by Moebius

I’ve been aware of Moebius, and have looked at many of his drawings. There is much to admire– his sense of line and form rivals Gustave Dore’s and his visionary architecture and landscape invented huge chunks of what we hold in our minds as the future. Like Syd Mead or John Van Hammersveld, his influence is so pervasive that it is hard to even perceive him anymore. Last night I watched Alien again, and while the Alien is definitely Giger, the environment is all Moebius.

Despite being aware of him for years, I never read any of his narrative works. When I saw a copy on my weekly art book hunt I had to have it.

The conceit is sort of a science fiction dream inside a science fiction dream, trebled and folded in on itself. But the themes are interesting: the conflict in humanity between our physical selves and the systems around us– the two main characters start out the book as sexless, controlled and fed by technology, and do not express thier genders until they end up on a garden planet (Edenna, i.e. Eden). The theme continues, with ever ratcheting degrees of surreality.

The book is dense– dense as any novel I’ve read. It took me three nights to get through– normally I will finish a graphic novel in an hour or two (why they aren’t, at their price point, a particularly good deal for me, tbh).

Like his work for Alien, the key is the world building around the characters– science fiction cities like no other, baroque spaceships and alien rituals. My biggest critique of Syd Mead is his work always seems tethered to American Industrial culture– basically drawing cars. Moebius has no such tether, or much of a tether at all.

by Hal Foster

 

I went to the Los Angeles Art Book Fair last week and am finally getting around to reading what I picked up. The first two I read were small pamphlets from C ? M ! (I tried googling the name, but could not find them). They are small, orange pamphlets. The text is big, the pages hand cut, the text poorly copy-edited. They carry the markers of “authenticity”, which is interesting since both pamphlets seem to rail against that particular aesthetic– the aesthetic of the local, of the artisinal, of the designed.

Hal Foster’s essay draws parallels between Art Nouveau’s idea of designing everything and the modern world. He ties the impulse to capitalism and a design culture that “wants the status of an artist but the paycheck of a business man”. Which, to be honest: yes, that is what I want.

Interesting for how he ties the ornamentation and louche decadence of Art Nouveau with Frank Gehry and Bruce Mau. I had never made the connection, and I now I know why I equally dislike both movements.

by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek

I went to a liberal meeting last week. I’ve been looking around for a political cadre to do activism with lately, but I’ve been finding it hard.

People seem to be very angry about the president, but no one seems to be angry about the systems that made him the president. I feel like now is the perfect time to tie neo-liberal capitalism to an unpopular figure, to illustrate how it works and begin the long complex work of dismantling it and building a better system in its place. But instead among the left I’ve found pearl clutching, constant repetition of vaguely understood news snippets to provoke mutual outrage and the “well look at what America did in Latin America so we shouldn’t be so hard on Russia” liberal death-wish arguments. The idea that if we could just write one more letter to our member of congress this problem will be fixed.

I am not optimistic that the liberals and the organic food-eating contingent of the American left have any hope or interest in winning this fight. The last meeting I went to I snuck out early with the thought: “how am I going to manage in 8 years of a Trump presidency?”

I had read the Accelerate Manifesto before, on the internet somewhere. It calls for a new left that claims the future. It rails against the horizontalism and localism of the modern left, instead asking for something that is “vertical”, that is to say fixes the problems with globalism with some new system.

In spirit I agree, even though I have spent most of my life as an activist working in those horizontal and local spaces– my teenage years in Anti-Racist Action, the anti-WTO protests, my anti-war activist through the early aughts, my work with Occupy. These projects were, of course, wildly unsuccessful, and perhaps new tactics and ideas need to be tried.  Accelerationists look at Walmart and Amazon and say: yes please, but fairer. There is a contingent in England that calls for FALC: Fully Automated Luxury Communism. Others call themselves Space Communists. Some of the arguments are tongue in cheek, but behind the irony there is a kernel of utopian vision. The gist of the manifesto is that we need to move beyond capitalism’s limits of only producing shiny widgets and new social networking sites. But we also need to harness their network effects, to use certain aspects of the surveillance state to gauge human desire and to distribute goods.

When I look at the movements I have been part of, there seems to be a lot of “against” and “anti” in the words. It seems like perhaps I should be for something at this point in my life.

Now, what to do about it?

by Margaret Atwood

I need to add more women writers and writers of color to by queue, I admit.

I didn’t hate this book of poems, but my edition suffers from a terrible 70’s bold-seriffed font, making everything feel just slightly dated– not old enough to contain wisdom, not new enough to speak to now. This seems like a stupid quibble, but I really am a stickler for good typography in poetry books– I have to at least not hate it.  I hated all the poems in Popshot Magazine, but I loved how they were laid out. Which is why I had a subscription for years. Poetry is, after all, aesthetic language.

The poems are personal, they seem to catalog a sort of bucolic 70’s (like I said: the font) that is faded like an old photograph of your parents when they were your age. They are explorations of relationships, almost love poems, and I don’t believe in love poems anymore.

I’ll try one of her novels next.

