Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Community Triad

I was looking over my list of "leisure time" books, and it occurred to me that, entertaining though they were, they weren't really helping me in terms of studies.  And in a different problem, I was doing well keeping up with my videogame reading, but my other serious reading was falling to the wayside.  So I created a quota system: I could read one fiction for every two nonfiction, and at least one nonfiction had to be relevant to my studies, if you squinted at it a bit.  And afterwards, I thought I'd write about them all.  (By which I mean, copy and paste the Goodreads reviews I already wrote.  Any blog content is good blog content, even if it is self-plagiarization.)  This isn't the old dual book review (God, I hope it won't be)--there will be one paragraph each, and one after to wrap things up.The books this time are:

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks by Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker
The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan
Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education by Iain Thomson

Reviews after the jump.

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks by Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker.  Galloway and Thacker argue for a theory of networks that is at once broader and more nuanced than those commonly supported by scholars in the philosophy of technology area. More specifically, they see networks as the basic organizational form of our current age, structures that are not as egalitarian as they're often portrayed, but not dystopian either. Rather, there's a great deal of degrees and nuances in networks, and they seek to better articulate what networks have to offer. It's an exuberantly multidisciplinary book, borrowing from health sciences, microbiology, cybernetics, communication, political theory, and mathematical graph theory, among many others. This variety is occasionally to the book's discredit, as it sometimes seems to drift in terms of the connection of the argument at hand to the argument as a whole. But in general, it's pretty significant reading for anyone in the general area of digital media (and at least interesting reading for political theory, especially those following Negri and Hardt), and an articulate refusal to anyone who who would use the term "network" in theoretical discussion casually, without a consideration of what the term implies.

 The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan.  Ambassador's Mission is the first book in Trudi Canavan's Traitor Spy Trilogy, and it takes place about two decades after her previous trilogy, the Black Magician. (This book, incidentally, was the one I meant to read when I did my previous reading on incest covens in Calgary.)  A lot of the characters are carried over between the two series, but if you haven't read the first one (or you're just very forgetful, like me), it's fairly easy to establish who's who. The plot quickly splits in two, with Sonea becoming embroiled in uncovering a plot to kill the city's head thieves while her son gets into diplomatic intrigue in a neighboring country. There's a lot to like here. Canavan pulls off the dual plots rather well, and manages to transition her protagonist from the single young woman in the first series to a middle-aged (or close to) mother in this series without losing the core of what made Sonea an appealing character to begin with. On the downside, one of the plots takes a turn where the reader is all but screaming at the protagonists to stop being idiots. And, more importantly, it's hard to shake the feeling that very little has happened by the book's end. Rather than resolve any of the major issues, it's more like everyone's been moved into their places for the next book. It's understandable, given this is the first book in a trilogy, but a little disappointing.

Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education by Iain Thomson
Iain D. Thomson gets a lot of points from me for presenting an argument that's very steeped in Heideggerian philosophy, yet easy to follow for someone willing to exert a bit of effort. At the same time, I think I don't agree with his conclusions. Essentially,each chapter serves as a step in a logical syllogism:
Ch 1: Heidegger's philosophy moves towards a commentary on ontotheology, which basically says that every major philosophical movement/epoch/age/whatever was bound by both a notion of ontology (the fundamental essence of things) and theology (a model form, often "God"), and that guided things for a while. Nietzchean philosophy, however, marks the point where the whole thing derails and becomes the right-to-power.
Ch 2: It's Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Ontology" brings the problem to a forefront, which is that we now conceive of everything as if it was a resource to use rather than something with its own being, and this problem is leading all forms of knowledge, particularly those from the university, to be considered purely in terms of its cash value.
Ch 3: Heidegger's tenure as Nazi Rector of Freiburg University was his attempt to restore knowledge to the university, but he moved too quickly, and got tangled up in the ontology of German fascism.
Ch 4: We need to fix the universities, but by being mindful of Heidegger's mistakes. Thomson offers the Plato cave model: we encourage students to realize their shackles, send them out, and take them back.
I don't necessarily disagree with the assertion that universities have moved a little too far to treating every subject and course as a stepping stone to a vocational position. I think Thomson's defense (or at least explanation) for Heidegger's choices under the Nazi regime is a little too pat,and his solution to "fixing" the system is at once a little naive and a bit to metaphorical to be useful. But it was a well-developed argument, at least, and it engages with some of the rougher edges of the Heidegger legacy without flinching.

It's funny; I think I write these reviews more formally if I do them in Goodreads first, and transfer them over here, than if I did it the other way around.  Network and Heidegger on Ontotheology have an obvious connection, in trying to bring philosophy to bear on current political states; HoO has the clearer argument, but Network has the better solution, as it's a little more inclusive in scope.  Neither have much in common in with Ambassador's Mission, though it struck me that the one thing Mission had in common with HoO is that both featured predominantly a crisis in education--even if one crisis did take place at a wizard's college rather than a real one.  That, in fact, might make an interesting study: look at how fantasy treats the notion of magic in the context of traditional educational models.  Offhand, you'd look at this, the Kingkiller Chronicle, the Magician series, Discworld's Unseen University, and, of course, Hoggwarts.  Yeah, that could be interesting.  Totally out of my subject area, but interesting.

later Days.

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