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I have a ....blog? [Mar. 31st, 2008|08:57 pm]
Cameron Willis
So, I have a blog.  Here is the link: http://anatomylesson.wordpress.com/

And the latest post:

“I would say that the fascist agenda was Utopian, and that it adopted the cult of science. That’s what leads Hitler to try and breed humans and apes to try to create an oversized warrior or to send expeditions to Tibet to find a pure, Aryan race. I mean, that’s not science. It’s the cult of science, and I think the New Atheists also make that leap from science into the cult of science, and that’s a problem. The Enlightenment was both a curse and a blessing, because it was really a reaction to the kind of superstition, intolerance, bigotry, anti-intellectualism of the clerics, of the church. But it also ended up with the Jacobins, [who said] well, if we can’t make certain segments of the society “civilized,” as we define civilization, then they must be eradicated, in the same way that you eradicate a virus.

I write in the book that not believing in God is not dangerous. Not believing in sin is very dangerous. I think both the Christian right and the New Atheists in essence don’t believe in their own sin, because they externalize evil. Evil is always something out there that can be eradicated. For the New Atheists, it’s the irrational religious hordes. I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture. Of course, they’re great supporters of preemptive war, and I don’t think this is accidental that their political agendas coalesce completely with the Christian right.”

-Chris Hedges, author of I Don’t Believe in Atheists, interview on Salon.com (via the existence machine)


“We think of modernity as an idea in the social sciences, when actually it is the last hiding place of ‘morality’.  Believers in modernity are convinced that - natural disasters aside - history is on the side of Enlightenment  values.  After all, that is what being modern means, is it not?

In fact, there are many ways of being modern, and many of failing to be.   It is not for nothing that a number of Expressionists were amongst Nazism’s earliest supporters, or that Oswald Mosley gave press interviews seated behind a black steel Futurist desk.  The Nazis were committed to a revolutionary transformation of European life.  For them, becoming modern meant racial conquest and genocide.  Any society that uses systematically uses science and technology to achieve its goals is modern.  Death camps are as modern as laser surgery.

A feature of the idea of modernity is that the future of mankind is always taken to be secular.  Nothing in history has ever supported this strange notion.  Secularization has occured in a few European countries…There is no sign of it in the United States.  Among Islamic countries, only Turkey possesses a well-entrenched secular state; in most others fundamentalism is on the rise…In China and Japan, where the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic idea of religion has never been accepted, secularism is practically meaningless.

Theories of modernization are cod-scientific projections of Enlightenment values.  They tell us nothing about the future.  But they do tell us about the present.  They show the lingering power of the Christian faith that history is a moral drama, a tale of progress or redemption, in which - despite everything we know of it - morality rules the world.”

- from John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals


“Whenever Muslim society has felt safe it has felt able to be open,  and the image Islam presents of itself at such times is nothing like the caricatures of today. I don’t claim that the older image is a more accurate reflection of the original spirit of Islam; merely that Islam, like any other religion or doctrine, always bears the marks of time and place.  Societies that are sure of themselves are mirrored by a religion that is confident, serene and open; uncertain societies are reflected in a religion that is hypersensitive, sanctimonious and aloof.  Dynamic societies have a dynamic Islam, one that is innovative and creative; sluggish societies have a sluggish Islam, one that resists change.

But let us leave for the moment such contrasts between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ religion - they are bound to be simplistic - and concentrate on something more precise.  When I refer to the influence of societies on religions I am thinking for example of the fact that when Muslims in the Third World attack the West, it is not only because they are Muslim and the West Christian, but because they are poor, downtrodden and derided,  while the West is rich and powerful. I say ‘also’ but I think ‘above all’.  For when I look at the militant Islamic movements of today I can easily detect, both in their words and methods, the Third World theories that became popular in the 1960’s; I certainly haven’t been able to find any obvious precedent in the history of Islam itself.  Such movements are a product of our times, with all its tensions, distortions, stratagems and despairs.

