Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sacred Hunger
by Barry Unsworth

by Gilbert Hernandez

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Vol. 2

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ninety-nine More Maggots, Mites, and Munchers
by May R. Berenbaum
-Insects are written about in short 1-2 page entries. This is a sequel. I did not read the first book. This short form is fitting for writing about insects. The form of the entries consists of: many puns, perhaps to add some light-heartedness to descriptions of the insectoid horror-world; some discussion of how each species affects the lives of human beings; and of course Latin name, life cycle, diet, mating, unusual behaviors and memorable peculiarities, etc.. Insects are strange and beautiful and they often mess up things for human beings by biting them or messing with their crops. I enjoyed reading this book. First I read it as something to help me fall asleep but then as pure pleasure and distraction for a troubled mind.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
by Ulli Lust
-Great cartooning. Loved the 2nd color in this—it's a thing I notice.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Science, Order, and Creativity
by David Bohm and F. David Peat

I bought this book at a sale because I thought the cover was so...unusual. Plus the title and the whole package was my kind of thing. There's stuff about fractals and Heisenberg and there's a chapter named "What is Order?" 

I didn't plan on reading it, but then one night I gave it a shot, and I saw that these guys really knew what they were talking about. They take us from physics to metaphysics, to meta-, and then on to the mystical and the cosmic and the everyday mind. By the end they're discussing Krishnamurti.

I like their idea of "false play" / "playing false:" This is when a person "is engaged in an activity that no longer has meaning in itself, merely in order to experience a pleasant and satisfying state of consciousness" but is now concerned with "reward or the avoidance of punishment." This not only screws with the "generative order of consciousness" but generates violence: the denial of the freedom of creative states of mind "brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom. This leads to intense frustration..." and deadened senses, intellect, and emotions, and the loss of a capacity for "free movement of awareness, attention, and thought." (I've been thinking back and forth about signing up with Patreon all week...)

A lot of thought went into this book. Reading it gave me a nice feeling of texture and struggle. It felt like good exercise for the mind AND the heart. Over-earnestness, a vision of the beyond, struggling with language — I can sympathize. 

As usual as I was reading I couldn't help but think more diagrammatic thinking would have helped, and not just thinking—more actual diagrams would have helped. I guess that's what the cover artist Andresj Dudzenski was trying to get at with the flower, cubes, etc. But the cover artist and the writers are using different metaphor-schemes, as far as I can tell. I don't remember any of those sorts of things (such as shaped holes and pegs, flowers or magnifying glasses) appearing inside the text.) Relatively speaking there are actually quite a few illustrations—fractals and geometric figures, and even the Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Rembrandt and some JW Turner. 

But how about a sense of humor, an ironic sense? This book is pretty dry. Here's a sample of the writing: "Thus, if there are rigid ideas and assumptions in the tacit infrastructure of consciousness, the net result is not only a restriction on creativity, which operates close to the "source" of the generative order, but also a positive presence of energy that is directed toward general destructiveness." It's true, but it's not exactly powerfully written. In the end, though, it's hard for me to hold this against a book so dedicated to making clear this vision of reality which makes humor and compassion possible at all, by "operating close to the source of the generative order" in a spirit of openness and creativity.

Near the end:
Consider, for example, a hypothetical individual whose consciousness had been "cleared up" both in the individual and the cosmic dimensions. Although this person might be a model of wisdom and compassion, his or her value in the general context would be limited. For because of "unconscious" rigidity in the general infrastructure, the rest of humanity could not properly listen to this person and he or she would either be rejected or worshiped as godlike. In either case there would be no true dialogue at the social level and very little effect on the vast majority of humanity. What would be needed in such a case would be for all concerned to set aside assumptions of godlike perfection, which makes genuine dialogue impossible. In any case, the truly wised individual is one who understands that there may be something important to be learned from any other human being. Such an attitude would make true dialogue possible, in which all participants are in the creative "middle ground" between the extremes of "perfection" and "imperfection." In this ground, a fundamental transformation could take place which goes beyond either of the limited extremes and includes the sociocultural dimension.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Finite and Infinite Games
by James P. Carse

Monday, June 30, 2014

Smile at Fear
by Chogyam Trungpa

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dynamics in Action
by Alicia Juarrero

Buddhism Plain and Simple
by Steve Hagen
-Interesting to me that this revolved so much around the metaphor of "seeing" and vision and optical illusions. I'm sure I'll write more about that some time.

by Zander Cannon

by M. Thurber

Beautiful Darkness
by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Incomplete Nature
by Terrence Deacon

-(I read this book while at the same time reading Dynamics in Action by Alicia Juarrero. I finished Deacon's book first. I decided to read them together, because Juarrero has formally accused Deacon of plagiarism. You can read about that here and here. Read the comments on the latter for more. Anyways I'm trying to get my head around the ideas first.)

