Titles are listed alphabetically by author. Where possible, hyperlinks to relevant web resources have been added. All information is provided for entertainment and subversive self-development only.
Antonin Artaud: 4
Texts Antonin Artaud; Translated by Clayton Eshleman and
Artaud, electro-shock survivor, scrapes the shit-slimed bottom of his unconscious mind and sculpts poems from the gleanin's. It's a challenging read, often inscrutable, but the depths hinted at are within each of us.
And it was always drainage for angels, / and my drainage passed theirs, / the day when / forced to hoe in the syphilitic resins / of a filth organized from the very beginning, / I understood that the hoed one was me, -- / and that what you have defecated defecates you / if you do not take / well in advance / the precaution to syphilize, / the penis abscess / IN THE SNOT-SUCKING MUZZLE OF THE WILL. [Panjandrum Books]
Body Isaac Asimov
Exactly what the title says. This is a detailed explanation, in layman's terms, of most of the body's major parts and systems. Especially interesting are the discussions of how and why certain features may have evolved. This is a useful 'refresher course' for anyone who wants to understand the basics of what we are, physically. [New York: Mentor]
A History of
PI Petr Beckmann
Using the calculation of pi as a yardstick, Beckmann assesses the history of human knowledge and society. Draws a connection between free cultures and intellectual advancement.
Millennium "Jack Blake"
Purporting to be "a look at the burgeoning hysteria, religious mania, and anti-intellectualism as the millennium approaches," this book is actually a polemic against the much narrower threat of the "Christian Right". The premise is that, due to religious extremists' apocalyptic worldview, we should be very concerned about our survival past Dec. 31, 1999. Blake, a self-professed "rational person", takes this threat quite seriously, it seems, though he fails to offer much in the way of actual doomsday scenarios, other than Ronald Reagan starting WWIII. He goes about dissecting and refuting the political and pseudoscientific claims of fundamentalist bigots -- claims which are patently absurd to begin with. His critique is meticulous indeed, explaining to us the many reasons why racial diversity, sexuality, homosexuality, secular humanism, and the theory of evolution are valid areas of human activity, instead of the work of Satan. But reading his litany of self-evident arguments I began to wonder, "Why bother?" Rationality is only an antidote for irrationality once its premises have been accepted. It is not the case that irrationality exists only to the degree that reason is absent; they are qualitatively different, not opposites. What Blake does is to engage his somewhat contrived enemy on its own terms, thereby keeping the debate on a level not much higher than the average Geraldo showdown. When I finished the book, I felt that I had just been lectured to by a sophomoric high school student. For a rationalist, Blake is embarrassingly smug, and besides, doesn't he know the world isn't going to end until 2012?
The Portable Blake
Alfred Kazin, ed.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." [New York: Penguin]
The Power of the
Machine R. A. Buchanan
This is a history of technology in the West since 1700. Not very "heady", but contains vital documentation for anyone who hopes to pontificate on the social impact of the tools we use.
Mahabharata retold by William Buck
War! Wisdom! Sex! Intrigue! Not to mention lots of juicy cosmology and strange hyperbole in this Indian epic. [New York: Meridian]
It's like reading a series of journal entries, or story fragments that emerged from journal entries. Yet as the end approaches, turning back to the beginning, I realize it all fits together with a haunting continuity. Phrases float awhile on the page, perhaps to resurface later glinting like minnows underwater. Burroughs seems able to watch the flow of his unconscious mind as it drifts by and PIN IT to the page just so lightly it won't kill it not yet. Butterfly still flaps languidly on the page.
Interzone William S. Burroughs
A patchwork of journal entries and story fragments, reconstructed largely from Burroughs' time in Tangiers. Contains proto-elements of several themes which recur in his later work, sliding through a haze of hashish, heroin, and the intrigue of the "International Zone". [New York: Penguin]
William S. Burroughs
Ostensibly this is a series of interviews with Uncle Bill, but there is little in the way of citation or context. Instead, interviews are intercut with relevant written pieces to make this a conversational pastiche, almost hypertext, of Burroughs' thinking at the time. Cherished themes in this case are Scientology, guerilla tape-recorder cutups and playback, and short-circuiting word patterns. "The program proposed is essentially a disintoxication from inner fear and inner control, a liberation of thought and energy to prepare a new generation for the adventure of space." Not as gripping as some of his other work, but good for reference and calibration. [New York: Penguin]
William S. Burroughs
The famous semi-fictional documentary of an addict's universe. Tells of pleasure, pain, craving and curiousity in a matter-of-fact tone which is both chilling and revealing. Written before the cut-up period, the story is clear and straightforward, with no attempt to justify or excuse the problems it uncovers. In an ongoing atmosphere of hysteria over 'drugs', this book remains a realistic review of the myths obout use and addiction, from someone who's actually been there. [New York: Penguin]
William S. Burroughs
This "Book of Dreams" presents itself at first as a fragmented collection of journal entries, visionary snippets stolen from sleep. But gradually it strikes the reader that there are recurring themes, a sort of organic narrative. Is Burroughs editing his accounts to suggest a story? Or are his dreams in fact an ongoing report from the Land of the Dead, intersecting the stories of his own life at odd angles? The effect is disconcerting, and in the hollow of unasked questions, potent images well up, whispering of mortality and intrigue, of addiction and "universal damage and loss." The reader feels privy to some secret ritual of language, where the Word appears almost naked, close to its origins in the bedrock of the Imagination. [New York: Viking]
Saints William S. Burroughs
This 1973 text seems to be a lesser-known transitional work of the Old Man of Letters. A narrative like pond ripples, memories of lost days fading into the sky, backdrop of young boys fucking, animal smells, death training. Burroughs populates the devastation of an open, dissipating world with his trademark queer-cowboy machismo. The result is less a coherent story than an evolving cascade of associations, tugging sad soft memories behind it in the jelly-webbed morning light. [Berkeley: Blue Wind Press]
Lands William S.
When I realized I was going to go back and reread this book as soon as I finished it, I worried that my eyes might stay permanently bugged out of my head. Vengeful souls from Hiroshima launch a raid on the land of the dead. I think. [New York: Penguin]
The Kama Sutra of
Vatsyayana Sir Richard F. Burton (trans.)
I was surprised by how analytic this text is, given the subject matter. No, it's not simply a catalog of sexual positions. This is an unexpected glimpse into the social relations of an ancient and elaborate civilization, and more fundamentally, into the ramifications of love and sexuality. Lengthy sections, for instance, include systematic considerations for courtesans who make a living by shacking up with one or more men. It's all delivered in a strangely amoral style, completely practical, with little more than a postscript to say, "Act with the good of others in mind." There is much that is archaic here, but also plenty to learn that is timeless. [New York: E. P. Dutton]
A series of lectures given in 1840 addresses the role of individuals in history, the various forms they can take, and certain unifying characteristics of this class of "Great Men". At points Carlyle passes from scientific inquiry into rhapsody, and occasionally from there into fawning effluence, and his British provincialism emerges in the discussion of Napoleon. But beneath all this is an eloquent, if brief, glimpse into the intellectual thought of Post-Enlightenment Europe. [New York: Penguin 60's Classics]
The Hunting of the
The classic "Agony in Eight Fits" tells of the daring crew and their leader at the denoument of their Snark-hunting activities. A chilling admonitory tale for young and old. Read it several times, including once standing upon your head. For the Snark was a Boojum, you see... Annotated by Martin Gardner. [New York: Penguin]
The Phenomenon of
Man Teilhard de
De Chardin, a Jesuit and a paleontologist, lays out his controversial theory of evolution. He depicts the world as a successive layering of increasingly complex conditions, from simple molecules to the biosphere, and up through the 'noosphere' of Human thought. The process culminates, he argues, in a transcendent Omega Point, wherein the convergent potential of Humanity is fully realized. [New York: Harper & Row]
The Phenomenon of
Man Teilhard de Chardin
A second reading of this work, after two years of lying fallow in my brain, allowed Chardin's full vision to unfold before me. Writing in manifestly visual language, Chardin presents the sweep of evolution as a unified whole, a process of Mind gathering itself towards its own center. Some may object to his Christian orientation, but Chardin does well to save his explicit observations on his faith for an epilogue. Frankly, I think he stretches his argument there, but it can be clipped without doing violence to the primary text. The value of the book for me is that it positions Man as exponent and extension of all phenomena of which the universe consists. [New York: Harper & Row]
2001: A Space
Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke
An ancient extraterrestrial race coaxes humanity towards a godlike transformation, via applied technology. Hmmm. Explains all of those "weird parts" in the movie that you pretended you understood to appear cool. [New York: Penguin]
End Arthur C. Clarke
The Overmind absorbs the Earth. Dig it.
