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More books for the never ending list

More books for the never ending list.

  • What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub, 2020 (read introduction)
  • The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, 2006 (read excerpt)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, 2020 (read excerpt)

And a few excerpts / quotes from current reading that I’m finding extremely useful and relevant.

The cover of the book “The Modern Temper” by Joseph Wood Krutch, designed by Paul Rand with four zig-zag shapes in beige, white, black, and blue

If the gloomy vision of a dehumanized world which has just been evoked is not to become a reality, some complete readjustment must be made, and at least two generations have found themselves unequal to the task. The generation of Thomas Henry Huxley, so busy with destruction as never adequately to realize how much it was destroying, fought with such zeal against frightened conservatives that it never took time to do more than assert with some vehemence that all would be well, and the generation that followed either danced amid the ruins or sought by various compromises to save the remains of a few tottering structures. But neither patches nor evasions will serve. It is not a changed world but a new one in which man must henceforth live if he lives at all, for all his premises have been destroyed and he must proceed to new conclusions. The values which he thought established have been swept away along with the rules by which he thought they might be attained.

To this fact many are not yet awake, but our novels, our poems, and our pictures are enough to reveal that a generation aware of its predicament is at hand. It has awakened to the fact that both the ends which its fathers proposed to themselves and the emotions from which they drew their strength seem irrelevant and remote. With a smile, sad or mocking, according to individual temperament, it regards those works of the past in which were summed up the values of life. The romantic ideal of a world well lost for love and the classic ideal of austere dignity seem equally ridiculous, equally meaningless when referred, not to the temper of the past, but to the temper of the present. The passions which swept through the once major poets no longer awaken any profound response, and only in the bleak, tortuous complexities of a T. S. Eliot does it find its moods given adequate expression. Here disgust speaks with a robust voice and denunciation is confident, but ecstasy, flickering and uncertain, leaps fitfully up only to sink back among the cinders. And if the poet, with his gift of keen perceptions and his power of organization, can achieve only the most momentary and unstable adjustments, what hope an there be for those whose spirit is a less powerful instrument?

And yet it is with such as he, baffled, but content with nothing which plays only upon the surface, that the hope for a still humanized future must rest. No one can tell how many of the old values must go or how new the new will be. Thus, while under the influence of the old mythology the sexual instinct was transformed into romantic love and tribal solidarity into the religion of patriotism, there is nothing in the modern consciousness capable of effecting these transmutations. Neither the one nor the other is capable of being, as it once was, the raison d’être of a life or the motif of a poem which is not, strictly speaking, derivative and anachronistic. Each is fading, each becoming as much a shadow as devotion to the cult of purification through self-torture. Either the instincts upon which they are founded will achieve new transformations or they will remain merely instincts, regarded as having no particular emotional significance in a spiritual world which, if it exists at all, will be as different from the spiritual world of, let us say, Robert Browning as that world is different from the world of Cato the Censor.

As for this present unhappy time, haunted by ghosts from a dead world and not yet at home in its own, its predicament is not, to return to the comparison with which we began, unlike the predicament of the adolescent who has not yet learned to orient himself without reference to the mythology amid which his childhood was passed. He still seeks in the world of his experience for the values which he had found there, and he is aware only of a vast disharmony. But boys—most of them, at least—grow up, and the world of adult consciousness has always held a relation to myth intimate enough to make readjustment possible. The finest spirits have bridged the gulf, have carried over with them something of a child’s faith, and only the coarsest have grown into something which was no more than finished animality. Today the gulf is broader, the adjustment more difficult, than ever it was before, and even the possibility of an actual human maturity is problematic. There impends for the human spirit either extinction or a readjustment more stupendous than any made before.

The final pages of the first chapter, “The Genesis of a Mood”, from The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, first published in 1929

I picked up a copy of this and a few other great secondhand books from the Alley Cat Bookshop in the Mission.

I understand that The Modern Temper has a pretty pessimistic outlook overall which might make it tough to finish, particularly in the current circumstances… But I’d like to finish it. Even though it was published almost a century ago, the feelings and psychological maladies that Krutch describes are more relevant than ever. The painful, unending cynicism. That unchecked growth and progress have incalculable ramifications on human consciousness, that we must be more wary of the consequences.

I’d like to follow it up with his book The Measure of Man from 1954 where he supposedly considers the modern world more optimistically, and possibly with the nature books he wrote later in life while living in Arizona.

