Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Triad VI: Alien Approaches

So it turns out that I read the prerequisite number of books for this one a while ago; I just forgot to post anything.  Whoopsie. 

This time, we'll be look at:
Porn and Pong by
Steal Across the Sky by  Nancy Kress

Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture by Damon Brown.

Latour thoroughly goes over the still-present problems that modernity introduced into Western society, and somewhat less thoroughly proposes a solution. It's a short book, at around 145 p of main text, but it's remarkably dense, and despite the very welcome summaries and charts, will probably require careful reading and perhaps rereading. Latour argues, for example, that modernism depends on dichotomies such as nature and society, subject and object, and the more we insist on the division between them, the more things stuck in the middle--quasi-objects, as he calls them--proliferate. We spend too much time on purifying concepts, and not enough time on mediating their hybrid forms. He spends a particularly long time on comparing social approaches and scientific approaches in the secondary chapter, through a comparison of Boyle and Hobbes, and long discussions on the concept of the air pump. There's also a very in-depth criticism of the humanities' tendency to constantly declare itself in a state of revolution, and in the process attacks some very cherished beliefs of semiotics, deconstruction, and Heideggerian Being. I came to Latour from some readings on Object Oriented Ontology, and in his demolishing of the other methods--on reasonably sound grounds--I can see why they favored him. The difference, however, is that for Latour, the solution to the failures of the previous attempts is to focus more on the networks and connections, a proposition most OOOists reject in favor of considering further the object. My personal problem with the book is that it is guilty of the same fault of many such "theory debunking" books of this type: it spends the majority of its pages on explaining just why the old methods fail, much less time on the details of the new method, and nothing at all demonstrating this new method in action. Too many theory books call for the abandoning of the old without really taking up anything new--Latour's book avoids that pitfall, in that it explicitly addresses what we can take and use from modernism, but I still would have liked to see what a "nonmodern" approach to a subject looked like.

Again, we've got a bunch of books that don't really have anything in common.  For both Kress and Brown, one of their major selling points is the way they consider how their topic fits in with larger popular culture, though in Kress' case, it's fictional culture.  I've started putting off writing reviews for game-related books on this blog, as I'm trying to save them for venues that may be more beneficial, career-wise.  But I don't think I'll be using Porn & Pong any time soon in an academic capacity, so it might as well appear here.  Again, the cover is truly ridiculous, and the foreword of the book is even worse, given its focus on masturbation in general.  I can see why a publisher would want to lead a book like this with such sensational, eye-catching tactics, but it's really a mismatch in terms of the book proper's tone.    Kress' book inspired me to read a two-book series by her, called Crossfire and Crucible; the latter dips a bit in quality but the former is--while still a bit mixed--an entertaining read.  I guess I felt even more strongly about Latour's failure to elucidate his main theory than I originally did here, as a few days later, I let loose with a full rant on the subject on Facebook. And that was kind of unfortunate, because, let's face it, no one really wants to see a rant on the genre of philosophical theory books on their newsfeeds in between photos of babies and status updates featuring three or four letter acronyms.

I've got enough books read already for the next edition, but I'll hold off a week or so; wouldn't want you all to get oversaturated.

Later Days.

No comments: