). Speaking of multitudes, Chicago’s Interacting with Print (2018) volume bills itself as a multigraph: a monograph-length book collectively authored by some two dozen leading scholars of nineteenth century print culture and book history, composed with a wiki so as to interleave their expert voices rather than produce the standard edited collection. Finally, my colleague Tita Chico’s monograph The Experimental Imagination just out from Stanford, offers a historicized account of the entanglement of literature and science during the Enlightenment, a period when (she argues) the language of the one co-created the discourse of the other—a story that is all the more relevant now that the science wars have been phantasmatically mobilized.

Dominic Pettman

I’m trying to catch up on some old school uncanny lit this Summer, so have cued up:

Robert Aickman The Late Breafkasters and Other Strange Stories (Valancourt Books, 2016): “Philip Larkin or Barbara Pym, gone eldritch,” according to the New Yorker.

Edith Wharton The Ghost-Feeler (Peter Owen Publishers, 2002)

Herbert Read The Green Child (New Directions, 2013)

Elizabeth Hand Wylding Hall (PS Publishing, 2015)

I’m also looking forward to:

Antonio Lobo Antunes The Land at the End of the World (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012)

Sylvia Wynter On Being Human As Praxis (Duke University Press, 2015)

Jeff Dolven Senses of Style: Poetry Before Interpretaion (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

Eugene Thacker Infinite Resignation: On Pessimism (Repeater Books, 2018)

Catherine Millot Life with Lacan (Polity, 2018)

Rhian Jones and Eli Davies, Editors Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them (Repeater Books, 2017)

Jussi Parikka

This summer I am returning to a book that has been reissued. Giuliana Bruno’s Atlas of Emotion came out in 2002 but was out of print for a long period, and Verso has now republished it. Bruno’s work is a great example of the methodological innovation that I also read as inspiring “media archaeological” work: moving across art history, architecture and built environments, gender, cinema and many other contexts. And it is beautifully written. This time round I am reading it in a specific context of (media) archaeologies of fashion, which relates to our AHRC-funded project on the fashion film.

Another inspiring scholar, Matthew Fuller, has a new book out on sleep (How to Sleep: The Art, Biology and Culture of Unconsciousness; Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 (Verso, 2014) came out some years ago, but Fuller’s book is clearly following the same footsteps and has opens up with this wonderful outline of the book’s aim: “Sleep is quite a popular activity, indeed most humans spend around a third of their lives asleep. However, cultural, political, or aesthetic thought tends to remain concerned with the interpretation and actions of those who are awake.”

David Parisi’s Archaeologies of Touch (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) is also on my reading list in the pile of books unofficially labelled “things media archaeological” – also Susan Murray’s new book on the history of the color television – Bright Signals (Duke University Press, 2018) — can be broadly said to belong to the same category of interesting takes that deal with media history, perception and technicity.

I am reading Joanna Zylinska’s Nonhuman Photography (MIT Press, 2017) too as I am in the midst of preparing a project proposal on Operative Images. Eric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato’s book War and Capital (Semiotext(e), 2018) arrived recently in the mail and is one of the books I aspire to read. In order to understand contemporary capitalism, one studies it as a military operation. Next one on my reading list is Janine Marchessault’s Ecstatic Worlds: Media, Utopias, Ecologies (MIT Press, 2017) that came out last year already but I am a bit late to reading it. Besides being interested in what it says about ecology and the Cold War, I think it might have good points useful for our Lab Book project, a book about humanities and media labs that in many ways go back to the Cold War (as a forthcoming book by Ryan Bishop and John Beck argues well). And today I learned that the English translation of Markus Krajewski’s The Server (Yale University Press, 2018) is out. Translated by Ilinca Iurascu, the book is one key reference point in the German cultural techniques literature and outlines a cultural history of servantry from the technological point of view too.

Zizi Papacharissi

This summer I have five books out. So, I will happily be spending time away from books, computers, and reading.

But, here’s what I read in the process, and highly recommend:

Rod Hart Civic Hope:How Ordinary Americans Keep Democracy Alive (Cambridge University Press, 2018): A prescient analysis of letters to the editor, dating back to the fifties. Reminds how much and how little, at the same time, things have changed in politics. Beautifully written; a love letter to democracy.

Svetlana Boym The Future of Nostalgia (Basic Books, 2002) Perhaps you read this when it first came out. Reread and realize how every idea of yours you thought original, she wrote about decades ago.

Jessa Lingel Digital Countercultures and the Struggle for Community (MIT Press, 2017): This is, above all, a modern book. If Dick Hebdige wrote Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Routledge, 1979) today, this is what it would read like.

Brian Tunney

Chris Nashawaty Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story (Flatiron Books, 2018): My father has this strange Rodney Dangerfield as cartoon character statue in his house that speaks some of his most infamous lines. Amid piles of CDs and videos, old assortments and antiques, this Rodney Dangerfield animated doll thing stands out as a reminder that my father kinda raised myself and my brothers on Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy and movies. From Easy Money to the long sought after record Rappin’ Rodney, Dangerfield’s character was used as a basis for my father to relate to his sons.

Granted, not the best role model, or traditional form or father-son relations, but it encapsulated something we’re still able to relate on all these years later. I believe that fascination with the comedian began with his appearance in Caddyshack, and to this day, whenever it’s on TV, I pretty much put everything aside and watch it.

Also to this day, it’s quite apparent that the movie makes little to no sense at all. As it would happen, that belief stretches far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. In April 2018, writer Chris Nashawaty released the book Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, and I quickly read through it within a few days of buying it.

Beginning with the story of National Lampoon magazine, followed by the writing and creation of Animal House, the book tracks the story of the writers and director as they take life experience (and lack thereof), lighting in a bottle moments that featured young comedic legends in the making and all of the behind the scenes mayhem that formed the basis for the movie. I won’t divulge much here, except that I was correct in assuming that the movie makes little to no sense, and that the finished product was the result of editing down a rough four and a half hour cut into something that could be bought and sold in Hollywood.

With the addition of an animatronic gopher, large improvisational bits from Bill Murray and more than few drunken blowups from the cast and staff, the movie ultimately went from critical disaster to earning over $30 million at the box office.

It also pushed a 57-year-old Rodney Dangerfield out of Vegas and into the movie business. Though Dangerfield didn’t think he was funny during the filming of the movie (because the director’s staff couldn’t laugh at him while filming), he went on to foster an odd father-son relationship for myself, my dad and my brothers.

Peter Lunenfeld

Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011) is what my kids used to tease me about as a “big fattie” summer read. I’m long overdue to grapple with this book as part of understanding the links between neoliberalism and what I’m calling the California Design Ideology.

As for the rest of the summer, I want to catch up with the recent output of friends and colleagues who I can’t keep up with during the year.

I still need to read rather than browse Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard University Press, 2014) which is just what it sounds like, an analysis of the ways in which how we see affects the ways that we come to know. Johanna came out with not one but two more books in the spring of 2018: Downdrift (Three Rooms Press, 2018) is an eco-fiction that begins with the voice of an Archaean, “the most ancient creature on earth”; The General Theory of Social Relativity (The Elephants, 2018) melds quantum physics with social analysis. Given that I can’t understand how quickly the global polity has deteriorated in the past one thousand days, I’m open to new paradigms.

Todd Presner, David Shepard and Yoh Kawano’s Hypercities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities (Harvard University Press, 2014) joins Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Battles’ The Library Beyond the Book (Harvard University Press, 2014) as titles in and around digital humanities that I want to follow as a reminder that ars longa, vita brevis, and that (I hope) certain political winds are briefer still.

Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter’s new book Organization after Social Media (Minor Compositions, 2018) wants us to construct “social technologies based on enduring time” and value action over weak ties. The .01% knows that likes and followers are nice, but what moves the world and the art world (at least right now) is cold, hard cash. Andrea Fraser’s bespoke big data project, 2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics (MIT Press, 2018), is a brick of a book designed by the wonderful Geoff Kaplan. It organizes the deep research that Fraser put in to understand exactly how culture and power intersect by looking in detail at the political contributions by board members at more than 125 of the most important museums showing contemporary art in the United States.

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia (Tachyon, 2016) also interrogates culture’s tortured relationship with power, but from a deiselpunk perspective, creating an alternative past in which the Futurists take over the Regency of Carnaro to wreck havoc on their enemies. It was a nominee for the 2016 Sidewise Award, Best Short-Form Alternate History. In my alternate history, it won.

Finally, there’s Made Up: Designs Fictions, edited by Tim Durfee and Mimi Zeiger (Actar, 2018), which I’d recommend even if I didn’t have a short piece in it. Caveat lector should be the motto for all summer reading lists, in any case.

Cynthia Connolly

Kevin Starr Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (Oxford University Press, 1985): Explains how the California I grew up into became what it is today.

Michael Fallon Creating the Future: Art and Los Angeles in the 1970s (Counterpoint, 2014): Explains the various art scenes in LA and how that scene always was considered the bastard child of contemporary art in the eyes of the NY art critiques and beyond. It explains how the landscape and place was a strong influence on the art and for my own life, having grown up in LA, I see how much this scene influenced me, even as a child. It has helped me inform my own artwork.

Spain & Portugal’s Best Trips (Lonely Planet, 2016): Going to Spain and Portugal for some Banned in DC (Sun Dog Propaganda, 1988) talks this fall. Reading this book.

Paul D. Miller

Hassan Blasim, Editor Iraq +100 (Tor, 2017)

Nathan Schneider Everything for Everyone (Nation Books, 2018)

Annalee Newitz Autonomous: A Novel (Tor, 2017)

Cixin Liu Ball Lightning (Head of Zeus, 2018)

Yasha Levine Surveillance Valley (PublicAffairs, 2018)

Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind (Penguin, 2018)

Richard M. Stallman Free Software, Free Society (Free Software Foundation, 2002)

Mike Daily

Richard Brautigan The Beatles Lyrics Illustrated (Dell, 1975): I found a battered-but-intact reading copy of this paperback for $5.74, shipping included. Richard Brautigan wrote the Introduction, a short story-like piece of brilliancy not published anywhere else. I always knew that someday I’d get into The Beatles. “She Loves You” (B Side: “I’ll Get You”) mesmerized me at seven years old, much. Oh yeah.

Ronen Givony Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (or, The Strange Death of Selling Out) (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018): I can’t recall if it was Blockbuster, Best Buy, or The Wherehouse that had CD baristas in the mid-’90s. You’d bring shrink-wrapped compact discs to the circular bar/listening station, and they’d open ’em for you. How sophisticated! it felt. Elegant. ‘Twas at one of these retail stores that—while reading the lyrics, of course—I first heard 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Tupelo Communion Conspiracy Theory, 1994) by Jawbreaker. I already knew I needed to own the album. Unfun (Shredder, 1990) and Bivouac (Tupelo, 1992) were often being spun at high volume in my affordable student housing at the time.

Sam Pink The Garbage Times/White Ibis (Soft Skull Press, 2018): I flipped through the pages of my Verified Amazon Purchase. “Wait. What? Soft Skull is European?” I wondered after noticing single quotation marks for the dialogue in both novellas. I checked one of the copyright pages. “New York, NY.” Phew. Binge-read alert x 2. New Sam Pink.

Rob Plath Swallowtude (Epic Rites Press, 2017): New York poet, novelist, photographer, illustrator, and painter Rob Plath knew Allen Ginsberg. Imagine one of your heroes handing you a bowl of beans and telling you simply to eat. Maybe it was soup. Vegan. Ginsberg passed away in ’97, right around the time I stopped following what was happening on the underground poetry scene. Today, university students in Wales are studying Rob Plath’s writing alongside the work of Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Dan Fante (Plath’s unpublished 2014 interview with Dan Fante will be in the September/October issue of UK ‘s esteemed print Magazine, Cold Lips). I’m excited to read his first novel. Signed copy purchased from the author.

Alex Burns

Jane Friedman The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press, 2018): A candid guide to career pathways for (academic) writers, how the publishing industry works, how to build an author platform, the role of entrepreneurship, and diverse money-making strategies. Part of the series Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing.

Annie McClanahan Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture (Stanford University Press, 2017): McClanahan is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine. Austerity and debt have defined the post-2008 socio-economic landscape. This book draws on behavioral economics, cultural analysis, and other disciplines to critically examine the economic, social, and historical transformations in the United States economy – and their impact on contemporary life. Credit, debt, and property speculation now reshape our individual subjectivity: McClanahan contends that these changes are likely to endure in the future.

Arne De Boever Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis (Fordham University Press, 2018): De Boever teaches American Studies at the California Institute of the Arts. This book examines how books, film, and other popular culture have communicated to a wider audience the economic realities of the post-2008 world. De Boever finds that black box algorithms have replaced commodities in popular imagination.

Lawrence Creatura Long and Short: Confessions of a Portfolio Manager: Stock Market Wisdom for Investors (Mill City Press, 2015): For fans of SHO’s Billions, Creatura’s book is a series of short, reflective, and practitioner-focused essays on how he achieved ‘alpha’ (excess returns above a benchmark) as a portfolio manager, and what you can learn from some of his mistakes.

David Graeber Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Simon & Schuster, 2018): Graeber is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics who was involved in Occupy Wall Street’s direct action protests. This book expands on Graeber’s 2013 essay “On The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” (Strike Magazine) to examine why neoliberal capitalism creates a range of meaningless jobs that its employees know are pointless. Graeber also includes survey responses from international readers on the bullshit jobs they have had to endure, and the creative strategies developed to cope with them.

Roy Christopher

Suzanne Buffam A Pillow Book (Canarium Books, 2016): Full of anecdotes and lists related to pillows and sleep, Buffam’s book is the perfect before-bed meditation. I read this one at night before I sleep, my head appropriately on my pillow.

Hieu Minh Nguyen Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018): Nguyen balances words on a page with such heart-pounding delicacy, I can only take a few at a time. These poems feel by turns like they will shatter apart or stab you to death. Either way, they’re honed to a deadly point and pointed right at you. It’s as beautiful as it is painful.

Amos Tutuola and Ben Okri: I was doing research on intertextuality, as you do, and I came across a book comparing the work of Nigerian novelist Ben Okri with those of his forebear Amos Tutuola (the auspiciously titled Intertextuality and the Novels of Amos Tutuola and Ben Okri by Durojaiye Owoeye). I decided to take a closer look. I immediately recognized that Brian Eno and David Byrne ganked the title of their 1982 record from Tutuola’s second novel (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts; faber & faber 1954), which I took as annoying but also as further endorsement. I’ve been reading Tutuola’s books as fast as I can find them, and I’m stacking up Okri’s for after (e.g., The Famished Road, Astonishing the Gods, etc.). Someone—not the authors, of course—called this stuff “magical realism,” and I guess that’ll have to do.

Tade Thompson Rosewater (Orbit Books, 2018): Though I’ve been reading a lot of Nigerian literature lately, I didn’t know Tade Thompson was originally from there (He is Yoruba) when I started reading this. The deft way that Rosewater jumps time periods and switches from the actual to the virtual and back is a sure sign that a steady hand is in control. The story is also mind-expanding. It’s cyberpunk, but it’s also so much more. This is the first book of his Wormwood Trilogy, so there’s thankfully more to come.

Susan Lepselter The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press, 2016): I’ve been researching UFOs and alien abductions for the last several years for no reason other than curiosity, and Lepselter brings together nodes I haven’t seen connected in other books on these topics. Using the possible presence of aliens as an avatar for alienations of all kinds: persistent hauntings, captivity stories, conspiracy theories, uncanny memories. In the end, this is not a book about UFOs and things far away. It’s a book about the aliens at home. It’s a book about the United States.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Media Literacy: Curing the Common Code

“Media literacy” is as socially contested a term as they come. Its meaning of has been debated at least as far back as 1933 (see Tyner, 2010).It’s not difficult to make the case that Marshall McLuhan‘s work in the main was about media literacy. Not to mention Howard Rheingold‘s lengthy and thorough work on new media and social media literacy.

So much has changed and changed hands since McLuhan left us. The computer moved from business and industry to the home and finally to every place and pocket available. In Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing (MIT Press, 2017), Annette Vee argues that literacy is infrastructural. She explores two phases of its spread. One is where we adopt inscription technologies as material infrastructures. Then, as we adopt those technologies that affect the “quotidian activities of everyday citizens: literacy is adopted as infrastructure” (p. 141). She notes crucially that communicative practices such as writing and programming can manifest as actions and as artifacts. Vee’s approach addresses the social aspects of these literacies (i.e., understanding the actions), as well as their material underpinnings (i.e., understanding the artifacts). It’s an important new view of several serious issues.

Zooming out to the walls, rooms, and roads around us, Shannon Mattern’s Code + Clay… Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) takes up the mantle of media archaeology and “challenges the newness of the new” by looking back at infrastructure at large — our built environment. Our urban areas are the site of information access as well as media themselves. Citing Malcolm McCullough and echoing McLuhan, She writes, “Our physical landscapes inscribe, transmit, and even embody information–about their histories, their state of repair, their potential uses, and so forth” (p. xii). Mattern’s use of sound, inscription, voice, and code illuminates our environment in a different and generative light.

We academics do a lot of work to justify and perpetuate our own work, a lot of advertising for ourselves. This is not that kind of work. Both of these books are about current situations verging on crises, and both of them take a long, historical view of these situations. There is still much to learn about all of these constructs and all of their relationships. There is an entire network of literacies we all need to learn. Now.

References:

Mattern, Shannon. (2017). Code + Clay… Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Tyner, Katherine (Ed.). (2010). Media Literacy: New Agendas in Communication. New York: Routledge.

Vee, Annette. (2017). Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

—-

Many thanks to Alison Langmead, Lily Brewer, and the fine folks at the University of Pittsburgh and their Digital Scholarship Services for hosting and allowing me to crash the Willful Transgressions: Transdisciplinary Teaching workshop with Shannon Mattern. It was there that I was able to meet and work briefly with both Shannon and Annette.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Interfaces of the Word

Designer James Macanufo once said that if paper didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Paper, inscribed with writing and then with printing, enabled recorded history (Ong, 1977). Media theorist Friedrich Kittler (1990) wrote that print held a “monopoly on the storage of serial data” (p.245). Even as writing represents a locking down of knowledge, one of “sequestration, interposition, diaeresis or division, alienation, and closed fields or systems” (Ong, 1977, p. 305), Walter Ong points out that it also represents liberation, a system of access where none existed before. After all, we only write things down in order to enable the possibility of referring to them later.

@mathpunk People would make fun of you if you were working on software for communicating with the dead even though that’s half the purpose of writing. [Tweeted, November 1, 2014]

Paper Knowledge“Written genres,” Lisa Gitelman writes in her latest book, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press, 2014), “depend on a possibly infinite number of things that large groups of people recognize, will recognize, or have recognized that writings can be for. To wit, documents are for knowing-showing” (p. 2). This “knowing-showing” is the liberation aspect of writing and printing, the enabling of access. She continues, “[J]ob printers facilitate or ensure the pure exchange function. That is, they ensure value that exists in and only because of exchange, exchangeability, and circulation” (p. 48).

“Digital documents… have no edges” (Gitelman, 2014, p. 17). A “document” in digital space is only metaphorically so. Every form of media is the same at the digital level. Just as genres of writing emerge from discursive fields according to the shared knowledge of readers, “the ways they have been internalized by members of a shared culture” (Gitelman, 2014, p. 17), digital documents are arranged in recognizable forms on the screen. The underlying mechanisms doing the arranging remain largely hidden from us as users, what Alex Galloway (2013) calls “the interface effect” (passim). It’s kind of like using genre as a way to parse massive amounts of text, as a different way to organize and understand writing.

Comparative Textual MediaGitelman also rightfully makes an appearance in Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), edited by N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman, further arguing the importance of job printing and helping define and redefine the fraught term “print culture.” Other pieces include ones by Matthew Kirschenbaum, Johanna Drucker, Jessica Brantley, and an excellent, contextualizing introduction by the editors. In her chapter, Rita Raley outlines what she calls “TXTual Practice,” describing screen-based, “born-digital” works as unstable, “not texts but text effects” (p. 20). Her essay moves away from viewing the digital document and other such contrivances as metaphors and toward employing Galloway’s interface effect. Galloway’s view casts the old argument of interfaces becoming transparent and “getting out of the way” in a bright and harsh new light, writing that their “operability engenders inoperability” (p. 25).

Reading Writing InterfacesLori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) takes on the “invisible, imperceptible, inoperable” interface, starting with ubiquitous computing. Once our devices obsolesce into general use, “those transparent devices that achieve more the less they do” (Galloway, 2013, p. 25), they escape everyday criticism. The interface stuff hides in those edges that aren’t really there. The words I write now float and flicker on a screen in a conceptual space I barely understand. Emerson cites the mass seduction of the Macintosh computer interface and the activist digital media poetics that critique that seduction. Her media archeological approach unearths the hidden mechanisms of reading and writing and the ways we negotiate screen- and print-based texts. It’s no surprise that Reading Writing Interfaces is one of the better recent books on these issues.

Type on ScreenLike Judith Donath’s The Social Machine (MIT Press, 2014), Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), edited by Ellen Lupton, takes a designer’s tack on these issues. Though it’s a guide rather than a scholarly study, the book covers contrivances and conventions like type sizes, fonts, grids, scrolls, spines, wireframes, wayfinding, laundry lines, and designing the written word for different screens, as well as case studies of each. It’s an excellent way to frame one’s thinking on all of the above for critique or the classroom. Or both.

If paper didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. Would anyone say the same for the screen?

References:

Emerson, Lori. (2014). Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Galloway, Alexander R. (2013). The Interface Effect. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Gitelman, Lisa. (2014). Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Raley, Rita. (2013). TXTual Practice. In, N. Katerine Hayles & Jessica Pressman (Eds.), Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era (pp. 183-197). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Kittler, Friedrich A. (1990). Discourse Networks: 1800/1900. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lupton, Ellen (Ed.) (2014). Type on Screen: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Developers, and Students. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Ong, Walter J. (1977). Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Contested Boundaries and Saturated Selves

In her book The Social Machine (MIT Press, 2014), Judith Donath outlines designs for living online. Echoing George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), she writes, “We are embodied beings, who have evolved in the physical world; our thoughts and imagination are rooted in the sensory experience of our physical surroundings. Online, there is no body; there is only information. We comprehend abstract ideas by reframing them in metaphoric terms that ultimately derive from physical experience” (p. 9). One needn’t look any further that a computer’s desktop to see this in action. “Immersion” was once a strong notion in computer-mediated communication studies, online communities, and virtual reality. Now we are not so much immersed in media as we are saturated by it.

The Social MachineDonath points out that these are boundary issues. Walls, fences, locked doors, online moderators—“the doormen of discussions” (p. 159), spam filters, and other gate-keeping contrivances protect the private from the public and vice versa. Even with such boundaries in place, our embodiedness is still at risk. We are as sieves, filtering news from noise, or as sponges, soaking up information and influence of all kinds. The latter evokes Psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s “saturated self”:

Emerging technologies saturate us with the voices of humankind—both harmonious and alien. As we absorb their varied rhymes and reasons, they become a part of us and we of them. Social saturation furnishes us with a multiplicity of incoherent and unrelated languages of the self (1991, p. 6).

Nearly twenty years ago, Nicholas Negroponte (1995) pontificated on the fading boundaries of the “post-information age,” writing,

In the same ways that hypertext removes the limitations of the printed page, the post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in specific place at specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. In the post-information age, since you may live and work at one or many locations, the concept of an “address” now takes on new meaning (p. 163).

