So. Sam Harris felt the need to publish a book that states, without novel argument, what everyone already knew. One that doubles as a guide to being aSo. Sam Harris felt the need to publish a book that states, without novel argument, what everyone already knew. One that doubles as a guide to being a dipshit dogmatist on the irreligious side of the binary. He also deems it necessary to inform us right off the bat of his mind-expansion under the influence of MDMA. Which, man, at least begin the book by talking about a non-stupid psychedelic if you're going to rant about this transformative event in your life that pretty much exactly parallels every secular person's experience with psychedelic trips.
And if you don't know anything about mindfulness or meditation practices, information is everywhere. Sam Harris gives a half-decent overview at certain points, but you're better off getting your information from other sources. Most of which are freely available online. And I mean, shit, that Jack Kornfield guy isn't particularly invested in any religious doctrines. If you come across evidence of doctrines that don't resonate with you, just ignore them. I know the covers of Kornfield's books make him seem pukey and the Spirit Rock website is laden with images of creepily smiling middle-class, middle-aged white people, but. And the guy's a legitimate authority in the Western Buddhist tradition.
I'm no friend of organized religion or woo-woo new agey shit, guys. Those of you who know me know this. But my position on organized religion does not create an obligation to take Harris at his word. In fact, basic examination of much of what Harris says (in this book and in others) reveals an extraordinary lack of basic scholarly skill and critical thought.
I mean, this guy got decimated in an argument with JOE FUCKING ROGAN. Not that Joe Rogan is an idiot. But that the Fear Factor/DMT/I-got-high-and-have-Ganesha-statues guy could so easily demonstrate the faults in the thinking of one of our most visible and well-regarded public intellectuals really says something about the quality of our public intellectuals.
Okay, so I dislike Sam Harris. But I'll give him some credit for writing a clear enough book about why meditating or doing something similar does not automatically render one a new age loony and about how valid and true many ideas from Buddhist thought are even in a scientific, rational context.
Finally, and this concerns mostly the "I'm going to meditate and not consider Buddhist thought at all" crowd more than Harris himself, perhaps: I think there is potential value in entering a sacred traditional practice with something resembling the mindset of people who actually believe the practice is "religious" (if the meditation of Theravadin Buddhists is considered religious in the same way as prayer). If you're assured enough in your agnosticism or atheism, entering practices with the traditional context in mind can help maintain the integrity of the practice itself. Otherwise, you end up with braided asshole stoners going to yoga class to hit on chicks in yoga pants and laugh at the teacher's accent and pay no attention to the fucking yoga. There are miles between "I'm going to ignore what yoga means and why it exists; this is just like going to the gym" and "I'm yoking myself to the gods and this area in my lower spine is going to cure all my ailments" or whatever the fuck. Similarly, there are miles between "I'm going to do this weird meditation thing and it's not real anyway so I don't have to listen to the teachers and understand its foundations" and "meditation will bring about a good rebirth and help me attain literal nirvana."...more
Yeah, so, nothing against Bjork but I can't call myself a devotee. What will compel me to eventually read this is the discovery that one of the volumeYeah, so, nothing against Bjork but I can't call myself a devotee. What will compel me to eventually read this is the discovery that one of the volumes is an email conversation between Bjork and the delightfully wacky Timothy Morton (of OOO, Hyperobjects fame). This discovery has been the highlight of my month, so far. I cannot even conceive of how bizarre the conversation must be. ...more
Reading of Lost Highway is sensible. Much of the other stuff is either unnecessary rambling or generally just rubbish. Still, an important contributioReading of Lost Highway is sensible. Much of the other stuff is either unnecessary rambling or generally just rubbish. Still, an important contribution to scholarship on Lynch, when Zizek is actually talking about Lynch....more
On the one hand, commits abuse of concepts from quantum physics on an absolutely criminal scale. On the other hand, if you can get past the aforementiOn the one hand, commits abuse of concepts from quantum physics on an absolutely criminal scale. On the other hand, if you can get past the aforementioned abuse, the book contains largely perceptive, intelligent readings of Lynch's three most recent films that do not rely solely on ideas of "dreams" or "fantasies" or "fugue states" or FUCKING LACAN (looking at you, Zizek), and don't seek to normify and realify (realistify?) fundamentally surreal movies that demonstrate little care for conforming to conventional logic. As in, Nochimson approaches the movies and their narratives critically while leaving their distinctive structures and qualities intact, without first modifying them to fit some conventional realist framework; as if unconventional, avant-garde art exists solely so that critics may discover the conventional realist narrative its unconventionality obscures, and then discuss that conventional realist narrative.