…What I am saying now is that while I can see quite clearly how such movements are the product of our troubled times, I cannot see how they could be the product of Islamic history.  Watching Ayatollah Khomeini, surrounded by his Revolutionary Guards, asking his people to rely on their own strength, denouncing the ‘Great Satan’ and vowing to remove all traces of Western culture, I couldn’t help thinking of the elderly Mao Tse-Tung of the Cultural Revolution surrounded by his Red Guards, denouncing the ‘great paper tiger’ and vowing to remove all traces of capitalist culture.  I wouldn’t say the two cases were identical, but I do see many similarities between them, whereas I don’t see anybody in the history of Islam who reminds me of Khomeini.  Nor, however carefully I look into the history of the Muslim world, do I find any mention of the setting up of an ‘Islamic republic; or the coming of an ‘Islamic revolution’.

-  from Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong

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Somnambulant vacuum [Feb. 22nd, 2008|09:24 pm]
Cameron Willis

The precariousness of short-term contracts and high staff turnover is now taken for granted everywhere, in supposedly worthwhile careers as well as in the temp bargain bin. There is a constant pressure, from the moment of getting a new job, both to keep hold of it and to start looking for another one, as well as actually doing whatever you are paid for; and this means constantly looking over one’s shoulder for the ‘team leader’ wielding the stick of performance targets and appraisals, while also looking ahead at the carrot of career fulfilment kept dangling forever just out of reach. Of course these extra duties leave very little room for other interests, as so much time outside work is spent searching and applying for more jobs (in writing this piece, for instance, I am aware that I am frittering away the ‘free’ time which I should be using ‘responsibly’ by searching for the next vacancy), and work -time recreation is reduced to furtive text messaging or sneaking onto the internet between spreadsheets. Such low-level rebellion has been programmed into the operating systems of working environments, inoculating the institutional network against any real threat: without their umbilical apparatus of mobile phones, iPods and websites, the workforce would surely be unable to function at all. It’s no wonder that, with people drifting off into their disparate myspaces, any atmosphere of camaraderie or collectivity in these transient zones has been replaced by a somnambulant vacuum. Meanwhile, the constant reconfiguring of internal policies, jargon and technology deters contemplation of any larger picture, including the context of the job and how worthwhile or damaging it really is. The scenery never stays still long enough to be able to orientate yourself. “

- an excellent piece from http://shykitten.livejournal.com/24691.html

I feel on the edge of such a situation, never entirely forced into the ’somnambulant vacuum’ of exhausted dejection and resignation. I have yet to work in a job where I am micromanaged, held to a level of efficiency that is almost inhuman (and certainly will never allow creative or intelligent, independent thought) and fired for showing the least bit of spirit. The waste of bleak, grey water, a sea of computer screens and sloughing eyelids, awaits; I’ve never been in debt, but I may end up there, and destitution and the uselessness of my HBA may bring me under. Unpleasant dystopia, in the most literal sense, because it exists, after all. The capitalist culture at the heart of this is not some passing fade, either; it is institutionalized, firstly, and made a part of ‘management culture.’ A recent article in Profit magazine, amongst several other cold-blooded pieces, argued that an employer should ‘hire slow, fire fast’, solidifying the situation what the post excerpted above made clear: we are to grovel and expend tremendous energy to find a job, but if we should deviate in any way, make a mistake, have an emergency or an injury, we are gone, out on a limb, a used husk to be cast away. Even the ludicrous seminars and help groups the unemployed must visit are ludicrous: how is imposing a ludicrous, jargon-laden way of approaching resumes and interviews anything more than a further way to demonstrate our servility?

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A Lament for Canada, Part Infinite [Jan. 18th, 2008|10:48 pm]
Cameron Willis
[music |Josef K. - Radio Drill Time]

"The pundits were falling all over each other in praise of Barack Obama’s campaigning skills. I was especially struck by Tom Brokaw’s describing the Black candidate as “A thoroughbred who has broken away from the pack,” a perfect encapsulation of the idiotic horse race character of these elections.
Despite the intense rivalry between Obama and Hillary Clinton, they both are cut from the same mold, namely the Bill Clinton presidency
...Although it is not widely understood, Obama is pretty much committed to the neoclassical economics outlook of his home-town University of Chicago..."

