On My Desk, Vol.6

Books, books, books. Who cares? Reading is so 1984. There will be a quiz at the end, but for now it’s a bunch of nominally interesting (actually, just close to hand) stuff to entertain the eyeball and expand the mind. Maybe even expand the eyeball…

Arthur C. Clarke, Reach for Tomorrow (New York: Ballantine, 1973 [1956]).

A concise collection of classic tales by this master of the sci-fi genre, whose passing was recently mentioned here. The first, “Rescue Party”, is considered one of Clarke’s best (it was the first he published — in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946), though there are better ones in this offering. Another short gem — “The Forgotten Enemy” — has a wonderful global climate change twist. Quite chilling…

Also fun in this collection is the preface, by Clarke, who writes about how important it was for him to get the science just right in his stories. He says that one his tales, “Jupiter Five”, “involved twenty or thirty pages of orbital calculations and should by right be dedicated to Professor G.C. McVittie, my erstwhile tutor in applied mathematics.” Good stuff.

E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkley: University of California Press, 1973 [1951]).

Eclectic and random. This and the Clarke stories are two items recently acquired perusing the bookstores around Victoria, particularly one here in James Bay. This is difficult to pin down, but is surely the most academic text currently on the desk. The citations in this thing are totally intimidating — arcane and liberally sprinkled with Greek. I’ve only grazed lightly around the edges of this verdant valley of scholarship, but it looks like strange and wild territory. Will eventually have to explore further.

Charles Stross, Halting State (New York: Penguin, 2007).

A fairly recent sci-fi novel by a relatively new figure in the genre (this is his 6th). Came to my attention by way of the folks at Boing Boing.

I’m about a third of the way through this book, a near-future piece set in the Edinburgh of 2018. The plot involves a bank heist in an on-line virtual space — a game, essentially — that has serious consequences in meat-space. Intriguing. It’s a fascinating look at the development of technology in the early 21st century, and its political, economic and social consequences. Like a communications theory thesis on crystal meth — edgy, hip and definitely plugged-in. Stross’ novel ably anticipates the headlines on tomorrow’s Google news…

Rudolf Steiner, Fruits Of Anthroposophy (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986).

An odd, esoteric little book. Summaries of lectures given by Steiner — who coined the term Anthroposophy — in the early 1920s. His focus is on the failings of modern society. Some of this stuff is ontological gold. A sample:

“29 August 1921

In the course of eight lectures given at the recent Congress at Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner explained what effect the agnosticism of the last century had upon the whole life of humanity today. As a result of natural science agnosticism taught that humanity was only able to spin round the world a web of ‘causality’. What lies at the back, what is unknown, what cannot be reached by the senses — all this must for ever remain hidden from human wisdom; and most especially does everything psycho-spiritual withdraw itself from the reach of knowledge.

Agnosticism has seized hold of science, education and social life, and it affects millions of men who very often are quite unaware of the fact. It then lays hold of the realm of ideas, separating this from the world of true reality upon which alone humanity should have its stand; thus creating an inner division which weakens the soul forces of men. Through this division, license is given to all the lower instincts, as we can recognize to be prominently the case in the world today. The realm of feeling also becomes unsatisfied; unfertilized by ideas it degenerates, hardens and becomes sentimental, or else it is engulfed in the life of elementary instincts. This shows itself particularly in art, which is either sweetly unreal or else is naturalistic. True art creates its own style, and true style can only come from men’s supersensible experiences. Agnosticism robs us of the truths which must live in art.

Upon our will power, also, it has had an evil influence, for it has killed moral impulses and has allowed what is instinctive to become master. Thus do we find today that thinking is lax, feeling is dulled, and willing is made void through disbelief; and, as a result, what is animal in man rises to the surface. In the religious life also men feel a void, and seek support in organized streams like that of the Catholic Church, or else in some oriental direction. These, however, can no longer give to men the right content because they have their life in past ages.

In modern industry we can see an immediate effect of scientific thought. Here men do not live within what they practice. Moderns systems of labour consist in ruling out the human side of man and making him into a machine.

Void also today as a fruit of disbelief are all social impulses, and all these facts work back on men and have led then to a certain ‘easy-going’ condition of their social life.

If one wishes to compare or contrast the ascending with the declining powers of the day, one observes that the life of expression is not sufficiently active and does not carry on with enthusiasm what is required. People would rather not take up any new piece of work; they prefer asking if its need is already established, rather than trying to prove its worth in life.

In the world of education, teachers try to place things before children in such a way that they need not be altered when the children grow up. But what is presented to children should be so given that it develops with the child during the course of its life.

It is in these facts that we can see how the seeds of agnosticism bear fruit in the life of man.”

Wow. Written over eighty years ago — could be fully applied to our present condition. Who talks like that anymore? Unless, of course, they want you to send them money…Hmm…

Natalie Angier, The Canon (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

A “science for dummies” kind of text. An introduction to scientific thinking and its history that has a popular and accessible content. I picked this up because of the courses I’m teaching in the same vein. In truth, it isn’t all that great. There’s something a little too cheeky and flippant about Angier’s tone. I imagine she’d be kinda hard to take in person. It’s hard to like books when you have the sense you wouldn’t like the author.

So, anyway, that’s it. The quiz? What book lies on your desk that you’d like to share with the world, something that recently inspired, or broadened your perspective? Maybe just something subversive and dirty. Whatever works…

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8 Responses to “On My Desk, Vol.6”

  1. uberfrau Says:

    I have papers on my desk.

  2. monica Says:

    To procrastinate, I’ll list my books too.

  3. The Necromancer Says:

    uberfrau: Most people have some papers on their desk. But thanks for the incredibly helpful update.

    monica: All blogging is essentially procrastination. This is just more obvious. ;)

  4. Shefaly Says:

    Monsieur, part of my bookshelf is on Shelfari. Books I am reading are never on my desk. My desk has unfiled papers, 3-4 notebooks for various purposes, a London street map book in pink binding, my dates diary, some annual reports, various coloured pens, empty glasses, and uh-huh, barely enough elbowroom.

  5. uberfrau Says:

    Well, it’s about as helpful or as riveting as reading about your list of books.

  6. The Necromancer Says:

    Shefaly: Shelfari. I like that…

    uberfrau: Point well taken. This will probably be the last installment of this feature — no applause necessary. Maybe I’ll start writing poetry again…

  7. enreal Says:

    Poetry would be nice…However I enjoy learning what people read…It makes for good suggestions…Either way nothing is better than one’s words…

  8. On My Desk, Vol.7 « The Necromancer Says:

    […] My Desk, Vol.7 By The Necromancer It has been over a year since the last time I did this, so it’s arguably overdue. Everybody’s got a […]

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