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I’m reading

Starting this week, I’m going to post lists with incredibly short reviews about the things I’ve read in the last week. Partly this is just to have something to write during a period of massive and intensive reading, partly it’s a way to keep track.

  • Stark, Miriam T. 2006. Textualized Places, Pre-Angkorian Khmers, and Historicized Archaeology. In Excavating the Relations between History and Archaeology in the Study of PreModern Asia, edited by N. Yoffee and B. Crowell. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Stark, Miriam T. 2006. Early mainland Southeast Asian landscapes in the First Millenium A.D. Annual Review of Anthropology 35.
  • Stark, Miriam T. 2006. From Funan to Angkor: Collapse and Regeneration in Ancient Cambodia. In After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, edited by G. M. Schwartz and J. J. Nichols. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

These are three new pieces from archaeologist Miriam Stark, whose work represents an important examination of serious issues on state formation and collapse in mainland southeast asia. Invoking ideas such as collapse, state-formation, emergence, and complexity, Prof. Stark has been asking ‘big questions,’ and consistently backing up her modest answers with hard data gained from field work. The last piece in particular is of importance to my work, drawing as it does on ideas of a ‘cultural template,’ based largely on agricultural modes of production, to explain the continuity of Khmer culture beyond political collapse. Very important.

  • Strong, John S. 2004. Relics of the Buddha. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

This is an excellent book by Professor Strong, whose previous books remain on my shelf. A critique of his previous book-length works is that his apparently encyclopedic memory and ability to coordinate massive amounts of information from disparate sources makes his books more useful as encyclopedias than as coherent arguments. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and is in fact the reason why his books remain on my ‘work shelf’ – the indices alone are crucial. As one of my professors once said, ‘everything’s in there.’

This book however, combines Strong’s encyclopedism with a set of coherent and clearly-stated arguments about the nature of Buddha relics in the world of Buddhism. I would like to say ‘in the Buddhist imagination,’ except that Strong himself doesn’t employ this idea. The work focuses strongly on textual sources, and largely ignores cultural practices (which he examined in detail for his previous work on Upagupta), which is a good idea for this book – it’s comprehensive enough as it is. The main point, which is a vital intervention in the studies of Buddha relics, is that relics do not manifest or contain the essence of the Buddha himself in any sort of transcendent or immanent sense, therefore, in discussing the ‘presence’ or ‘absence’ of the Buddha in his relics. Rather, the relics should be seen as extensions of the Buddha’s biographical process.

  • Walker, Andrew. 2002. Forests and water in Northern Thailand. CMU Journal 1 (3):215-244.

This is a technical article on the effects of forest clearing and water retention/flow in the forest areas of Northern Thailand. The upshot, from this reader’s relatively uninformed point of view, seems to be that the relationship between forest clearing and water flow in Northern Thailand is not as straightforward as we might think. Due to a number of factors arising from the ecology of forests and water, clearing forests does not seem to have an appreciable effect on the year-long flow of water, though it may during certain seasons (though Walker is at pains to show that this does not appear to be true of dry-season flow). Walker is one of the main contributors to the wonderful new mainland SEA site New Mandala.

  • Shukaitis, Stevphen, and David Graeber, eds. 2006. Constituent imagination: militant investigations//collective theorization. Oakland: AK Press.

An edited collection of essays on the notion of collective (and almost normatively, consensual) theorization and research. The highlight for me was the essay by Colectivo Situaciones, “Something more on research militancy: footnotes on procedures and (in)decisions”, which includes a lengthy essay on translation and research militancy by Sebastian Touza and Nate Holdren.

  • Fo, Dario. 2001 [1970]. Accidental death of an anarchist. London: Pluto Press Ltd.

Hilarious. One of the funniest plays I’ve read in ages. It combines the subversive physical and absurdist comedy of Chaplin with the flying language of a Tom Stoppard. Highly, highly recommended.

One of the most intense and insightful plays I’ve ever read about race, violence, and sexual desire. Unbelievable.

  • Kimmeldorf, Howard. 1999. Battling for American labor: wobblies, craft workers, and the making of the union movement. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Excellent case study of the Philadelphia dock worker strikes and the New York culinary worker strikes in the early decades of the twentieth century. Kimmeldorf demolishes the pervasive myth of the ‘essentially conservative’ American worker, showing that the move from the IWW to the AFL was much more the result of two things: poor leadership on the part of IWW national leaders who stressed revolutionary radicalism over ‘pure syndicalism,’ and the adoption of the IWW’s effective tactics by the AFL (at least temporarily). Kimmeldorf shows that straight syndicalism, direct action, and workplace control are much more ‘inherent’ to the American worker, to the present day, than any sense of ‘inherent conservatism.’

  • Porter, David, ed. 2006. Vision on fire: Emma Goldman on the Spanish revolution. Oakland: AK Press.

A wonderful edited compilation of Goldman’s  writings (much of it culled from her correspondence) on the Spanish revolution. Crucial reading for those interested in the Spanish attempts for liberation, its destruction, or in anarchism more generally.

  • Sitrin, Marina. 2006. Horizontalism: voices of popular power in Argentina. Oakland: AK Press.

Another edited compilation of the voices of those involved in creating popular assemblies, neighborhood councils, and recuperated factories in Argentina. This is a movement that is constantly in danger, while representing perhaps the most amazing hope for the future of the Americas. The idea has spread as far north as Oaxaca recently, where it is being viciously and murderously attacked, to a complete silence in the American media.

I’ve also been reading some other things for fun, including the wonderfully entertaining “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. It’s been a big week, and my eyes are tired. Hopefully next week this list will be shorter.

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3 thoughts on “I’m reading

  1. No offense, but I really don’t think you were reading Constituent Imagination back last November because it just got released this week. Glad you enjoyed the Colective Situaciones essay, though – it’s indeeda good one. But just pointing out the release date because it seems a bit unfair to start saying what the best part of the book is when it hasn’t been released yet.

  2. Erik says:

    No offense taken, and perhaps I should have included a note. I got a hold of what was apparently a proof copy of your excellent book from a friend who was in a free class here in Minneapolis. I won’t name names, but you can probably suss out who it was based on that information – he says he received it from you (though I will say it wasn’t any of the authors or translators). It is an excellent work, and although I have yet to receive a copy of it from AK Press as part of my “Friends of AK” deal, I’m looking forward to seeing the final copy!

  3. Cool. Minneapolis, eh? I have noooo idea who you would have seen it from there. Hee hee… OK. I do. Cool. Glad you like it. The copies have arrived in the AK warehouse so they should ship out soon. Glad you liked it.

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