- from Louis Proyect on Obama's Economic Advisors

"And the generally ignored story of this race so far is that in truth, dramatic ideological change among the Republicans is highly unlikely. Despite Bush's failures and the discrediting of conservative governance, there is every chance that the next Republican president, should the party's nominee prevail next year, will be just as conservative as Bush has been—perhaps even more so.

The party is still in the hands of three main interests: neoconservatives; theo-conservatives, i.e., the groups of the religious right; and radical anti-taxers, clustered around such organizations as the Club for Growth and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. Each of these groups dominates party policy in its area of interest—the neocons in foreign policy, the theocons in social policy, and the anti-taxers on fiscal and regulatory issues. Each has led the Bush administration to undertake a high-profile failure: the theocons orchestrated the disastrous Terri Schiavo crusade, which put off many moder-ate Americans; the radical anti-taxers pushed for the failed Social Security privatization initiative; and the neocons, of course, wanted to invade Iraq.

Three failures, and there are more like them. And yet, so far as the internal dynamics of the Republican Party are concerned, they have been failures without serious consequence, because there are no strong countervailing Republican forces to present an opposite view or argue a different set of policies and principles."

- from They'd Rather be Right by Micheal Tomasky in the New York Review of Books

Both of these articles are worth a read, at least because they give a good idea about both the failure of a two-party democratic state where both parties are enormous machines run by a cabal of people that are, by and large, cut from a similar mode; they give  a good perspective on American politics in the current primaries race, that will naturally affect Canada, and because they are far more honest in their reporting and interpretation of the realities of American politics and society than other news sources I've read, watched or listened to.

Not surprising they come from fringe interpreters.

I can never seem to find this kind of lucid, in-depth analysis and historical information about [politicians, parties and government about Canada in time for it to mean anything.  I am so out of touch with what is happening in our provincial and federal legislatures. 

I need to find more magazines, papers and commentators that have the intelligence and integrity to take a look at Canadian politics on a regular basis and show the history of elected officials,  the ties of business and government, that discusses the acts and laws being passed right now.

Because the CBC and the mainstream corporate media won't do.  When the CBC spends a week reporting on the tragic death of seven jocks and one day on the military ombudsman blasting the Conservatives for cutting funds to support de-mobilized soldiers, their families and the families of overseas troops, you know something is wrong, very wrong.   I remember listening to the CBC during the Outremer by-election in Quebec, and their half hour special on it talked about how much this would test Stephen Dion, how much it was a failure of a non-entity, how well-known the NDP candidate was, and how this affect the Liberals during the next election; not a whisper about what either candidate stood for, what were their policies and appeals, and whether voters supported the NDP because they agreed with their election platform.  Instead, a cult of personality around Dion, an obsession with image and appearance, the dismissal of NDP appeal as being solely caused by the Liberals, and a complete inability to analyse in any but the most superficial way.

I realize that image and personality are important in politics, but I wonder how much the tail is wagging the dog here, how much does the superficial reporting of the CBC and its corporate ilk shape politics by treating every election as a clash of personalities and imagery rather than as a clash of ideas, a chance to repeal a failed or corrupt government, ie. democracy.  Superficial reporting can only breed superficiality in the politics and politicians, and in the voters.  I know many people, just from talking with them at work, that hate hearing about politicians when they want to hear about policies and plans.  When the most outspoken commentators are comedians and guests arguing for finding out what Obama really stands for instead of focusing just on his rhetorical skills, and by extension arguing for this in Canadian politics, then we have a problem.

