READ for the Week Ending 1/15/2010

What I’m reading. Comment if you want to know more about anything in particular.

  • Scott, James C. 2009. The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. Should be a groundbreaking correction to the pernicious and tenacious stereotypes about upland and lowland cultures, genesis, maintenance, and relationships. So thoroughly revises reflexive assumptions about mainland Southeast Asia that the book resists quick summary. A lengthier review may be required. Required reading for SEAsianists, Sociology.
  • Holt, John Clifford. 2009. Spirits of the place. Buddhism and Lao religious culture. In many ways this book represents a landmark in the English-language study of Lao religion. Taking upland-lowland realities seriously, Holt treats the interaction between ‘animist’ and Buddhist systems and rituals (and peoples) from a theoretical and historical point of view. A bit weaker in the last two chapters, the first three would serve excellently as an introduction to both the theory and realities of Lao religion and history. Strongly Recommended to SEAsianists and Buddhist Studies.
  • Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the witch: women, the body, and primitive accumulation. Stunning. A corrective to Marxist theories about the genesis (transition) to capitalism, Federici argues convincingly that a necessary and (logically) prior moment in the developing of formally free, male, waged productive labor, is the production of a denigrated, reproductive, female, unwaged domestic laboring class.  She then ties in, also completely convincingly, the witch-hunts of roughly two and a half centuries of (primarily) European history (though her last chapter traces the witch-hunt throughout colonialism’s path). Required reading for Anti-capitalists and Feminists.
  • Jerryson, Michael K, and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds. 2010. Buddhist Warfare. A much-anticipated and somewhat controversial volume that traces the connections between the Buddhist religion – stereotyped as a pacifist religion – and warfare. The essays are uneven, though some of this unevenness is undoubtedly tied to the wild diversity of attitudes and approaches (insider, outsider, political scientist, anthropologist, sociologist, religious studies, etc.) represented. (Note that google books does not show the actual cover on their page. Actual cover has a picture of a Lao Buddhist novice monk holding an automatic pistol). Recommended to Buddhist Studies.
  • Kummu, Matti, Marko Keskinen, Olli varis, eds. 2008. Modern myths of the Mekong: a critical review of water and development concepts, principles, and policies. Of great interest and contemporary currency, this volume contains a few critically important moments, but is of such wildly uneven quality that I cannot recommend it in its entirety. I’m personally most impressed with the essays by Jussi Nikula (“Is harm and destruction all that floods bring?” – an introduction to ‘flood-pulse’ ecosystem functioning) and Lustig, Fletcher, et al. (“Did traditional cultures live in harmony with nature? Lessons from Angkor, Cambodia.”). This latter is somewhat misleading, since ‘traditional’ here seems merely to mean ‘historical,’ which in many ways means ‘nothing.’ As a specific case study of Angkor, however, their evidence is clear and the conclusion not negotiable – Angkor was not ‘ecologically neutral.’ Not recommended as a volume.
  • Watts, Peter. 2008. Blindsight. Hard Sci-Fi. Very very cool, cerebral: is consciousness worth it, from the perspective of the species? And exactly how would an empathic vampire act in space toward a half-brained crew member who can’t be convinced to act in the interests of self-preservation? Essential for Hard Sci-Fi fans.
  • Wu Ming. 2005. ’54. Just awesome.  From the same collective author responsible for Q, this time the group tackles the year 1954 – the height of the cold war, the rise of the global heroin industry, and Cary Grant. And Hitchcock. Awesome.
  • Germano, William. 2008. Getting it published: a guide for scholars, and anyone else serious about serious books. 2nd Ed. Essential for academics.
  • Germano, William. 2005. From dissertation to book. Essential for academics.
  • Silvia, Paul J. 2007. How to write a lot: a practical guide to productive academic writing. Recommended if you need help scheduling your writing.
  • Boice, Robert. 2000. Advice for new faculty members. Recommended for academics.
  • Lamont, Michèle. 2009. How professors think: Inside the curious world of academic judgment. Recommended for academics facing tenure review, or charged with some form of ‘assessment.’

Look  at those last five titles. I’ve read all of them in the last month.  Can you guess what I’m working on?


A strange thought on dissertation writing and reincarnation

I am the rebirth of Proust
But I will be free of his will.

To understand that requires that you understand how one can be both the same and different from a personality in a previous birth; how one can be the product of past actions with which one identified, and yet retain the possibility of escaping the repetition of the same. It requires understanding how one can learn from mistakes. It requires understanding how Buddhist rebirth is imagined.

It is also an assertion of will: I will write more briefly.


Why Academic Writing Feels Dead, and the Orgasm theory

I often write about things that are either difficult to bear emotionally, or difficult to bear cognitively. Often times, I write about things that are both, at the same time, such as when I exhaust myself and my reader (or do I have 2 now?) by dealing with Bataille, Deridda, Castoriadis, or even Agamben before spitting forth an insight that came to me without ever being framed in any of those terms when I first conceived the thought. My writing, and I imagine, that of others, often suffers as a result of the paradox: the more respectable the writing is, the less clearly the inspiration for it is communicated, and the more it suffers under the weight of the literature it must reference. This paradox is at the heart of many sociologies, just as it is at the heart of academic writing. Sociology and history’s problem is often characterized as finding a way to account for the uniformity of change and continuity without privileging one over the other. The dominant contemporary model in the academy remains that of dialectical materialism. In the various ontologies of mind propounded by different philosophers, similarly, there is always a need to mediate between perception and truth, as between the one mind and the other mind.

The dominant model for this mediation has been, since the time of Plato, that of the imagination. I find the teleology of dialectical materialism both downright wrong and rigidly overdetermined (and therefore completely uncreative), but acknowledge the need to focus on real forces in play, and the possible and impossible consequences of the same. On the other hand, even though I often deny at some level the correctness of the assumption, ever since Plato, that Reason can be known (a denial which questions the function of the imagination itself), I am less inclined to dismiss the mediating function of the imagination. But let’s return, for the moment, to why academic writing so often feels ‘dead.’

It’s dead because it surrounds itself with the dead, as a matter of polite acknowledgment, practical necessity, and sheer fetishism.
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Folktales project second magazine out now

The second issue of the Buddhist Institute‘s Folklore Recovery Project, which I assist on, is apparently out now, featuring art by artist Em Satya, who has taught himself to draw all over again after a stroke impaired his dominant hand. All tales are on the theme of Place.

I haven’t seen the final version yet, but will place the PDF file on the publication page as soon as I get it; it’ll be very difficult to obtain outside of Cambodia.

UPDATE: A pdf file, sans cover illustration, is now on the publication page