Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bibliophile: Wild, Wild Western

7/10 of the earth's surface is cover in water.  6/10 of a human body is made of water.

The human body is 1/10 away from being the earth's surface at any given time.  That's math.

And this is Bibliophile.

The roadtrip continues.  For those keeping track at home, we've been to York University, , the University of Victoria, and the University of Toronto.This week, it's Ontario yet again (more evidence of an Eastern prejudice in Big Government) as we look at the University of Western Ontario.  In case you're wondering, I picked it mostly because I came up with the post title first.   I'm looking through the UWO database, and, well, add UWO to the list of university library websites that were clearly not designed to be searched like this.  UWO Library does have a new book link, but it's a month by month basis, rather than the usual week by week.  And it can't be viewed as one long list.  You have to either enter search criteria, or search by one of the minor libraries that make up the UWO holdings.  We'll do the latter, I guess, and go the U of T route: detail a dozen or so books, then call it a day.  

The first library, then, is the Allyn & Betty Taylor Library.  It seems to focus on science-based books, with an emphasis on medicine.  The books are presented in a style similar to York's, in that it's got the books' covers, as well as a link to their Google books content, if applicable.  It doesn't list call numbers, though, so I have no idea what the organizing principle is here.

Counterfeit medicines / edited by Albert I. Wertheimer and Perry G. Wang.
The old Arthur C. Clarke saw says that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  With medicine, I don't think we even need the sufficiently advanced part; for those not directly involved in the field, a lot of medicine feels like magic: we drink something, and we feel better.  I think that's why counterfeit medicine is big business and a big betrayal.  It inspires false hope for people that are already incredibly desperate, and wanting very badly to believe in that magical cure.  This book isn't really about the cultural side of counterfeit medicine, though, but about the economic and organizational side.  The focus here is what governing bodies can do in response to counterfeiting, and how these measures fit with those similar to other anti-counterfeiting agencies.  Essay topics include a general history of counterfeit medicines, current laws, financial aspects, a case study of Mexico, governmental bodies, and, as mentioned, counterfeiting in other industries.  It seems to be a very "social sciences" kind of study, which means a lot of tables and subsections and such.

The life of super-Earths : how the hunt for alien worlds and artificial cells will revolutionize life on our planet / Dimitar Sasselov.
Remember that pop science book a few weeks back that argued there is probably no life on any other planet in our galaxy?  This would be the polar opposite of that book.  Sasselov is covering a lot of ground.  First, he looks into current efforts to find other life-supporting planets, and how that discovery could shape our concept of life.  Then, he goes on to stuff that could shape that concept that's going on right in our backyard, via chemists' attempts to create synthetic life, life based on different structures than we see in our current world.  (Carbon-based life forms are soooo 2011.)  Again, it's pop science, and of the rather enthusiastic variety.  But it starts off well, with a comparison between the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable and Huxley's efforts to discover new life in the ocean; I rather like the juxtaposition of expanding communication and expanding notions of life.

The apostasy of daylight / Andreas Gripp. 
This brings us into the Archives and Research Collection Center, which seems to be a mix of documents about churches, and documents about the natural sciences.  This, as you may guess from the title, is mostly the former.  I like the word "apostasy."  It means almost the exact opposite of "apostle." That's weird, right?  Anyway, this is a book of poetry, which isn't strictly religious, I guess.  A sample poem is here. As I've stated repeatedly, poetry's not my thing, but this seems to be all right. I like the juxtaposition that he's working with between the 60s and our current day.

Annual report of the Inspector of Prisons and Public charities upon the lunatic and idiot asylums of
Ontario. Office of the inspector of Prisons and Public Charities.
This is circa 1867 by the way; I'm reasonably sure that the modern Ontario government doesn't have an office of Prisons and Public Charities.  But the combination of the two is really interesting.  It lends itself to a Foucauldian exploration of power dynamics, and 19th century class morals.  What does it mean to say that asylums and prisons are both charity endeavors?  Well, since that people who support charities are the kind of people who are unlikely to be recipients of them, it says that the wealthy were thought to be apart from those who went crazy or went to jail. It says that insanity and criminality something close together. And it says that both are something that happens to poor people.  I'm reminded of the Futurama episode where Judge Whitey declares being poor is a form of insanity.  Granted, I'm making some pretty wild assumptions here based on a title, but it would be an interesting connection to explore.   H.  (Of course this would be the one that our library has.  Heh.)
That brings us to the D. B. Wheldon Library, which seems to be oriented towards the humanities.  
Accident society : fiction, collectivity, and the production of chance / Jason Puskar. 
I've always liked pursuing serendipity to its full extent.  A random tangent, responsibly pursued, can be as rewarding, academic-wise, as plodding a little further down the same path in a subject.  There's a revitalizing aspect of chance that I find very compelling.  Puskar's book isn't about that at all.  Rather, his book is about early 20th and 19th century fiction and language created by chance, by categorizing loss and accident as something "innocent of design."  People then band together to fight chance, creating collective interdependence as a response.  In other words, a lot of our modern democracy can thank the concept of chance for bringing it into being, as a way to positively respond against the vagaries of the random.  Each chapter of the book focuses on a different set of writers, including Stephen Crane, William Dean Howells, Anna Catherine Green, and Edith Wharton.  I've only heard of Wharton, which once again demonstrates my utter lack of knowledge in the field of American literature.  Still, it sounds like an interesting thesis, if you've got the background to evaluate it.  H.
Heidegger and the thinking of place : explorations in the topology of being / Jeff Malpas. 
I did a search of the blog to make sure I haven't commented on this book before, and my, I've done a lot of talking about Heidegger in this pages, haven't I?  Especially in the Bibliophile entries.  I guess he interests me as a modern(ish) philosopher whom I've read enough about now to be able to understand.  Or at least nod in the right places.  And speaking of places, Malpas thinks what is missing from Heideggerian studies is a proper examination of the significance Heidegger put on place, or topos.  He connects place to other Heidegger topics such as transcendence, nostalgia, and wonder.  I can see all of those connections in general, if not exactly how Heidegger fits in with it.  Malpas is quick to  claim that he's not taking Heidegger as a starting point and expanding, but starting with a philosophical stance on place and extending it to various figures, including and most significantly Heidegger.  He also says that place is often overlooked because it's too "commonplace."  I see what you did there. Offhand, I would say that a better awareness of place could help the one Heidegger work I'm really familiar with, The Question Concerning Technology.  He's very good at making a pre/post industrial temporal demarcation, but any nuance of space isn't really there.  H.
Stand-up comedy in theory, or, Abjection in America / John Limon. 
This is a case where I looked at the title, and decided that I'd like to know the basic argument.  I've never been a big fan of stand-up comedy, to be honest. There's a few factors there: my first real exposure to stand-up was the comedy bits in Seinfeld, and those were basically nothing more than frames for the actual story, and not very good frames at that, which led me to believe that sitcoms are better than stand-up (thanks to Two and a Half Men, I'm now willing to recognize that some sitcoms aren't better than anything).  And I've never really gotten a chance to see live stand-up; I can see how it would be the sort of thing that is much more entertaining as event than as program.  Anyway, Limon's operating theory is that American stand-up can be analyzed in terms of Kristeva's abject: the part of our identity that we don't like, but can't get rid of.  It's a "let's apply psychoanalysis to a general system" sort of approach, ala Jameson's Political Unconscious. It becomes a cultural study, in that pursuing the abject in the history of American stand-up means delving into the way it marginalized race and gender and a denial of the body in favor of the abstract.  I'm not a fan of extracting psychoanalysis from its native field, but it seems that this argument has legs.  H.
Through the valley of the nest of spiders / Samuel R. Delany. 
We haven't done any sci-fi in a while, have we?  Delany's one of the classic great writers, who, in an unusual twist, happens to be still alive and publishing.  He's also one of those people whose real life is at least as interesting as his fictional writing, as they include growing up in 50s Harlem, having a dad who owned a funeral parlor,  aunts who were big in the civil rights movement, and himself being black, gay, and highly dyslexic.  (According to Wikipedia, he has also publicly endorsed NAMBLA, though they claim Wikipedia's standards practice means they can't link to any actual evidence for this.)  This book is based on a short story he wrote previously, "In the Valley of the Nest of Spiders."  (This book is 872 pages; my, what difference a preposition can make.)  The title's an homage to Calvino's The Path to the Nest of Spiders, which immediately endears it to me.  It's vaguely a science-fiction work, but more a drama piece.  It centers around Eric Jeffers just before his seventeenth birthday up into old age. Eric goes through a sexual awakening while running into other young men and traveling across the country, so it's probably not too far to say that the book has personal resonance for Delaney. 
Letting Go? : sharing historical authority in a user-generated world / edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski.
This anthology considers the role of the museum in a world where audiences are creating and receiving their own historical content.  What's the curator's role in preserving a Facebook thread?  Or a Wikipedia feature entry? Sections include the role of visitor response, oral history and authority, communities as curators, authority and the web, and the construction of new artistic perspectives. There's case studies, conversations, and what's called "thought pieces," which I assume are more stream-of-consciousness sort of essays.  There's essays on race, discussions on preserving houses, and film documentaries.  It's a consideration of authority and history, and it's good to see people involved with public curation recognizing how things have changed. 

Discourse of Twitter and social media / Michele Zappavigna.
Another book on the value of Twitter.  Sigh.  Zappavigna has taken a decidedly linguistic approach, analyzing a wide number of tweets (100 million, reportedly) to assemble a corpus of affiliations.  In particular, she argues that we're moving from online conversation to what she calls "searchable talk," where we create associations not so much through meaningful discussion, but by making our discourse findable by others with similar interests.  I think she's got a point there; 9/10s of my Facebook posts aren't really about speaking to anyone in particular, but about passing on some sort of witticism that I think people might find amusing.  We're not really talking with anyone, we're performing, and trying to narrow our performance to specific audiences.   To a certain extent, this is new behavior for humanity simply because we've never been able to index and search our speeches in this manner.  At the same the question I'd pose would be whether this is really a switch--how meaningful has conversation ever been, and how much is just status-posturing performance?  Honestly, the most optimistic answer I can give is "can't it be both?".  H.
 Steel chair to the head : the pleasure and pain of professional wrestling / edited by Nicholas Sammond
This seemed like a nice follow-up to last week's UFC book.   The book is trying to build on the body of essays written on the subject, starting with Barthes' classic analysis.  Essays include Henry Jenkins on Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama, Monsivais on Masks and Myth, Heather Levi on Identity and Politics and the Luchador, Salmon and Clerc on Female Wrestling Fans, Lucia Rahilly on Wrestling as S/M narrative, Battema and Sewell on Market Discourse in the WWF,  It's a nice mix of masculinity, economics, sexuality, body theory, politics, and nationalism.  I wouldn't have minded a piece or two on the Japanese fighting leagues (which has such awesomeness as giving their belts to little girls, monkeys, and dangerously placed ladders), but it's nice coverage of the subject in general.  H.
Game of thrones and philosophy : logic cuts deeper than swords / edited by Henry Jacoby. 
Oooh.  How trendy.  This is clearly a pop theory book, in line with the "philosophy of Big Bang Theory" or "Theoretical Approaches to the Simpsons," but that doesn't mean it's not worth looking at.   I think it's worthwhile to look critically at any pop culture artifact that's received a large amount of public attention.  When an artifact reaches a critical level of audience, the meanings it's put into circulation have some traction, and it deserves a bit of study on those grounds.  Sections include political theory and the Game of Thrones (Maeaester Hobbes goes to King's Landing; Just War Theory; Machiavelli; lying to kings.)happiness and idealism (morals of Lord Stark; Lannister morality, exile), and magic and evil (magic and science, epistemic humility beyond the wall, gods and the problem of evil).  There's also a section on rulership (moral luck of Tyrion; Dany's Enounter with the Wild; Joffrey and Morality) and a final section on moral pragmatism (fate and authenticity; sex, lies and game theory; knowledge, power, and insanity).  My personal approach to the Game of Thrones series would be look at it in terms of its production history, especially the way it plays with established fantasy conventions and tropes.  

Well, we started on counterfeit medicine, transitioned into Heidegger and place, and wound up in fantasy literature.  That's a good day's work, I think.  See you next week, folks.

Later Days.

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