That tosh with Mulroney is just the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect the Conservative government knows they could distract attention from their own record by allowing a disgruntled German white-collar criminal to rim out his former partner-in-crime (in taking bribes to favour the purchase of German equipment for the Canadian Army!).  MY idea of what the Conservatives have been doing is fragmentary, because I rely on the sequential, ahistorical reporting of major media, but I know that their foreign policy has been excessively pro-Israel, pro-American, supportive of torture by Canadian allies (and by extension, our collaboration in it), staying the course in Afghanistan, staying the murderous course in Haiti, supportive of bombing Lebanon and cutting aid to Palestine (the new package is intended to train cops useful as our proxies against Hamas), and obstructionist toward tackling global climate change, while domestically continuing to deny our status as major, MAJOR polluters, and prevent any serious movement forward.  From what I can tell, from fragmentary reporting, the Conservatives have widened and deepened NAFTA, including passing a law that would reduce taxes and tariffs on American acquisitions in Canada, while doing nothing to help consumers faced by purchasing inequality and producers hampered by a high dollar, except to utter platitudes and exhortations (despite the fact that the Federal Government has significant powers in this regard).  

To do so would violate the ideology of the Party, which apparently in the case of Harper and his closest advisors, is inspired by Friedrich Hayek, who viewed any government controls on the economy as leading right to slavery...unless total untrammeled free-for-all capitalism could survive.  This would explain why Harper sneered that Kyoto was a "socialist scheme" and why his government has resisted so much imposing taxes, and has removed them on business and the rich, supporting private health care at the expense of the public, and rewarding former lobbyists like our Defence Minister and Culture with high positions in the Cabinet.  Harper is a good politician, no doubts there, he has controlled the nutter religious wing of the party very well.  The other curious thing about most of the policies I've read about or tried to find out about is how often they were actually advanced or started by the Liberals under Martin and Chretien (afghanistan, haiti, cuts to taxes on the rich, privatisation). 

So, in essence, does anyone know any good commentators, papers and magazines that would be able to tackle these subjects with a discerning and intelligent eye? 
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The Anti-Canon of Science Fiction, Part 2. [Jan. 10th, 2008|09:27 pm]
Cameron Willis
[Current Location |apartment]
[music |Pere Ubu - Final Solution]

In my last post, I discussed the formation of something very closely approaching the canonical lists of science fiction authors YOU MUST READ that assemble with the regularity of flies swarming to a melon, on
avenray's livejournal.  It got me to thinking about Canons and what we consider essential for literature.  There are obvious questions that come up:  how do we form opinions about what is good and bad?  How do we find out about authors, painters, musicians, etc?  Are Canons and 'Best of' lists essential, or should we form our own opinions (which of course, are never fully our own)?  Why care that the standard Anglo-American Canon of Science Fiction excludes most non-English speakers, with Stanislaw Lem almost always a huge exception, whereas most French, or Japanese, or Russian canons at least try and include English-speaking authors (Philip K. Dick is HUGE in France)?
     I would argue that it is important because it opens up vistas, gives us all experiences of other cultures, their ideas and approaches, their opinions and attitudes, because the view of the world from France or Japan can be exciting, thoughtful and ascetically pleasing.  The national styles of Science Fiction, from France to Russia to Japan (we are, after all, mostly familiar with manga and anime science fiction) are immensely different and provide so much in terms of ideas, solutions, and pure thought candy.
    However, I would also argue that there are plenty of Anglo authors who write good but relatively unknown science fiction.  So, that is why I am producing this short ANTI-CANON.  Besides sounding cool, the ANTI-CANON is a list, hardly exhaustive and hardly a collection of MUST-READ books, that nonetheless includes some of the most influential unknowns, and some of the best of the obscure.   It is not heavy on later 20th century SF, that is not its point, nor will it be universal.  It will suggest, merely, not lead.   It will complement, like a dark shadow, the list of greats we all contributed too.
     My definition of science fiction is also broader then one might assume from the Canon list we assembled: rocket ships, space empires, hard science, aliens and the future are all well and good.  But that is not always what science fiction is, which is why the term Speculative Fiction has really caught on as a better way to describe what these works are.  No matter how much SF tries to make itself a prediction for the future, it nonetheless exists in the present, and mirrors the fear, anxieties, joys and dreams of the human race in the here and now, even if disguised by some giant space empire run by elitist technocrats or mirrorshades.
    I accept Joseph W. Campbell's definition of science fiction: 'Fiction is simply dreams written out.  Science fiction consists of the hopes and fears (for some dreams are nightmares) of a technically based society.'  That, therefore, is my starting point here. 
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The Anti-Canon of Science Fiction, Part 1. [Jan. 9th, 2008|10:05 pm]
Cameron Willis
[Current Location |apartment]
[music |Hooverphonics - Others Delight]

Many of us have by following the request for suggestions for science fiction books and authors by avenrayWe've all had a good time overwhelming her with suggestions and touting our favourite authors.  The list that has emerged so far has got me to thinking about canons, those authors deemed largely essential to anyone who considers themselves interested in literature, how they are formed, and how useful they can be. The list, as it has congealed, seems to include novels by the authors listed below, who have been mentioned several times and praised, often justly, to their sci-fi heavens.  They mostly represent the Science Fiction Canon, as is often represented in, for instance, the Cambridge Guide to Science Fiction, or other such illustrious tomes, whether they consider themselves encyclopedia, best of lists or critical books by SF authors like Brian Aldiss' Trillion Year Spree.  Here is that list, as far as I can tell (I've left my own suggestions out for the moment, because they were, well, idiosyncratic to say the least):

Aldous Huxley
Robert Heinlein
Kim Stanley Robinson
Stanislaw Lem
Neal Stephenson
William Gibson
Arthur C. Clarke
Isaac Asimov
Philip K. Dick
Ursula K. Le Guin
John Wyndham
Octavia Butler

    There were some other votes for A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, and Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and Margaret Atwood got in there, though strictly speaking she doesn't like to be considered a science fiction author, so I'll leave her out.  Octavia Butler has not been received as Canon until recently; same goes for Samuel Delany, one of the beardiest, most tattoed, old homosexual black science fiction writers out there; they both end up seeming like the token black tacked on at the end....as I have done here.  Oops.  I'm not accusing the SF community of being racist, because, well, Neal Stephenson usually doesn't make the Canon lists either, but generally, they are often discussed within the context of race, gender or sexuality, rather then as SF authors in their own (which is partly a result of what they write about, I know!) 
       Quibbles aside, that leaves a pretty solid list of the best SF writers we could all come up with, and it's a pretty damn good list, we all agree.  These authors, except for maybe Butler, Robinson and possibly Lem, have been pretty damned influential; they are names we associate almost automatically with science fiction.  The ideas postulated in their works are often still be grappled with today, especially in Asimov's and Heinlein's case (Asimov for robots, Heinlein for politics)  Gibson defined a whole genre.  Le Guin produced some of the most intellectual works of their kind, and Dick and Clarke, well, we got Blade Runner from Dick, and 2001 from Clarke; for those movies alone, their names are secure. 
        Every canon has its detractors, and I  would argue, from personal taste that Heinlein and Asimov are overrated in the sense that their shadow tends to eclipse other, less famous authors, and because their Canon status as A BIG DEAL has made it harder, in many cases, to question the weakness, as literature, or as speculative work about human society, of their body of works.  I think Gibson was a one note wonder, essentially, and that Wyndham also tended to write very similar novels, often not very impressively.   Clarke started writing sequels, and everything went down hill  thereafter, but his classic novels (Childhood's End, Rendezvous with Rama) are still excellent.  Huxley lectures in his novels, and we all know...ahem...how boring lectures can be in fiction.
        The point remains, however, that Heinlein and Asimov deserve to be on the list (much, much less certain about Wyndham).  I do, however, have two points to make about this list: that it is made up of authors from the last fifty or sixty years, and that almost all of them are white, male English-speaking and generally American or British in some way.  There is one non-British European, two women, one of whom is black.  Several major authors didn't make it, specifically Jules Vernes and H. G. Wells, to whom most of the writers on this list owe a great debt, as they are generally writing in response to these two authors initial works.  The inclusion of Jules Verne, often considered the first major science fiction writer, is important, because he is usually the token European on any list of essential science fiction, or in a history of science fiction.   
        As I was discussing with gdh there is a deep chauvinism in much established science fiction criticism, from the Cambridge History of Science Fiction down to illustrated encyclopaedia's, pop histories and 'best of' lists that pop up on the internet.  The assumption hasn't changed since the days of Kingsley Amis and his study of science fiction, New Maps of Hell, repeated, for instance, in Brian Aldiss' Trillion Year Spree, that science fiction is essentially an American and British enterprise, with a few European forefathers, true, but mostly, especially after 1950, something that only the English-speaking world could produce or produce the best, the Germans and Japanese being just pale imitators.  The popularity of manga and anime has broken some of this cultural monopoly, but it still remains, the idea that the science fiction literature of the English-speaking world is the most essential, the best written, fully representative of the world at large.  Of course it isn't, but this chauvinism, or perhaps ignorance, runs very deep, and extends to fiction of all sorts:  the Random House/Modern Library list of the best books of the century includes NO book that wasn't composed in English, although a few books by non-Britons, Canadians, Australians or Americans found there way on (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100rivallist.html)
    That, my friends, is not a good library.
    My next post will include a list that I will explain further as we go,
    One final proviso:  THIS POST IS NOT MEANT AS AN INSULT OR ATTACK ON ANY OF MY FRIENDS TASTES!  I treasure the fact that I have so many friends who are passionate about science fiction, who love it, who read it, who discuss it, and it isn't somehow a deep fault of yours that you, say, love Heilein, Asimov or anyone else on the Canon list above.   As I said, they are all good authors....but I feel restless with such a list.  All Canons tend to make me feel a little stifled, and I itch to suggest, to goad, to guide, whoever is interested toward books and authors that might be interesting to them!  Also, I like making lists like this.
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The Year in Review, Part 2...or I read One Hundred and One Books in 2007 !?!? [Jan. 7th, 2008|09:05 pm]
Cameron Willis
[music |The Chameleons - Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In)]