The book also contains an interesting interview with Lynch and a bunch of useful informational nuggets. Hence the reluctant three stars, despite the hideous attempt to use quantum mechanics to find ways to explain Lynch's films without primary recourse to Lynch's essentially mystical (I think) reliance on concepts and ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism (to her credit, Nochimson doesn't ignore Lynch's worldview and the rather obvious relevance of it to his art; she discusses it frequently in this book and, in one of her earlier books, adopts a Jungian approach, which certainly is better suited to reading Lynch than fucking Freud or Lacan). ...more
Garbage, with the exception of the two essays re: existentialism and Indian philosophy, respectively (which are merely passable, but probably useful fGarbage, with the exception of the two essays re: existentialism and Indian philosophy, respectively (which are merely passable, but probably useful for citation purposes).
The frustrating thing is that there actually is a world of "philosophy and literature" studies and of "philosophy and film" studies, but it gets obscured by these horrendous "pop culture and philosophy" things.
The most laughable essay was the one that attempted to discuss epistemology in the analytic tradition and Cooper's dream in episode 2 of Twin Peaks. ...more
Skipped ahead to the chapter on Mulholland Dr., cause I'm working on something relevant. I now plan on taking the time to read this entire, gargantuanSkipped ahead to the chapter on Mulholland Dr., cause I'm working on something relevant. I now plan on taking the time to read this entire, gargantuan thing; the chapter I read makes the book seem rather promising. Olson's a good writer and the project is of unprecedented scope and range.
Olson's object here isn't to write a book of academic criticism or even of journalistic criticism, precisely, so he's really not concerned about conducting an old-fashioned study that often connects biographical details to the films and artworks; he would have greatly pissed off Wimsatt and Beardsley. But, you know, that in particular might be to his credit.
As a source of information, indispensable. And I'm increasingly convinced that Lynch is the single greatest artist alive today (of the ones I've encountered, obviously). ...more
As a work of scholarship and analysis, absolutely impeccable. As a work of philosophical aesthetics, somewhat less so. Nevertheless, a dramatic improvAs a work of scholarship and analysis, absolutely impeccable. As a work of philosophical aesthetics, somewhat less so. Nevertheless, a dramatic improvement over Ugly Feelings and a real breath of fresh air. Reading a lot of work in literary and critical theory and in the stabs at philosophizing that occupy members of literature departments is a disheartening affair, generally speaking. One often despairs. Ngai is reason to cease despair; she commands true respect and not mere tolerance. How rare that is. I do not hesitate, on the strength of this book, to name Ngai as one of the very, very few truly important and relevant figures in literary studies today (as actual contributions to scholarship go; I'm sure there are plenty of good teachers and proficient critics out there).
Oh, and she actually understands the philosophy she cites, instead of following the standard model in lit-theory of random cherry-picking and wanton desecration of the Western philosophical tradition. Excellent.
Oh, and when I say she's "relevant," I don't mean to imply that she's engaging in the wannabe-hip bullshit artistry of academics who spend way too much time online and seemingly no time thinking about anything (the "teehee, I mentioned BuzzFeed and OKCupid and *insert momentarily relevant TV show here*; I'm so current and edgy and special!" species of moron). I mean that her work is fucking important and that people need to pay attention to it....more
Pure, shimmering, elegant genius, for the most part. And I say this as someone with, generally, very little patience for the psychoanalysis fetish inPure, shimmering, elegant genius, for the most part. And I say this as someone with, generally, very little patience for the psychoanalysis fetish in literary studies (not to imply that Sedgwick's discussion of psychoanalysis is, in any way, typical of the kind of bullshit so frequently spewed in academia). I think it criminal that I've not been led to encounter Sedgwick before now, having instead been forced to read French (male) dickface bullshit artist after French (male) dickface bullshit artist for years.
Also the most fun I've had reading theory or philosophy in quite some time. Hyperobjects was similar in its tendency to amuse andCompletely. Batshit.
Also the most fun I've had reading theory or philosophy in quite some time. Hyperobjects was similar in its tendency to amuse and inspire just as much as irritate, but that book was held back by Morton's larger ecological project, its sort of impassioned enterprise. Realist Magic finds Morton in stupendous form, free to develop the batshit lunacy of his object-oriented ontology in fuller and clearer terms.
