Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bibliophile: Britney Spears, Batman, and Heidegger

This week, after last week's endurance run of 16 000 entries, we have a mere, pitiful 7000 entries. And since 4000 of those are a database of film not accessible by my university, we can skip right on #4519.

Heidegger, Strauss, and the premises of philosophy on original forgetting / Richard L. Velkley. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, c2011.
I'm not really great on phenomenology, and so forth: my review of Stiegler is about as much as I've ever waded into that particular pool. But this book, which seems to focus on the intellectual debt Strauss owes to Heidegger, may be a way of breaching that gap. Unless... I forget to read it! (Sorry.)

Hurt feelings : theory, research, and applications in intimate relationships / Luciano L'Abate. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2011.
I may not be an expert in hurt feelings, but I *am* well-versed in taking offense at unintentional provocations (not that I'm bragging, or anything). The book consists of three parts, as you might guess from the subtitle. The first looks at hurt feelings, particularly in terms of the family; the second looks at existing work; and the third gets to the application. L'Abate is particularly arguing that face-to-face counseling in the hurt feelings arena can be phased out in favor of "long-distance writing." I have to say, I've got my doubts about that; it sound like a slippery slope type argument, to where all counseling is done by a series of emails, and you can't tell whether there's a human behind it or not. To paraphrase Weizenbaum, that way lies ELIZA. Er, madness.

Playing with the past / Erik Champion. London ; New York : Springer, c2011.
"The intention of Playing With the Past is to help designers and critics understand the issues involved in creating virtual environments that promote and disseminate historical learning and cultural heritage through a close study of the interactive design principles at work behind both real and virtual places." That would be the nutshell description. Essentially,Champion wants to use digital VR tech to teach people about the past, and he sees videogame design as both beneficial and burdensome to that goal. It's actually an approach I have a lot of respect for. Too often, the approach to so-called edutainment fails to go beyond "learning + game = fun," without much appreciation for how games work or how (sometimes) education works. And since the book seems to have a heavy application emphasis, it would useful for anyone wanting to design (if not implement, I imagine) some VR environments of their own. Hmmm. We're not quite in "make a note" territory, but we're PDC (pretty damn close. It's an abbreviation I made up. You can use it, if you want.)

Eating to excess : the meaning of gluttony and the fat body in the ancient world / Susan E. Hill. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, c2011.
Hill traces the ancient Western meanings of being fat. I imagine it's a cultural history of "your mama" jokes. There are sections on the Greeks, the Romans, early Christians, and the point in which gluttony becomes a sin. I can't say I know a lot about anthropology, but I know that, um, "pop" anthropology makes a big deal out of the difference between a society where being fat is a sign of abundance and power to it being a sign of waste and indulgence. It is somehow not surprising that the early Christians played a part in that transition.

Humanity 2.0: what it means to be human past, present and future / Steve Fuller. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Fuller argues for a reinterpretation of humanity, in the face of our new technological toys, particularly in terms of race and religion. Chapters include sections on biological advances, the changes in human sociology, Converging Technology discussions, intelligent design, and general philosophical questions of good and evil. On the one hand, I've got a sneaking suspicion that we're looking at a pop digital book. The final sections, with chapter headings like "The dawn of suffering smart: recycling evil in the name of good" kind of suggest that approach. As does a discussion of humanity at all: from N. Katherine Hayles to Cary Wolfe, the serious scholars in the field have preferred "posthuman" or other terms to "human" for some time now. But it does have some points in its favor; he goes straight to Foucault for his discussion on what it means to function in human society, and his stance on "CT" has the word "ontological" in it. Approach with caution.

Fixing gender : lesbian mothers and the Oedipus complex / Natasha Distiller. Madison [N.J.] : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ; Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group, c2011.
Presented without comment.

Ecofeminism and rhetoric : critical perspectives on sex, technology, and discourse / edited by Douglas A. Vakoch. New York : Berghahn Books, 2011.
Ah, the noble anthology. A collection of heteroglotic, variate perspectives, shedding joint light on each other when read as a whole. Or a bunch of stuff randomly thrown together. And today's example is on, as the title says, ecofeminism and rhetoric. (To be honest, I'm in it for the tech reference.) At 179 pages, it's a rather short anthology. There's five essays, and a conclusion, with topics such as canine breeding, ecocriticism as a concept, gender representation in orangutan mother narratives, ecofeminist strategies for energy use, and a study of Microsoft Word. It's actually a wider set of topics and definition of technology than is often seen in humanities discourse. The trick is whether these topics promote diversity, or clash badly. I'll leave that for others to decide.