What follows is a Duchampian door, at once open and closed, logical and whimsical, focused and drifty, academic and anecdotal. Part explanation, part justification, part reification, and part provocation, it’s a memoir of sorts, an attempt to answer a question I often ask myself regarding UbuWeb: “What have I done here?” Is it a serendipitous collection of artists and works I personally happen to be interested in, or its it a resource for the avant-garde, making available obscure works to anyone in the world with access to the web? Is it an outlaw activity, or has it over time evolved into a textbook example of how fair use can ideally work? Will the weightlessness and freedom of never touching money or asking permission continue indefinitely, or at some point will the proverbial other shoe drop, when finances become a concern? The answer to these questions is both “yes” and “no”. It’s the sense of not knowing—the imbalance—that keeps this project alive for me. Once a project veers too strongly toward either one thing or the other, a deadness and predictability sets in, and it ceases to be dynamic.

From the introduction to Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb by Kenneth Goldsmith, published this year

But there is so much more that I’ve underlined and noted in this book. Very worth reading, particularly for anyone dealing with creative copyright and / or the web these days. Get it from Columbia University Press.

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“You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you.”

You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you. Some yelling, still needing to be understood about the big shit that happened to them.

– – –

The Quaker clearness committee is a small group of people you take a personal issue to. They are prohibited from offering “fixes” or advice. For 3 hours they pose honest, open questions to help you discover you truth.

– – –

Mimetic theory is a concept developed and advocated for by René Girard, 20th-century French anthropologist. Mimetic theory’s key insight is that human desire is not an autonomous process, but a collective one. We want things because other people want them.

As more and more people want something and that object remains scarce, there is a conflict.

This began as a natural phenomenon: animals and humans learn by imitating other members of their groups, but neither humans nor animals are able to differentiate between good, non-acquisitive mimesis (learning skills from others in your group) from bad, acquisitive mimesis (desiring scarce objects – money, fame, power, someone else’s mate, etc.)

Girard believed that historically human societies managed mimetic conflict through the scapegoat mechanism. If the conflict over a scarce object became too intense, the community subconsciously choose a scapegoat which was sacrificed (literally or metaphorically).

– – –

I don’t believe believe the world is made of quarks or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets, or any of these things. I believe the world is made of language.

Terence McKenna

From a particularly good Kleroteria I received today. The writer decided not to include any personal identifiers so I’ll leave it unattributed.

More on mimetic theory here.

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To read: “The Ego and Its Own” by Max Stirner

To read: The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner. Via a black-crowned night heron in a midnight pond:

stirner’s whole schtick was being against ideology in general. […] behaving a certain way in the name of an Idea is therefore completely illogical, because, it’s not real! what’s real is your own happiness and comfort in the world.

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“I don’t think we know how to separate when we’re feeling pity and when we’re feeling inspiration.”

A short surfing with coffee. It’s getting quiet as clients and collaborators head off for the holidays, so I played inbox catch-up this morning

Issue 227 of Rachel Andrew’s CSS Layout News is full of excellent reading and listening related to accessible and inclusive design. The link I dug most in to was “Future Accessibility Guidelines—for People Who Can’t Wait to Read Them” by Alan Dalton. His article led me to Liz Jackson’s Interaction 2019 keynote “Empathy reifies disability stigmas”. Part way through, she recommends the book Pathological Altruism. Looks like a big read (and it’s not cheap!) but it seems very worthwhile.

From about 8min 28sec in to her talk:

Step two of the design thinking process is defining the problem — but because disabled people are rarely able to lead, it often becomes us that are defined as the problem rather than the problem being defined as the problem. It becomes about what we can or can’t do, rather than how something does or doesn’t work for us.

So you have our insights gleaned, we’re defined as the problem, and then designers enter this iterative process of ideation, prototyping, and testing which leads to the unacknowledged stick stepper design thinking or as I call it, design thanking.

Because we’re expected to be grateful for that which has been done for us.

Her talk is roughly 20 minutes long and well worth a watch.

Thanks to Sam for the CSS Layout News recommendation.

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“A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container”

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and the next day you probably do much the same again — if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag of Fiction published by Ignota

GC gave me this book the other day, perfectly timed.

It can feel like the path to success, whatever on earth success actually is, takes some sort of aggro-ambition. What if it is gentler, more of a methodical and deliberate accumulation than a conquest?

SB has been playing Death Stranding and I’ve really enjoyed following along. The arc is definitely hero-centric, and of course the story is way out there in sci-fi land, but the main mechanic of accepting and delivering cargo is much more human than so many other supposedly more realistic video games.

I’d like to get and read Elizabeth Fisher’s Women’s Creation from 1975, but it might be tough to find in print. Thankfully the Internet Archive seems to offer it for borrowing. Pretty cool, I didn’t know that they had a lending library for scanned books.