The history of the internet is largely a story of broken-down boundaries (see Grodin & Lindolof, 1996; Jenkins, 2006; van Dijck, 2013). Its architecture “rests upon principles of convergence, which enable multiple and overlapping connections between varieties of distinct social spheres” (Papacharissi, 2011, p. 305). The inherent irony of Negroponte’s observation is that since physical location no longer matters in the digital, post-geographic workday, it makes it matter even more. If you can work from anywhere, where you live means more than ever. You can live wherever you want regardless of where your work is. The old boundaries are gone.

The End of AbsenceThe overwhelming irony now is that where we are matters less than the digital wares with which we saturate our selves. On the commute, at school, at work, at home, on a trip, visiting friends—the smartphone usurps all of these with a persistent and precise hold on our attention. In William Gibson‘s term, the online world has “everted” itself into physical space. The fact that it is now inescapable is what writer Michael Harris calls “the end of absence.” His is an example of what I have called the Advent Horizon. We feel a sense of loss when we cross one of these lines. From the Socratic shift from speaking to writing, to the transition from writing to typing, we’re comfortable—differently on an individual and collective level—in one of these phases. As we adopt and assimilate new devices, our horizon of comfort drifts further out while our media vocabulary increases. It takes 30 years for a full, generational change and with that a full shift in advent horizons. Harris notes, “If you were born before 1985, then you know what life is like both with the internet and without. You are making the pilgrimage from Before to After” (p. 15).

Reaching across one of these divides, Thomas de Zengotita (2005) writes of digitally zombified youth,

… It was if they were somnambulating, hypnotized, into some newborn zone of being where hallowed custom and bizarre context were so surreally fused that the whole tableau seemed poised to shimmer off into the ether at any moment (p. 155).

Ours is a chronic presence in a chronic present. Donath (2014), writes of our online personal presences, “The stranger, as we think of him now, may cease to exist” (p. 336). But Harris (2014) adds, “Before all memory of those absences is shuttered, though, there is this brief time when we might record what came before. We might do something with those small, barely noticeable instances when we’re reminded of our love for absence. They flash at us amid the rush of our experience and seem to signal: Wait, wasn’t there something…?” (p. 8).

Well, was there?

References:

de Zengotita, Thomas. (2005). Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live in It. New York: Bloomsbury.

Donath, Judith. (2014). The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Gergen, Kenneth. (1991). The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic Books.

Grodin, Debra & Lindlof, Thomas R. (1996). Constructing the Self in a Mediated World. Thosand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Harros, Michael. (2014). The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. New York: Current.

Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Lakoff, George, & Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Negroponte, Nicholas. (1995). Being Digital.  New York: Knopf.

Papacharissi, Zizi. (2011). A Networked Self. In Zizi Papacharissi (Ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 304-317). New York: Routledge.

van Dijck, José. (2013). The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New York: Oxford University Press.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Ambient Networks: You Are Here

“How did you get here?” asks Peter Morville (p. xi) on the first page of his book Ambient Findability (O’Reilly, 2005). It’s not a metaphysical question, but a practical and direct one. Ambience indirectly calls attention to the here we’re in. It is all around us at all times. In Tim Morton’s The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010), he explains it this way:

Take the music of David Byrne and Laurie Anderson. Early postmodern theory likes to think of them as nihilists or relativists, bricoleurs in the bush of ghosts. Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” features a repeated sample of her voice and a sinister series of recorded messages. This voice typifies postmodern art materials: forms of incomprehensible, unspeakable existence. Some might call it inert, sheer existence–art as ooze. It’s a medium in which meaning and unmeaning coexist. This oozy medium has something physical about it, which I call ambience (p. 103).

City Wall, Helsinki, 2007
“City Wall,” Helsinki Institute for Information Tenchnology, 2007.

Ambient Commons

“Ambient” is a loaded, little word at best. You wouldn’t be alone if the first thing that comes to mind upon reading the word is a thoughtful soundscape by Brian Eno. In Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information (MIT Press, 2013), Malcolm McCullough reclaims the word for our hypermediated surroundings. Claiming that we’ve mediated aspects of our world so well that we’ve obscured parts of the world itself. Looking through the ambient invites us to think about our environment–built, mediated, situated, or otherwise–in a new way. McCullough asks, “Do increasingly situated information technologies illuminate the world, or do they just eclipse it (figure 1.3 below)?” (p. 20). He adds on the book’s website, “Good interaction design reduces the ‘cognitive load’ of artifacts. It also recognizes how activities make use of context, periphery, and background. But now as ever more of the human perceptual field has been engineered for cognition, is there a danger of losing awareness of how environment also informs?” How much can we augment before we begin to obscure?

Ambient Commons: Fig. 1.3
Ambient Commons: Fig. 1.3

McCullough’s background as a design practitioner grounds his inquiry in the cognition of the user (He is Associate Professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan). That alone sets Ambient Commons apart from most other books in the field. It’s not against technology, and it’s not cheering it on. It’s a call to more mindful use.

An Aesthesia of NetworksFraming some of the same concerns within the wiry window of networks, Anna Munster’s An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology (MIT Press, 2013) is also a call for more mindful consideration. “Aesthesia” reinstates experience in and of the network, which is possibly the most pervasive of all our mediating technologies. Using William James’ radical empiricism, viral media, video art, Deleuze and Guattari, and Google Earth, Munster’s approach pushes us past the day-to-day relations of data to the underlying assemblage of networks. Like Peter Krapp’s Noise Channels (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), An Aesthesia… pulls the background to the fore; it makes the ambient evident.

“Ambience points to the here and now,” Morton (2010) continues, “in a compelling way that goes beyond explicit content… ambience opens up our ideas of space and place into radical questioning” (p. 104). Just as poetry calls attention to language, ambience calls attention to place. You are here.

References:

Krapp, Peter. (2011). Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

McCullough, Malcolm. (2013). Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Morton, Timothy. (2010). The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Morville, Peter. (2005). Ambient Findability (Preface: You Are Here!). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Munster, Anna. (2013). An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Summer Reading List, 2013

You know the drill by now: Every year I ask my readerly and writerly friends for their reading recommendations for the summer. New contributors to the list this year include Janet Murray, danah boyd, Rick Moody, Steve Jones, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Richard Kadrey, Benjamin Bratton, Brad Vivian, and Lily Brewer. Usual suspects holding down the tradition include Lance Strate, Alex Burns, Howard Rheingold, David Silver, Mark Amerika, Jussi Parikka, Dominic Pettman, Gareth Branwyn, Peter Lunenfeld, Patrick David Barber, and myself. Read on.

Lily at Powell's

As always, the book links will lead you to the book’s page on the Powell’s site unless otherwise noted.

danah boyd

One of my favorite unexpected delights this year was Natasha Dow Schüll’s Addiction by Design (Princeton University Press). This book provides an eloquent analysis of Las Vegas’ gambling Addiction by Designmachines, revealing how data and design are used to manipulate people for profit and pleasure. Addiction by Design offers a necessary critique of the economics-driven rhetoric that implies that technology use is simply about individual choice.

This was also a year where many friends of mine produced amazing books covering topics that are deeply important to me. In particular, three recent books provide complementary perspective on the intersection of technology and society:

Biella Coleman’s Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (Princeton University Press) is an ethnographic account of the free and open source movement that untangles the values and practices of hacking.

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green’s Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (New York University Press) examines how information flows through social media.

Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (W. W. Norton & Company) highlights the importance of understanding not just how information flows but also how people connect, laying the foundation for rethinking what global citizenship can and should be.

Rick Moody

I am all about the backlist these days, partly because I just finished teaching a course on narrative art before Cervantes at NYU, but also because that is sort of where my attention goes, so you might try a few of these if you haven’t already:

The Golden AssAupuleius, The Golden Ass, translated by Sarah Ruden (Yale University Press), which is the most profane, irreverent, and fascinatingly digressive text of antiquity, it seems to me, and which has lots to say about mystery cults, too. No reading experience of the last year has touched me as much.

The Sagas of Icelanders, various translators (Penguin Classics): These are the crime fictions of pre-Renaissance literature. Grim, violent, only fleetingly magical, and so hard to put down. The sagas about visiting North America are particularly fascinating. They did not have such a good time in Greenland.

The Ramayana, adapted by R. K. Narayan (Penguin Classics): Narayan’s edition is a mere portion of this 20,000 line Indian epic, and reflects a modern, twentieth century impulse, but it’s also a delight. Spare, funny, wry. The gods are virtuous, but inexplicable, and love is always a disaster, even, it seems, for the good guys.

Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, translated by M. A. Screech (Penguin Classics): An elegy to scatology, early modern ideas of the body, and alcoholism, funnier than almost any other book ever written, and a sly indicator of what was to come from the Marquis de Sade. Almost no one, it seems, read Rabelais anymore. Not one writing student in my class had read it, few had even heard of it, but this text sure turned some heads.

Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote, translated by Edith Grossman (Harper Perennial): The greatest, mostly lovely, tender, and knowing book about the folly of humans, in an engaging, accessible, and literary translation. Everything comes from this book, despite what the Richardson scholars would tell you, except that everything in this book comes from some earlier origin (grailing literature, etc.). Whatever it is, this epic, it is imperative to the novel and how the novel would develop from here on out. And did you know that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day? What a bad day that was art made out of language.

Lance Strate

It’s summertime, and the readin’ comes easy, and time itself is a topic of great interest for me. I was thrilled to learn of the recent publication of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by physicist Lee Smolin, where he argues for a position I’ve long held to be true, that time is more fundamental than space. On a similar theme, but coming from a very different angle, I also plan to read Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (ACLS Humanities) by our greatest living world historian, William McNeil.

On the subject of media and culture, I have lined up Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind (University of Illinois Press) by the late John Miles Foley; I saw him give a talk on this topic a few years ago at an annual meeting of the Media Ecology Association, and know that he makes an important contribution to our understanding of media environments. I am very interested in how the electronic media undermine print-based concepts of identity, which is why The Digital Evolution of an American Identity by C. Waite (Routledge) is a must read as far as I’m concerned. Present ShockReturning to the theme of time, Douglas Rushkoff‘s latestPresent Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Current) is high up on my list of priorities. And looking back to an earlier time, the origin of monotheism, related as it is to the introduction of the Semitic alphabet, is another subject of significance for me, which is why my list includes From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends (Jewish Publication Society) by Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch.

Having been absolutely blown away by the new Hannah Arendt film by Margarethe von Trotta, which I highly recommend as an excellent audiovisual supplement to any summer reading list, I want to return to her final work, The Life of the Mind (Mariner Books), which was edited by her best friend, the novelist Mary McCarthy (who plays a significant role in the film). I’m also planning on digging into The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound by Roberto Mangabeira Unger (Harvard University Press).

Last year, at the Players Club in New York, I heard the late M. Z. Ribalow do a reading from his outstanding novel, Redheaded Blues (NeoPoiesis Press), and I have been looking forward to sitting down with the book for a long time now. Back on the subject of time, I know I’ll be enjoying Paul Levinson’s latest time travel novel, Unburning Alexandria, (JoSara MeDia). And when it comes to graphic novels, there is no question that I am going to devour Vol. 18 of The Walking Dead (Image Comics). I have grown increasingly more fascinated at the way the plot of the television series diverges from the story told in the comics.

One of the great summertime pleasures is picking up a book of good poetry, and This Poem by Adeena Karasick (Talonbooks) promises to be a literary, aesthetic, and intellectual delight, judging by all of the rave reviews that it’s received. And finally, I’m not making any promises, but I have this copy of John Milton’s The Complete English Poems (Knopf) waiting to be read…

Janet Murray

I am giving a talk in the UK in July so perhaps that is why two novels written by English women were at the top of my iPad queue: Kate Atkinson, Life After Life (Reagan Arthur Books) which I read as soon as our semester ended, which at Life After LifeGeorgia Tech means early May. It turned out to be quite a revelation for how far what I call the “Replay Story” has made it into mainstream serious fiction.Atkinson is as inventive as Borges or Eco or as Ursula Le Guin was in Lathe of Heaven, but this is not a self-conscious literary experiment or a sci-fi fable; she is working much closer to lived experience, with realized characters in recognizable historical circumstances, yet offering multiple possible lives for the same character. It was odd to read this multisequential story on my iPad with a hyperlinked Table of Contents that was incidental to the structure, not designed for it but suggestive of an evolving digital form. I wound up blogging about the lessons it offers us about narrative structure in interactive formats.