Daniel Dennett's review from last December is a good place to start. There are many other reviews of this book around the web, so I won't struggle too much with trying to summarize the ideas. I got a big kick out of reading Deacon's other book, Symbolic Species (link to my write up). That book was about the dialectical co-evolution of language and the brain, and this newer book (2011) is in a way about the co-evolution of self-organizing forms. Both of these books seemed very "dialectical" to me, but I honestly still don't know if I'm using that word correctly or if I'm only using it in my own private way. Anyhow the idea is that as simple material forms work through their thermodynamic changes they can come together in mutually supportive ways to create new meta-forms (like what happens with crystals or whirlpools), which can then combine to form more complex forms-of-forms-of-forms which can be said in a extremely primitive way to look after themselves, to work to persist in their current arrangement of forms, and to reproduce and evolve. Deacon calls this primitive life-form an "autogen." (Juarrero sometimes uses the phrase "structured structuring structures.") It only really exists in theory, but his point is that it's not a totally crazy idea that something like that could have come together billions of years ago on Earth. It doesn't violate the laws of physics.

I associate this kind of "leveling-up" or differentiation with dialectics. In Symbolic Species the 3-part dialectic you needed to get your head around was Charles Peirce's icon > index > symbol. In this book, there's another nested 3-part structure: thermodynamic > morphodynamic > teleodynamic. (Peirce again makes a few cameos here.) The complex lifeforms we know and love evolved after billions of years of teleodynamic activity. There are also difficult chapters that discuss the concepts of information and work in terms of this dialectic.

Deacon discusses how in theory this dialectical geometric logic could unfold in simple material systems, and then towards the end discusses how this logic can apply to what we know about brains and consciousness. The sections on brains were of course what I was interested in. They felt intuitively right to me, for what it's worth, and the parallels with Buddhist ideas were obvious and exciting to see.

He argues against the idea that consciousness and life is to be understood in merely linear terms, such as mechanism/function, or information/computation. Instead we should pay attention to how life emerges from forms of thermodynamic and morphodynamic energy flows which use geometrical arrangements to pit physical processes against each other in order to perpetuate far-from-equilibrium structures. Thus new formal arrangements become new efficient causes. The parts affect the whole, the whole affects the parts. As new arrangements of forms persist, new possibilities arise for new systems and relationships between forms to emerge, and as these affect the ability of the sub-forms to survive and reproduce the new meta-arrangements persist insofar as the sub-forms which support them are selected to perpetuate them. Wholes support parts which support wholes. In this way forms "level-up" into new meta-forms (these are my words for thinking about it). Once these forms (which at this point are no longer merely material, but are self-perpetuating forms-of-forms, and so exist as it were in the spaces between matter, and are "absential" (to use one of Deacon's many neologisms)) found ways to use the patterns of DNA and RNA molecules to integrate different areas of themselves they got really good at generating different architectures for staying alive and reproducing. At this level the material form of the organism is in a sense beside the point—the point is the whole dynamic arrangement of self-perpetuating form (which is parasitic on matter but also paradoxically independent in the sense that it is a dynamic matter/form combo, "more than the sum of its parts" at any one moment, emergent and absential).

A lot of this is standard evolution stuff, but what I guess Deacon is saying is that the important thing is to follow the formal logic of nested spiraling yin/yangs of presences and absences all the way down to the basic level of thermodynamics and back up again in order to see how life and consciousness are best understood in terms of a dialectic of dynamic processes. The higher levels at which information and function and consciousness seem paradoxical only make sense if you take into account the whole multi-dimensional dialectic of presence and absence.

So did Aristotle nail it? All four causes are accounted for and back in action. There's a lot of discussion of Aristotle in this book and Dynamics in Action, which I look forward to finishing. Greek science's turn toward the timeless and mathematical and away from the contextually embedded narrative description is a big issue in that book. What about Lao Tse? "Clay is fashioned into vessels but it is on their empty hollowness that their use depends.” (Deacon quotes this too.) Deacon also discusses the "discovery" of zero as analogous to what he is trying to say about absential "things." (More often he uses the word "ententional" to refer to these absent forms that make a difference. I don't think that word is going to catch on.)

I haven't mentioned how difficult to read this book is yet. It's not super bad, but it's pretty difficult. He coins a lot of new words, which normally I'm fine with, and even wish more writers would do, but other reviewers have felt it was a bit much. You need to have a pretty basic understanding of physics and biology. I'm no master wordsmith but I couldn't help but feel at times like he could have explained things more clearly and that he was making it more difficult than was necessary. I'd love to take a crack at diagramming or drawing comics about the ideas in this book and Juarrero's book. Deacon throws in a few diagrams, but it seems to me like visualization would really help. Saying "figure/background reversal" over and over doesn't quite drive the point home without an illustration, like one of these.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The How of Happiness
by Sonja Lyubomirsky
-Bought this at a book sale, read it off and on before bed. It's like one of those books full of laboratory research on psychology students that is generalized into advice about how to change your life for the better. It's not the most inspirational book, but it's definitely full of things to do. I guess it tries to be comprehensive. The large quantity of activities and suggestions in the book ironically seemed depressingly overwhelming to me. I guess it would be a good reference book to have around and pull out every once in a while. Things like: be grateful, savor the pleasures of life, spend quality time with your loved ones, have goals, don't work too hard, meditate, etc.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

5,000 BC and other Philosophical Fantasies
The Tao is Silent
by Raymond Smullyan

-I got these two books by Raymond Smullyan, along with his "Budget of Paradoxes," from the university library. I didn't buy them. I stumbled on the paradox book in the humor section which is near the comic strip section, and then I saw in the "Other Books by" that Smullyan also wrote books about Taoism and Zen, and that he wrote another book called "A Theory of Formal Systems" and Godel. My approach to the big questions has gotten more and more "formal" over the last years, so it seemed like this guy might be my guy. But after reading these two book I don't know anymore. At least not in terms of how good his books are. They're not heavy reading, but also they're not very good books—for several reasons. They are all over the place and annoyingly pleased with themselves and there are approx. 800 typos in them. Taoists don't proofread I guess. I'm glad I read these books though because it made me realize/remember that even when writing about something that is "unsayable" there's better or worse ways to go about it (or not). Ironically, there's sometimes a tone-deafness with ironic people. When cleverness becomes's like, shouldn't your cleverness also make you sensitive to how annoying your cleverness is making you? It's like if you were listening to a lecture called "On Having a Sense of Humor" and the guy giving the lecture was a real "jokester" and occasionally made you smile but more often made you wince, and the digressions and half-assedness started to become tedious, and you begin to doubt whether he has a full understanding of the subject he's talking about, and so the message is undermined by its delivery. You think maybe he should do a better job of lecturing on Humor, maybe he should take it more seriously.* Back to the books—they have their moments. At the end of the Tao book he has a character say something** which might remind you of freshman dorm room philosophizing, but on the other hand felt to me like it got to the point pretty well: if you search for an objective method for understanding life and everything, what objective method should guide your search? And isn't it a subjective thing to feel that you need an objective method? And so on. So what should you do? The answer is: once you see that "subjective" and "objective" are two sides of the same coin, that's it. You are where you are, doing what you do. At this point, arguing that one should or shouldn't do anything is "as silly as to argue with an unripe apple that it is time that it should fall from the tree. When the apple is ready, it will not need to be told that it should fall; it will do so of its own accord."

*Am I doing it too? (By pointing it out am I?)
**Yeah...many chapters are in dialogue form...I know...sigh

Saturday, February 15, 2014

This Book Needs No Title: A Budget of Living Paradoxes
by Raymond Smullyan

Valences of the Dialectic
by Fredric Jameson

Monday, January 27, 2014

School Spirits
by Anya Davidson

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait
letters by Vincent Van Gogh. ed. WH Auden.
-Auden wrote about the letters, "there is scarcely one letter by van Gogh which I ... do not find fascinating." I'll have to take his word for it because and gave up on the book (almost exactly) halfway through.

The Amazing, Enlightening and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley
by Kim Deitch

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Couch Tag
by Jesse Reklaw
-In this book there's a lot of pain and chaos in his memory and in Jesse's family. He uses an ironic scheme to organize the story of instability--playful, peaceful objects like games and animals and toys. On another level, in the book there's the thing where you try to figure out who you are in relation to the Others you bounce off--family, friends--and who shape you, and it feels like he's trying to triangulate himself in relation to these other people but it's a difficult process, especially when your family has troubles. As you grow older you try to figure out yourself in relation to abstract ordering schemes you read about--comics, philosophy, being an "artist." In the "Fred Robinson story" the friendship and creative collaborative relationship between him and a friend grows organically around some arbitrary organizing devices and it seems like good times. Late in the book he twice tells anecdotes in which there are organizing schemes which lead to him taking the position of “nothing” (in psychological testing + Greek numerology) or adopting the nickname "Nothing." This instinct to sublimate life into metaphors and symbols is responsible for the book itself, and is a recognition of new possibilities for coping. In the final story he uses the alphabet and his calm, quiet—almost too quiet—cartooning style gets noisier and frantically layered. There's this feeling like the manic energy is straining to break through the ordered arrangement of the comics grid and the storytelling devices. I'm not sure how to read that change in style, in terms of what it is an expression of. It threatens to bring the whole house down around it, or become something other than an orderly comics page. It’s a fun style to look at, in the sense that there’s a lot of new psychelelic levels through which to look at the panels, but I don’t think you want to go too far down that path, or else the comic as a readable balance of mark-making and symbol will start to break down. There’s a lot of energy hidden, pent up, in Reklaw’s older normal “square” cartooning style, and it’s starting to bust out and become unpredictable, more like he is in person. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

