Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Society Adrift

Not Bored! have made available a new pdf file here of

A Society Adrift: More Interviews and Discussions on The Rising Tide of Insignificancy, Including Revolutionary Perspectives Today.

Translated from the French and edited anonymously as a public service. Electronic publication date: October 2010.

Notice ii
Books by Cornelius Castoriadis Published in English, with Standard Abbreviations v
Books by Cornelius Castoriadis Published in French, with Standard Abbreviations vii
Foreword x
On the Translation l
French Editors' Preface li
The Project of Autonomy Is Not a Utopia (1993) 5
Autonomy Is an Ongoing Process: An Introductory Interview (1990) 16
Revolutionary Perspectives Today (1973) 35
Imaginary Significations (1981) 63
Response to Richard Rorty (1991) 95
On Wars in Europe (1992) 113
Is it Possible to Create a New Form of Society? (1977) 138
What Political Parties Cannot Do (1979) 156
The Stakes Today for Democracy (1986) 165
"We Are Going Through a Low Period . . . " (1986) 171
Do Vanguards Exist? (1987) 177
What a Revolution Is (1988) 189
Neither a Historical Necessity Nor Just a "Moral" Exigency: A Political and Human Exigency (1988) 199
When East Tips West (1989) 205
Market, Capitalism, Democracy (1990) 210
A "Democracy" Without Citizens' Participation (1991) 220
Gorbachev: No Reform, No Turning Back (1991) 226
War, Religion, and Politics (1991) 234
Communism, Fascism, Emancipation (1991) 242
Ecology Against the Merchants (1992) 247
A Society Adrift (1993) 250
On Political Judgment (1995) 264
No to Resignation, No to Archaism (1995) 269
A Unique Trajectory (1997) 273

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bigger Johnson

The September 27 issue of Publishers Weekly features an interview with Steven Johnson discussing his new book (see below) and the future of the publishing industry. It's well worth a read. I was particularly struck by Johnson's conception of ideas as networks, since it chimes in with some of the arguments advanced by Manuel Castells in his Information Age trilogy, the first volume of which is titled The Rise of the Network Society.

When I gave the book to Kevin Kelly to read, he wrote back, "It's a book about how ideas are networks that are made up of a network of ideas." I love that. An idea is not a single thing. It's literally a network in your brain, and it's almost always a network in terms of the flow of information that leads to the idea. A solitary moment of inspiration is absolutely the exception, not the rule.

Until I encountered your description of the Web as a developing city, complete with homage to Jane Jacobs, I hadn't realized how much I wanted a visual analogue to understand how the Web is evolving.

You know how people talk about American exceptionalism? I think there's a kind of Web exceptionalism, where people say the Web and the Internet have these magical properties, where open source software can happen and people can collaborate and make Wikipedia, but that these kinds of things never happen in the real world. Part of my argument is to show how these patterns of innovation have a long history in the so-called real world. When you think of the organizational structure that sustained Renaissance development as being partially the city states, you have to understand the particular quality of cities: they're not really owned by anybody. They're collectively built, and although they are the seat of commercial activity that is closed and propriety and market-driven, the space the city creates is not. When you push the analogy over to the biological systems and you can see the innovation that develops in those environments, you start to see deep patterns. People often talk about the Web like it's this 1960s commune—"Oh, the Web, weird things happen there!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From

The always-interesting Steven Johnson, author of such books as Emergence and Everything Bad Is Good for You, has a new book out, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. In the October issue of Wired, he discusses the book with Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants.

Kelly: It’s amazing that the myth of the lone genius has persisted for so long, since simultaneous invention has always been the norm, not the exception. Anthropologists have shown that the same inventions tended to crop up in prehistory at roughly similar times, in roughly the same order, among cultures on different continents that couldn’t possibly have contacted one another.

Johnson: Also, there’s a related myth—that innovation comes primarily from the profit motive, from the competitive pressures of a market society. If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.

Kelly: The musician Brian Eno invented a wonderful word to describe this phenomenon: scenius. We normally think of innovators as independent geniuses, but Eno’s point is that innovation comes from social scenes,from passionate and connected groups of people.