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Ikigai 生き甲斐

Ikigai 生き甲斐 = the ideal reason to get up in the morning. There are web articles aplenty on this topic but it doesn’t need much explaining, it’s just a more structured way of thinking about things you already have knocking around in your head. Worth keeping in mind.

                         . . . . . . .
                    .                     .
                 .         FOR               .
               .                LOVE           .
              .                                 .
             . . . . . . .           . . . . . . .
          . .               .     .               . .
      .     .   PA            . .        MI       .     .
   .        .    SS        .       .      SS      .        .
  .         .     IO      .         .      IO     .         .
 .           .      N    . . . . . . .       N   .  FOR      .
.   FOR       .     .   .             .   .     .             .
.              . .      .             .      . .    CO        .
.   TA         . .      .      🌱     .      . .     MM       .
.    LE       .     .   .             .   .     .     UN      .
 .    NT     .  PR       . . . . . . .           .     IT    .
  .         .    OF       .         .   VO        .      Y  .
   .        .     ES       .       .     CA       .        .
      .     .      SI         . .         TI      .     .
          . .       ON      .     .        ON     . .
             . . . . . . .           . . . . . . .
              .                                 .
               .          FOR                  .
                 .             MONEY         .
                    .                     .
                         . . . . . . .

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“the insistence in any of them will necessarily lead to suffering”

The experience of the Self that is given in the existence of a personality comprises five conditioned attributes, namely, corporeal form (rûpa), sensations (vedanâ), perceptions (saññâ), emotions (sankhâra) and consciousness (viññâna). These five clusters (pañca khandha) determine all the body and mental phenomena of our contingent and finite experience. The North–American Buddhist philosopher Robert Thurman gives us vivid images of each of the mentioned elements:

We begin by looking at the body. We can […] thump our chests and say, ‘I’m me’, but surely we are not just a bunch of ribs. We look in the mirror and say, ‘There I am’, but we say the same thing when we see old snapshots of ourselves […] We can explore cells, axons, and dendrites; molecules, DNA, and RNA; atoms, subatomic quantum particles, unnameable forces and energies. Nowhere we can find anything still, static, independent. […]

We can move on to our minds and begin by sifting through our feelings, sensations, pleasures, pains, or numbnesses. […] I investigate my sensory surfaces and, after some time, give up finding any stable, self–sufficient ‘I’ anywhere along them.

Then we can move into images, words, symbols, ideas, concepts, mental pictures. This at first seems promising. ‘I’ is a word, after all. The names ‘Alice’, ‘Joe’, ‘Carol’, and ‘Shakyamuni’ all are nouns. When I pronounce my own name, ‘Bob’, does an image of myself arise in my mind? Is it a recent snapshot of my face? […] A curriculum vitae? A biography? Is it a favorite logo? A trademark? A symbol? […] None touches the essence of ‘me’. […]

We can move deeper into the motions of the mind, into emotions. When ‘I’ love or am in love, I feel powerfully present, even in the moment of feeling that solidity melting. When ‘I’ hate, I am carried away by destructive impulses […] – all these energies seem to take hold of ‘me’, or seem to emanate from ‘I’. But as I think them through, observe them in actuality or in memory, they seem fully bound in relationships. […]

At last we come to awareness itself, to look at our very consciousness […] But to turn toward my center of awareness, I have to tell my awareness to turn back on itself.

Thurman, Robert, Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998 (pp.74–79)

What we can say is that our personality is but the result of a combination of those five elements – to the point that the belief in its autonomy and permanence ends up being a suffering–causing illusion. In none of the mentioned clusters would we be able to detect the presence of an autonomous and unconditioned subject; therefore, the insistence in any of them will necessarily lead to suffering.

Correia, Carlos João, Personal Identity and Eastern Thought”, Filozofija i Društvo, vol 20 no 3, Belgrade: University of Belgrade, 2009 (pp.74–75)


I came across Prof. Correia’s paper when doing a bit of research on western vs. eastern perspectives on identity and the self. Side note: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a strong profile photo as the one on Bob Thurman’s site.

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moreish

“Moreish” is a word that doesn’t exist in American English, but it should.

We were discussing moreish-ness in relation to oatmeal cookies the other day. What makes a food moreish, something that hits the spot but also leaves a void, leaves you wanting a little more?

At the time, I felt that it requires multi-dimensionality, just enough contrast. When something is too on-the-nose, it isn’t moreish. Cookies without a pinch of salt, tomato sauce without a little sweetness.

Since then I’ve been thinking about moreish-ness a lot outside of the context of food, and the contrast idea stands up.

Outfits, websites, books, relationships. Requires more exploration.