One of the things I’m did this past spring was an independent study—a vehicle by which to move through my dissertation’s tentative bibliography, at a pace of around two books at time, every two weeks, and to write short comparative analyses of the texts. These books covered intersections of philosophy, psychology, theology, machine consciousness, and Afro-Atlantic magico-religious traditions, I thought my reviews might be of interest, here.
My first two books in this process were Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and David J. Gunkel’s The Machine Question, and while I didn’t initially have plans for the texts to thematically link, the first foray made it pretty clear that patterns would emerge whether I consciously intended or not.
[Image of a careworn copy of Frantz Fanon’s BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS, showing a full-on image of a Black man’s face wearing a white anonymizing eye-mask.]
In choosing both Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Gunkel’s The Machine Question, I was initially worried that they would have very little to say to each other; however, on reading the texts, I instead found myself struck by how firmly the notions of otherness and alterity were entrenched throughout both. Each author, for very different reasons and from within very different contexts, explores the preconditions, the ethical implications, and a course of necessary actions to rectify the coming to be of otherness.
Last year, I was given and read Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON, and I’ve wanted to take a little time to describe to you why you should read it, if you haven’t already.
GNOMON starts with an investigator in London looking into the death of someone in the course of what should have been a routine investigation. A woman was strapped into a chair and her mind was probed with drugs and machines to learn the truth of who she was and whether she posed a threat to the city. Mielikki Neith works for The Witness—an automated algorithmic learning and surveillance system tied into a systema dn series of networked devices across London’s populace, creating and enabling the ultimate democracy. Citizens are engaged and connected to the laws, status, and operations of their country, in real time, and it is through this system that Neith is assigned to the task of investigating Diana Hunter’s death.
From there, things get very strange, very fast. As the real-time recording of Hunter’s mind under interrogation unfolds in Neith’s consciousness—a tool used by Witness service to maximize transparency and understanding—Neith finds more than just Hunter’s mind: she also the life story of another. As the story unfolds, it actually doesn’t. It refolds, mountain folds, and valley folds through time and space and placeness, and that gets, ultimately, to what I want to say to you about what Nick Harkaway has done here.
Here are some things that are true about GNOMON:
This book is and is about magic, machine consciousness, and communities of resistance, in the weirdest ways possible.
It is exactly 666 pages long.
This book has four or five or six main threads, and it weaves all of them around and through all of them, each enveloping and enfolding each, wrapping around the outside only to then traverse it and find that you are inside of and beneath the next layer in the line.
The entire book resonates with Borges, Hofstadter, Danielewski, Butler, and LeGuin, without imitation.
Each one of these personages appears or seems to appear, but just when you think you’re sure how they’ll be seen, they are not there, like a shark fin in the ocean that becomes and always was the wave of the sea you’re swimming in and then, again, or maybe never, churns and is the shark: No less deeply and immediately important for the reminder of what is in there with you, and quietly unsettling for upending what you think you know…
GNOMON is the kind of thing that you know is behaving as intended when one of the metaphors/similes/analogies you’ve decided to use to describe it shows up in it the day after you think of it.
It is almost impossible to spoil this book without telling you literally all of the events of this book, but I also don’t want to colour your intake, too much, other than to say that this book is important. There is mystery in it, and there’s art. It is a masterful thing, and if all you see is the surface plot of it, then you’ve missed the central conceit of the thing.
If you have not already done so, definitely get it, when you get a chance.
Often these guys aren’t just looking for sex. Many are depressed or stressed, lonely or bored, looking for intimacy or a connection, no matter how transient, no matter the cost. One john who was rejected on a regular basis in the dating scene wrote that, in contrast to the women he met at bars, prostitutes saw him as “a normal and charming guy.” Other men recalled youthful sexcapades in the military while deployed overseas, from a German brothel called Crazy Sexy to a barbershop in Asia where women performed oral sex on men getting haircuts. An “overeducated” 28-year-old went through a bad breakup, a death in the family, and the loss of his job. Online he found a “courtesan” who taught him what he wanted in a relationship and gave him his confidence back. “I’m really grateful to her,” he reported.
