Alan Sondheim on Wed, 16 Feb 2005 13:58:24 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Book Review of Books Mostly Liked

Book Review of Books Mostly Liked

This is written in a more traditional style, in the hopes of greater
distribution, and readership, and in the hopes it will be of greater use.
I already reviewed Bunt's Islam in the Digital Age for RCCS and will send
that out in the future, when it's published online.

Islam in the Digital Age and a number of other books have given me a
greater interest in the Quran itself. I can highly recommend:

Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, John
Wansbrough; forward, translations, and expanded notes by Andrew Rippin,
Prometheus, 2004, original edition Oxford 1977. For me, raised with a
greater knowledge of biblical exegesis, the Quran has remained somewhat
impenetrable in terms of hermeneutics. This book goes a long way towards
remedying that; it describes the various tropes and interpretive modes
available in enormous detail. Wansbrough begins with retribution, sign,
exile, and covenant, analyzes the concept of prophethood, indicates how
narratology and textual archaeology tend to fail, presents a wide variety
of exegetic principles, and so forth. The work is both older and difficult
- the original has sections in Arabic, Hebrew, German, Greek, and Latin
(at least) left untranslated, but Rippin's addenda help a great deal. I
feel I can work with this book, move out to a greater understanding of the
scaffolding, if not the interiority, of Islam, and for an atheist, this is
the best I can hope for.

On the other end of the spectrum, which closes the ring through Avicenna
and Averroes, look at Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, the
translation by Shlomo Pines, with an introductory essay (quite long) by
Leo Strauss, University of Chicago Press, 1963, still in print. Note the
name Leo Strauss - the same beloved of neocons in the US (see the BBC's
Powers of Nightmare). Strauss was an expert in Maimonides, and it is oddly
to Maimonides one might turn for an analysis of current US political
rhetoric rhetorical tendency. For Maimonides writes for the 'perplexed' -
those who are already knowledgeable in Biblical exegesis, but who want to
explore the deeper meaning of the words, especially in light of Arabic and
Greek philosophy. The work is two-tiered, which Strauss' essay, How to
Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed, brings out - there is exoteric
and esoteric knowledge, and it is not necessary for everyone to understand
everything in depth. Out of this comes Bush, eventually, without the
grace, the knowledge, the problematized liberalism, that seems to
characterize Strauss' thought. And the Guide is interesting itself; it
begins with a terrific analysis of the attributes of God, and moves on
from there. Most highly recommended. Dover has an earlier translation, but
it's more difficult to read, and without the introduction, of course. (The
translator also has an introduction, The Philosophic Sources of The Guide
of the Perplexed, which indicates the tremendous cross-fertilization among
Arabic, Greek, and Jewish sources at the time.)

My ignorance of Strauss (and of political philosophy in general) led me to
The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, An Introduction to the
Thought of Leo Strauss: Essays and Lectures by Leo Strauss, Selected and
Introduced by Thomas L. Pangle, Chicago 1989, currently in print. Here
you'll find The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Rationalism; "Relativism"; An
Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism; Exoteric Teaching; The Dialog
between Reason and Revelation; and a number of other essays. The essay on
Heidegger, who Strauss considers a master, is itself a revelation; his
interstitial scholarship reminds me of Jane Gallop. Strauss thought, if
anything, is complex, and this is an excellent introduction. We need to
return to the sources at this point, not of theodicy, but at the least, to
those who struggled with materials that Bush and cohorts, bin Laden and
cohorts, have simplified and bent out of all recognition (the two engaged
in a violent dance of slaughter and retribution etc. etc.).

Strauss leads to Karl Kraus, by virtue of politics and the crisis of
rationalism. I've read Kraus for years, on and off, and he now slides into
the descriptions of the work of Elfriede Jelinek, which I've mentioned
before. I've read three of her four novels in print in English from
Serpent's Tail, and am in the middle of the fourth (Lust, translated
Michael Hulse, 1992). Although I'm probably the last to argue for a
'national literature,' there are moments among Kraus/Jelinek that resonate
strongly. It's Wonderful Wonderful Times, Serpent's Tail, translated
Hulse, 1990, that has given me nightmares and an interiority as if the
writing were inscribed just on the outer edge of a scar among twins, or
what happens in the 50s in Vienna. This is the strongest fiction I have
read in a long long time, and I hesitate to call it fiction; whatever it
is, it is something else along the lines of philosophical psychology
without the cleverness that characterizes so much in what might be
considered a fallen genre. Read it.