The Collapse of Chaos Jack Cohen & Ian
A wonderful book! The first half lays out a compelling reductionist picture of the universe, and the second half demolishes it! Chaos Theory shows how complexity can arise from simplicity. Here the authors ask the converse -- how is it that complex systems can behave in simple and consistent ways? [New York: Penguin]
Blueprint Paul Davies
Davies makes a noble and informed attempt to translate the surprising strangeness and coherence of modern cosmology into layman's terms. Unfortunately it failed to distinguish itself from a number of other books on the subject which got to me first. (cf. The Collapse of Chaos above) Instead it merely rounded out the edges of my current understanding of cosmic order, without yielding any new poetic insights. [New York: Penguin]
The Meaning of the Dead
Sea Scrolls A. Powell Davies
Originally published in 1956, this book describes the discovery of and subsequent controversy surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls. Davies outlines the implications of these apparently pre-Christian texts, found near the archaeological site of an Essene monastery. The Essenes were a relatively large Jewish sect living in Palestine before and during the time Jesus lived. They were generally pacifist, pastoral, ascetic, and communal. That these scrolls, whose content in part anticipates Christian thinking, were written some time before Jesus, suggests that he may himself have drawn upon such pre-existing ideas. He may even have been an Essene himself. Not knowing the state of research since this book came out, and having not (yet) read the New Testament, I am ill-equipped to assess the full implications. Still, I can say that this book offers some strong medicine for the received orthodoxy of the Church -- without diluting whatever message of truth might hide behind it.
Meditations on First
Philosophy René Descartes
I returned to this college text with a renewed sense of confidence. Several years, and much reading and thinking, had passed since I last picked it up. As it turned out, my confidence was partially warranted. But I admit to not being able to stay on the train of thought consistently. Perhaps this is due to a lack of intellectual rigor and preparation, a testament to Descartes' powerful mind. Or perhaps he himself was rambling and undisciplined. It's certainly fashionable to dis Descartes in today's cleverly counter-intuitive climate. I give him the benefit of the doubt, gentleman that I am.
This much is clear: he learned from a great teacher -- the clear voice that arises in silence and solitude. And in that inner territory, with so few familiar landmarks, he cleared a trail of sorts. The problem of Cartesian rationalism is not with any flaw in Descartes' thinking, but in the false assumption that it is the only possible path. Philosophy is intended to be public: let those who have ears, hear. Let those who have better ideas, speak.
VALIS Philip K.
I really don't know what to say about VALIS. The intersection of autobiography with science fiction; if you think about that it become unsettling. There are indications throughout this story that the events described occured to and in the life of Philip K. Dick, the author. Well... who am I to say they didn't? But what are the implications for the rest of us? [New York: Vintage Books]
Seekers Isabelle Eberhardt
Eberhardt was a free spirit who spent most of her 27 years between France and its colonies in North Africa. She converted to Islam and travelled as a man, even gaining initiation into a Sufi sect. These short stories are crystallized images from her wanderings in the desert, snapshots of lives both tragic and heroic. Everything glows with the heat of the sun on bleached sand, the seductive beauty of the open road, the fiery heart of an adventurer who shrugged the bonds of civilization in pursuit of freedom. [San Francisco: City Lights Books]
Death, Afterlife, and
Eschatology Mircea Eliade
A collection of source material from many different cultures, all dealing with the passage out of the body and out of history. [New York: Harper & Row]
Myths Alexander Eliot
Explores the four-poled "mythosphere" of primitive, pagan, sacred, and scientific belief. Poetic and respectful towards its subject matter, with some fun stories thrown in for good measure.
Madness Georg Feuerstein
Investigates spiritual acolytes from many times and traditions who have flouted social convention as a means of leading others to enlightenment. Addresses issues of charlatanism in our skeptical times. [New York: Penguin Arkana]
On Liberty and
Drugs Milton Friedman & Thomas Szasz
IBM and Apple had a baby, and Motorola delivered it. Fanatical Christians and zealous feminists unite against pornography. A sheep has been cloned. Against such features of our increasingly-psychedelic cultural landscape, it should come as no surprise that the fires of the War on Drugs would burn both ends of the political candle. The stereotype of drug-decriminalization advocates is that they are irresponsible and stinky hedonists, or ponytailed socialist intellectuals. Here, however, we have two free-market libertarians -- one an economist under the Reagan administration -- laying down elaborate and unequivocal arguments for legalization.