I. The Intern: He set his foot on the beginning of the path. He is the one of the he-doesn’t-work-here-he’s-just-an-intern. Formation and harsh exploitation merge in the same hour for the Intern. He is known for being the weakest and the one under the most uncertain condition, as well as for his optimism: unpaid jobs, petty cash, and three euros an hour of untaxable wages do not frighten him. The Manager asks him to wash his car during his coffee break, and his Estate is his parents. The Intern stands for the skill to learn the secrets of the companies and of his bosses while he is being abused for free. If matched with the Justice (very rarely!) this implies an unexpected lucky shot. If opening the game, the Intern stands for availability, innocence and bad luck. If closing the game, it stands for bad luck and nothing more.
The legions of pro-Tibet activists also seem largely unaware of the historical fact that the “holy land of compassion” has been a CIA pawn since the end of World War II. The infamous Tolstoi Mission sent CIA operatives into Tibet, with plans to establish it as a US military base, from which the US could control the entire Asian region. This activity flourished under the US-supported, opium-banked Nationalist Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-Shek.
When the Communists rose to power, the CIA trained Tibetans in guerrilla tactics to use against the regime in Peking, and thousands of Tibetans lost their lives in these battles. Who benefited? Who really gave the orders then — and who is driving the agenda now?
There is little doubt that Anglo-American interests continue to use Tibet, exploit the image of Tibet as a holy place under siege, and bamboozle naïve (and well-heeled) outside activists with slick marketing, in order to undermine Beijing.
Denunciations of Beijing’s brutal crackdowns do not take into account the covert operations and outside infiltrations that triggered the crackdowns in the first place.
New Scientist has a feature package where seventeen big name scientists recommend books that they considered "life-changing." Here is the list of the scientists and the books they suggest, with each title linking to Amazon. Follow the link at the bottom of the post to the New Scientist article where you can read the scientists’ thoughts on their picks. From New Scientist:
Arizona bill would permit confiscation of books opposed to American values like capitalism:—
Measure backs ‘American values’ in state schools
Arizona schools whose courses "denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization" could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.
SB1108 also would bar teaching practices that "overtly encourage dissent" from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials to the state superintendent of public instruction, who could withhold state aid from districts that broke the law.
Another section of the bill would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is "based in whole or in part on race-based criteria," a provision Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said is aimed at MEChA, the Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a student group.
The 9-6 vote by the Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the full House.
The legislation appears aimed largely at the Tucson Unified School District, whose "Raza Studies" program has annoyed some people. Tucson resident Laura Leighton read lawmakers sections of some books used in classrooms which she said promote hatred.
If the proposal becomes law, however, it would have a statewide reach. And that concerned even some lawmakers who voted for it, saying the language of what would and would not be prohibited is "vague."
Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selection
Natural selection is the only means of evolution
Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexity
Evolution produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environment
Evolution always promotes the survival of species
It doesn’t matter if people do not understand evolution
“Survival of the fittest” justifies “everyone for themselves”
Evolution is limitlessly creative
Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexuality
Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution
Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant
Accepting evolution undermines morality
Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocide
Religion and evolution are incompatible
Half a wing is no use to anyone
Evolutionary science is not predictive
Evolution cannot be disproved so is not science
Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex life forms
Evolution is an entirely random process
Mutations can only destroy information, not create it
Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolution
The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex
Yet more creationist misconceptions
Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics
But still, he could gaze out of the window of his parents’ big American car as the chauffeur drove him and his nanny through the city, marvelling at the ?bright but bloody kaleidoscope’ outside: ?the prosperous Chinese businessmen pausing in the Bubbling Well Road to savour a thimble of blood tapped from the neck of a vicious goose tethered to a telephone pole; young Chinese gangsters in American suits beating up a shopkeeper; beggars fighting over their pitches; beautiful White Russian bar-girls smiling at passers-by’. It struck him as ?a magical place, a self-generating fantasy that left my own little mind far behind’. Later, after the Japanese invasion of 1937 but before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the internment of American and European civilians in 1943, he would ride his bike for hours around the city. ?Even as a ten-year-old who had known nothing else, the extreme poverty of the Chinese, the deaths and disease and orphans left to starve in doorways, unsettled me as it must have unsettled my parents.’ It is almost too obvious to need saying that the seeds of Ballard’s science fiction, of all his dystopian futures, were planted during his childhood in Shanghai. When Empire of the Sun was published in 1984, ?sympathetic readers of my earlier novels and short stories were quick to spot echoes . . . the drained swimming pools, abandoned hotels and nightclubs, deserted runways and flooded rivers.’