Morton is actually a very good scholar, an intensely intelligent Romanticist at heart, it seems, and a valuable reader of David Lynch (and the shitty Shelley, but I don't like the shitty Shelley). These qualities differentiate him from the merry band of complete asshats and charlatans (mother's-basement-dweller Ian Bogost and bridge troll Levi Bryant, especially) who also work in this general area.
Because Morton is seemingly smart, and utterly insane, his work makes for very good reading. What makes this book especially magnificent is that it appears to be an entirely (or mostly) serious attempt to articulate an ontology that is best described as a description of how things appear to be in the films of David Lynch, minus Lynch's tendency to (as I read it) a sort of somewhat more traditional Eastern-influenced mysticism. You get the sense that Morton actually believes what he's arguing. And because he's charming more than obnoxious, you sometimes come close to getting the sense that he might be right.
Assuming one buries one's head in Bysshe Shelley for a protracted period of time, obsessively consumes and theorizes Lynch films and Doctor Who, indulges in (and this is speculation*) a truly shocking quantity of hallucinogens, and befriends Graham Harman, while reading sprinkles of 18th, 19th, 20th century European philosophy, ancient philosophy, medieval Judaeo-Islamic philosophy, and writings about 20th-century physics, one might have a chance of approximating what Timothy Morton has achieved here.
Until then, one must do with reading Timothy Morton. And that is a pleasure. I love you, Tim. I want to be your friend. I'm sorry for what I said about your friends. Thank you for this book. Honestly.
*Well, substantiated speculation. The guy obviously spends a great deal of time staring at things. His blog has multiple posts on DMT, LSD, dreams about eating huge quantities of magic mushrooms, and so on. So yeah, the OOO turn and psychedelia seem pretty inextricably linked to me. ...more
Impossible to resist. Must read. Are you kidding me? So the relationship between physics and hippies doesn't just consist of deranged new age cults abImpossible to resist. Must read. Are you kidding me? So the relationship between physics and hippies doesn't just consist of deranged new age cults abusing ideas from quantum physics? So hot tubs, nudity, and shroom parties were genuinely part of the scientific process for actual physicists? And these tripping explorers were the folks who helped physics move beyond the orthodox silence concerning quantum weirdness? And, wait, the guy who wrote this thing teaches at MIT?!
I don't care if it's bullshit. I want to believe. ...more
Now I know why, when I was undergrad, this really cute math major openly laughed at me when she saw me reading Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction.Now I know why, when I was undergrad, this really cute math major openly laughed at me when she saw me reading Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction. We'd been flirting, before the traumatic event.
How do you rate these things? They're useful, accomplished, properly academic, written by experts. We are, most of us, specialists and not generalists. As much as I'd like to be able to know a little bit about everything, the government is only willing to pay me to read a selection of fiction and poetry and bullshit theory, not to indulge my wide-ranging intellectual interests. So I like these books. You get accurate information about a huge range of subjects.
Why did I read the Philosophy entry in the series? Because I wanted to see what it was like to encounter one of these when one knows a decent amount about the relevant area of study. I did not like the book. It is fine for what it is, but makes for a tremendously bizarre reading experience.
While I like the series--though I haven't read many of them but intend to, soon--something about the bizarre experience I had reading this entry leads me to believe that the very short introductions to areas a bit more precisely defined and narrowed down than PHILOSOPHY or MATHEMATICS might be the way to go. ...more
Well-written and engaging. Clarifies and explains concepts and events in 20th-century physics in ways that enable the scientific imbecile to better coWell-written and engaging. Clarifies and explains concepts and events in 20th-century physics in ways that enable the scientific imbecile to better comprehend what the big deal is and why it's (still) such a big deal. Also works to arm said scientific imbecile with ways to humiliate people in the humanities who just love to bullshit about stuff they understand even less than someone who read a pop-science history does.
Oh, and there's fun stuff in here about the personal lives of major figures in 20th-century physics. But that stuff is nowhere near as compelling as the overall drama at the heart of this account. ...more
Because I thought watching the movie would be a smart thing to do before I venture into a sensory deprivation tank for the first time, tomorrow or theBecause I thought watching the movie would be a smart thing to do before I venture into a sensory deprivation tank for the first time, tomorrow or the day after. Damn you, Ken Russell. Now all I'll think about in the tank is Altered States, vs. experiencing altered states. I've heard varying things: that the book is much like the film, that it's not like the film at all, etc. etc.
