The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

September 22, 2006

Reviews of books I like in the midst of God my God of Sickness

Reviewing under the sign of fever:

Principles of Stratigraphy, Amadeus W. Grabau, Dover, from the 1924 edi-
tion. This was written at the end of the period of descriptive geology;
computers and seismic analyses, tectonics and satellite surveying would
come later. The principles, however, can be considered a non-GIS analysis
of surface features through comparison, tracing, mineralogy, and so forth.
I'd recommend this to anyone in the humanities concerned with informal
analysis of data-sets; it's also an extremely good read, staying close to
example. the last section on Correlation might be immediately useful.

Tinnitus worse, eyes smarting in the light:

The Works of the People of Old, Na Hana a ka Po'e Kahiko, Samuel
Manaiakalani Kamakau, translated Mary Kawena Pukui, edited and arranged by
Dorothy Barriere, Bishop Museum Press, 1976. This is a collection of
articles originally published in an Hawaiian newspaper 1869-1870; the
articles cover numerous aspects of Hawaiian life, including cultivation,
fishing, crafts, etc. But what makes the book wonderful I think are the
beginning sections on the calendar, space, geography, and the horizon.
Here we find an amazing phenomenology of the world which, I think, is
applicable as a means of understand the situated body - for example, the
horizon in relation to the body becomes inordinately complex, not in the
sense of coordinates, but in terms of site, range, immensity, and stance.

Sniffling, difficult breathing.

The Powers of the Word, Rene Daumal, edited Mark Polizzotti, Grove, 1991.
Daumal is an anomalous author, and all the work in the book fascinates.
But I want to focus on his essay on The Powers of the Word in Hindu
Poetics, since this presents the theory of the Natyasastra coupled with
the analysis of poetry and poetics found in The Mirror of Composition,
written between the 12th and 16th centuries. "Poetry is a sentence whose
essence is Savor" (rasa) tends towards a brilliant poetics, opening new
territory for all of us. Coincidentally, I have the full Mirror of Compo-
sition, which I've delved into repeatedly; it's an obscure publication:
Bibliotheca Indica, Volume X, The Sahitya-Darpana or Mirror of Composi-
tion, A Treatise on Literary Criticism; by Viswanatha Kaviraja, revised
by Dr. E. Roer, translated into English by James R. Ballantyne, Calcutta,
1851. This is bound into a volume on the Nyaya philosophy, also revised by
Roer. The presentation of rasa reminds me of the Natyasastra, which is
also based on a theory of classification. Savor can be taken as a mode or
modes of being-in-the-world; language, word, and vocable are inter-
related. Vocables are words-in-use, not parole, but enunciation; two
attributes are proximity and expectancy - language resides in the imminent
- in the moment, and a sentence started one day and ended on another
problematizes enunciation. If proximity is external (i.e. the space-time
framework holding language together), expectancy is internal - the forms a
sentence takes, for example, in terms of syntax or meaning (Schutz's
relevance theory comes to mind as well). For the rest, try to find these
books (as well as the Natyasastra, which is available in two large English
volumes); you won't be disappointed.

Slightly feverish:

Google Hacks, Tips & Tools for Finding and Using the World's Information,
3rd edition, Dornfest, Bausch, and Calishain, O'Reilly, 2006. I think this
is the one book everyone working the Web should have - not that I want to
ignore the politics of the Google monopoly. Google is fast, highly config-
urable, and as everyone knows, offers a lot of applications; as a portal
to the 'World's Information' it's suspect, but as a tool, it's more than
useful. The book covers things that I've always wanted to know - for
example, how to download your GMail directories (it's a python program),
how to scrape sites for information, how to program Google (I've used this
section from past editions for creative textwork), things to do with
Google maps, how to scrape and work with Google groups, and so forth.
(Does anyone work with newsgroups anymore?) Once you get the hang of it,
Google is similar to regular expressions; you can filter and manipulate
quickly with all sorts of filtering. I think this book is the best guide
I've seen; although it's in the Hacks series, it gives fundamental
information. Some of the hacks require programming, by the way, but the
programming is relatively simple.

Slight chills:

Sound Dirt, Jim Leftwich and John M. Bennett, Luna Bisonte Prods, 2006.
Well this is wonderful; if you're not familiar with their collaborations,
you should be. I tend to like anything John Bennett does; his poetics
reflects particle theory, ignores time, gives into space only because
that's how you get the words there. (As I've been saying recently - and
this has political repercussions - 'There is there there.') The book has
immense numbers of short poems; some remind me of the early Clark
Coolidge, but they're cooler, not developing a poetics, but loosely using
anything in sight. Bennett's publications are prodigious and full of
energy and delight; they relate to code work but barely and aren't. You
might reach him at "John M. Bennett" <> and see what
works he's got available.

More chills:

Unix in a Nutshell, A Desktop Quick Reference, covers GNU/Linux, Mac OS X,
and Solaris, Arnold Robbins, O'Reilly, 2006. I tend to use this book and
the earlier editions a fair amount; I know you can a lot of information
through the man or apropos commands, or forums, or on-line pdfs, etc. etc.
- but I prefer a book by my side, that holds the keys to the worlds know-
ledge. This is the 4th edition, and contains just about any command you
might ever have to use. On editing alone, you'll find regular expressions,
emacs, vi, vim, ex, sed, and awk. There are useful sections on package
management (i.e. software downloads and configurations) and the various
shells. One thing I miss - which is in the earlier editions - the command
'fold' which allows rough text justifying that is quite useful; although
it's deprecated, it still seems to be around.

Heartburn and increasing fever:

Web Design in a Nutshell, A Desktop Quick Reference, O'Reilly, 2006. By
now you know I have a connection with O'Reilly - I receive books gratis
for review; I'll only ask for books I feel are useful and worth owning.
O'Reilly books tend to be sophisticated and pricy, but they also go out
of date much less often than other manuals, etc. You can learn principles
as well as technique from them. I began using them in 1994-5 when I bought
linux 2.something from them in a small book to get started; it's continued
from there. Anyway this is the 3rd edition which contains large sections
on XML and (X)HTML, the presentation layer, the behavioural layer
(including JavaScript), web graphics, etc. The web graphics section
reviews gifs, jpegs, pngs, animated gifs, etc., and this is really useful;
there's a lot of technical information on compression, transparency, etc.
The final section is on audio and video media including flash. My own work
is primitive in terms of layout but (hopefully) sophisticated in terms of
format; the book helps.

Headache and shuddering:

Armenian Architecture, 4th to 17th century, Edouard Utudjian, Morance,
Paris, 1968. At the risk of sounding moronic, the structures in this book
seem stripped down; everything depends on location and surface against or
through elementary shapes. There are wall inscriptions, buildings
partially carved out of the rock matrix, and extremely early fortresses.
The architecture is incredibly beautiful, something one might dream after
reading Wittgenstein (go with it). I know next to nothing about this area;
the book is a revelation.

Sore throat:

Early Temples of Central Tibet, Robert Vitali, Serindia, 1990. Tis book
covers some of the few remaining temples after the cultural revolution in
China; 7000 temples and monasteries were destroyed. The iconography is
intense. If humanity is remembered among the world's organisms for any-
thing, it might well be Buddhism, an early and late outcry against suffer-
ing and violence. The plates are stunning, as are the commentaries. What
has been lost is immense; worlds have disappeared, and in this sense, the
book is an elegy as well.

Sleepiness, throat and eye pain:

Dictionary, Samuel Johnson, my editions Vol. 1 1799 8th edition and Vol. 2
1785 6th edition. Wow! I traded like crazy to get this; I've used it for
my own work. The book is a total delight - it's clearly meant to be read
for pleasure, not just used as a look-up. Now I know where a lot of other
English dictionaries get their start; some of the words seem exported from
Johnson (and used nowhere else). Johnson's everywhere in the work; it's
hardly neutral, and I don't think was intended to be. This is one of the
beat 'reads' I've had in a long time.

Unbelievably bleary:

Ka, Roberto Calasso - I hadn't heard of him before - ignorance - he's
written a series of amazing books - Ka is concerned with the myths and
gods of India - it's a poetics of groundlessness - I haven't read any-
thing like it - reviews from India seemed incredibly favorable except for
one from (I think) an Indologist - I'm not sure. The Upanishads and sutras
have found their way into my work; this book resonates with both literary
and philosophical interests. It's part retelling mythos, part commentary,
part literature, part phenomenology. Of course recommended in my
ignorance. (The book's not in front of me - details on Amazon etc.)

Increasing feverishness (is that a word?):

Isvara-Pratyabhijna-Vimarsini, Abhinavagupta, Doctrine of Divine Recog-
nition, 3 volumes (two Sanskrit with commentary by Bhaskari), edited by
Prof. K.A. Subramania Iyer and Dr. K.C. Pandy, Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.
This is the fundamental work of Kashmiri Saivism around the 9th century.
The sutra is concise; each phrase is packed, and the whole is difficult to
understand. But amazing, yes! Ahnika VII of Jnandhikara (there are four
sections each with sections) is titled 'Presentation of the Lord as the
One Basis of All' - but the lord turns out to be related to Kristeva's
chora. The work espouses a theory of the foundation of knowledge, the
shining of objects, one's place in the order of things - that actually
need not turn on divinity. I've just begun to penetrate the book (the
third volume is an English translation without the commentary), and it's
eye-opening. Read through luminosity into luminosity; it's worth it.

Coughing and sneezing:

The novels and so forth of Philip K. Dick - which I came to just recently.
Mixed feelings brought on by an essay written in relation to The Man in
the High Castle, which appeared somewhat anti-semitic (in Philip K. Dick,
Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings); I find myself tiring of his
Christology, gnostic though it may be - on the other hand, the rewards are
enormous. Ubiq may be my favorite in its intensity; in almost all the
novels there are shifted realities which fray at the edges - one's never
sure of the ground of the real, and instead holds desperately onto
memory-objects which begin the split, one way or another. Flow My Tears,
The Policeman Said, is great, not the strongest; The Man in the High
Castle and Through a Scanner Darkly shouldn't be missed; The Divine
Invasion is a little too much for me; I can't get through VALIS; and he
may be one of the best writers of the 20th-century, hot in relation to
Ballard's cool. In Dick, the plot dissolves, oh well, there's got to be a
wrap-up at the end, otherwise forget it; it's 'about' states of knowledge
in fictional form; it's astonishing. We saw a DVD documentary on him; I
forget the title, but stay away; it was the worst video I've seen and
that's saying a lot. Check out what you can find of the Exegesis. Stay
away from fans. In any case I can't understand all the bother about God
which is just about everywhere in some of the novels, and in our culture
at the moment; it's a waste of time, derails any sort of intelligent
approach to (to what? Paine's The Age of Reason, which is terrific) -
anyway, you get the idea.

Feverish again, ready to fall over, medicated:

Nightjars, A Guide to Nightjars and Related Nightbirds, Nigel Cleere and
Dave Nurney, Pica Press, Sussex, 1998 - oh man, these are wonderful birds
- you know them - beautiful calls, amazing aerial displays (watch the
nighthawks!), some echo-location - the birds that sit on the ground -
hardly nest at all - the Oilbird, Potoos, Frogmouths, all the Nightjars,
Whip-poor-wills - some of these were called goatsuckers, medieval super-
stition - then the various Owlet-nightjars which are somewhere between
those groundsitters and owls and perching-birds and the book is full of
wonder! We have a number of bird books, ornithology books, etc. around
here, but this is one of the most magical; it's technical, but the details
are unusual and these birds are rapidly becoming my favorite (along with
the English sparrow, the anhinga, various cormorants, least terns, etc.).