Criminology goes to the movies : crime theory and popular culture / Nicole Rafter and Michelle Brown. New York : New York University, c2011.
This isn't quite as catchy a title as the next book on the list (Space, time, and crime) but it does speak to one of my pet interests, pop culture. The idea here is essentially to illustrate criminology through film. Films discussed include Frankenstein, Double Indemnity, Psycho, Taxi Driver, Traffic, Capturing the Friedmans, Thelma and Louise, and City of the Gods. Judging from section titles and the book info, it's directed towards undergraduates, with the focus definitely on criminology over film. I laughed slightly at the book's description that said it featured "recent" films such as Thelma & Louise. You know, that 21 year old "recent" film, that is probably now older than the undergraduate students. The one starring that young up-and-comer Brad Pitt--I see big things for that guy. (Okay, he was already 28 by this point, so "young" is about as accurate a description as calling T&L recent, but work with me here.)

Code wars : 10 years of P2P software litigation / Rebecca Giblin. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar Publishing, c2011.
I miss Napster. Seriously, though, a historical overview of this subject is as useful as it is overdue.

Exile of Britney Spears : a tale of 21st century consumption. Bristol, UK ; Chicago : Intellect, 2011. Smit, Christopher R.
Another subject that's due a revisit, now that we can look back at it (well, her) with some amount of historical perspective. I was never that big into Britney; just a little too old for it, and never that interested in music or pop stars to begin with. But my brother and his age group were pretty fascinated in her transition from teen idol to sex symbol. And then bizarrely fascinated with her transition from sex symbol to cautionary example. Smit explores the history of Britney Spears under the metaphor of consumption, with the notion that we, the media-consuming public, were in large part responsible for her rise and fall. Though the book itself has been judged as somewhat superficial, the subject remains important. How much did the public contribute to some very public meltdowns and tragedies, from Lady Di's crash to Charlie Sheen's meltdown, to Mel Gibson's fall from grace? Who's blame, and why do we care? (I'm using the royal "we" here, as honestly, I don't care. My celebrity interests revolve more around scholars, comic book writers, and geekier sort of celebrities, from Nathan Fillion to Jennifer Hale.)

Supernatural youth : the rise of the teen hero in literature and popular culture / edited by Jes Battis. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, c2011.
The essays in this book address a simple question: what's the connection between teen heroes and magic. The obvious answer, I suppose, is that magic makes a good metaphor for the transition from child to adult: an increase in power, but often also an increase in responsibility, and a separation from parents and childhood occupations. Essay topics include the spiritual and sexual in Diane Duane's Wizardry series (Exhibit A for "with great power comes great responsibility"); female intellect and Hermione Granger, Education and magic in Discworld (I imagine the Witch series plays a big part in this one); women warriors, the queer witch, and the ordinary hero in Buffy; Postfeminism in Veronica Mars; Tamora Pierce's teenagers and desire; and essays on everything else from Harvey in Sabrina to Timothy Hunter in the Magic series. It's books like this that make me wish I never left fantasy lit as a focus.

Media, masculinities, and the machine : F1, transformers, and fantasizing technology at its limits / Dan Fleming and Damion Sturm. New York : Continuum, c2011.
There's a persistent sense that a lot of technology is essentially "boy toys," from videogames to hot rods to home brew computing. Fleming and Sturm's approach is largely in the title: F1 and transformers, viewed through affect theory and ethnography. I'm not a huge fan of affect theory (it combines what I don't like about psychology theory with what I don't like about social science studies), but the topic is welcome.

Riddle me this, batman! : essays on the universe of the Dark Knight / edited by Kevin K. Durand and Mary K. Leigh. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2011.
Yeah, I'd read that. Topics include Aristotelian virtue and Gotham; Power and Authority in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns; Camp and Virtue in a defense of Adam West; Batman and Anarchy; Batman and Lacan; Batman and hybrid canon; The Dark Knight Returns and Batman's sexual identity; essays on stoicism and the Joker. I'll have to admit, Batman seems ideal for an adaptation study: from the comic strips to the comic books to the movies and videogames, all directed at audiences from all ages to adult. This book seems to be more a grab bag, with a focus on philosophy, if anything, but it might be interesting for the Batmanologist in your family. (Every family has a batmanologist, even if they don't know it.)

Reamde / Neal Stephenson. 1st ed. New York : William Morrow, c2011.
I really want to read this. I've read most of Stephenson's extremely long page-turners, from Cryptonomicon to Baroque Cycle to Anathem. So I'll probably read this, and I'll probably like this. I just need to find time to read a book that's 1064 pages. Yeesh.

Mathematicians at war: Volterra and his French colleagues in World War I / Laurent Mazliak and Rossana Tazzioli. Dordrecht : Springer, c2009.
I love biographies of mathematicians. They infuse mathematics with a personality and passion that rarely makes it through to the actual papers.

Inventing the medium : principles of interaction design as a cultural practice / Janet H. Murray. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c2012.
A new Murray book deserves a proper inspection, and an elaboration of why it's important, to the discipline of design, and digital technology in general. But we're 6000 items in, and I'm getting tired. So let's just make a mental note, put a hold on it, and I'll let you all know how it turns out.

...And that's it for this batch. Man, that took forever. Stupid databases.

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