Next up is Jane Gardam, Last Friends (Europa Editions) — the third novel in a trilogy told from each of three members of an unlikely love triangle but I may have to go back and review the other two which came out years ago. I absent-mindedly ordered this in both paper and electronic form, but I am keeping both because I want it on the shelf next to the other two but I also want to read it anywhere.

I also hope to make a dent in that perennial pile of books I have been meaning to read including several at the intersection of cognition and culture — notably, Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body (University of Chicago Press) and Michael Tomasello, Constructing a Language (Harvard University Press). I never miss Emily Nussbaum’s weekly TV criticism in the New Yorker, and I’ve just found Kathryn’s Shulz’s equally smart and well-written book review column in New York Magazine and found myself ordering Americanah by C. N. Adiche (Knopf), a Nigerian born novelist whom I had not heard of before, on the basis of Schulz’s review. Of course the summer will be shorter than I anticipated and will be very busy with administrative work and travel and family visits so I will probably be cutting and pasting this when you ask me again next year.

Steve Jones

I’m about to begin reading Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Random House). Summer reading, for me, generally involves reading for pleasure, though it always somehow circles back to my intellectual interests, and in this case the idea that time, literally, physically, slows, strikes a chord. Abbey Road to Ziggy StardustSpeaking of chords, I’m finishing up Ken Scott’s Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust (Alfred Music), which, as a huge Beatles fan I’d love anyway, but as a history of the recording of popular music it’s unparalleled. There is plenty of technical detail, and the narrative is well written. Rather than try to tell his story chronologically, Scott largely goes artist by artist, to great effect. Somehow I keep coming back around to my earliest scholarly fascination with how musicians, engineers and producers talk about music and recording, and how that discourse is influenced by, and influences, recording technology.

The next books on the table are George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Michael Burlingame’s two volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Johns Hopkins University Press). I have noticed lately that quite a few pundits seem intent on noting that the present political era in the U.S. is neither different from, nor worse than, many in the past. While I think such comparisons are interesting and potentially useful, the more interesting thing to me is that the country continues to muddle along. Whether this is from inertia, from lack of alternatives (a civil war seems somehow unimaginable, even though the last civil war veterans died in the 1950s, not so long ago in historical terms), or from the rapidity with which election cycles seem to come and go and provide illusions of alternatives, I don’t know, but I’m particularly interested in juxtaposing these books.

I’d like to get to Charles Emmerson’s 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (Public Affairs), but it seems unlikely given that it is already June. I still don’t feel as if I have a good grasp of World War I and its consequences for modernism, and from reviews I’ve read Emmerson may provide some illumination.

Richard Kadrey

I’ll be writing my new Sandman Slim this summer, so reading will have to fit around my writing schedule. There are four books I know I’ll get to.

I’m really looking forward to Charlie Huston’s Skinner (Mulholland Books). I’ve read all of Huston’s work, starting with the Henry Thompson crime books and his Joe Pitt vampire series. I’m looking forward to Huston’s take on the intelligence business and terrorism.

The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow) is a bit of a cheat. All the Young DudesI read an early copy and enjoyed it immensely. It’s a book about childhood and terrifying magic, but it’s also about the horror of being young, the casual cruelty of adults, and the terror of remembering or worse, not remembering. I want to go through the book again, slower this time. It’s fun watching Gaiman crank the gears.

Another book I’m looking forward to is Edge of Dark Water by Joe Lansdale (Mulholland Books). Some of the chatter around it seems to pitch it as a young adult title, probably because of its young protagonists. However, like Gaiman’s book, young characters don’t necessarily add up to a kid’s book. I’m a sucker for all things Lansdale and a dark and murderous road story sounds just right for the summer.

Mark Dery has a new ebook called All the Young Dudes: Why Glam Rock Matters. Dery is a cultural critic with a keen eye for the secret meanings and influences of pop culture. All the Young Dudes is the first book from bOING-bOING, the culture, politics, and tech site. If Dery is their first author, I think we can look forward to more interesting work coming from them.

Benjamin H. Bratton

With an eye toward what I will be writing about in the Fall, Summer is usually a time when I inhale a lot of books, starting more than I finish. Two books at the top of my pile concern architecture’s relationship to computational materialism.  Luciana Parisi’s Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (The MIT Press), draws on Alfred North Whitehead to develop an open-ended theory of algorithms as a “mode of thought,” more than just a mode of drawing or fabrication. Her take is a welcome alternative to the simplistic reductionism on offer by some of the perspectives closely associated with Parametricism. Architecture Xenoculture is a special issue of eVolo, guest edited by my friend, Juan Azulay, along with Benjamin Rice. It is a wild collection of works, ideas, and provocations from Reza Negarestani, J. G. Thirwell, Hernan Diaz-Alonso, Perry Hall, Terry Riley, and many others. It’s a good approximation of what a posthuman, postdisciplinary architecture would look like today.

Red PlentyMy favorite novel I’ve read in the last few months is Red Plenty (Graywolf Press) by Francis Spufford. Through a series of interwoven vignettes, it recounts the dreams and failures of Soviet cybernetics and its plans to realize the State as a universal platform-of-platforms. It’s clear (at least to me) that there is no way to imagine a genealogy of Google’s informational cosmopolitan ambitions without including this era as a key antecedent (I suppose, for better or worse, it would be impossible then to think about the contemporary fate of ‘communism’ without including Google’s own Gosplan.) Beyond States and markets, what ties this novel’s protagonists to Google’s is a belief in the power of the platform to organize the world in its image. Ideally it should be read in conjunction with Alexander Bogdonav’s Red Star (Indiana University Press), a 1908 Sci-Fi novel about a communist utopia on Mars, and Steven Levy’s (equally utopian) history of Google, In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Lives (Simon & Schuster).

Every summer I try to more or less systematically re-read something of significance to me. Sometimes it is a major work, several works by one author, or some group of books that form some kind of cluster. Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Kim Stanley Robinson and Jonathan Lethem geek out with one another for an hour or so about their favorite Philip K. Dick works. Inspired, I am making my way back through 6 or 8 key PKD novels in more or less chronological order, starting with The Man in the High Castle (Mariner), then Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Mariner), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Del Rey), UBIK (Mariner),  Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (Mariner), A Scanner Darkly (Mariner), and VALIS (as well its little brother and a personal favorite, Radio Free Albemuth, the first PKD novel that I happened to read). There are certainly so many other great ones, but for a refresher, these will suffice to scratch the surface. As a companion I will read Laurence A. Rickels I Think I Am: Philip K. Dickbook of commentary on Dick’s work, I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick (University of Minnesota Press). Rickels is an extraordinarily interesting writer, and a former professor of mine. His other books, dealing with California, vampires, and Nazi psychoanalysis, etc. are also recommended. The Case of California (University of Minnesota Press) in particular makes for excellent beach reading, actually. No joke.

Lastly, I have become interested in issues in and around the philosophy of biology (in a open, non-disciplinary sense) especially as it pertains to fuzzy boundaries between living and non-living matter, strange systems, inhuman time and so forth. Recently I’ve read, or have it planned to read, a handful of titles that may be of interest. Hypersea: Life on Land (Columbia University Press) is a mad book by Mark McMenamin and Dianna McMenamin that starts with the question, why is a greater diversity of life on land than in the sea? Their answer is nested parasitism: animals living inside of animals living inside of animals. Life Explained (Yale University Press) by the French Biologist, Michel Morange, is a nice overview of contemporary issues ranging from molecular genetics to astrobiology, and beginning with the fundamental question of what is and is not “life” exactly? I’ve been looking forward to reading Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography and the Media of Reconnaissance (Zone Books) by Hanna Rose Shell, for some time. As the title suggests, it develops a theory of camouflage from evolutionary biology to aerial warfare. Lastly, I picked up a well-loved copy of the 1987 book by Steven Jay Gould, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Harvard University Press). It discusses how, through geological science in the 17th through 19th centuries, it became possible to think the “Deep Time” of the Earth: billions of years, not thousands.

(P.S.- for those with a strong constitution and an oblique sense of humor, you may want to grind through Agenda 21 (Threshold Editions), the novelization of America’s eco-totalitarian future, ghost-written for Glenn Beck. I often find that that the paranoid Right imagines a political Left that is much more interesting that the Left that actually exits. In Beck’s world the Left is programmatically coherent, stealthy, and dominant. FEMA camps for climate criminals? If only!).

Lily Brewer

During school months I build monuments of books to the Summer Break gods, do a frustrated rain dance of tears around them for spring semester’s end, then begin my reading tribute to myself after a year of finished school work. Thus commences the happy dismantling of the towers three or more at a time. I’ve grabbed a few and put them here.

China Mieville is always begrudgingly on my summer list, even though Un Lun Dun, The City & the City, and Perdido Street Station (Del Rey), as grunge-ily elaborate and adventurous as they may be, fall flat at the critical moment. Despite our tenuous relationship I can’t get away from China and will be finishing Embassytown, Lesabendio(an absolutely brilliant, linguistically twisted story, but I hate the protagonist so badly and don’t care what happens to her). Railsea is also on my list, and I’m optimistic with my bout with these newer additions to his fantastical and other-worldly repertoire. Another SF pick, Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel (Wakefield Press), by Paul Scheerbart is the first German Expressionist utopian Science Fiction novel from 1913, (perhaps the only one?). An oblong and elastic inhabitant of a planet in a binary star system, Lesabéndio is a happy relationship between technology and nature. And the characters move around like bouncy balls. Walter Benjamin recommends it. My last fictive pick is Cloud Atlas (Random House) because David Mitchell was in desperate need of vindication. Without going into detail of how miserable the movie made me for three hours, and even though I picked this one up out of frustration and pity, so far I’m impressed (and relieved) with Mitchell’s inspired, paradoxically parallel and interwoven threads through space and time. (This opus deserves another post entirely.)

I always forget I’m a student of history, so I’ll also be spending much of my time in Howard Zinn’s captivating and, alas, so far depressing A People’s History of the United States (Harper Perennial), for which my 11th grade American History teacher John Irish would be ecstatic, along with I Bernard Cohen’s Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams & James Madison (W. W. Norton & Company). Both books detail the pushed-under-the-rug histories of the U. S. that allow my roguish self think of my studies in art and design history under a darker, scandalous light. Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon & Schuster) I hope, will complement like colors my interest in the history and philosophy of science along with these, as well as Linda Henderson’s newly republished The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (The MIT Press), the latter for which I’m particularly stoked.

I’ve almost finished The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh (Anchor). According to Singh, “Codebreakers are linguistic alchemists,” from Mary Queen of Scots to the Navajo code talkers to quantum computers. With this summer’s special edition of Scientific American, “Extreme Physics: Probing the Mysteries of the Cosmos” (with heroes such as Steven Hawking, David Deutch, and the baddest boy on black holes and String Theory, Leonard Susskind) and Deutsch’s article on Constructor Theory, I’m pretty optimistic I’ll have a great historical and quantum-ly foundation for when I return to art school in the fall. I’m comfortable in the contrast.

Howard Rheingold

Big DataVictor Mayer-Schoenberger and Kenneth Cukier, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Tansform How We Live, Work, and Think (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Yes, the title sounds like a concatenation of buzzwords, but both the subject matter and style of writing are compelling: The ability to collect ALL the data about phenomena, made possible by sensors and extensive computation power, rather than sampling data the way scientists have done thus far, is making it possible to know things that we couldn’t know before, and to approach the idea of knowing the world in new ways. When Google crunched billions of searches against 450 MILLION algorithms, they came up with Flu Trends, which can predict influenza outbreaks weeks before the Center for Disease Control. It’s not just about selling things, dataveillance (don’t forget that the NSA is building a million square foot server farm to look for patterns in trillions of phone calls, text messages, emails), or predicting epidemics. It’s a new way of studying the world.