Rubicon Beach

by Steve Erickson

“… In Los Angeles you have to figure out for yourself when you’re there”

I watched the Ambassador Hotel be demolished from my apartment window on Normandie Street. Norman Klein reminds us that the history of Los Angeles is the History of Forgetting.

The Ambassador was a husk of a building, sinister at night in a part of town that had grown sinister before I ever wandered into it. I never understood why people were upset about it being taken down. It was ugly and foreboding by then. But the old men, the faded men of Hollywood, who drank at the HMS Bounty bar across the street mourned its passing every night.

Maybe it was that everything in that neighborhood had already shifted: from Anglo success and swimming pools to Oaxacan striving and Korean cultural dominance. The Brown Derby was moved a few blocks and then mistranslated into a strip mall. How Los Angeles loves to shift and reinterpret its landmarks.

My distaste for the rotting architectural corpse didn’t stop me from sneaking in one night mid-demolish to find the kitchen where Bobby Kennedy was shot, though. Norman Klein talks about how important Noir Tourism is to Los Angeles. I was never interested in the shininess of Hollywood, but in the grit around the edges, the promise of sin and danger.

Of course I was young. Now I am enjoying the puritan glow of eating well and exercising. But this book unnerved me in a way I haven’t felt for years. Like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves or J.G. Ballard’s Crash, it crawled inside me and shifted things around. Los Angeles had started to seem benevolent, kind almost. But now I’m back in a noir movie.

I forgot about those invisible boundaries in Los Angeles, where every street is evidence of some kind of turf war, where even our sense of human beauty is warped by capitalism’s aesthetics and delineations. And when you cross those borders, you don’t so easily come back. Like Caesar at the Rubicon river, as soon as it is crossed something changes forever.

In the book there is America 1 and America 2, and no one seems to know which America they were born in. They don’t know the border between Real America and Fake America anymore, and it’s an increasingly dangerous question to get wrong in whatever opaque context you find yourself in.

I found myself repeatedly checking the publishing date (1986) to see if it had crossed over to this year. It hasn’t yet.

by Christopher Clark

There is a certain aesthetic of thought happening right now that Anna Tsing described “assemblages” in her The Mushroom at the End of the World. A sort of all over Jackson Pollock painting of thought– feedback loops and events, outputs that don’t really go anywhere, and that most unpredictable of variable, humanity, dancing on top of it.

This book catalogs many of the tendrils, contradictions and blundering that led the world into World War I. Each chapter takes on a different country’s viewpoint and internal decision making. It manages to provide a lot of clarity to its complexity, but I still got lost a lot. For what it’s worth: I have the memory of a goldfish.

What is even more maddening about this book– as exact and complex as it is, it probably doesn’t even begin to untangle the threads.

My friend Xarene introduced me to Norman Klein a few months ago at the reading for his new book with Margo Bistis The Imaginary 20th Century. I hadn’t read any of his books, but they began to pop up everywhere I went in Los Angeles (which, at this point is just an ever widening circle of bookstores with art and poetry sections, to be honest). I put it on my list, and finally got around to his History Of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory.

The book is really beyond description– a collection of essays, fiction and a novella that describe the urban space of Los Angeles, not as a built environment but as a lived in one. Los Angeles becomes a sort of fever dream in this book– I read the chapter about downtown with a quote from Mike Davis about how the shortest distance between heaven and hell in America is 5th Street in DTLA, while downtown at my favorite coffee shop on fifth street, and realized how little of Klein’s LA I knew. It was written in the mid nineties– a good decade before I got to town. And I’ve lived here more than a decade. My friend Jordan lived in Angelino heights, where a lot of the essays are about, but I never thought about the history of the place. I just knew that it was neither Echo Park or Silverlake, which were the cool neighborhoods. But his apartment was close to the Gold Room, with the 5 dollar beers and shots of Tequila.

You see, I don’t think you can really talk about Los Angeles without talking your own biography–  your first apartment was in Koreatown, you had a girlfriend who lived in Culver City, you used to hang out in the Arts District when it was all speak easy’s and drug dens.

There are so many movies about Los Angeles because this place forces you to construct a narrative. You came here for a reason, and most likely, it didn’t pan out like you had hoped, so now you have to tell a story to make yourself into some kind of a hero. It is why people can be so cruel here, and also why they are so often so generous and forgiving.

Anyway, it’s a book that keeps me up at night with fevered thoughts. A great book. And now I’m going to find and read all the rest of his books.

23 February 2017

Shumon Basar
Douglas Coupland
Hans Ulrich Obrist

I still remember the table at Costco in Billings, MT, full of the cut rate books. They were why I loved going to Costco, because it meant I was getting a book. I specifically remember picking up Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs there, with the Legos on the cover.

I started reading Michael Crichton novels in 5th grade (Jurassic Park, naturally for an 11 year old– also the year I decided I was an atheist), and had demolished most of the Dune books and John Grisham’s, ermm, oeuvre by the time I was in high-school.

Still, Microserfs sticks out in my mind as the first adult book I’ve read. I quickly got my hands on Generation X, Life After God, etc.