Books, I love 'em.  That much is clear.  So how was 2007 in books?  I don't know; I don't have a list for you of that, unlike  the Globe and Mail, the Village Voice, the CBC and Amazon.ca all like to do: I don’t have any.  The idea off listing of the best books of this last year is as ludicrous as trying to do the same for music, or at least, in my case it is ludicrous.  There could very well be plenty of good books out there that got missed, written in other languages, released by small presses, or subjective upon taste, and yet it leaves the problem of having no time to read that many NEW books on top of the millions, yes, millions of books written over the last, say, even quarter century.  There is the problem of rushed reading and journalistic writing, so that a mediocre book on second reading is actually seen as being brilliant on a first, deadlined rush

    There are few critics I really trust anymore on new fiction: John Clute on science fiction, the reviwers in the London Review of Books for almost anything.  The year of 2007 in books has been rather boring, then, though there are some good books out there, some good ones on Blackwater or consumer waste or food networks, worth reading. I read three books from 2007 this year: Why God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, Infidel by Ayaan Ali Hirsi and a book about the Roman Empire and plague by William Rosen.  I wasn’t impressed by any of them, for reasons I’ve already stated at great length.  Only one book on many critics list has interested me, a reprint of the anarchist editor Felix Feneon’s strange little epigrams, Novels in Three Lines.  Other then that, nothing,.  That happened to me this year: one book, one book alone, re-appeared on every list.  ONE BOOK.

    My reading was dominated by dead or living white English-speaking males.  The majority of the fiction by single authors I read this year was dominated by two Britons, one a Scotsman the other a Londoner: Iain M. Banks and China Mieville, both of whom I have spoken about at length on this radio show...incidentally, I also read a lot of M. John Harrison, who I have also spoken about on this show. Most of the history I read was written in the English-speaking world, though interestingly enough, including big examples like Linda Colley’s Britons and C. V. Wedgewood’s opus The Thirty years War, they were written by women.  I read numerous novels in translation, such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s 1927 satire Kappa and was told tirelessly to read more Haruki Murakami by Wil Rutledge.  The other writer to dominate my interest was Jorge Luis Borges, whose collections of essays and short stories I read again and again and again, all unfortunately in translation.  Some Germans in translation, Hesse and Kafka, and the 1668 war story and black comedy Simpliccisimus by Grimmelhausen, round off a list this year mostly dominated by science fiction or its literary antecedents.