Mark Amerika

More than ever, this summer my reading will be endlessly contaminated by my writing and vice versa. What I mean is that I am finishing two books, or not books per se, although they will end up looking like books, but two long performance art works that disguise themselves as books, even though they are really durational achievements.

The first book constructs a fictional narrative around Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box featuring imaginary characters who go by the names Walter Whitman Benjamin and Virginia Wolff. It’s hard to explain, but you can be sure that I have to read a lot of material about Duchamp’s Large Glass a.k.a. The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. Honestly, it’s my pleasure.

Locus SolusThe second book is my remix of an auto-translation of Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus (Alma Books). This means I will read-write the French-to-English auto-translation of Roussel’s novel that I conduct myself by employing mediocre online tools. The end result is already looking like a very mangled version of Roussel’s original book since I will not be reading any sanctioned (verifiable, legit, published) English translation and do not read, write, or otherwise comprehend any texts written in the French language. Having said that, I will be reading, rereading, writing and rewriting Roussel through Duchamp’s Green Box. This ongoing read-write process is what I mean by the term remixology (the subject of my last book, remixthebook).

Will there be time for any other reading? Last year, my friends published so many wonderful books that I could not get to those books written by relative strangers. This year I’ll try to get to take hold of those that I let go last year because I did not have the time as well as a few others that have since popped into view: possible contenders include Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? (Picador), Claire Donato’s Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press), Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Scribner), Vanessa Place’s Boycott (Ugly Duckling Presse), and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora: A Headcase (Hawthorne Books).

I’ll also finish two excellent art history books: Branden Joseph’s Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage (Zone Books) and Judith Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes: Allen Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings (The MIT Press). These latter two titles are meant to trigger new thoughts about what it would be like to develop a new Graduate arts program in collaborative / experimental / experiential / emerging / inter / media art practices. I would like to find a way to integrate expanded and electronic forms of writing into this program as well and imagine it will even include a PhD component.

As you can imagine, my reading list changes, daily. For instance, ten minutes ago another book just came to my attention and may have to wait but I really hope to get to it by September 21st: Pay for Your Pleasures: Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon (University of Chicago Press), by Cary Levine. And three minutes ago, I received an email from Ulises Mejias inviting me to read his just-released Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (University of Minnesota Press). Quickly scrolling through the online version, I can see that I will take him up on his offer.

Will I also have enough time to start dipping my nose into Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence (Harvard University Press)?

And I haven’t even touched upon on all of the other pdfs I have loaded on my iPad.

Bradford Vivian

I will be using the summer to gain momentum on a new research project about time and politics, so I’m reading David Ewing Duncan’s The Calendar: The 5000-year Struggle to Align the Clock and Heavens—and What Happened to the Missing Ten Days (Fourth Estate) as a broad background text.  Duncan chronicles the profound difficulty to establish a reliable clock throughout the (mainly) Western tradition, from the dawn of so-called civilization forward.  His account shows the repeated ways that forms of authority (kings, religions, early democratic or republican governments) invested themselves in the use of time as a means of ordering human society and consolidating power in the process.

Architectures of TimeSanford Kwinter’s Architectures of Time: Toward a Theory of the Event in Modernist Culture (The MIT Press) focuses on questions of time as a central formative component of modernity.  Kwinter draws heavily from Nietzsche, Bergson, and Deleuze and Guattari (who are likely the prime lens through which he accesses the former two figures) to argue that all the various, and at times contradictory versions of Western modernity, find common roots in efforts to radically rethink time not as a stable backdrop against which events occur but, rather, as the productive force through which phenomena come into being and exist in their continual becoming.

In addition to these and other books on time and its many manifestations, I will attempt to tackle Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree (Vintage). After first encountering his work in The Road, I have gradually been working my way through his corpus from first to last.  I find McCarthy’s prose stunning for its highly disciplined economy of pacing, precise but still haunting descriptive powers, uncannily vivid dialogue, and distinctive capacity to suggest the contours of an intimate psychological world through external, worldly details.

Dominic Pettman

Summer means novels. Lots and lots of novels.

Once more unto the beach!

Ross MacDonald, The Blue Hammer (Vintage): I really enjoy MacDonald’s mid-century California-noir atmospherics, and try to read at least one title of his a year.

Charles McCarry, The Miernik Dossier (Gerald Duckworth & Co.): I’ve only just discovered McCarry, but apparently this is considered by many to be the best Cold War era thriller by an American.

Charles Willeford, The Shark-Infested Custard (Vintage): Pure pulp, apparently in the most flagrant and unironic way possible.

The FlamethrowersGerald Murnane, Barley Patch (Dalkey Archive): A recent and well-received title by one of Australia’s most interesting and elusive writers.

Anna Kavan, Ice (Peter Owen): I don’t know much about this, except the author is an under-appreciated modernist, and the minimal title beckons me.

Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (Scribner): Clearly the buzz-book of the Summer, highly recommended by several people I trust.

Shirley Hazzard, Transit of Venus (Penguin): I’m ashamed to have snoozed on this one for so long.

Kawamata Chiaki, Death Sentences (University of Minnesota Press): Translated by the brilliant Renaissance man, Thomas LaMarre, by a schoolchum of the guy who made the Ringu series, and working off a similar premise.

In terms of theory and/or non-fiction:

Siddhartha Deb, The Beautiful and the Damned (Faber & Faber): An award-winning portrait of modern India by one of my colleagues.

Margret Grebowicz, Why Internet Porn Matters (Stanford University Press): Well, don’t you want to know? Margret will no doubt bring a far more nuanced and critical eye to all those pink pixels flowing through the modemsphere.

Carla Nappi, The Monkey and the Inkpot (Harvard University Press): I saw Carla present a creative piece inspired by her research at the New Museum a few months ago, and now her book on “natural history and its transformations in modern China” is high on my list.

How to Wreck a Nice BeachRoland Barthes, How to Live Together (Columbia University Press): If anyone can respond to such a self-imposed title, it’s RB.

Dave Tompkins, How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from WWII to Hip Hop (Stop Smiling): I read a short piece by Tompkins which was so good that I instantly bought his book.

I will also be catching up with recent issues of Cabinet magazine (subscribe, if you don’t already!).

Plus pretty much everything put out by Univocal Publishing.

My project for the whole year, extending beyond Summer, is Giacomo Leopardi’s epic Zibaldone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), finally being published in English in its entirety mid-July.

Jussi Parikka

My summer reading is going to be sporadic, but hopefully I get to attend to some texts that have been on my radar.

One certain is Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman (Polity). She is just fantastic in her affective energy as well as a pioneer of new materialism. Compared to her, the more recent discussions of the nonhuman are really latecomers. The new book promises some good chapters on death as well as on the future (and non-future?) of humanities.

24/7Besides Braidotti, I will definitely check out another one of my idols, Jonathan Crary’s, new book, 24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (Verso). Crary’s Suspensions of Perception (MIT Press) was my go-to book for a long time, and finally there is some new writing out from him. For me, someone who has had sleeping problems the past year, the topic is perfect. And he ties it with the increasing colonialization of our most private spheres by capitalism, so even more perfect.

If and when time, there is a bunch of German media theory waiting to be read. It includes two new hefty volumes from Wolfgang Ernst on time-criticality (Chronopoetik and Gleichursprünglichkeit, both from Kulturverlag Kadmos).

As well as Till Heilmann’s book on computers as text machines, a sort of a media archaeology: Textverarbeitung. Eine Mediengeschichte des Computers als Schreibmaschine (2012) . I have been slowly reading novels again and should one day finish Paolo Bacigalupi’s fantastic The Windup Girl (Night Shade Books) and pick up some Richard Powers I think (at least I was recommended to).

Matthew Kirschenbaum

My summer reading plans are as ambitious as anyone’s and cluster around media archaeology, military affairs, and game history. While there are a whole lot more university press titles in the stack now I suppose the basic mix hasn’t changed all that much since I was fourteen, making bad interactive fiction on my Apple II and listening to Rush albums while reading Tom Clancy and the Monster Manual. (Yes, I was that kid.)

Right now I’m finishing Robert Bolaño’s Third Reich (Picador), his posthumously published first novel recently serialized in The Paris Review. The title comes from the Avalon Hill tabletop simulation game, Decline and Fall of the Third Reich; the novel’s protagonist, Udo, sets this game up obsessively as he vacations at a beach resort on the Costa Brava (is the whole setting a sand table?), playing out his relationship with his girlfriend and brooding on history (his own, Europe’s), spinning scenarios (both ludic and life-altering), and baking his reptilian brainstem in the heat-soaked setting. It is an oppressive strong novel and will not be to everyone’s taste, though it offers a rare extended fictional portrayal of an old school hex and counter game (Bolaño himself was an improbable aficionado of the genre).

Speculate This!I will also be making time for Speculate This!, the enigmatic new e-book from Duke University Press attributed to the otherwise anonymous collective who call themselves “uncertain commons.” (A note in the text glosses the membership as “a group of scholars, mediaphiles, and activists who explore the possibilities of collaborative intellectual labor.”) “The future has been sold,” the first screen reads. “Parceled, bundled, and securitized.” This! becomes a site of affect and resistance. It may in fact find some odd if inverse kinship with the Bolaño, focused as it is on futurity rather than historicity and forms of scenario-making less about prediction and perfection than the creative calculus of difference.

Media archaeology encompasses a loose constellation of scholars and theorists, many of them non-American, that grounds its excavations of media history in strange loops, weird machines, and code forks not followed, with a heavy dose of techno-fetishism and Foucauldian obsession for the archive. Texts I would place in this category from my pile include Finn Brunton’s Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press), Cornelia Vismann’s Files: Law and Media Technology (Stanford University Press), Ben Kafka’s The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paper Work (Zone Books; notice a trend here?), and Goto80’s Computer Rooms, (lulu) which is a print-on-demand photo documentary of “what computer culture really looks like.” Media archaeologists like it gritty, and so one final item is a David A. Mindell’s older monograph Between Human and Machine (Johns Hopkins University Press), which examines the history of pre-cybernetic feedback mechanisms and analog computing through the lens of naval gun control and automated fire direction, a nexus of topics newly relevant in the face of drone technology once again raising questions about human actors, non-human systems, and the protocols of war.

Speaking of which, I am about halfway through Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife (Penguin), a well-sourced look at the 21st century’s most significant development in American war-fighting strategy, the tactical The Way of the Knifeconjoining of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command in the wake of 9/11. This is the deep military (and defense policy) history behind the drone wars, as well as the now-routine global deployments of “black” units like the much mythologized SEAL Team Six.

Other reading may include Matt Jockers’ Macroanalysis (University of Illinois Press) and Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know (Yale University Press), The latter is the deep historical study James Gleick’s much-hyped The Information (Vintage) could never be, and although it’s now been out for several years I am overdue for some time with it. I am also looking forward to Roger Whitson and Jason Whittaker’s Blake and the Digital Humanities, a Routledge hardcover with a price-point set by Urizen.

I have both of Ken Wark’s volumes on the Situationists on deck, The Beach Underneath the Street and the latest, The Spectacle of Disintegration (Verso). Guy Debord, by the way, was himself a player of games, and designed a “war game”—Kriegsspiel—that would have done Bolaño’s protagonist proud. Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People, and Fantastic Adventures From Chess to Role Playing Games (Unreason Press) is a self-published 700-page tome that very much treats its subject, tabletop gaming, as media—by which I mean material instruments for focalizing and amplifying abstractions—offering up the most carefully researched, loving, and impeccably documented history of Dungeons of Dragons we are surely ever going to see. It’s a book that publishers presumably wouldn’t touch, a simultaneously indulgent and authoritative book our world would be a dimmer place without.