Key to Pelton's Hemispheres, Designed for Schools and Academies, Sower and
Barnes, 1851. Okay, I've mentioned this before (as well as a few of the
other books here), but it's too weird not to include; this is an early
geography book written to accompany (now missing) school maps - what's
amazing is that the lessons are in rhyme and are meant to be sung! Think
of defining the earth or memorizing Asian lakesto the tune of Auld Lang
Syne, and you get the idea. It's charming and one of 'those books' which
are of course way way non-canonic, but should be read by every student of
American lit who gets tired of Hawthorne or Irving or Cooper. I keep
thinking of a musical...

Bleary bleary nasal congestion:

Want to point out that in Johnson's Lives of the English Poets - the
life of Abraham Cowley contains a long section on metaphysical poetry
which is well worth reading; Johnson prefers plainer writing: 'What they
wanted however of the sublime, they endeavored to supply by hyperbole' -
which plays into Kant in an interesting way.

Am I still writing this, turning into flu-like symptoms?

Nick Carter, The Sign of the Prayer Shawl, A New Killmaster Espionage
Adventure, Award Books, 1976, no author: 'Within 48 hours, Airliners will
crash into the world's major financial centers - unless Killmaster can
stop Shintu's men.' The bad guys are Japanese; on the cover, there's a
small image of a passenger plane slamming into the World Trade Center

Some small tech through heavy vision:

Grundig or Eton Mini 300 World Band Receiver. This costs around $30 and is
analog (which helps the sound); it's a simple short-wave with limited
coverage - but it's fairly sensitive and worth far more than it costs. I
use it on trips for both AM and short-wave; with analog, station hunting
is fun. Tuning can be a bit tricky, as the dial's extremely sensitive.

Cough cough:

Ubuntu/Kubuntu linux (the latter uses the KDE desktop, the former Gnome).
I've recently installed this on a fairly fast Dell desktop. You could
install it with your eyes closed. It's like liquid. It updated 160
packages automatically. You can't log in as root, but you can as super-
user. You can mess things up only so far. I'm using it for Blender 3D
imaging (see for example; it's
far better than WinXP for this. But video still lags behind; Kaffeine (and
other players) tend to crash a fair amount, and you just can't configure
the way you can with Quicktime Pro (which I recommend as well). Ubuntu
comes with OpenOffice, Gimp, and tons of other programs; it's a cinch to
download new things. It networked right out of the box (well, disk), It's
the standard for the CS department at West Virginia University. Definitely
try this, whether or not you're already familiar with linux. (Actually,
since I like to tinker, Ubuntu seems almost too clear, too complete. But
it does take care of all sorts of tasks you really don't want to do, and
leaves time for the fun things like trying to learn Python.)

Shake, shudder:

SimpleDrive Portable Storage 80GB external hard drive. My 'other' external
drive gave out; I bought this to use at the Virtual Environments Lab at
WVU. I can do video to and from it, and it reminds me of a very quiet
playing card; it was also inexpensive and runs from a USB 2 cord (i.e.
doesn't need a power supply). Recommended.

Sniff sniff sniff:

Anything by Marguerite Young - her masterpiece is Miss Macintosh, My
Darling, but her luminous prose moves through all her books. I haven't
found a bad one yet. She reminds me of Leduc or Anais Nin in her poetics
of prose; her content is a midwestern Americana with its utopias,
religions, and the lost. Angel in the Forest is great - but everything she
wrote is magical.

Fevered once again:

Apologies for not reviewing everything; I'm behind at the moment, Please
forgive me if your book isn't mentioned yet; it will be.

Thanks, Alan, wheeze wheeze wheeze (falls over dead)

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