    What would I change about last year in books, and thus what would I do this year in books?
    Well, I didn’t read a lot of books by women.  That is a major problem.  There are lots of woman out there writing excelently, I know, and I feel bad that my list has been dominated heavily by wealthy, middle-aged white writers.  So, I plan on changing that in the new year: some writers I’m considering reading are Anna Kavan and Ann Quin, both relative unknowns but famed for their Dada-esque and abstract fictions that play upon real fears and dreams, as do the works of Angela Carter.  Luckily history is being written more and more by women, who offer to the field something much more interesting then the old political, military and nationalist narratives of history. 

        I haven’t read a lot of science books, which is a real shame, because I am very interested in the natural sciences, astronomy and zoology and animals, insects and quantum particles.  I own many many books about these subjects, but I suspect that their foreign language, thick size and difficult maths is what is keeping me away from despite the fact that these subjects are important, the singularity is important, Steven Hawkings and black holes are important, quantum quarks and voids and hyperspace are interesting.  So that is going to be a big priority in 2008.

    Philosophy was likewise neglected, and I suspect for the same reasons as the sciences: the books are thick, imposing, large, difficult vocabulary and concepts.  I had been meaning to read or re-read several books of philosophy this year, including Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, In the Name of Identity: Killing and the need to belong by Amin Maalouf and Chuang Tzu’s complete works.  Or even Das Kapital by ol' Karl Marx. No such luck.

I want to direct my reading more, and basically read according to a rough plan instead of just going at it willy-nilly.  So, below, a list of the books I bought this year that I would most like to read!

               1)   The Supermale by Alfred Jarry
               2)   Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel
               3)   The Singularity is Near by Kurtzweil
               4)   Hyperspace by Michio Kaku
               5)   In search of the Quantum by Banesh Hoffman
               6)   Monster of God by David Quammen
               7)   Vicious: wolf and Man in America by Coleman
               8)   The Society of the Spectacle by Guy DeBord
               9)   The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard
               10)  History of Madness by Micheal Foucalt
               11)  Absence of Myth by George Bataille
               12)  Angel of Darkness by Eernesto Sabato
               13)  Terrorism and Communism by Leon Trotsky
               14)  several interrelated books on the Bolskeviks
               15)  The Structures of Everday Life and Commerce and Society by Fernand Baudrel
               16)  King Mob by Christopher Hibbert
               17)  Absolute Destruction: The Practice of War in Imperial Germany by Isabel Hull
               18)  The Aqquyunlu: Tribe, Confederation, Empire by John E. Woods
              19)     Naukur, Rajput, Sepoy: The Military Ethnography of Hindustan by Holff
              20) Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis
               21) City of Quartz by Mike Davis
         22) Archeologies of the Future: Science Fiction and the Desire Named Utopia by Frederic Jamieson
         23) Master and Margaritta by Mikhail Bulgakov
         24) The Complete Novels by George Orwell
         25) La Machine Infernale by Jean Cocteau
         26) Q, by Luther Blisset

And finally, the big list, the big deal, the total of all the books I read this year.  I included books I had to read for school if I read them cover to cover and enjoyed them in some way or learned seriously from them; most of the school books are thus for my thesis.  Some of these books, especially the ancient legends of Japan and China, were read in fragments and pieces: the Nihongi is easily the longest book I own by several hundred pages, clocking in at 1600...clearly I didn't read all of that in one go, or in a coherent fashion.  I did not include the inumerable magazine, scholarly journal  and blog articles that I read and from which I get much of my information and news about the world.  That is a whole other list.  Without further ado, after the break, the 101 books I read this year.  Yes...it actually turned out to be a hundred books.  the I forgot that i re-read Solaris I am shocked, just a little.  Ahem
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23 [Jan. 7th, 2008|12:34 pm]
Cameron Willis
[Current Location |LU Radio]
[music |Blonde Redhead - 23]

I have now listened to Blonde Redhead's song '23' from the album 23 exactly twenty three times.   What does this mean?  OMG I am stuck in that terrible Jim Carrey movie!  But with ethereal Japanese singer  Kazu Makino instead!!!
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The Year in Review, Part 1. [Jan. 3rd, 2008|09:35 pm]
Cameron Willis
[Current Location |The apartment]
[music |duh....]