-from FRAN by Jim Woodring. This moment in the story gave me literal gooseflesh. I guess I’m probably ruining the possibility of you having that same wonderful experience by posting this, by putting you on your guard, sorry. Or anyhow you might not be as into meta moments as I am. If you are, there are many other opportunities in the book. Good luck. This book and Congress of the Animals are companions, the way light and dark, or up and down, or the clockwises are companions. In this kind of formal situation mirrors and the moments of doubling are going to be important, so watch out for those. That’s what’s happening here, and what happens with Frank/Fran and Pupshaw/Pushpaw, but this can even happen at the level of an individual panel. Each panel could be a light one or a dark one. A loss can be a gain, suffering could be wearing a disguise. I guess it depends on how you are reading it, your feeling tone, what you hope is happening, the soundtrack that is playing in your head: a pleasant optimistic melody or dark ominous chords and odd intervals. The double spiral on the inside back flap of the dustjacket is a map of the two books together, and the point is to try to balance on the point in-between the spirals, because if you lean one way or the other, you get sucked into one or the other whirlpool. But don’t strain too hard because this is going to happen, and you’re swirling around already as whoever you are.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
by Chogyam Trungpa
-This is the best book on Buddhism that I have read so far, and the one that most resonated with my own experiences and intuitions during the past year. I watched the documentary on Chogyam and read a little bit online—of course he's a weird interesting guy and there's things you wish weren't the case, but all that doesn't come through in this book.
Sibyl-Anne vs. Ratticus
by R. Macherot
-This was fun to read even if sometimes the story logic and panel compositions went pretty limp (we can probably blame deadlines, and anyways it's just a goofy kids' story). This book is a great reference for cartooning trees, grasses, bushes, etc. as panel decoration.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ten Tales Tall and True
by Alisdair Gray

Sunday, November 10, 2013

by Jim Woodring

Couch Tag
by Jesse Reklaw

-I wrote a long review of these, but I forgot to save it. I'll try to write them again sometime when I get some free time.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Hand-Drying in America
by Ben Katchor
-One of the best comic books ever. But was it worth it?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Song of Roland
by Michael Rabagliati

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Paul Joins the Scouts
by Michael Rabagliati

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
by Richard Rorty
by F. Santoro
-Real good. Heavy stuff, with a delicate touch. A Greek/Italian tragedy. Frank never gives up the center...never.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

by Dr. Matteo Farinella and Dr. Hana Ros
-(They are listed as doctors on the cover.) This is a quick introduction to the physiology of the brain (very basic) in comics form, pretty quick and breezy (easily read in one sitting) but nicely put together, I thought. I enjoyed this a lot. No complaints!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Palookaville #21
by Seth
-This was really good. There's the next Clyde Fans installment, some "Rubber Stamp Diaries," and a beautiful autobio story about all the places he's lived, in his "sketchbook style."

I want to say something about the rubber stamp diaries.

Seth often draws autobio comics, and one day he had the idea to make rubber stamps of a few standard drawings of himself that he could use and re-use in his diary comics. Once he came up with the idea and intended to stick with it, he committed himself to a certain kind of form of comics. It is a good fit, because in a sense he had already committed himself to a certain kind of life, with certain types of concerns, and a comic book life where his tools are old technologies. His work is about an out-of-date business, centered on an out-of-date technology, the kind of business where rubber stamps were probably used in the office every day.

The rubber stamp in a formal comics context is paradoxical. It means that what is literally an “impression” made by the same object, what is literally a “rubber stamp” of itself, now becomes read as a returning over and over to the same view of the same “thing.” Yet it is also transformed into a new thing with each new impression. It changes not only in the sense that the quality of the image changes—little white bubbles appear, things like that—but also through taking their places within a network/system of comics panels, with different captions, and different relationships to the whole comic in which they appear.

(For anyone that has studied epistemology since Kant and Locke this all sets up an obvious, straightforward metaphor of one way of understanding how the mind works. "Sensory impressions" on a "blank slate." I don’t want to get into all that here, but I want to just mention that this metaphor, while certainly useful in many situations, is still highly artificial and should not be mistaken for its opposite, for non-metaphorical reality.)

