A lovely book of conversations and letters between Gary Snyder, one of the writers/poets/elders who matters most to me, and Julia Martin, a younger SoA lovely book of conversations and letters between Gary Snyder, one of the writers/poets/elders who matters most to me, and Julia Martin, a younger South African ecological thinker/literary critic/seeker of the Dharma. On one level, there's not a lot here that will surprise those familiar with Snyder, although he and Martin spend a lot of time reflecting on the presence of feminine energies (and the Goddess) in modern culture--the difficulties of avoiding essentialist and reductive phrasings. But "newness" has never mattered much to Snyder; he's much more concerned with remembering and inhabiting the land, our watersheds, of being silent and hearing the voices (of land, animals, plants) drowned out by the din of the modern world. As always, many sharp phrasings from both Snyder and Martin. I love the point where one of them (don't remember and it really doesn't matter) says that the only two things that matter are being with a lot of smart people, and being able to be alone.
What's most distinctive about this book is the sense of a lived friendship. That was also present in the book of letters between Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, but this feels different, in part because of Martin's quiet *real* presence. She lived through the late apartheid period in South Africa, confronted the real complexities and difficulties of the new South Africa--violence impinges on her life and those of her friends several times. The book gives a sense of her growing into motherhood, testing her ideas about gender with the reality of raising twins (one boy, one girl--there's a priceless story about their conflict over play rabbits. Snyder's been releasing several books grounded in his friendships--I'll turn to that Wendell Berry and Jim Harrison books next--but this one clearly occupies a special place....more
Impossible to categorize this fine small novel into any genre niche. It starts out like one of the quieter Stephen King novels, with a young woman whoImpossible to categorize this fine small novel into any genre niche. It starts out like one of the quieter Stephen King novels, with a young woman who may or may not be "crazy"--the word doesn't mean much by the time the novel ends--and the therapist who's ostensibly treating her but is actually dealing with his own demons. Barbara Hall's traversed some of this turf before, especially in her work with the Joan of Arcadia TV series; the original Joan makes a significant cameo here. Her strength, as always, is insight into the way people's psychology and social circumstances interact. I've been revisiting some Sixties classics recently and in a way you can look at Charisma as a cross of The Bell Jar--women in the psychiatric mill--and The Crying of Lot 49--a quest that may or may not be grounded in "reality."
Close to a five star, but I found the last section anti-climactic and didn't fully buy the ending....more
Phi is an extremely ambitious book which sets out to explain the nature and implications of consciousness. It's beautifully put together, incorporatinPhi is an extremely ambitious book which sets out to explain the nature and implications of consciousness. It's beautifully put together, incorporating numerous images from classical painting and sculpture and contemporary scientific imaging. The images are interspersed with a text which is consciously modeled on the Divine Comedy; everything comes in threes and Tononi balances his vision of the infernal dimensions of consciousness with the wonders of life. The book is structured around Galileo's three-part journey with sections focusing on the physical foundations of consciousness, a series of thought experiments concerning consciousness, and a section of philosophical reflections on the implications of the previous sections. Each section gives Galileo a different guide, figure based on Francis Crick, Alan Turing and Charles Darwin. Each chapter is followed by a section in which Tononi provides notes for images and the numerous quotations and adapted quotations and, problematically, offers ironic analysis of the contents of the chapter.
That's the description, now the review. The core of Phi is Tononi's vision of "integrated information" (a.k.a. the Phi of the title) as the defining feature of consciousness. This leads to the notion of "qualia": the irreducible states of perception which define what consciousness is. Each set of perceptions/experiences is a "quale" and our consciousness consists of the changing array of quale we perceive. In the first third of the book, Tononi revisits, summarizes and endorses material from neuroscientific research that will be familiar to readers of Carl Sagan, Oliver Sacks and Antonio Damaso. That section's fine. The second section, however, begins to lose its clarity and focus. Tononi knows he's playing with ideas that aren't as firmly established as those in the first section and he structures things so that every time an idea is advanced it's challenged and usually undercut. While the notion of integrated information emerges clearly, that's about it. And the third section of philosophical meditations is simply unconvincing. Tononi's not a philosopher--he's a Professor of Sleep Science and Consciousness Studies at my home institution, the University of Wisconsin. There are a lot of very large speculations, which lead to the assertion that integrated information provides a way of reconciling the tension between the "one" and the "many." I sympathize but I didn't find it convincing, even aesthetically. That's partly because Tononi's dramatic approach is more device than literary performance. The characters aren't convincing as characters; rather, they're clearly mouthpieces for perspectives. And I simply think the postscripts on the chapters were a bad idea; when Tononi, with ironic intent apparently, points out the failings of the positions which he's just presented, all too often I found myself saying "yeah, that's right."
Phi is an interesting and sometimes engaging attempt to present a major philosophical statement. For me, it didn't quite work....more
Strictly for information. Wexler's major argument is that neurobiology is shaped primarily (but not exclusively) by external inputs, especially contacStrictly for information. Wexler's major argument is that neurobiology is shaped primarily (but not exclusively) by external inputs, especially contact with parents and, in turn, the surrounding culture. He argues that after the childhood period when brains are quite elastic and adaptable, we settle into fixed patterns which lead us to resist any dissonance between the external world and our established psychic structures. He refers to this resistance as "ideology" and argues that it's a largely unavoidable source of resistance to social change.
The strength of the book lies in Wexler's scientific research; he cites numerous studies which demonstrate the impact of attention and isolation on young mammals and establishes his thesis on the impact of external input clearly, though it's probably not as original as he appears to think. When he turns to cultural forces, which he approaches via Freudian psychology, the book runs out of steam. While he draws on many sources, he's not a good social thinker and I finally just decided to skim the last couple of chapters.
The writing's clear in a slogging sort of way. I'm not sure you'd lose much except for detail if you simply read the chapter summaries....more
A major disappointment. I loved Marlantes' novel Matterhorn, but this has the feel of a book written when an agent said "you're hot, we should get somA major disappointment. I loved Marlantes' novel Matterhorn, but this has the feel of a book written when an agent said "you're hot, we should get something out soon." It's a mix of not particularly effective combat memoir--my Vietnam vet friends are dubious about the details of several of the scenes--and borderline simplistic Jungian psychology, celebrating "warrior" energies. Read Matterhorn and let this one slide into obscurity. Considered giving it one star, but my respect for Marlantes tipped the scales....more