Finally, my ongoing research on the literary history of word processing has introduced me to Len Deighton, whose 1970 novel Bomber (Sterling) is likely the first novel ever written on a machine that qualifies as such. Deighton was famous for his brutal yet urbane Cold War espionage thrillers—neither Ian Fleming nor John le Carré —and I’d like to get to some of them. Spy Story (HarperCollins) features a clandestine computer center dedicated to simulating the next world war, one move at a time. After Mazzetti’s contemporary spy stories, this reads now as pure nostalgia for an obsolete end-game.

David Silver

Most of my summertime reading will come straight from whatever’s on the coffee table — a New Yorker article, some section of the Sunday Times, a cookbook or two from the public library.

Few, if any, of the books I will read this summer will contain footnotes.

Most of the books I will read this summer will be gardening and cookbooks which I don’t really read but rather strategically strike: grab, look up, consult, skim, and scan.

The book I hope to read, start to finish and from every which way, is Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press).

Most likely, the only books I will begin and actually finish this summer will be children’s books — read to and with Siena. I will find these books browsing the kids section of my local public library (Berkeley Public – Claremont Branch), reading the children’s column of the Sunday Times‘ book review section, and searching through the database of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards.

During summer, as well as fall, winter, and spring, these books are always read socially.

David and Siena

Gareth Branwyn

Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law, Tales of the SF Cacophony Society (Last Gasp): A group of San Francisco artists, creatives, and lovable malcontents in search of “experiences beyond the pale” – that was the M.O. of the SF Cacophony Society, begun in 1986 and active ’til the turn of the century. Tales… chronicles their many adventures in urban exploration, elaborate costume events, the birth of Burning Man, and more. May this book spawn new generations of urban absurdists and culture jammers.

Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls: A Novel (Mulholland Books): I met Lauren at last year’s Comic-Con and was mortified to admit that I hadn’t read any of her well-regarded novels. I’ve since become something of a fanboy and am looking forward to reading her latest, The Shining Girls, this summer. This genre-bender is about… you’ll never guess… a time-traveling serial killer. Lauren seems to be one of those authors who exfoliates more creativity than most of us have to begin with.

Richard Kadrey, Kill City Blues/The Sandman Slim novels (Harper Voyager): In Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, he repeatedly sends us and the main character, James Stark (aka Sandman Slim), to hell and back again. Back being LA. Four books in and it’s hard to decide which locale is worse. In fact, by book four, Kill City Blues, they basically overlap. And it’s this psychogeography of the series, its mash-up of the familiar and the occult, and it’s relentlessly violent, always clever and cocky narrative, that make it stand far above other darlings of the genre like Jim Butcher.

Hard Art DC 1979Lucian Perkins, Alec MacKaye, Hard Art, DC 1979 (Akashic Books): The pictures in this lovely book, by well-known DC photographer Lucian Perkins, perfectly evoke the unique magic of its time and place – the DC punk scene of 1979. Bands like Trenchmouth, Teen Idles,  Slickee Boys, and the incomparable Bad Brains, played shows in sketchy galleries, squat-clubs, and even inner city housing projects, where punks (frequently in all-white bands) played for all-black audiences unsure of what they were standing in front of. An urgent narrative by Alec MacKaye (Untouchables) and an essay by Henry Rollins provide a backstory to these potent images.

R. U. Sirius Timothy Leary’s Trip Thru Time (Futique Trust): In this timeline-formatted book and free ebook, 90s countercultural iconoclast R. U. Sirius paints probably the most accurate picture to date of 60s counterculture iconoclast Tim Leary. People seem quick to love him or hate him, but best of luck just trying to find Timothy Leary, the actual man entangled in the myth. Like the mercurial Aleister Crowley before him (the early 20th century occultist whom he greatly admired and emulated), Leary seems to be all of the great and terrible things said about him, and none of them. Trip Thru Time is a fine attempt at teasing out the truth behind this (anti)hero of the 20th century.

Peter Lunenfeld

Now that I’ve passed the half-century mark, I was thinking that this summer I might revisit my high school English syllabus, including The Great Gatsby (Scribner), 1984 (Plume), Brave New World (Harper Perennial), and Victory (Double Day) to see how and if they and I have held up. Continuing on with fiction, I’ve already read James Salter’s All That Is (Vintage) and Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Asia (Penguin; which are oddly similar in their attention to men making it, albeit in different eras and places), so for the summer I’ll move on to fiction of and by Angelenos. These include native son and Industry scion Matthew Spektor’s epic about Hollywood, American Dream Machine (Little Brown); East German Christa Wolf’s (that’s how she identifies herself) dyspeptic City of Angels: Or, the Overcoat of Dr. Freud (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Scribner), which though about the New York and Italian art worlds of the 1970s is written by an Angelina; and Summer of Hate, partially set in Southern California, by Chris Kraus. n.b. Kraus’s seminal LA intellectual tell-(not)-all-(but some) I Love Dick (Semiotext(e)) has been invoked a lot lately in relation to internet alt-lit demi-celebrity Marie Calloway’s blog-post-a-clef/short story “Adrien Brody.”

Veering away from fiction, this summer I’m hoping to engage more fully with the amazing publishing program The Inner Life of Video Sphof Geert Lovink’s Institute of Network Cultures (all of which are available as print-on-demand books and pamphlets or as free .pdfs from the site). I’m particularly interested in going through the Un-Like Us Reader, and the two Video Vortex readers. The first is on social media, the others on YouTube and online video. I read Andreas Treske’s pamphlet, The Inner Life of Video Spheres, an expansion of his Video Vortex work, and it’s prompted me to finally sit down and tackle Peter Sloterdijk’s Bubbles: Spheres Volume I: Microspherology (Semiotext(e); pithy titles are obviously not big in German media philosophy at the moment).  Pithier to be sure, and reissued and updated after more than two decades, is the second edition of Brenda Laurel’s groundbreaking Computers as Theatre (Addison-Wesley; with the added bonus of an awesome new cover designed by Martin Venezky).

Speaking of design, I’ll be re-reading The Electric Information Age Book: McLuhan/Agel/Fiore and the Experimental Paperback by Jeffrey Schnapp and Adam Michaels (Princeton Architectural Press). Jeffrey sent me a pre-release .pdf of the book when he and I were working on Digital_Humanities (The MIT Press), but I want to revisit it in print. I won’t be reading so much as browsing Artur Beifuss and Francesco Trivini Bellini’s Branding Terror: The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations (Merrell Publishers). I hope the mere possession of this book doesn’t put me on NSA and TSA watch lists, but if I do get stopped by airport security this summer, I’ll make sure to have a copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (Back Bay) with me, because I read DFW so slowly and with such pleasure.

Patrick David Barber

About a year ago I read Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King (Vintage) start to finish on one lovely day at a campsite in Tillamook National Forest. The book is quintessentially Eggers and also a great summer read: engaging and fast-moving but with enough dark undertones to keep it interesting and relevant.

Last weekend we camped for Solstice and I brought along Edward Lee’s new cookbook Smoke & Pickles (Artisan). I don’t usually think to bring a cookbook for campsite reading, but this was a perfect choice. Lee writes appealingly of his interest in food and of the intersecting influences that brought him to where he is today: a Korean-American New Yorker, running a restaurant in Kentucky that manages to bring all of that together. I’ve yet to try any of these recipes, but, hey, you had me at “Korean-Southern fusion.” Of particular note are the four seasonal kimchi recipes, the variety of rice bowls, and the bourbon-pickled jalapeños.

Edward Lee book in action. (photo by Patrick David Barber)

Alex Burns

Jeff Madrick Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (Vintage): Madrick is editor of Challenge magazine, a contributor to The New York Review of Books, and a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, The New School. His detailed reportage examines how corporate and regulatory battles created new economic and political elites. Age of Greed spans Walter Wriston’s revolt as CEO of First National City bank to Angelo Mozilo’s demise as CEO of Countrywide Financial. There are new, devastating details about the AOL Time Warner merger negotiations; the Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken cases; Alan Greenspan’s Federal Reserve; and fiscal, monetary and regulatory policy in the Carter and Reagan administrations. I liked Age of Greed so much that I bought hardback, paperback, and Kindle copies to study Madrick’s writing style more closely.

Mary S. Morgan The World In The Model: How Economists Work and Think (Cambridge University Press): Morgan is Professor of history and the philosophy of economics at the London School of Economics and the University of Amsterdam. She provides a detailed conceptual history of key theoretical economists, including David Ricardo, John Maynard Keynes, John Nash, and Max Weber. This is a book about how to think about model-building and simulation; what models do and don’t do; how models are used; and under what conditions models can fail. Gillian Tett’s reportage in Fool’s Gold (Little, Brown) provides an example of how J.P. Morgan became a market-maker for credit default swaps and other financial engineering which contributed to the 2007-09 global financial crisis.

Machine LearningPeter Flach Machine Learning: The Art and Science of Algorithms that Make Sense of Data (Cambridge University Press): Flach is editor-in-chief of the Machine Learning journal and is a Professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. This is an accessible introduction to machine learning: “the systematic study of algorithms and systems that improve their knowledge or performance with experience” (p. 3) such as email spam filters. Topics include binary classification; concept learning; tree, rule, and probabilistic models; and model ensembles. Flach uses equations and illustrations to explain the major concepts involved. For more advanced research, I recommend David Barber’s Bayesian Reasoning and Machine Learning (Cambridge University Press) and Kevin P. Murphy’s Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective (The MIT Press).

Barry Johnson Algorithmic Trading & DMA: An Introduction to Direct Access Trading Strategies (4Myeloma Press): Charles Duhigg broke the news about high-frequency trading (HFT) systems in a New York Times article on 24th July 2009. Then the Flash Crash happened at 2:45pm on 6th May 2010. Since then, there is a mini-industry of HFT-oriented topical books (both pro and con); and publisher updates to pre-HFT titles on algorithmic trading. Johnson’s self-published book is a detailed introduction (for institutional investors and HFT system developers) that requires a working knowledge of market microstructure (orders and price structure) and quantitative finance. He alludes to trading strategies yet discusses the equally important transaction and execution costs. For a HFT and algo history, see Scott Patterson’s Dark Pools (Crown Business). For a basic, accessible overview of alpha, risk, portfolio, transaction and execution systems see the revised edition of Rishi K. Narang’s Inside The Black Box (John Wiley & Sons). Publishers have a slate of new HFT and algo books out later this year, starting with Robert Kissell’s The Science of Algorithmic Trading and Portfolio Management (Academic Press). You will have to do further work to understand the major asset classes and trading strategies like mean reversion, momentum, trend-following, volatility, distressed debt, and event arbitrage.

Alan N. Fish Knowledge Automation: How to Implement Decision Management in Business Processes (John Wiley & Sons): James Altucher, Sal Arnuk, Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, Joseph Saluzzi, Charles Hugh Smith, Kanye West, and others agree: The internet is hollowing out the middle class. Norbert Wiener foresaw this outcome with The Human Use of Human Beings (1950) on cybernetics and robotics. Fish combines three areas—decision management (predictive analytics and business rules); business process management systems (activity sequences); and service-oriented architecture (loosely coupled, reusable software services)—to explain how to automate many business functions, or to alter organizational decision structures. It should give you some tools to self-disrupt your current job if you need to—and stay ahead of the reengineering curve. The savings and scalability involved often flow to Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Penguin).

Memory MachinesBelinda Barnet Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext (Anthem Press): Barnett is a colleague and lecturer at Swinburne University, Australia. Memory Machines will probably be the definitive conceptual history of hypertext, and the influence of Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Doug Engelbart’s NLS, Ted Nelson’s Xanadu, and Andries Van Dam’s File Retrieval and Editing System on the internet’s evolution. Barnett combines a rich, scholarly understanding of the historical literature and interviews. She provides background on Nelson’s philosophy that will interest readers of Jaron Lanier’s recent Who Owns The Future? (Penguin), which also explores Nelson’s insights.