The metaphor of a “rubber stamp” image in a comics context can be understood as meaning both a thing that does not change, panel to panel, and yet does change, because each panel is different. Each panel is a different moment, a different thought. So we could say: Seth commits to a comic book life where very little changes (he remains in the past, he tries to hold onto the past, in style and in his costume and his mind, via nostalgia, the beauty of “the banquet hall deserted”) yet there is always change, time always moves forward—this is built into the formal system of comics, like into the railroad tracks he walks, but through the use of the rubber stamp (and in his work in general) Seth tries to beat comics/time at its own game.

He takes walks, he concentrates his thoughts on some object. He moves his thoughts into the past, he thinks about the passage of time while moving through time, yet always glancing longingly backwards at the past, at his dark comfortable house and studio, which I suppose we could obviously say is a womb or at least “childhood”—the long days of aimless play, the “concerns” of games instead of the “real” concerns of “adulthood.”

In “Ghost” he walks outside and feels the present moment as timeless (this happens in several other strips, and ironically becomes a motif). The present moment is felt as connected to “all such similar moments in the past” (but not the future?). That night he dreams of his mother, and then he hears the train and imagines he’s still out there, on the tracks, but as a ghost, and the train passes through him. All the strips are about this struggle with time, to somehow grasp the present moment in its freedom and joy. But paradoxically this has to take place through the mediation of the objects around us—factories, trees, railroads—that clearly obviously have a past and point to that past, but somehow also seem themselves, like eternal things stamped on the present moment, the present panel.

An ultimate extreme of this form of comics could be imagined as a nostalgic comic, drawn in an “old timey” style, with rubber stamped images, which is nostalgic but also aware of this nostalgia, and rejects itself, both as form and as content, rejects the use of rubber stamps, yet uses them anyway, always searching for a more pure version of itself.

I have tried to represent this feeling of timelessness in the present moment in my own comics, especially in “Time Travelling” in Ganges 1. There I use the metaphor of the seeing behind the comics panel, of 2D becoming 3D, to try to get at the sense of being both in and out of time. Several John Porcellino comics also come to mind, such as in “Mountain Song,” one of my favorite comics of all time, where the last line seemingly comes at us out of nowhere and re-frames everything that came before and the whole world from the perspective of this kind of “transcendent” feeling, to see behind what we can see.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Cartoon Utopia
by Ron Rege.
-This book took me a long time to read. It's difficult, but it's also a comics masterpiece. Seeing it in terms of form and content is the key. I admit that I can get cranky and midwestern about this kind of subject matter and the difficult forms these comics take, but in the end I came around and can see the crazy experience of enlightenment shining through, the kind of thing that calls for this kind of presentation. It can be frustrating as the book jumps from weird thing to weird thing, your mind working overtime: "is dis a system?" "Huh?" That's the point, in a sense. It's like's like this... How to explain something unexplainable, how to give form to a whole full bodied experience of being a half-crazy human being with ideas about peace and harmlessness and how one thing connects to the next? It's one thing to write this stuff, it's a whole other level to try and draw it in comics form. Ron is forced to stretch the comics language to communicate this overwhelming "material." Every aspect of comics warps or breaks, trying to hold on, readability, panel border, panel logic, etc. Utopia means "no place" and "the perfect world." You try drawing a map to it! RR is trying to really get some tricky stuff down on paper, and so the comics are tricky to read. What an accomplishment.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Black Paths
by David B

Friday, August 23, 2013

Late Marxism: Adorno, or the Persistence of the Dialectic
by Fredric Jameson
-I did a lot of diagramming while I was reading this, had a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Liberation of Tolstoy
by Ivan Bunin (ed. Thomas Gaiton Marullo and Vladimir T. Khmelkov)
-Got this on the library sale table and read it off and on to fall asleep. It's basically only for the diehard--I didn't enjoy it and kept reading only because it put me to sleep easily with its lack of structure and jumping from one thing to the next. The obsessive endnotes by the editors are longer than the actual book (!) which is an impressionistic "spiritual" biography of Tolstoy by Bunin (the first Russian to win the Nobel for literature). Both the notes and the actual book jump around Tolstoy's life, quoting him all the time about this and that, and generally I thought the whole thing was confusing and Tolstoy comes across like an emotional spaz and half a flake with a crazy family life and a crazy celebrity life. I guess it's great how he stands up to the church and the authorities. He seems like he fought with his own massive ego all his life and did what he could to try to help people and was a genius. He tries to be a good pig farmer at one point, but then starves the pigs basically to death so they wouldn't squeal so much. A lot of the book deals with the end of his life, where he's dying but his wife is driving him so insane that he sneaks out of the house so he can go hide somewhere and die in peace! She fakes a suicide attempt to try to get him to come back! Tolstoy got into Buddhism too, I guess, along with the rest. I didn't know that. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Captain Easy Vol. 3
by Roy Crane