My favorite parts of those early Coupland novels were the experimental use of typography, the illustrations, the general play with the form of the book. I have to admit that as his books got more traditional I slowly tuned out. I would occasionally pop in and see how he was doing– I seemed to always buy one of his books when I was going home for Christmas, so Coupland became something like a high-school friend that I would see or wouldn’t when I was in town.

But, like I said in my review of Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, I’m a total sucker for any book that follows the Medium is the Massage‘s format, and The Age of Earthquakes is simply that. But distinctly of the now. Poignant and hilarious, slipping between facts, neologisms and micro-fictions on top of illustrations and collages, it describes the modern world in a way that seems usable, or at least malleable.

I’m filing it next to Medium is the Massage and Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things for useful books to thumb through when facing despair and/or writers block.


by Matthew Manos

I’m a sucker for any book that resembles Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage. This book definitely fits in that tradition, with an added photocopier art zine vibe that is quite in vogue these days. That being said, the woo-woo of Mccluhan and the other books that follow that tradition have started wearing thin on me.

It’s not a bad book, it is readable, has some interesting fragments of design fiction about the “post-work economy”, Bruce Sterling pops in to debunk a few ideas (I’m not holding my breath or nervous about AI to taking my job as a developer/project manager/generalist weirdo), but the book never really rises above MBA level marketing speak.

I couldn’t quite determine if a “Social Enterprise” is a business or a non-profit– I suspect Manos would say “both! neither!”, but he doesn’t go into how a such an enterprise would be managed, or could truly fit within the neo-liberal capitalist system or beyond. Only that it takes into account everything! And it’s sustainable! And good! And lots and lots of different things!

Manos tries to kludge design fiction and conceptual art into what a Social Enterprise looks like, but the best he can really do that fits his argument Tom’s Shoes. Alright, I get it, but I wouldn’t write a book about it. He also references Oblong industry– a military-industrial-complex-funded surveillance design company — as a company working in the Social Enterprise Space. Manos talks about how utopias are personal, but dystopias are universal. The future Oblong wants to build is distinctly dystopian in my book, and if that’s Social Enterprise, then consider me an enemy of it.

Personally, I’d reach for Steven Shaviro’s 4 Essays on Accelerationism or Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future instead of this book, were I looking for arguments to lean on.


Ian F. Svenonius

Svenonius’s band The Make-Up on the Save Yourself Tour is still etched in my mind as one of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll shows I’ve ever been to. Back then I was interested in being in a band as a pure aesthetic experience– the music was secondary to the clothes, the movement on stage, the iconography surrounding being in a group. I’m glad that I was picking up on what Svenonius was trying to do back then.

This book is a testament to Svenonius’s practice, and like all good Rock ‘n’ Roll it takes heavy ideas and tosses them off with casual ease. Makes me want to start a group again.


The Mushroom at the End of the World
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

Recommended by Debcha in her newsletter, a sweeping work of anthropology, ostensibly about the Matsutake mushroom, but really about how human beings and the environment intersect and collaborate.

I am reminded of James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like a State, but also my recent trip to Iceland. Visiting Iceland I realized a lot of the freakology of the place is based on the deforestation perpetuated a thousand years ago by the vikings settling the island. I called my little VR piece about it “On this Pagan Soil” because I found a sense that the pagan way of experiencing the world is not as the outsider looking into “nature”, but from inside as a collaborator. Tsing’s book seems to offer a way into this way of being, not alienated from the environment as we are now, but as actors in the environment. Does anyone else have books on the Accelerationist Pagan world?

 

 

 

 

 

Pybrac
Pierre Louys

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
George Perec

Paul Scheerbart
The Perpetual Motion Machine

Pataphysical Essays
By René Daumal

I just became aware of Wakefield Press, a small publishing house specializing in translations of obscure works into English. I first read their translation of The Book of Monelle by Marcel Schwob last year, but now I’m going through about a book a week of theirs.

I am consistently impressed by the translations– not belabored, charming and imminently readable. I also appreciate the typesetting and design and the general care that goes into making these books look and feel good to read. They seem to keep the bookstore at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel well stocked with their editions, so I go every Sunday and buy the book I’ll read that day.

Perec’s An Attempt At Exausting A Place in Paris was the inspiration I needed to finally get working on my new(ish) project 110/105.

The Doomed City
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

This book is about as lot of things– how personalities are networked and built around one’s position in life, how reality is fundamentally mutable, how every economic system eventually decays into ridiculousness. The ending is really 70’s. The authors are best known for writing Roadside Picnic, which Tarkovsky adapted into Stalker.

The translation is a little clumsy, but still readable.

The Portable Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins

I don’t love Henry Rollins’s writing as much as I used to, but visiting it again is something I do with some regularity. I never miss his column in the LA Weekly. His essay on weightlifting got me back to the gym years ago. He is a fellow devotee of squats and dark thoughts. I appreciate his dedication to shipping projects, something I’ve been trying to develop in my life.


The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done
Piers Steel, PHD

I generally will read a self-help book or pop-science book a month. I take a lot of it with a grain of salt. I would say The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg would be the better book to read. But there are a few good ideas. The idea of a success spiral seems useful, and it got me doing Pomodoro’s again.