Anyways, Altered States is worth watching, presumably worth reading. As I will soon begin regression, it's been nice knowing you all and writing reviews that Amazon now owns....more
I can't, in good conscience, rate this more than one star. But listening to the audiobook was, honestly, a joy. As a guy who loves The X-Files, who haI can't, in good conscience, rate this more than one star. But listening to the audiobook was, honestly, a joy. As a guy who loves The X-Files, who has a fascination with esoterica and general weirdness, I found this book thoroughly enjoyable; it is an encyclopedic amalgam of ancient mythology, esoterica, new age babble, pop psychology, and every conspiracy theory known to human and reptile.
Some people contend that David Icke does not believe in his reptilian thesis. That David Icke is just a guy who figured out how fucked up the world is and how fucked up power can be and is trying to find ways to get people to think through these issues. As in, he's catering to an obviously massive number of people who are not willing to consider the evils of, say, late capitalism and corporate influence, unless also told that reptilians are in charge of capitalist machinations. That this is satire along the lines of Swift or (more reasonably and probably) just a form of esoteric teaching that's not really about its surface meaning at all.
I prefer to think that David Icke really believes in the reptilians. It's much more fun that way.
I'm also not sure if believing Icke's nonsense is a path to a better world. I've started taking more seriously the idea that, for the hoi polloi, dumb crap that challenges the power structures that perpetuate the worst impulses of humanity might be suitable, might be the only way to reach the idiotic brains of the great unwashed. Or, to put that more nicely, it might be a good thing for impressionable morons to fall for new agey crap vs. sticking with fascist religious organizations that actively support and cover up for child rapists, or fascist religious leaders who actively support patriarchal violence against women, or utterly vile war-mongers of both religious and political stripes, etc.
Given how vile the mainstream messages we receive are, and how unquestioning the beliefs of most people are in such crap, what harm can fooling the masses into believing in reptilian conspiracies best fought with LOVE and crystals or whatever the fuck do?
Then there's the part of me that responds with the less cynical viewpoint and probably the more mature one: we really ought to not perpetuate the idea that people are that stupid. That maybe it's better to, uh, actually try to get at the truth, or at political and social arrangements that maximize quality of life and prevent horrific abuses. Sans reptiles.
Then again, there's plenty of legitimation for the point of view that holds that people are just weird and kooky apes and really just want you to tell them some story about magic reptiles (or magic fire-beings and light-beings and magic sky fairies and magic zombie carpenters). But let's take Hinduism for an example. The philosophical Hinduism of the Upanishads and of subsequent philosophical schools in India is an extremely sophisticated, intellectually rigorous philosophical system or approach. The standard-issue Hinduism of the uneducated is the kind of thing that perpetuates the worst kind of tribal nonsense, superstition, and cultural exclusion. It has virtually nothing in common with the Upanishads except common names for the gods. So let's say Icke's work becomes the template for a proper cult and spreads to the truly moronic and intellectually uninspired. Do you see where that takes us? Icke's already talking to Christian Patriot militias in the States.
But, on the other hand, atheistic/irreligious ideologies that include no magic beings of any kind contributed to the murder of over 100 million people in the 20th century. Hello, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pot, et al. By comparison, the lunatics in [unnamed organization please don't kill me] are positively cuddly.
So. Where does that leave us? Is Icke a messenger of peace to be respected and admired for his esoteric teachings? Or is he a lunatic spreading pure lies and leading us down a dark path?
Also, re: charges of anti-semitism vs. Icke, I present the following dialogue:
Thoughtful reader: "So, David, by 'reptilians' you obviously mean 'Jews,' right? Like, you're a racist weirdo conspiracy theorist who wants to convince non-racists of the same stuff Stormfront-dwellers already believe, right?"
David Icke, in response: "DOES GEORGE W. BUSH LOOK JEWISH TO YOU?! HE'S OBVIOUSLY A LIZARD FROM THE RACE OF LIZARD PEOPLE THAT CONTROL THE WORLD!"
I dunno. Icke's adopted some of the Jews-control-the-world rhetoric, but without, you know, actual reference to Jewish people. Which is sort of the main thing that's bad about said rhetoric. Icke probably really believes in the reptilians. If an allegory, I think the reptilians represent something broader than the standard-issue Stormfront-type "dem Jews" stuff. As in, they represent the elite with all the power, regardless of which loony Abrahamic thing they follow.