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain
by Terrence W. Deacon
-This is an incredible book. I heard about it in that "This Explains Everything" book when someone mentioned it as having huge explanatory power. It really does -- I learned a lot, about Peirce and about the brain (I have only read a few books about the brain, and the anatomy and lobes can get p. boring, but I feel like I'm getting more of a sense for the territory, and now it's actually getting exciting to read about) and evolution and animals, and so much of what I've been learning this year felt like it came together in this book: brains, language, evolution, and even Buddhism (which is not in the book--that's my own spin on it). The writing is very dry, but I didn't have any problems because each chapter was fascinating, almost breathtaking. There's so much ground covered in this book that you feel sometimes like he's asking you to take his word for a lot of things that aren't really "proven" in the book, but I didn't have a lot of problems with that. It was enough to watch the whole argument come together, its scope and logic. I haven't followed up yet or read more about Deacon or the book (it came out in 1997) so we'll see what I find as I read more recent work by him or other people on these matters.

Some ideas in the book:
-Finally learned about Peirce and icon-index-symbol triads. (Can't believe it took me this long).
-Language undergoes its own evolution in order to better fit the environs of the human brain, and vice versa.
-Children learn language so easily, not because of a "grammar module" built into the brain, but because human brains and language has evolved to better take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of the human brains of children, as they develop, and vice versa.
-The proportionally large human cortex changes the statistics (the "votes") of neural connections in the brain such that the brain is more connected to itself, and this allows more dialectical patterns which give rise to thinking in symbols.
-Humans have more frontal cortical control over our breath, and thus our level of arousal and speech, than animals do, probably because of evolutionary pressures once spoken language came on the scene.  ("focus on the breath...") For the same reasons our larynx has changed to allow a wider range of tones.
-His theory is that the earliest symbol use arose out of the problem of how to arrange mating pairs in groups of proto-humans. This part seems pretty speculative. When the advantages of larger group sizes for hunting came into conflict with the problems of how to arrange mating pairs (avoiding cuckolding, sharing child-rearing, etc.) he thinks a kind of early marriage ritual, a kind of "social contract" emerged. This ritual behavior opened up the space for symbolic thinking. (Very fitting ideas for this blog!) "The near synchrony in human prehistory of the first increase in brain size, the first appearance of stone tools for hunting and butchery, and a considerable reduction in sexual dimorphism is not a coincidence. These changes are interdependent. All are symptoms of a fundamental restructuring of the hominid adaptation, which resulted in a significant change in feeding ecology, a radical change in social structure, and an unprecedented (indeed, revolutionary) change in representational abilities."
-Recognize that the distinctions between conscious/nonconsciousness, mind/body, intentional/mechanical, and human/animal do not all line up vertically with each other. Animals have minds and thoughts, and a kind of consciousness, but they are not able to use symbolic languages, though a few chimps have shown limited but real abilities to think symbolically.

This last idea--that some chimps, named Sherman and Austin, actually learned to think symbolically--is leaned on heavily in the argument of the book. I don't know anything about these experiments or how accepted they are.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination
by Matthew Guerrieri
-I saw Guerrieri on the Colbert Report (you can watch his appearance here), and this book sounded like it was right up my alley -- I'm working on my 5th Ganges symphony, I'm obsessed with formalism and abstractions and "organic wholeness," and I had literally been thinking about the concept of a "hall of mirrors" as one of the formal organizing ideas for Ganges 5. So when he talks on Colbert about how the Romantics and esp. ETA Hoffmann adopt the Fifth as their anthem because it fit their ideas about achieving an organic unity of life, after passing through a "hall of mirrors" of repetition, twinning, doppelgangers, etc., I was very excited to read this. And it's pretty good. It wasn't as heady a read as I was expecting, it's more written at a magazine article level. Sometimes he draws connections that seem pretty forced, but that goes with the territory. It reminded me at times of Nicholson Baker's "Lumber" essay (which I recently read), where the forced connections between disparate echoing forms is the logic of the writing, both the form and the content of the writing, which creates an exhilarating hall of mirrors effect, and points to the hall of mirrors of nature that writing itself is. I'm guessing this was the original impulse for writing this way about the Fifth in the first place, but the effect is not as evident or intense as "Lumber." I enjoyed the short but sweet discussions of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Adorno, and also the use of the Fifth in WW2, which I didn't know anything about. Also there's Charles Ives, EM Forster and Ralph Ellison, the whole Beethoven was black thing, commercial jingles, etc.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning
by Benjamin K. Bergen
-This is a book by a student of George Lakoff about the experimental evidence for the Embodied Simulation Theory of meaning. The idea is that when the brain is trying to decipher the meaning of language, as heard or read or etc., it makes use of brain systems whose original functions pre-date language: systems for memories of motor control, for locating things in space, for sensory information, etc. These systems run a sort of "virtual reality" simulation to try to "picture" or "feel" what it would be like to experience the world according to the language before it. Bergen talks about the brain using systems built for motor control and "bootstrapping" them up into use for language. I'm not sure what to think about all this. On the one hand the experiments seem convincing, I guess, though it got pretty tedious reading about experiment after experiment (these guys love their experiments, and bless them for it), and it "feels" sort of right--an organism develops a brain to organize bodily systems and respond to its environment, and then the brain develops the power to turn on itself and include itself in its models, and this recursion and modeling kicks into overdrive with the development of language as a socially shared modeling system--but all the while reading the book a little voice in my head kept saying that something wasn't adding up. I don't have the energy right now to think this through but it seems like there's some intro to philosophy type questions being side-stepped? Or maybe not? Out of my depth. 

