Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bibliophile: Old Timey VR and the Big Book of D'oh

It was three days late.  No one really cared.

This is Bibliophile.

Miracle and machine : Jacques Derrida and the two sources of religion, science, and the media / Michael Naas.
Because why should Deleuze be the only somewhat obtuse French scholar we look at?   Unlike Deleuze, I've actually read a fair bit of Derrida-- Of Grammatology and Archive Fever in full, and parts of Writing and Difference, Dissemination, Margins of Philosophy, the Truth in Painting. And all of that's rather beside the point, as this book is largely on his 1994 essay "Faith and Knowledge," which I haven't read at all.    Naas elaborates and explains Derrida's references in "Faith and Knowledge," connects them to earlier Derridean writings, and reads it alongside DeLillo's Underworld, which is yet another book I haven't read.  Anyway, it seems like an actually good introduction to Derrida's work, and that's rare enough to make it worth noting.

Mythologies / Roland Barthes ; translated from the French by Richard Howard [and] Annette Lavers.  1st American ed.   New York : Hill and Wang, 2012.
More Frenchmen!  Barthes had an interesting career; he started off rather firmly in the camp of the structuralists, and semioticians in particular.  He was very interested in what language meant, and how words led to ideas.  But the more he studied pop culture and other objects, the more he turned from the structuralists into something else.  It's not quite deconstruction, but it's a bit more than just poststructuralism; it's almost more a sort of meditative reflection, as seen in Camera Lucida. And I think he took a branch of semiotics with him; it's gone from a hard linguistic focus to something that's much more cultural studies-based.  And while Mythologies is still in his early linguistic phase, we see a lot of his future turn as well.  The structuralist essay on myth is balanced with essays on wrestling, detergent, and the Brain of Einstein.  This is a new translation as well; I'd be curious to see what that brings to the table.

 Gender and sexuality in online game cultures : passionate play / Jenny Sundén and Malin Sveningsson.   New York : Routledge, 2012.
 Sundén and Sveningsson perform an ethnographic investigation of female players in online spaces, in terms of how female players fit into the male-dominated landscape, and how LGBT  groups function in World of  Warcraft.  They refer to this split in focus as a twin ethnography.  I hope that's like dueling banjos.  The ethnographic approach works well for online games; it allows an established academic approach to something that's just too vast for regular analysis.  One of their points seem to be to look at what it means to be passionate about technology from a feminist perspective.  This looks like it would be a logical next step to the research in Bonnie A. Nardi's WoW work.

Right to landscape : contesting landscape and human rights / edited by Shelley Egoz, Jala Makhzoumi, Gloria Pungetti.   Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate Pub., c2011.
Here's an anthology that considers the concept of landscape in the context of human rights.  Or to put it a different way, it looks at how human rights include a certain relationship with the space around us.  Landscape is an interesting way of phrasing it, considering that the landscape is a particularly humanist way of interpreting the environment to begin with.  It strikes me as a very political move to refer to what's typically called the environment today as a landscape, as the latter implies a much heavier human shaping and involvement. Essay topics include human rights in the context of climate change, a comparison of Portuguese and Danish traditional hunting rights, landscapes for children at the turn of the century, and about eighteen other essays.  it's a BIG anthology.

Music, social media and global mobility : MySpace, Facebook, YouTube / Ole J. Mjøs.   New York ; London : Routledge, 2012. 
This book explores the relationship between electronic music practioners and how they use popular digital media forms to spread their works.  There's interviews with electronic music artists, DJs, producers and managers, and a historical study of global social media.  The thesis, as far as I can see, is that the new digital stuff is transforming media globalization, and Mjøs is using digital music as his main example. I'll admit, I don't have a big interest in music distribution, but the Internet social media has drastically, drastically changed the situation.  

Homer encyclopedia / edited by Margalit Finkelberg.   Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 
It's a compendium of the Iliad and the Odyssey.  I was hoping for a compendium of Homer Simpson.  'Nuff said.

Detective fiction and the rise of the Japanese novel, 1880-1930 / Satoru Saito.   Cambridge, Massachusetts : The Harvard University Asia Center : Distributed by Harvard University Press.
I have no idea what this is about, but from the title, it's going to be awesome.  The premise is suggested in the title: Saito argues that the detective fiction of early 19th century Japan paved the way for the Japanese novel.  I have no idea how accurate an argument that is, since I know basically nothing about the Japanese literary scene that doesn't involve videogame spin-offs, manga, or Haruki Murakami.  What I like the most about it, really, is the time period: 1880-1930.  There's a tendency, for Western scholars especially, to talk about Japanese culture purely in terms of how it was transformed by the nuclear attacks during World War II, so I think studies into literature that predates the period could really counter some of the popular misconceptions about Japanese media products.

As if : modern enchantment and the literary prehistory of virtual reality / Michael Saler.   New York : Oxford University Press, c2012. 
Back in my day, we didn't have fancy VR helmets or surround sound.  We went into fantasy worlds by closing our eyes and DREAMING.  Or so I imagine an old timey sage ranting about digital media. Sadly for me, Saler's book is less about rambling diatribes and more about the history of fantasy worlds.  Perhaps a more accurate description, though, would be a history of 19th century and early 20th century literary popular fiction and its cultural resonance.  He argues that this large-scale imagining was a response to transform the modern everyday, to compliment it and secure a new place for marvels that modernity seemed to underline.  In other words, modern fandom is the latest step in creating a space of imagination away from the day-to-day world.  And he illustrates the argument through an examination of  Romanticism, Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft, and Tolkien.  Now, the others I can see, more or less, but opposing Holmes to modernism is an interesting tactic.  I can see the argument that Holmes is a fantastic being with almost superhuman powers of deduction, but at the same time, he virtually embodies the principles of modernism, that everything can be explained rationally and logically, that every action springs forth from an originary cause.  Looking at Saler's argument, I can respect why he chose the works he did, and the time limitations he did.  But fantasy worlds hardly started with the modern age: Greek mythology and King Arthur stories both predate modernism rather considerably, and both were interpreted in fannish sorts of ways.  And it would be interesting to do a prehistory of virtual reality that incorporated both literary worlds and early VR-like technology; as Zielinski has shown, people were doing some very interesting things with electricity and lenses in this period.  But I think Saler is wise to choose his scope and his topics carefully.

Brief history of diaries : from Pepys to blogs / Alexandra Johnson.   London : Hesperus, 2011.
It says it's a brief history, so I'll be brief as well, but Holy Moly, that's a pretty sweeping scope if you're going from 16th century Pepys to the 21st blogosphere.  

Wrinkle in time / Madeleine L'Engle.  50th anniversary ed.   New York : Square Fish/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012.

 I can't think of a better book to focus on for our "literature" section.  Wrinkle of Time is this wonderful book that acts as a bridge between the child adventuring of the Wizard of Oz and the Chronicles of Narnia and hard sci-fi.  If you haven't read it, don't read it now; wait until you know a child who's turning about 11 or so and read it with them.

Periodic tales : a cultural history of the elements, from arsenic to zinc / Hugh Aldersey-Williams.  1st U.S. ed.   New York : Ecco, 2011.
You know how you can tell it's a pop science book?  'Cause its subtitle is "from arsenic to zinc" rather than "from hydrogen to ununseptium."  Well, also because the title is "Periodic Tales," but that's not nearly as zingy a point.  

And that's it for this week.  Stay tuned for next week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.  Well, actually, it will be on time, rather than this time.  But you know, the usual same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Later Days.

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