Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bibliophile: Derrida, Hayles, and Fart Jokes

Chairs are stools that got uppity.

This is Bibliophile.

If you couldn't tell from the overly cryptic title, this week, we're on the road out west, to Simon Fraser University, that happening place that, as its website informs me, is Engaging the World.  That's either a very one sided fight, or a very expensive wedding reception. Now, I could continue dispensing comedy like that all day, but let's talk about some books, shall we?

For those who are new here: Bibliophile is a weekly feature, where I go over all the books added to my university's library in the past week, and comment briefly on the interesting ones (that is, the ones interesting from a humanities perspective with interest in digital media, popular culture, and game studies).  At least, that's what I used to do, until my university's library disabled their new books search function.  Now, I travel the internet, and each week explore the weekly new entries of a library that actually features its new acquisition. 

Simon Fraser University's new items tab can be sorted in a variety of ways: there's by library (as it has three branches), by media, and by department.  We're going to start today by perusing its Games and Media tab, which already has a leg up over my library's Games and Media tab, by virtue of it not being fictional.  It has recently obtained Max Payne 3, and Mario Kart 7 and I want to go to there.  Sigh.  Anyway, that seems to be the full extent of their game acquisition for the last three months, and while it's not great, it's a start.  Universities should recognize there's more to staying up to date with modern media than just a collection of books and the occasional movie or song, and I applaud SFU's efforts in this field.

In their book-related selection, they've obtained 461 entries this week, which is a comfortable number to go through.  As always, a big ol' capital H at the end of an entry signals that it's in our local library, if you're in my area and were wondering.

Derrida, myth, and the impossibility of philosophy by Spitzer, Anais
Derrida is a nice, reliable source for humanities scholars, both for the wide range of his theories, and for their complex nature, which means they lend themselves to a lot of discussion.  (Note I refrained from using "obtuse" over complex.  Oops.)  Spitzer's particular case is that myth is an inextricable part of philosophy.  Rather than being purely superstitious or dogmatic, he argues that myth's ambiguity is fundamentally deconstructive and thus lends itself to philosophy.  He might have a point there; myth (and its inevitable big brother, Religion) serves the basic purpose of offering tools for people to live by through stories, and condense very complicated ideas into simpler narratives.  Philosophers are hardly above using myth for that purpose themselves; psychoanalysis would be a ghost of itself if we didn't have Oedipus, and the basic structure of, say, our good friend Bernard Stiegler's theory resides on the Greek myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus.  We don't take them literally, for the most part, but as building blocks for other things, myths play an invaluable part in philosophical thinking.  H.
Beyond human : from animality to transhumanism , edited by Charlie Blake, Claire Molloy and Steven Shakespeare.
Between my current reading on object oriented ontology ala Bryant and my insect media reading by Parikka (coming soon to a Book Triad near you), I've been doing a lot of reading posthuman-type theory, so this entry caught my eye.  The general thrust of "beyond human" type theory is that we (Western humanities scholars in particular, but people in general) tend to think of things from a human, individual, Western, often white and male perspective, and that we should really broaden the horizons a bit.  That means considering our surroundings as more than tools for our immediate use, looking at the perspective of animals, and just generally decentering our cognition to other conceptions of being.  I'm not familiar with the authors in this anthology, but from the essay titles, that's their goal as well; essays include "Being a Known Animal," "Articulating the Inhuman: God, Animal, Machine," and "Horse-Crazy Girls: Alternative Embodiments and Socialities."  H.

Leet noobs : the life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft
by Chen, Mark 1973-
What makes a game worthy of discussion?  And how much can be said about it?  I'm honestly asking, because sometimes, it seems as if World of Warcraft is the most discussed game in game studies.  On the one hand, I would never deride a scholarly effort that believed it had something meaningful to say, and I know very well that the focus on World of Warcraft comes from the public awareness of the game, which in turn is a reflection of its massive popularity.  On the other hand, I think it isn't particularly healthy for a discipline to center too strongly on a single anything, whether it's an artifact, a theory, or a theorist.  But let's talk about the book at hand.   The idea of the book is that it documents a 10 month alliance between recognized elite players of WoW into a single unit.  Hence the title: the group was made of the leet, but they were noobs in working together, and had to relearn the game in that respect.  The switch and various personalities (personas?) made the whole thing to volatile to work, and there was a massive meltdown.  The book is part of the New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies series, which hints at Chen's focus.  He is interested in how this case study demonstrates online literacy and the construction of communities of practiceHe attributes his method to ethnology in general, and similar to Bonnie Nardi's approach in particular.  As for the "what does this new book have to offer" question, Chen offers a focus on how everyday expertise is managed and obtained through social gaming; I suppose it's up the reader to decide whether that's something they're interested in.  H.