There's a bit in the book about abstraction and metaphor that was interesting to me. Bergen says that they don't yet understand how embodied mental simulation works when we talk and think about abstract language. We seem to easily understand abstract concepts in metaphorical terms, and abstractions seem to be made up of a lot of dead metaphors, but the mental simulations of metaphors and abstractions seem somehow different than simulations of more concrete scenarios. But it seemed to me like, aren't we able to make simulations of simulations? Models of models, maps of maps? And we go from there? We think in mental simulations, but we can also take those simulations and treat them like objects to be simulated. We seem to be able to nest them within each other? I don't know, I'm out of my depth again.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This Explains Everything
ed. John Brockman
-" presents original ideas by Todays Leading Thinkers." Q: What is your fave deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation? This was fun to read! I picked it up at the library, then ended up reading it all the way through. The order of essays sometimes let's you picture them nested within each other in beautiful ways, for which I guess we can thank John Brockman. Many of the answers are versions of Darwin: adaptive systems, emerging complexity from simplicity, even within physics and mathematics, no surprise -- but the way they all play off each other is a real head trip. I have nothing negative to say. It ends with "empiricism" itself as a sort of ultimate self-adapting system. At some level of abstraction I suppose you just end up back with "us" as the explanation for everything, a hall of mirrors?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meta Math! The Quest for Omega
by Gregory Chaitin

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reading list: Spanish Masters exam

This is what I read over the past 4 months for my master's exams in Spanish:

Sánchez, Florencio. Barranca abajo
Usigli, Rodolfo. El gesticulador
Lope de Vega. Fuenteovejuna.
Pedro Calderón de la Barca. La vida es sueño.
Leandro Fernández de Moratín. El sí de las niñas.
José de Zorrilla. Don Juan Tenorio.
Duque de Rivas. Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino.
Federico García Lorca. La casa de Bernarda Alba.
Alfonso Sastre. Escuadra hacia la muerte.
Antonio Buero Vallejo. En la ardiente oscuridad.

Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. Facundo (fragmentos).
Acosta de Samper, Soledad. Las mujeres en la sociedad moderna.
Rodó, José Enrique. Ariel (fragmentos).
Ocampo, Victoria. La mujer y su expresión
Paz, Octavio. El laberinto de la soledad.
Galeano, Eduardo. Las venas abiertas de América Latina.
Fernández Retamar, Roberto. Calibán.
Ferré, Rosario. Sitio a Eros.

Short stories
Echeverría, Esteban. "El matadero."
Gutiérrez Nájera, Manuel. "Memorias de un paraguas."
Darío, Rubén. "El rey burgués."
Lugones, Leopoldo. "Yzur."
Quiroga, Horacio. "El hombre muerto" y "La insolación."
Bosch, Juan. "La mujer."
Arguedas, José María. "Agua."
Céspedes, Augusto. "El pozo."
Bombal, María Luisa. "El árbol."
Borges, Jorge Luis. "La muerte y la brújula," "La biblioteca de Babel" y "El hombre de la esquina rosada."
Onetti, Juan Carlos. "Bienvenido Bob."
Rulfo, Juan. "El hombre."
García Márquez, Gabriel. "Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes."
Cortázar, Julio. "Autopista del sur," y "Cartas a mamá."
Bryce Echenique, Alfredo. "El descubrimiento de América."
Arenas, Reinaldo. "Bestial entre las flores."
Skármeta, Antonio. "A las arenas."
Piglia, Ricardo. "El gaucho invisible."
Valenzuela, Luisa. "De noche soy tu caballo"

Isaacs, Jorge. María.
Cambeceres, Eugenio. Sin rumbo.
Azuela, Mariano. Los de abajo.
Bioy Casares, Adolfo. La invención de Morel.
Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Páramo.
García Márquez, Gabriel. Cien años de soledad.
Cortázar, Julio. Rayuela.
Vargas Llosa, Mario. La ciudad y los perros.
Puig, Manuel. El beso de la mujer araña.
Peri Rossi, Cristina. Solitario de amor.
Piglia, Ricardo. Respiración artificial.
Zapata Olivella, Manuel. Chambacú, corral de negros

Anónimo. Poema de Mio Cid.
Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita. Libro de buen amor.

Alfonso X el Sabio. Prosa histórica.
Don Juan Manuel. El conde Lucanor (o Libro de los enxiemplos del conde Lucanor et de Patronio).
Libro del caballero Zifar. )
Fernando de Rojas. La Celestina. Ed. Dorohy Severyn.
Diego de San Pedro. Cárcel de amor. Ed. Carmen Parrilla.
Juan Luis Vives. Diálogos [in Selecciones].
Anónimo. Lazarillo de Tormes. Ed. Francisco Rico.
Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quijote de la Mancha.
Teresa de Jesús. Las moradas.
Francisco de Quevedo. El Buscón.
María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Desengaños amorosos.
Benito Jerónimo Feijoo. Teatro crítico universal.
José Cadalso. Noches lúgubres.
Mariano José de Larra. Fígaro.
G.A. Bécquer. Leyendas.
Leopoldo Alas. Su único hijo.
Benito Pérez Galdós. Fortunata y Jacinta.
Benito Pérez Galdós. La de Bringas
José María de Pereda. Pedro Sánchez.
Emilia Pardo Bazán. Los Pazos de Ulloa.
Josefina Aldecoa. Historia de una maestra.
Ana María Matute. Historias de Artámila.
Esther Tusquets. El mismo mar de todos los veranos.
Mercé Rodoreda. La plaza del diamante
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
I think I liked it even better 2nd time around. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber
by Nicholson Baker
-The section of essays labeled "Mixed" was a waste of space. One essay is just a collection of typos he's made and saved in a file on his computer. Another terrible piece is written high on pot, which might not be a problem, but it's just stupid fancy vocab words and nonsense. But I enjoyed the rest, more or less. I liked this least when Baker tries too hard to be fancy and "writerly" with his descriptions and vocabulary. But "Lumber," the huge essay that ends the book was really fun to read, and the library science section was, too. I recommend those, if you like the kinds of things I like. Of course I really like it when Baker is sensitive to the potential to go "meta" and play with recursion in any subject, and which he really piles on in the amazing "Lumber" essay, and you find it also in "Model Airplanes" with the model-making machine that might make models of itself.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Zen and the Brain
James H. Austin, MD
-I don't know about this book. I started reading it because I was looking for exactly something that talked about meditation in a scientific context, and came across this book at the library. It's 697 pages and obviously a labor of love. I skimmed a lot of the brain stuff, which was not really for a general reader, even though it wanted to be. The rest of it...I can't really recommend reading the whole thing, though I learned a few things. If you're interested, you can really just skip to the summary chapters, written in Q&A form. The main point seems to be that meditation, over years of practice, desynchronizes the many systems of perception and awareness which are woven together in the brain in egocentric and delusional ways, and allows them to loosen up their patterns, which improves things, and at some point these systems can, possibly, snap back together in a simpler and awakened enlightened state. I have more to say but I'll leave it there for now.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Vic Chesnutt suggested mix

Warm -North Star Deserter
Wallace Stevens -North Star Deserter
What Do You Mean? -Ghetto Bells
Prick -The Salesman And Bernadette
New Town -About To Choke
Little Vacation -About To Choke
You Are Never Alone -North Star Deserter
Mystery -Dark Developments
And How -Dark Developments
Onion Soup -Is The Actor Happy
Gravity Of The Situation -Is The Actor Happy
Forthright -Ghetto Bells
Teddy Bear -Dark Developments
We Are Mean -Dark Developments
Stop the Horse -Dark Developments
Glossolalia -North Star Deserter
Bilocating Dog -Dark Developments
Flirted With You All My Life -At The Cut
See You Around -About To Choke
(It's No Secret) Satisfaction -About To Choke
We Hovered With Short Wings -At The Cut

Saturday, March 02, 2013

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
by Marcel Proust
trans. James Grieve
-“what had been my life up that moment had suddenly ceased to be all of life, had turned into a small corner of a great space opening up for me, which I longed to explore…because what was laid out now before my eyes was that extension and potential multiplication of the self which we know as happiness…”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
by Lawrence Wright

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Captain Easy Vol. 2
by Roy Crane

Friday, January 04, 2013

Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution
by Theodore W. Pietsch
-I wrote two blog posts about this book over at my other blog:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Voyeurs
by Gabrielle Bell
-I really enjoyed reading this.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

1-800 Mice
by Matthew Thurber
- re-read.