Johnson: At the end of my book, I try to look at that phenomenon systematically. I took roughly 200 crucial innovations from the post-Gutenberg era and figured out how many of them came from individual entrepreneurs or private companies and how many from collaborative networks working outside the market. It turns out that the lone genius entrepreneur has always been a rarity—there’s far more innovation coming out of open, nonmarket networks than we tend to assume.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Explicit Book Pr0n

To facilitate our readers' intellectual stimulation, I've replaced the original photos in the post below with higher-resolution pix from my camera, enabling them to see the spines of my unread tomes - and thus the true extent of my ignorance - more readily.  Any suggestions regarding books I might wish to discard will be entertained, providing you've already read it yourself and can give a précis of its shortcomings. ;-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's All Gone Very Quiet

I can't seriously believe that anyone misses posts at this blog all that much, but if you're wondering why there's not much happening here, it's because I've found myself caught up in a classic Socratic dilemma: The more I read, the more I realize how little I know, which means I have to read more, which results in me realizing how little I know, and round and round we go. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to have a firm opinion on anything. Of course, you might say, that never stopped me before, but that's because I hadn't read as much as I have now. ;-)

Here's some idea of the scale of the problem:

This is actually my CD shelf converted to hold books. My CDs are all in boxes and in the attic unless I play them regularly. There are one or two reference books here that I can knock off the list of "to reads," and there are a couple of books mixed in here that I've read but kept in the same place for ease of recollection.   Cassell's Dictionary of Slang is a cornucopia in its own right and deserves to be read in its entirety. At some point.

There's no great order to this collection, since I've bought new shelves recently to give me more space, but I've managed to keep the J.G. Ballards together.

These are actually books that I've read. Most of them, anyway. I hold onto them if they have reference or sentimental value, otherwise I pass them onto charity via my wonderful friend Trish. Looking at these now, I could get rid of a fair number, but I doubt anyone would want them. The framed photo is me and Felix Savon in Havana.  The unframed one is my nephew Ollie with his children's BAFTA.  My mom and dad bought me the Laurel & Hardy figurines.

Lots to go at here. Recent purchases include Eric Hazan's The Invention of Paris, Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind, Irene Gammel's Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity, Guattari's The Anti-Oedipus Papers, Randall Collins's The Sociology of Philosophies, and The Rough Guide to Sex, which I bought thinking it was The Guide to Rough Sex. This bookcase above, incidentally, is two books deep.

This is supposed to be my bookcase of "next to reads" but there's an overflow on the adjoining case. I find myself picking from them at random for my train read, depending on how I feel that morning and how heavy the volume is. Heavy books get read at home. The big yellow volumes stacked horizontally are the last hard-copy editions of Readers' Guide Abstracts, before we went virtual. They're nice to have because I can show visitors I'm a published editor. Recently bought books on this case are Stefan Collini's Common Reading, my most recent purchase; Bakunin, by Mark Leier; Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine; and Communication Power, by Manuel Castells. There are also two unread biographies of Engels I'm looking forward to.

This is the overflow bookcase of "next to reads." These are mostly books bought with the best of intentions, but when I actually consider the prospect of reading them, I manage to find something less worthy but more attractive. New purchases here usually have something to do with Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time program, which is why it features Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah, writings by and about Hazlitt, and the In Our Time volume itself. There's about eight Steven Aylett books on this case that I really should have a go at, but none of them look as much fun as Bigot Hall If you buy ANY books shown here, make it that one.

Yes, I've even got bookcases in the porch. This is the motherlode, containing some books that I've had with me for nigh on a decade. It's a kind of elephants' graveyard of unread books, the desperately worthy and intellectual stuff that I've promised myself I'll read but which become less attractive the closer I get to them. Some of them I've dipped into and put back, and I suspect they may never get read. Others are just sitting there until I've ploughed through the more urgent material, urgent being defined as more engaging rather than relevant. It isn't that I have ADHD so much as an overstimulating job that presents subjects that arouse my curiosity with such regularity that I cannot satisfy it before another subject arises. Highlights of this bookcase include Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Jonathan D. Spence's The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud, and Darconville's Cat, by Alexander Theroux. All fascinating in their own way. I imagine.

To finish on a defiant and optimistic note, two cases of books that I've read.  These are books either that I intend to hold onto—all my Sartre and Castoriadis books, for instance—or books that I haven't yet had a chance to pass on to Trish.  The most recently read books are in the case below, stacked horizontally.  This bookcase is also two books' deep.  The books I read on holiday, and which you'll find listed in the "My Library" app to the left of this page, I either left behind in Cyprus or passed on to Martin. I notice, looking at this picture, that there are even books on this final shelf that are there because I had nowhere else to put them and they still remain to be read. The Fernand Braudel trilogy, Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud, and Peter Høeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. I shall probably wait for the DVDs to come out.

So that's the story. As to why nobody else on the C&S team blogs here . . . I'll let them tell you.