Here are three O'Reilly books. The first is:

Google Hacks, Tips & Tools for Smarter Searching, Tara Calishain and Rael
Dornfest, 2005. I've actually found this book indispensable, since I play
with the API, Gmail, and so forth. It's like working a cranium, or a model
of a cranium. This edition is far more useful than the first, since it
covers the wide variety of material coming out of Google labs, as well as
the usual material on the deep syntax of web searches. I'm surprised how
valuable it's been. I have mixed feelings of Google itself - on one hand a
commercial enterprise with over 100,000 computers - but on the other, an
entrance, configured/corrupted into the fabric of knowledge itself. So I
work with it; I could work with any number of other search engines, but
Google is familiar, and does what I want it to. When I try other engines
or access modes, I always return to this one, even with the advertising,
etc. It's stripped down and oddly open, and the book is an excellent guide
to all that it can do.

Second O'Reilly is Internet Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying
Things about Going Online, Preston Gralla, 2005. The format of the book
itself is annoying; computer books at this point seem to divide into
'serious' and therefore straight-forward text/diagrams - and 'home use' -
with over the top production. This follows the latter, and as a result
it's difficult to use, which is a shame because the information is quite
useful. Unlike Google Hacks, the best way to use this book, unfortunately,
is to read straight-through; otherwise you might miss something, and there
are things to miss. This is for the non-geek net user, but I did find good
material on software for connection speeds. Gralla himself is excellent.

The third of these - O'Reilly send them to me for review - I ask them - if
the book looks promising or useful or valuable for cultural production of
any sort - since I've very little money - I was a consultant on one of the
Running Linux editions - that started it - is Home Hacking Projects for
Geeks, Tony Northrup and Eric Faulkner, also 2005. So this summer I have a
residency at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, and want to work
more with hardware, and will be using this and the other books I mentioned
in other reviews that deal with wiring and wireless and automation. This
may be the best of the group, with clear text, etc. Some of the projects
require hardware modification and some don't. A lot involve viewing - home
theater, 'Watch Your House Across the Network,' tivo-ing a radio,
monitoring a pet, etc., and the scripts, many for linux, will be useful
enough. I yearn for the day when creating an installation will be simply a
matter of linking components like modules or subroutines or old analog
audio synthesizers. It's getting there, and books like these are guides
along the way.

I found a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright's Drawings and Plans of Frank Lloyd
Wright, The Early Period (1893-1909), a Dover reissue of an original
German edition from Berlin 1910. This was a real surprise; here's either
convergence or an incredible familiarity with Japanese Heian architecture;
in any case the buildings are spread horizontally with negative spaces and
all sorts of eave-ings that sink the structures into the plains. I thought
I knew Wright - wrong! - and if you have a chance to find this, check it
out. For some reason it was at a Barnes & Noble on sale for fifty cents

Also by Dover, in the same sale, Introduction to Space Dynamics, William
Tyrrell Thomson, from the first edition Wiley, 1963. I realize how little
I understand the dynamics of space-flight, and this book explains it in
detail. The mathematics is difficult; I get the 'general idea,' and that's
enough at the moment. There's a lot of material on gyroscopic dynamics,
torque of all sorts, etc. If this book were current, it would be
accompanied by a cdrom with all sorts of demonstrations. Still, it's fun
as it is, and certainly if you 'know math,' check it out.

Finally, the Pilgrims had chronicles, and I didn't know that, and found a
book, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, published by Dent/Dutton 1910,
introduction by John Masefield of all people. The chapters are New
England's Memorial; Supplement to New England's Memorial; Cushman's
Discourse; New England's Trials; Winslow's Relation; and Winslow's Brief
Narrative and the material is fascinating. I've been reading these sorts
of things, if sorts they are, for several years, after I found that
Letters From an American Farmer (Crevecoeur) contained early material on
Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, where I was born. There were bitter and violent
wars there and hunger and fury and fear and slaughter and it was in the
middle of the north-east of the state and for the narrative, imminent. So
the Pilgrim material is equally of interest, at least a century earlier;
there is much on Native Americans that I hadn't seen. If you can find this
or similar, read away; it's as astonishing as Hakluyt.

Finally - is anyone out there working with ELF radio? I'm interested in
working with one. -


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