Friedman is an economic theorist, and an advocate of limited government. He argues that drug prohibition is economically unsound, and represents a blatant abuse of the government's assigned role as 'servant of the people,' as a protector of individuals from other individuals. Szasz, the 'maverick psychiatrist', positions himself against the 'therapeutic state'. He suggests that the medical-legal system has placed health above freedom as a social virtue, and that we have become acclimated to an increasingly paternalistic system, which 'protects' us from ourselves.
The arguments against Prohibition are rousing enough, but the authors surely ruffle some feathers with their hard-hitting libertarian solutions. Friedman goes so far as to suggest that the FDA should be eliminated. Generally, the idea is legalization for adults, treating currently 'illicit' 'drugs' the same way we treat alcohol and tobacco: as commodities subject to market competition. Food -- and perhaps drugs -- for thought. [The Drug Policy Foundation Press; call 202-537-5005 for a catalog]
Operating Manual For
Spaceship Earth R. Buckminster Fuller
A confident call for humanity to realize its evolutionary potential, provide for all its members in harmony, and set out to explore the universe. It's rousing and timely, but unclear as to who, exactly, needs convincing. I think I would like to read more by Fuller, perhaps of a bit more technical nature. [New York: Penguin Arkana]
This Penguin 60's sampler contains excerpts from Gibran's The Prophet, The Madman: His Parables and Poems, and The Wanderer. These stories from a remarkable man resound with the poetic sensibility of Islam, speaking of genuine and elemental truths. While excellent individually, as a collection this tended a bit towards the moralistic. Perhaps one of these would be a good speech opener. [London: Penguin 60's]
CHAOS James Gleick
As much a history as an explanation of Chaos Theory. Read it, and then move on to the crazy stuff. [New York: Penguin]
DeathRobert S. Gottfried
It's healthy, I think, to remind our well-fed modern selves sometimes just how bad things can get. The Holocaust certainly serves this purpose most persistently, but nothing surpasses the Black Death in terms of sheer powerlessness in the face of disaster. With mortality exceeding 50% in some areas, the plague had profound implications for the social and economic development of Europe. The single most salient feature of the plague is how powerless the most advanced socities of the day were to contain or resist its advance. The implications for our own world are humbling. [New York: The Free Press]
Richard Feynman: A Life in ScienceJohn Gribbin & Mary Gribbin
An excellent biography of one of the great scientific thinkers and educators of our time. Clearly explains his critical role in the development of quantum electrodynamics, and other aspects of quantum theory, and make the ideas accessible to the lay person. It also foregrounds his unique teaching style, which inspired generations of scientists and endeared him to so many. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys seeing genius at work. [New York: Viking]
Through the SkylightO. B. Hardison, Jr.
This book is about disappearance -- of technology, of Nature, and ultimately, of the human. It is not a social commentary, not a nostalgia for better times. Nor is it searching for Utopia. Rather, through deep analyses of 20th-Century science, architecture, poetry, music, graphic design, and computer art, Hardison shows how history seems to point to its own disappearance. We are vanishing into our own creations. In its own right, this book is an excellent survey of leading-edge thought in Western culture. But it is the implications for the future of Humanity which kept me riveted, clinging to the curves of ideas Hardison traces, following them up and out of the skylight, to which we now seem so close. [New York: Penguin]
Elemental Mind Nick Herbert
Herbert attempts to lay the groundwork for a scientific study of consciousness. [New York: Viking]
An archetypal tale of self-transformation. Hesse heaps clarity upon clarity, until you actually believe you've grasped the secret of Enlightenment. Even so, you'll want to go back and reread it. [New York: Bantam]
The Elements of
Gnosticism Stuart Holroyd
A brief but sympathetic survey of gnosticism, the Christian heresy which rivalled the Church for centuries. Though the term 'gnostic' applies to many different movements, the core belief -- and the supreme heresy -- was that salvation is achieved only through divine gnosis, or knowledge. The dogma and rituals of the priesthood were thus irrelevant and restrictive. Holroyd traces the persecution and influence of various gnostic and related groups throughout history, with satisfying tangents into hermeticism, William Blake, and Carl Jung. [Element]
Steal This Urine
Test Abbie Hoffman
You'll get plenty of all-American activist zeal and about a quart of practical tips in this sparkling specimen. Addresses the history and excess of America's hypocritical preoccupation with 'the drug problem', then targets the Reagan-era "solution" of massive random urine screening. You'll wrinkle your nose at the pungent odor of bad government. (The book was published in 1987, however, which renders it better for historical reference than as a meditation on current policy.) [New York: Penguin]