This is hardly a confessional, and as a review of the last year, I am not going to talk about all the things I lost, or things gained, the triumphs, tragedies, etc. and the ambitions I have for the new year, which are pretty much 'stay the course, you're doing fine' kind of thing. I did want to say a few words about what I was up to culturally this year; after all, I have a radio show where I talk about books and play music, so surely the music and books I delved into this year are interesting...right?

However, I don't really care for top ten albums of the year kind of things; the numbers seem arbitrary, the lists long, though they do provide a good starter for finding one or two albums out of the mix of totals; that seems the most practical way of approaching it, because five years on, at 25 albums a list for some magazines like Paste, that is far, far too many albums to own, appreciate and call 'essential'.

The non-shocker about the year in music was that there wasn't one for me, or at least, I didn't pay much attention to new music, so this list is right away not a Best of 2007; I'm not even going to try to compile anything like. I've grown a little...disenchanted...with indie music of late, which was the main genre that got me into music to begin with and now seems to have lost much of its appeal; I can't keep up with it, for one, and so much of the post-ironic, post-sarcastic, attitude really don't do it for me. I'm generalizing to a great extent, but generally, my musical tastes have been spent pursuing music of a different sort.

Not that newer music isn't bad; far from it. The Knife's Silent Shout, Metric's Old World Underground, Where Are You Know? and TV on the Radio's Young Liars Ep and their first album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, to name but a few, are pretty much always being listened to here.

However, the music that has propelled me into actually buying their CD's and listening to constantly, have mostly come from the late 70's and early 80's: bands I have been listening to pretty heavily, newly discovered this year and moved into immediate rotation, include The Wipers, Josef K., The Au Pairs, Young Marble Giants, and especially Pere Ubu, all from the very early eighties, like 80-81. Specific albums from bands who only made one album and then disbanded or only made one good album, like The Pop Group's Y and This Heat's Deceit have been especially good and innovative (for 1979), if a little jarring, jangly and discordant. The biggest change has been an interest in the solo works of artists I was more aware of from their other, more prominent projects: Brian Eno's first three albums, especially Here Come the Warm Jets, John Foxx, who I was aware of from his early work with Ultravox, when that band was actually good, especially his debut solo album Metamatic, and finally, most happily of all, Peter Hammill, lead vocalist and writer for early 70's progressive rock band Van Der Graaf Generator, whose solo albums, especially the cool, quiet and sinister Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night, the bombastic and aggressive In Camera and the proto-punk Nadir's Big Chance (a favourite of John Lydon from the Sex Pistols and PiL) have been very enjoyable artistically and musically.

So, then, what are my albums of 2007> In no order:

The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold
Blond Redhead, 23
Fiery Furnaces, Widow City (more important not because it is amazing, per se, but because it has restored my faith in that duo after Rehearsing My Choir, which even for me was unlistenable)

And now some videos for fun:

John Foxx, 'Underpass' from Metamatic (1980)

The Pop Group, 'She is Beyond Good and Evil' from Y (1979)
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Are Friends Electric? [Dec. 6th, 2007|10:27 pm]
Cameron Willis
I heard Gary Numan on Magic 99.9, the station the whole family can enjoy they say;  a song from the album 'Replica'.  The End Times are nigh.
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Delectable Delights Lay Beyond the Veil [Dec. 5th, 2007|11:55 pm]
Cameron Willis
A Christmas present earlier for avenray who will undoubtedly enjoy its unique qualities as old erotic photographs of women and strange things!

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