Beyond our means : why America spends while the world saves by Garon, Sheldon M
There were a LOT of economic-crisis related books coming into SFU this week; consider this a representative pick.  Sheldon argues that the financial crisis was about exorbitant American spending and overborrowing.  Considering that my personal retirement plan for the moment consists entirely of "cut whatever deal I can to get a job after graduating," the financial future is something that I don't think about a lot, but looms nonetheless. To mend their wayward practices, he suggests modeling some of the European and Asian practices of thrift.  To a certain extent, he has a point; spending is so ingrained in American culture that after the 9-11 attacks, the phrase "act normal" was synonymous with "keep spending."  On the other hand, I'm not sure people would be too eager to follow European models either right now, unless you kept it rather firmly on Germany.  But even if the argument goes a bit astray, I imagine it would interesting to take a look at the history of spending rhetoric in the United States, in terms of its roots and its evolution.  H.
Things you need to know: SFU entries are sorted by pages of 20 at a time, rather than the 50 entries per page, which I'm used to.  It means I pay a little more attention to individual titles, but it does drag things out a bit.

How we think : digital media and contemporary technogenesis by Hayles, N. Katherine
How We Became Posthuman, Hayles' earlier title (Is there a theme in those titles?), has a large presence in my mind.  It was the first book I read for my digital humanities comprehensive exam, and is my basic foundation for posthuman topics in general.  That means I at least take notice when a new book of hers comes to my attention, and in this case, that attention is entirely warranted.  Her current book has a similar methodology--a mixed study of theory and literature--but a different thrust. Here, she argues that humans and technics are coevolving (again: see Steigler), and if humanities is going to stay relevant, we need a new approach to media studies that incorporates digital and print traditions.  I hope a game studies focus puts me on that curve, though I do need to work on my digital authorship (he said, in the middle of a long blog post.) In particular, she argues that we now see the rise of hyper reading, where skimming and scanning become as valid a form of reading as close reading.  In case you were wondering, the literature she was referring to is Steve  Tomasula's which I haven't heard of, but describes itself as a visual novel with a steampunk heart, which is awesome; Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts, which I hear is also awesome; and Mark Danielewski's Only Revolutions, which is as tedious as his earlier book, House of Leaves, isn't.  Actually, this one could be useful for my own studies; I'll make a mental note to give it a look at some point.  H.

Dickens and women : his great expectations by Isba, Anne
Clever title.

Warriors outlaws by Gordon, John R.
This is a story of a gangsta in London who goes on the run after shooting a cop and "takes refuge with his neighbour, a black drag queen called Carly." Ah, the classic buddy comedy formula.  The closest thing in my literary experience to this book is probably The Lonely Londoners, and by mentioning that, I show how far out of my are this is, and that I should probably stop now before I make things worse.

Martha the (imaginative) mouse by Lang, Karen 1956-
It's the parentheses that intrigue me. Does Martha doubt her own imaginative nature?  Does she want to impress people by virtue of her being without resorting to her imagination?  Or are the parentheses a demonstration of her ability to defy convention and inspire mystery?  The possibilities abound.

Love virtually by Glattauer, Daniel
Emmi accidentally emails Leo, a complete stranger, and the two strike a connection.  "Soon, secrets are shared, sparks fly, and erotic tension simmers.  even though Emmi is married, it seems only a matter of time till they meet.  But will their feelings survive a real-life encounter?"  So... You've Got Mail with an adulterous twist? H, but only in the original language, in which the title is "Gut gegen Nordwind."

The gas we pass : the story of farts Onara by Chō, Shinta 1927-
I'm mentioning this only because I remember featuring  Life of Pee by Sally Magusson, and I will not open myself to accusations of body waste favoritism.  Number Two is not Number Two here (I apologize for that one.) This is a book aimed for children rather than Magusson's older audience, and seems to be generally in the vein of  the classic Everybody Poops, though the reviews on Amazon suggest that it doesn't reach quite the same level of excellence.For the literary-minded Fart Connoisseur, I recommend my roommate's collection, which includes Jonathan Swift's The Benefit of Farting Explain'd and Farts: A Spotter's Guide, by Crai S. Bower, which comes with (sigh) sound effects.  Don't ask. In case you were wondering, this is filed in the science section, not children's lit.

 And on that high note (if your farts are emitting a high note, you should probably see a doctor--aargh, I can't stop), we'll  call this edition of Bibliophile to an end.  See you next week, folks.

Later Days.

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