Member 1397
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Utrecht, NL
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I am a Crystalpunk from Bongo-Bongo Land, that is in DaDaFriCa.
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    From wilfriedhoujebek
    Summery Books Too Far Out...
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    Summery Books Too Far Out For Johnny Depp
    Project: The Total Library
    Your average 'alternative' 'underground' 'cult' summer booklist will name conservative corkers like William Gibson, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, Hubert S. Selby or Brett Easton Ellis. A 'real' underground list might add snotty punk-fashionistas like Stewart Home or Henry Rollins. But if you have read one book by Home you have read them all, his depth is as short as his hair, and the original line-up of Black Flag was superior to the one with our Macho Man Rollins. Ask yourself, does a book that stars Johnny Depp or Jack Nicholson when turned into celluloid really deserve to be called 'cult'? No of course not. Can a novel published by a commercial publisher and reprinted as a Penguin pocket be truly underground? Only rarely.

    Here is a list of books I can wholeheartedly recommend you to dive into this summer. They are all completely bonkers and they all start from first principles. The list has only eight titles but each of these books will stay with you for longer than your holiday sweetheart. Only two of them are fiction and this is no coincidence. Non-fiction is often less restrained and therefore more outrageous than the most 'daring' fiction. One can imagine only a few things, one can belief a whole lot more.

    The White Goddess - Robert Graves

    Graves' grammar of poetic myth works at so many levels at the same time that I can't keep track of them all. This is not a book, this is a neurosis you can borrow. Druidic power to the nerds.

    The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - Julian Jaynes

    Never mind the bulky title. The theory of Jaynes seems preposterous at first: before man was conscious he would not stop and think when making a decision, instead he would literally hear a voice telling him what to do. When life became too complicated this faculty broke down, but not in an instant. Religion is a by-product of this neuro-catastrophe. Jaynes however knows to make use of historic material in such a way that in the course of his argument he becomes plausible! If you don't trust me on this, trust Daniel Dennett.

    The Ghost of Chance - William S. Burroughs

    Burroughs was a great admirer of Jaynes and here he uses the bicameral image of two dividing brain spheres as a metaphor for the divide between peaceful lemur on Madagascar and the war-mongering chimpanzee on the African mainland as a reminder that human evolution could have taken a better turn.

    Ancient Evenings - Norman Mailer

    This book, the only lengthy novel in this list, I first looked up because Burroughs referenced it as his inspiration for 'The Western Lands'. When I noticed it starts with my favourite Yeats quote I knew I needed to read this. Even though Burroughs could never have written it like this, at times it is more Burroughs then Burroughs himself. It is the autobiography of a Ka, the lowliest soul of the seven souls of the ancient Egyptians, which makes for unusual reading. Especially because Mailer uses an uncensored version of Egyptian mythology which, to put it mildly, differs from the version you get of it from the National Geographic. The Egyptians practised sex magic with the stamina of a bonobo. Mailer makes Aleister Crowley look like a prudish schoolboy. This is the boldest attempt to recreate a radically different mind from ours that I know of, and does so successfully. The novel as the creation of an artificial consciousness. At the same time it doubles as an All American Novel (yuk).

    The Mind in the Cave - David Lewis-Williams

    Palaeolithic Psychedelia anyone? Close your eyes, place a finger on both of your eyelids and press gently. What you see is the origin of all art, you only need to look at rock-art with a guide like Lewis-Williams to see it.

    The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry - Ernest Fennolosa

    Edited by Ezra Pound, the most spectacular misunderstanding of language ever to be reprinted. It reads excellent and it gives us a language (Chinoiserie-Chinese) that does not exist in this world but should exist in a better world.

    Vehicles - Valentino Braitenberg

    I have read so much stuff relating to Cybernetics, AI, emergent systems and self-organization that I am totally saturated with it. The material itself is exciting but the professional obligation of science to be dull gets on my nerves. But this is an exception, wonderfully written and illustrated with funky little drawings. Vehicles is a tiny book but its size is deceptive. This introduction to synthetic psychology describes a number of simple responsive vehicles that with each new feature became aware of the world around them a good deal more. Each new vehicle is a new mind.

    The Coleridge Notebooks.

    Charles Lamb said he loved to lend his books to ‘Poet, Metaphysician, Bard’ Coleridge because he would return them with annotations more interesting then the book itself. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a mind that was free, discursive, unruly and truly original. His notebooks record the flow of his thoughts as if you are sitting next to him. Every now and then I dip into this and always come out with some gem I never saw before. Get the Seamus Perry edition of this. Get a copy of the Road to Xanadu by Livingstone-Lowes for extra enjoyment.

    Fri, Jul 4, 2008  Permanent link

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    rene     Fri, Jul 4, 2008  Permanent link

    Great list. You should send this to the Total Library Project.
    rene     Sat, Jul 5, 2008  Permanent link
    By the way, it's fascinating that Julian Jaynes' "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" is becoming the most mentioned book on the site. Definitely great summer reading for forward thinking terrestrials.
    wilfriedhoujebek     Mon, Jul 28, 2008  Permanent link
    Re-reading Lewis-Williams 'The Mind in the Cave' I discovered he actually mentions Julian Jaynes and his wacked-out theory. A further link in retrospect.
    Rourke     Thu, Jul 31, 2008  Permanent link
    I don't think Jaynes' theory is 'wacked out'. Recent understanding of the narrative, authoritative capacity of the brain leaves a lot of room for Jaynes' ideas.

    See this conversation with Michael Gazzaniga:

    MG: As you may know, I came across this phenomenon that I call the Interpreter. It's something that's in the left hemisphere of the human; it tries to put a story together as to why something occurred. So, we found this in patients who've had their brains divided. What we could do is sort of tiptoe into their nonspeaking right hemisphere and get them to do something like walk out of the room or lift their hand up. Then we would ask the left hemisphere, "Why did you do that?" And they would cook up a story to make sense out of what their disconnected right hemisphere just did. The left brain didn't know that we'd pulled a trick on them, so they concoct an explanation for why they walked out of the room. And it's because this left hemisphere can ask, "Why? What's that all about?" But one of the things we've never been able to unpack is whether this Interpreter is completely overlapping with the language system and is therefore a sort of press agent for its own mechanism. What we do know is that there are separate systems for different types of cognition. And the Interpreter seems to be located in the parts of the brain where language is located. So many people do think that interpretive capacity comes with language; that this is the deal with language — it comes along for the ride. