Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bibliophile: Fiction and Games

The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.  But the umbrella owners will inherit the earth.

This is Bibliophile.

Have we done McGill University yet?  Well, here we are.  They don't seem to have a new articles page per se, so instead, I'm going to look at the items they've received circa 2012. 

Deleuze and the diagram : aesthetic threads in visual organization /  Jakub Zdebik
This book jumped out at me because it reminded me of a local artist who did a series of works on his impression of the first chapter of Deleuze and Guattari's probably most famous book, A Thousand Plateaus.  Zdebik's book is actually the opposite of that; rather than being about artist interpretations of Deleuze, it's about Deleuze's interpretations of artists.  (Zdebik is also notably a Canadian professor, working at Carleton University.)  Zbedik's looking at artists like Paul Klee and Francis Bacon (which confused me, because I was thinking of the Elizabethan guy, when apparently I should have been thinking of the 20th century figurative painter).  He places Deleuze's art theory in context with those of Lyotard, Foucault, and Simondon, and further extrapolates on Deleuze's claim that theory is like painting, and needs to move from figurative to abstract.  I don't know enough Deleuze to comment on the validity of the project, but it sounds interesting enough for the Deleuzians with some art theory in their background.  H.

The mess inside : narrative, emotion, and the mind / Peter Goldie.
Continuing our philosophy trawl, we have Goldie's The Mess Inside.  In the book, Goldie argues that we think about our lives and our personal history in narrative terms, looking at both those who dismiss narrative and those who argue our selfhood is constituted by it.  Grief counseling has the concept of "closure" narratives, for example, and AA turns the experience of addiction into a set narrative of steps.  His conclusions is that there is no narrative self, but there is a narrative sense of self, which is a rather equivocating yet probably right way of thinking about it.  I've always been partial to the notion that we live our lives in part in accordance to the stories we tell ourselves--I think past posts are evidence enough for that.  A more theoretical or at least fashionable way of referring to the tendency is to talk about it in terms of ideologies and subject positions, or dominant cultural tropes, but it boils down to roughly the same thing.I do like the topic, but it sounds perhaps a little too expansive--he promises to look at the subject in terms of philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis, historical studies, and literature.  H--but not yet.  It's been ordered, but not yet received.

Inventing intelligence : how America came to worship IQ / Elaine E. Castles
At this point, IQ as a measurement of intelligence is pretty ingrained in our society (I'm pretty sure that Castles' study doesn't extend to Canada, but I'm feeling generous).  It's important to realize, though, that an IQ test is just one of many ways of determining intelligence, and what an IQ test measures isn't necessarily related to what we call "smarts" anyway.  Rather, IQ is widely adopted because it makes us think we're being empirical and dealing with a measurable quantity when actually this version of intelligence comes from a very specific, very recent cultural context.  It reminds me of the Bibliophile last week  wherein I commented on William Sleator's Test.  An IQ test is not equivalent to the SATs, but they seem rather similar, in that they come from a similar exigence (a desire to quantify elements that we use to think of as qualitative, such as intelligence and potential) and can play rather large roles in determining human lives.  As such, I think it's a good idea, every now and then, to take a step back and evaluate how we got the systems we're in, and it looks like that's what Castles is doing.  H.

Lover’s quarrel with the past : romance, representation, reading / Ranjan Ghosh
Ghosh wants to discuss how historians situate with the past, with a focus on Indian history in particular.  According to the book's press release, Ghosh "asks how history transcends the obsessive linguistic turn, which has been hegemonizing literary/discourse analysis," and instead focuses more on historical experience and history in context with other political forces that seek to manipulate it.  I'm extrapolating a bit, but I imagine that's where the "Lover's quarrel" part of the title comes from, the way we manipulate visions of the past and history for our own benefit and treat the result like something objectively set in stone.  A more local example, I think, of this process would be the recent anniversary of The War of 1812, in which the war is treated as a victory by many on both the Canadian and American sides, despite the fact that both of us suffered rather substantial losses.  I think I've started to develop a knee-jerk distaste for those who claim to be beyond the "obsessive linguistic turn," since there's only so many times you can claim your archeology of knowledge or variantology is a new cool thing, but I do recognize the significance of the attempt.  

The complete lockpick pornography / Joey Comeau.
The call number listings at McGill are are rather inexplicable; I've gone straight from history-based stuff to literature, skipping over everything in between.  Anyway, the book: "I'm tired of the moral high ground. We've already got more than our share of gay Gandhis. We need a General Patton." Well, that's direct, though I imagine it's a character's opinion, rather than Comeau's personal argument.  From reviews, I gather that the first book in this set, "Lockpick Pornography," is a series of encounters of a radical gay vigilante going around and forcibly changing people's ideas about sexuality.  Very forcibly.  It's over the top, but apparently deliberately so.  One of those satirical works that veer close to the line to being what they're satirizing, to a degree.  The other novella in the package is We All Got It Coming, which continues the homosexuality and violence theme, but looks at violence against homosexuality.  I think I've heard of the first book a few times; it's a reasonably important work in Canadian Queer Literature.

The flying beaver brothers and the evil penguin plan /  Maxwell Eaton
In which a pair of beavers attempt to thwart a penguin plot to turn their tropical paradise into a resort for polar-style living, while still being in time to win the annual Beaver Island Surfing Competition.  This is hard-hitting literature, here, folks.

Gloriana / Kevin Huizenga
Hmm.  I could have sworn that I've read something by Huizenga, but looking at his bibliography, nothing jumps out.  At any rate, he's a well respected indie-sort of cartoonist.  From what I gather, the idea of the book is that the narrator attempts to tell a story, but keeps getting distracted with the existence of the everyday, mundane objects around him, until the narrative falls apart in the face of the experiential limits.  Or something.  I've heard the book described as an explosion of the moment, and a panoptic narrative. I don't want to say it's ontologically interesting, because I've been bandying that term around a lot lately, but it does look interesting.  

 Five little bitches : a novel /   McWhirter, Teresa, 1971-
McWhirter's book follows the trials and tribulations of a band of hard punk rock girls.  It's got megalomania, heroin addictions, "jubilant destruction," and feminism.  I've got a soft spot for grrrl bands--Sleater-Kinney's "Modern Girl", for example, is friggin' awesome.  In general, though, I'm not really interested in "behind the music" -type stories.   It's also published by Anvil Press, which promotes itself as "Contemporary Canadian Literature with a Distinctly Urban Twist." The novel's blurb says that it's part punk travelogue and all grit lit.  I don't know what that means, and it's an oddly elusive term, and the closest definition I can find is Urban Dictionary's, which identifies it with the 80s "dirty realism" movement.  And that makes me slightly less interested, to be honest, as the genre always struck me as a bunch of writers trying very, very hard to look like they were being effortless.  Not that I'm judgmental, or anything.  Still, this looks like it could be a fun little satire.  Our library has two earlier books by McWhirter (Dirtbags, Some Girls Do), but not this one.

 Worldplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play. by Christopher A. Paul
Hmmm.  I've just finished reading Astrid Ensslin's book on the same subjectAnd it struck me while I was reading that it's odd no one's ever taken a discourse analysis approach to games before.  And lo and behold, here's Paul. Given the timing of their respective releases, I'm reasonably sure neither book is a response to the other, but it would be an interesting comparison.  You'll probably hear more about Ensslin's book from me at some point, but for now, I'll just say that it's a rather thoughtful analysis of both discourse in games, and discourse about games.  Ensslin's approach was rather mixed, going back and forth between the in-game and about game discussions, but Paul's seems much more delineated, with first half on the latter, and the second half on the former.  Topics include GTA and humor, EA Sports and Planned Obsolescence, Rewards in WoW, Theorycraft, and Meritocracies.  There's not a lot sports-based game studies stuff out there, so that in particular may be interesting.  H, and I'm making a mental note to look into it.

 Spider-man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry by William Irwin, Jonathan J. Sanford and Alan Marriott
From our pop philosophy department, it's philosophy meets Spider-Man.  Well, I suppose if Superman and Batman get their own features, it's only fair. Of course, Spider-Man's rather different than either of those figures.  Batman lends himself to discussions of authority and madness, and Superman is always going to be a lightning rod for uber-man topics.  But Spider-Man---what do you do there?  Well, the moral responsibility (with great power comes great responsibility) angle is the obvious one.  And the usual dual identity thing is at play, though in Spider-Man's case, it gets more interesting when you throw in clones.  And Steve Ditko, the lesser known co-creator of Spider-Man, had a pretty fascinating moral philosophy.  Looking at the chapter titles, I'm not far off.  Sections include morality and the life of Peter Parker, responsibility and blame with Spider-Man, body transformation and identity (in terms of both the spider-sense and the black costume), transhumanism and cloning, Spider-Man's relation to his supporting cast (good topic), and Spider-Man's tendencies to make jokes and stories (with a meta look at "One More Day"--also a good topic).  I'm a little disappointed that there's nothing to be said about Spider-Man's Rogue Gallery, but considering that I can't think of anything that interesting myself (Hydro-Man and Sandman as transformative?  They covered the Carnage/Venom angle... maybe maybe scientific superiority and the Lizard and Dr Octopus.Still, it's another book I can point students to when they complain they can't find any sources for pop culture studies.  H.

You can live in an apartment.  By Dorothy Duncan.
A 1939 guide to picking out apartments.  I couldn't find a lot of information about it online--on account of it being published in 1939--but I think that's exactly what would make it interesting.  On a historical level, it would provide some context on how apartment-living was regarded 70 years ago, when it was more a societal shift.  

Right.  That's enough for me.  See you next week, folks.

Later Days.    

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