Don Webb Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law (Inner Traditions). There have been a flurry of new and thoughtful books about the English magus Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and his aeonic word Thelema (Will). Webb provides a trans-aeonic interpretation of Crowley’s Liber Al vel Legis (1904) and its influence on contemporary occulture. Readers will learn from Webb’s Egyptological and Classical research, and the self-change insights from his extensive magical/initiatory work. For a contemporary, psychological view of Thelema see Roy F. Baumeister’s research program on self-regulation and ego-depletion, summarized in Baumeister and John Tierney’s Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Penguin).

Michael A. Aquino MindWar (CreateSpace): The Aquino/Vallely concept paper “From PSYOP to MindWar: The Psychology of Victory” (1980) had a much-debated reputation amongst far right New World Order conspiracy theorists, before Vallely became a CNN commentator during the 2003 Iraq War. Aquino provides a corrective in this self-published book to conspiracy-driven disinformation. He articulates a ParaPolitics meta-ethical philosophy influenced by Plato’s noesis and Club of Rome philosopher Raghavan Iyer’s Parapolitics: Toward the City of Man (Oxford University Press). He goes beyond the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act and Military Information Support Operations to articulate a different approach to military force structure and joint coordination: PhysWar (Combat), MindWar (Psychological Operations), MetaForce (Special Operations), and ParaPolitics (Civil Affairs). He provides a glimpse of a personal research program involving experimental psychology. For the appropriate context to understand Aquino’s MindWar and what it responds to, see Martin van Creveld’s The Culture of War (Ballantine Books); the revised edition of William C. Martel’s Victory In War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy (Cambridge University Press); and, as one comparative view to Iyer/Aquino’s ParaPolitics, Johan Galtung’s TRANSCEND method in peace studies. On the potential “ethics of use,” I also suggest you consider the relevant ethical and research program guidelines from the American Psychological Association (particularly Divisions 3, 6, 19, and 56); the Experimental Psychology Society; the Society of Experimental Social Psychology; and the International Society of Political Psychology.

The Roots of EvilJohn Kekes The Roots of Evil (Cornell University Press): Kekes is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the University of Albany. He considers moral, political and theological dimensions of evil, and then evaluates possible causal factors (internal and external conditions). Case studies include the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars; the French Terror of 1793-94; Franz Stangl the Kommandant of the Treblinka concentration camp in Nazi Germany; Charles Manson; Argentina’s Dirty War of 1976-83; and the psychopath John Allen. Kekes then evaluates four different explanations: external-passive, external-active, internal-passive, and internal-active. This is a subtle, nuanced book on moral philosophy that deserves re-reading and mindful reflection.

Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdam A Theory of Fields (Oxford University Press): Fligstein is a Professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley. McAdam is a Professor of sociology at Stanford University. This book develops a conceptual model of Strategic Action Fields as a mesolevel construct in which different actors collectively shape and change societies. Fligstein and McAdam contrast microfoundation and macrofoundation insights; consider methodological aspects; and provide two case studies: United States debates about race (1932-1980) and the mortgage securitization industry (1969-2011). This book exemplifies how to present new conceptual frameworks and theory-building for an academic audience.

Roy Christopher

Steve Aylett recently sent me a pile of new stuff I’ve been itching to get into: Smithereens, Novahead, and Rebel at the End of Time (Scar Garden Press). Reading Aylett is like reading a videogame in a blender, so I’m anxious to see how these three play, but there are a few ahead of them:

Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema (Dutton): I’ve had this book for ages and read it years ago. I’m revisiting it this summer because I found a clean copy of it recently, and it’s just so weirdly prescient. Published in 1970 (now available online), Expanded Cinema discusses the extensions of humans through the evolution of cinematic language. Youngblood writes of the “global intermedia network” and image-riddled “post-mass audience age.” Bucky Fuller wrote the Introduction, but it could just as easily have been written by Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard, or Paul Virilio. Youngblood is somewhere among them, even if a bit more sober. Couple this book with Anthony Wilden’s widely overlooked 1972 book, System and Structure (which I mentioned on last year’s list), and you’ve got a whole new set of ways to see the possible present(s).

ViralityTony D. Sampson, Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press): Reevaluating the work of old theorists in light of new developments (much like I suggest with Youngblood and Wilden above) is often fertile ground for new seeds of thought. Sampson does this in Virality with the work of French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, and Gilles Deleuze‘s interpretation thereof. The tack can have its limitations though, and I’m anxious to see which way Sampson’s book leans.

I finally read Bruce Sterling‘s The Hacker Crackdown (Bantam), as well as his storm-hacking novel from the same era, Heavy Weather (Bantam), as a part of a short reading list of hacker-themed books I’m either finally reading or re-reading. Something about Sterling’s recent talk on fantasy prototypes and “real” disruption crossed with a mild interest in criminology (from sporadic classes during my undergraduate studies and watching glorified cop shows like Veronica Mars and Lie to Me) spurred a renewed interest in hacking. I’m reading Steven Levy’s Hackers (O’Reilly) right now alongside Katie Hafner and John Markoff’s Cyberpunk (Simon & Schuster) and Parmy Olson’s We Are Anonymous (Back Bay). Then I’m rereading Ken Wark’s A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard University Press) to reestablish the larger, philosophical context.

Speaking of Ken Wark, I have two new ones by him that I’ve barely started. Telesthesia: Communication, Culture and Class (Polity) and The Spectacle of Disintegration (Verso) continue his adept analysis of the media milieu and what Guy Debord and the Situationists can still teach us about it. I’m hoping to cover these soon.

I also just finished Daniel Suarez’s latest novel, Kill Decision (Signet), which Paul Saffo mentioned on last year’s list. Its autonomous-drone tale is germane and terrifying. Oh, and if you haven’t read his previous two novels (Daemon and its sequel, Freedom), you should add them to your list. Theirs is an amazing, scary story with lots of crazy already-existing technology.

What are you reading this summer?

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Ill Communication: Gary Genosko on Models

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once quipped (quoted in Caroselli, 2000, p. 71). Whether Shaw was being silly or snarky, the impossible exchange of meaning and messages is troublesome for communicators and communication scholars alike. Critiquing the standard Shannon and Weaver model of communication, Jean Baudrillard (1981) wrote, “We must understand communication as something other than the simple transmission-reception of a message, whether or not the latter is considered reversible through feedback” (p. 169). The model was originally published by Shannon in 1948 in the July and October issues of the Bell System Technical Journal (and the next year in his book with Weaver), yet it still lingers in communication studies theories, textbooks, and other models.

Remodelling CommunicationIn Remodelling Communication: From WWII to the WWW (University of Toronto Press, 2012), Gary Genosko tackles the Shannon and Weaver model as well as just about every other widely accepted model of communication. Stuart Hall, Roman Jakobson, and Umberto Eco undergo the pressure of scrutiny as well. Genosko also uses Baudrillard to critique other communication theory, from McLuhan and Marx to Deleuze and Guattari. “For Baudrillard,” he writes, “technology’s role is to ‘operationalize’ everything, including philosophical concepts, so that ‘nothing ever really takes place, since everything is already calculated, audited, and realized in advance'” (p. 82). Like the promise of so-called “big data” turned against us, we just become fields in a spreadsheet, bits in a box. Dominic Pettman (2013) terms it a “claustrophically overcoded – thus predictable – world” (p. 63), from which he suggests using a rabbit totem to escape. These collected concerns – of technology obscuring even the possibility of communication – illustrate just how outmoded the models we’ve been using have become.

With my own remodeling aspirations close at hand, I read this book with intense interest. Having read two of Genosko’s previous books, Undisciplined Theory (Sage, 1998) and McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion (Routledge, 1999), I knew this would be a wide-ranging and deeply thoughtful text. I often find the indecipherable academese of Genosko’s forebears (e.g., Félix Guattari has been the topic of several of Genosko’s books in the meantime) needlessly complex and often downright annoying. Even Baudrillard, whom I rather enjoy, frequently fails at being anything close to clear. Genosko avoids that here for the most part, but, for instance, he writes in his concluding chapter,

The historico-technological arc from WWII to the WWW sketched the transit into a post-representational configuration of communication in a controlled encounter with what might seem to be chaotically de-territorializing, but that ensured no easy recourse to the metaphysical certainties of existing communication models (p. 131).

I realize that sentence is taken out of context, but I can’t help but think there’s a simpler way to articulate those same ideas. This is a book about communication. As lively and interesting as it is, the book falls short of remodeling much of anything. It does, however, provide an excellent survey and critique of existing communication models and a mostly clear parsing of some rather dense communication theory. Genosko is not for the faint of mind, but Remodelling Communication is a perfect introduction to his substantial and growing body of work.

References:

Baudrillard, Jean. (1981). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. St. Louis, MO: Telos Press.

Caroselli, Marlene. (2000). Leadership Skills for Managers. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Genosko, Gary. (2012). Remodelling Communication: From WWII to the WWW. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Pettman, Dominic. (2013). Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology. Ropley Hants, UK: Zer0 Books.

Shannon, Claude E. & Weaver, Warren. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

—————-

Is the double-L in “remodelling” here the Canadian spelling?

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

How Soon is Now? The Perpetual Present

When I was growing up, the year 2000 was the temporal touchstone everyone used to mark the advances of modern life. Oh, by then we’d be doing so many technologically enabled things: Cars would fly and run on garbage, computers would run everything, school wouldn’t exist. We were all looking forward, and Y2K gave us a point on the horizon to measure it all by. When it came and went without incident, we were left with what we had in the present. In Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Current, 2013), Douglas Rushkoff argues that the flipping of the calendar to the new millennium turned our focus from the future to the never-ending now. “We spent the latter part of the 20th Century leaning towards the year 2000, almost obsessed with the future, the dot-com boom, the long boom, and all that,” he tells David Pescovitz, “It was a century of movements with grand goals, wars to end wars, and relentless expansionism. Then we arrived at the 21st, and it was as if we had arrived.”

“We spent centuries thinking of hours and seconds as portions of the day,” he continues, “But a digital second is less a part of greater minute, and more an absolute duration, hanging there like the number flap on an old digital clock.” A digital clock is good at accurately displaying the time right now, but an analog clock is better at showing you how long it’s been since you last looked. Needing, wanting, or having only the former is what present shock is all about. It’s what Ruskoff calls elsewhere “a diminishment of everything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.” As the song goes, when you say it’s gonna happen “now,” well, when exactly do you mean?

Michael Leyton (1992) calls us all “prisoners of the present” ( p. 1), like runners on a temporal treadmill. He argues that “all cognitive activity proceeds via the recovery of the past through objects in the present” (p. 2), and those objects often linger longer than they once did thanks to recording technologies. In 1986 Iain Chambers described the persistence of the present through such media, writing,

With electronic reproduction offering the spectacle of gestures, images, styles, and cultures in a perpetual collage of disintegration and reintegration, the ‘new’ disappears into a permanent present. And with the end of the ‘new’ – a concept connected to linearity, to the serial prospects of ‘progress’, to ‘modernism’ – we move into a perpetual recycling of quotations, styles, and fashions: an uninterrupted montage of the ‘now’ (p. 190).

Present ShockNeedless to say that the situation has only been exacerbated by the onset of the digital. In one form or another, Rushkoff has been working on Present Shock his whole career. In it he continues the critical approach he’s sharpened over his last several books. Where Life, Inc. (Random House, 2009) tackled the corporate takeover of culture and Program or Be Programmed (OR Books, 2010) took on technology head-on, Present Shock deals with the digital demands of the now. A lot of the dilemma is due to the update culture of social media. No one reads two-week old Tweets or month-old blog posts. If it wasn’t posted today, in the last few hours, it disappears into irrelevance. And if it’s too long, it doesn’t get read at all. These are not rivers or streams, they’re puddles. All comments, references, and messages, and no story. The personal narrative is lost. It’s the age of “tl; dr.” The 24-hour news, a present made up of the past, and advertising interrupting everything are also all about right now, but our senses of self maybe the biggest victims.

