Reading for the Revolution
I've been reading more lately, which is good. In addition to dumping my Netflix subscription in favor of The New Yorker and Harper's, I've digested a few books, which I'll talk about briefly and (ahah!) interconnectedly.
A collection of short pieces by Dave Hickey, subtitled "Essays on Art & Democracy," this book is just fantastic reading if you like $5 and even $10 words, distrust academia and other elite discourses, and enjoy thinking about art and culture with a political bent. The text occasionally diverges into minutia of fine art that lost me (I don't know from painting) but in almost all cases the thread returned to terra firma, and I didn't really feel like I missed out on the true meaning of Hickey's prose because I have no idea what Cézanne was really all about.
Harper's recently had a great excerpt from an upcoming book by Slavoj Zizek in which the Slovenian guru (who I encountered because a really pretty girl making a documentary wanted to talk to me about Music For America once) chides various leftist tactics around the world, in particular the "retreat into criticism" and the "politics of infinite demands." It made me wonder if Zizek has ever read Hickey, who's an art critic and not a "Critical Theorist," but whose writings as such contain, to me, some of the most insightful and generalizable observations about politics I've ever read.
This is really a single essay cleverly packaged as a small book, but it's fantastic, a serious and scholarly inquiry into the ubiquity of bullshit. I also have the similarly-sized companion essay On Truth, but have yet to crack it. Surprisingly, the direct contemplation of bullshit is unclaimed intellectual territory, but it feels vital, and as someone who probably aught to shut up or say "I don't know" more often -- and in failing to do so produce my own quotient of BS and then some -- reading through it provides an interesting guide to introspection.
One of the most intriguing takeaways from the book has to do with how the essence of Bullshit is not really about whether or not someone makes true or false statements, but whether this person is even concerned with the truth in the first place, or whether they are instead attempting to convey a sense of their own situation and state of mind, regardless of what the facts may be. The parallels to the current vogue of "balance" in journalism comes immediately to mind, but so does the often mind and spirit-killing discourse of organizational politics (as exemplified by, say, the HBO series The Wire), wherein interlocking and overlapping personal agendas obscure and compromise the putative "real goals" of the entity in question.
The Looming Tower (Not pictured)
Zack gave me this to read, a highly researched non-fiction account of the origins of Al-Qaeda and the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks, including the bureaucratic infighting which prevented the FBI and CIA from putting the pieces together. Some of it was remedial, but it certainly challenged several assumptions I've made about all this -- principally that there wasn't really any preventing the attacks; this is clearly untrue -- and definitely deepened my understanding of Middle Eastern politics and radical Islam.
It's a tragic read, particular in light of how the past six years have gone. Made me angry again, and feeling a renewed commitment to drive the development of open-source organizing techniques. Far moreso than any technology I piddle around with, the means and methods used in this kind of active wide-reaching loose-tie collaboration need to be refined, packaged and promoted, because, in brief, the Empire will always lose, even if it wins (as we're seeing.)
It's no secret that I was a sci-fi kid growing up, played D&D and the whole bit. The literary work of William Gibson is one of the true gems of the genre, and I like to think the level of his writing and quality of his insight helped to elevate my mental state up from comic book clashes between good and evil, helping me become the worldly dude I am today. He's also an interesting author in that he started out writing about a fantastically distant (though utterly recognizable) future, and now sets books published in 2007 in the year 2006. Reality caught up with his vision, I suppose.
Spook Country continues the present-tense world he began exploring in Pattern Recognition, and feels much the same. I'm not done reading it, but I like it so far, and especially the way it tugs at various contemporary questions about the evolving nature of power as derivative of information, both in the mechanistic and mystic senses. Gibson's greatest virtue as the "father of cyberpunk" is that he's always been fascinated with humanity, the mythic elements of personhood, with the voodoo powers we organically possess. His most piercing insights are not about technology, but about how technology (and other things) acts as an agent in the evolution of human consciousness.
It's a bit of a stretch to put all these chunks of writing into a neat little pattern, but they all contain elements of the stuff I'm really interested in.
To wit: the failures of our current establishment or "system," and the way in which a more evolved human consciousness, supported by superior technologies of organization, can do it better. That's really what "the revolution" boils down to for me. Less bullshit, better organization, less oppression and institutionalized inequality, more fun, free time, health, happiness, etc.