“Even though we may be able to be in only one place at a time,” Rushkoff writes, “our digital selves are distributed across every device, platform, and network onto which we have cloned our virtual identities” (p. 72). Our online profiles give us an atemporal agency whereon we are there but not actually present. On the other side, our technologies mediate our identities by anticipating or projecting a user. As Brian Rotman (2008) writes, “This projected virtual user is a ghost effect: and abstract agency distinct from any particular embodied user, a variable capable of accommodating any particular user within the medium” (p. xiii). Truncated and clipped, we shrink to fit the roles the media allow.

Mindfulness is an important idea cum buzzword in the midst of all this digital doom. Distraction may be just attention to something else, but what if we’re stuck in permanently distracted present with no sense of the past and no time for the future? If you’ve ever known anyone who truly lives in the moment, nothing matters except that moment. It’s the opposite of The Long Now, what Rushkoff calls the “Short Forever.” Things only have value over time. Citing the time binding of Alfred Korzybski, the father of general semantics, Rushkoff illustrates how we bind the histories of past generations into words and symbols. The beauty is that we can leverage the knowledge of that history without going through it again. The problem is that without a clear picture of the labor involved, we risk mistaking the map for the territory.

James Gleick summed it up nicely when he told me in 1999,”We know we’re surrounding ourselves with time-saving technologies and strategies, and we don’t quite understand how it is that we feel so rushed. We worry that we gain speed and sacrifice depth and quality. We worry that our time horizons are foreshortened — our sense of the past, our sense of the future, our ability to plan, our ability to remember.” Well, here we are. What now?

The existence of this book proves we can still choose. In the last chapter of Present Shock, Rushkoff writes,

…taking the time to write or read a whole book on the phenomenon does draw a line in the sand. It means we can stop the onslaught of demands on our attention; we can create a safe space for uninterrupted contemplation; we can give each moment the value it deserves and no more; we can tolerate uncertainty and resist the temptation to draw connections and conclusions before we are ready; and we can slow or even ignore the seemingly inexorable pull from the strange attractor at the end of human history (p. 265-266).

We don’t have to stop or run, we can pause and slow down. Instant access to every little thing doesn’t mean we have to forsake attended access to a few big things. Take some time, read this book.

References:

Chambers, Iain. (1986). Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience. New York: Routledge.

Leyton, Michael. (1992). Symmetry, Causality, Mind. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Morrissey, Steven & Marr, Johnny (1984). How Soon is Now? [Recorded by The Smiths]. On Hatful of Hollow [LP]. London: Rough Trade.

Rotman, Brian. (2008). Becoming Beside Ourselves: The Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Rushkoff, Douglas. (2013). Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. New York: Current.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Mindfulness and the Medium

Over forty years ago, media philosopher Walter Ong wrote that the “advent of newer media alters the meaning and relevance of the older. Media overlap, or, as Marshall McLuhan has put it, move through one another as do galaxies of stars, each maintaining its own basic integrity but also bearing the marks of the encounter ever after” (1971, p. 25). That is, a new technology rarely supplants its forebears outright but instead changes the relationships between existing technologies. During a visit to Georgia Tech’s Digital Media Demo Day, Professor Janet Murray told me that there are two schools of thought about the onset of digital media. One is that the computer is an entirely new medium that changes everything; the other is that it is a medium that remediates all previous media. It’s difficult to resist the knee-jerk theory that it is both an entirely new medium and remediates all previous media thereby changing everything, but none of it is quite that simple. As Ted Nelson would say, “everything is deeply intertwingled” (1987, passim).

Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice (MIT Press, 2012), Murray’s first book since 1997’s essential Hamlet on the Holodeck (MIT Press), is a wellspring of knowledge for designers and practitioners alike. Unifying digital media under a topology of “representational affordances” (i.e., computational procedures, user participation, navigable space, and encyclopedic capacity), Murray provides applicable principles for digital design of all kinds — from databases (encyclopedic capacity) to games (the other three) and all points in between. There’s also an extensive glossary of terms in the back (a nice bonus). Drawing on the lineage of Vennevar Bush, Joseph Weizenbaum, Ted Nelson, Seymour Papert, and Donald Norman, as well as Murray’s own decades of teaching, research, and design, Inventing the Medium is as comprehensive a book as one is likely to find on digital design and use. I know I’ll be referring to it for years to come.

“Mindfulness” illustration by Anthony Weeks.

Designers can’t go far without grappling with the way a new medium not only changes but also reinforces our uses and understandings of the current ones. For example, the onset of digital media extended the reach of literacy by reinforcing the use of writing and print media. No one medium or technology stands alone. They must be considered in concert. Moreover, to be literate in the all-at-once world of digital media is to understand its systemic nature, the inherent interrelationship and interconnectedness of all technology and media. As Ong put it, “Today, it appears, we live in a culture or in cultures very much drawn to openness and in particular to open-system models for conceptual representations. This openness can be connected with our new kind of orality, the secondary orality of our electronic age…” (1977, p. 305). “Secondary orality” reminds one of the original names of certain technologies (e.g., “horseless carriage,” “cordless phone,” “wireless” technology, etc.), as if the real name for the thing is yet to come along.

These changes deserve an updated and much more nuanced consideration given how far they’ve proliferated since Ong’s time. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press, 2012) collects Howard Rheingold‘s thoughts about using, learning, and teaching via networks from the decades since Ong and McLuhan theorized technology’s epochal shift. Rheingold’s account is as personal as it is pragmatic. He was at Xerox PARC when Bob Taylor, Douglas Englebart, and Alan Kay were inventing the medium (see his 1985 book, Tools for Thought), and he was an integral part of the community of visionaries who helped create the networked world in which we live (he coined the term “virtual community” in 1987). In Net Smart, his decades of firsthand experience are distilled into five, easy-to-grasp literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection (critical consumption), and network smarts — all playfully illustrated by Anthony Weeks (see above). Since 1985, Rheingold has been calling our networked, digital technologies “mind amplifiers,” and it is through that lens that he shows us how to learn, live, and thrive together.

These two books are not only thoughtful, they are mindful. The deep passion of the authors for their subjects is evident in the words on every page. A bit ahead of their time, Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan gave us a vocabulary to talk about our new media. With these two books, Janet Murray and Howard Rheingold have given us more than words: They’ve given us useful practices.

References:

McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Murray, Janet. (2012). Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Nelson, Ted. (1987). Computer Lib/Dream Machines. Redmond, WA: Tempus Books.

Ong, Walter J. (1971). Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Ong, Walter J. (1977). Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Ong, Walter J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.

Rheingold, Howard. (1985). Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Rheingold, Howard. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.

Bring the Noise: Systems, Sound, and Silence

In our most tranquil dreams, “peace” is almost always accompanied by “quiet.” Noise annoys. From the slightest rattle or infinitesimal buzz to window-wracking roars and earth-shaking rumbles, we block it, muffle it, or drown it out whenever possible. It is ubiquitous. Try as we might, cacophony is everywhere, and we’re the cause in most cases. Keizer (2010) points out that, besides sleeping (for some of us), reading is ironically the quietest thing we do. “Written words were meant to evoke heard speech,” he writes, “and were considered inadequate until they did so, like tea leaves before the addition of hot water” (p. 21). Reading silently was subversive.

We often speak of noise referring to the opposite of information. In the canonical model of communication conceived in 1949 by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, which I’ve been trying to break away from, noise is anything in the system that disrupts the signal or the message being sent.

If you’ve ever tried to talk on a cellphone in a parking garage, find a non-country station on the radio in a fly-over state, or follow up on a trending topic on Twitter, then you know what this kind of noise looks like. Thanks to Shannon and Weaver (and their followers; e.g., Freidrich Kittler, among many others), it’s remained a mainstay of communication theory since, privileging machines over humans (see Parikka, 2011). Well before it was a theoretical metonymy, noise was characterized as “destruction, distortion, dirt, pollution, an aggression against the code-structuring messages” (Attali, 1985, p. 27). More literally, Attali conceives noise as pain, power, error, murder, trauma, and youth (among other things) untempered by language. Noise is wild beyond words.

The two definitions of noise discussed above — one referring to unwanted sounds and the other to the opposite of information — are mixed and mangled in Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (Zone Books, 2011), a book that rebelliously claims to have been written to be read aloud. Yet, he writes, “No mere artefacts of an outmoded oral culture, such oratorical, jurisprudence, pedagogical, managerial, and liturgical acts reflect how people live today, at heart, environed by talk shows, books on tape, televised preaching, cell phones, public address systems, elevator music, and traveling albums on CD, MP3, and iPod” (p. 43). We live not immersed in noise, but saturated by it. As Aden Evens put it, “To hear is to hear difference,” and noise is indecipherable sameness. But, one person’s music is another’s noise — and vice versa (Voegelin, 2010), and age and nostalgia can eventually turn one into the other. In spite of its considerable heft (over 900 pages), Making Noise does not see noise as music’s opposite, nor does it set out for a history of sound, stating that “‘unwanted sound’ resonates across fields. subject everywhere and everywhen to debate, contest, reversal, repetition: to history” (p. 23).

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.
John Cage

The digital file might be infinitely repeatable, but that doesn’t make it infinite. Chirps in the channel, the remainders of incomplete communiqué surround our signals like so much decimal dust, data exhaust. In Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture (University of Minnesota, 2011), Peter Krapp finds these anomalies the sites of inspiration and innovation. My friend Dave Allen is fond of saying, “There’s nothing new in digital.” To that end, Krapp traces the etymology of the error in machine languages from analog anomalies in general, and the extremes of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (RCA, 1975) and Brian Eno‘s Discreet Music (EG, 1975) in particular, up through our current binary blips and bleeps, clicks and clacks — including Christian Marclay‘s multiple artistic forays and Cory Arcangel’s digital synesthesia. This book is about both forms of noise as well, paying due attention to the distortion of digital communication.

There is a place between voice and presence where information flows. — Rumi

Another one of my all-time favorite books on sound is David Toop’s Ocean of Sound (Serpent’s Tail, 2001). In his latest, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (Continuum Books, 2010), he reinstates the human as an inhabitant on the planet of sound. He does this by analyzing the act of listening more than studying sound itself. His history of listening is largely comprised of fictional accounts, of myths and make-believe. Sound is a spectre. Our hearing is a haunting. From sounds of nature to psyops (though Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is “torture-lite” in any context), the medium is the mortal. File Sinister Resonance next to Dave Tompkins’ How to Wreck a Nice Beach (Melville House, 2010) and Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare (MIT Press, 2010).

And how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice? — Refused, “New Noise”

Life is loud, death is silent. Raise hell to heaven. Make a joyous noise unto all of the above.

———-

My thinking on this topic has greatly benefited from discussions with, and lectures and writings by my friend and colleague Josh Gunn.

References and Further Resonance:

Attali, J. (1985). Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Evens, A. (2005). Sound Ideas: Music, Machines, and Experience. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Goodman, S. (2010). Sonic Warfare. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hegarty, P. (2008). Noise/Music: A History. New York: Continuum Books.

Keizer, G. (2010). The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise. Philadelphia, PA: Public Affairs.

Krapp, P. (2011). Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Parikka, J. (2011). Mapping Noise: Techniques and Tactics of Irregularities, Interception, and Disturbance. In E. Huhtamo & J. Parikka (Eds.), Media Archeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Refused. (1998). “New Noise” [performed by Refused]. On The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts (Sound recording). Örebro, Sweden: Burning Heart Records.

Schwartz, H. (2011). Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond. New York: Zone Books.

Shannon, C.E., & Weaver, W. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Sterne, J. (2003). The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tompkins, D. (2010). How to Wreck a Nice Beach. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House.

Toop, D. (2010). Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener. New York: Continuum Books.

Voegelin, S. (2010). Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art. New York: Continuum Books.

I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.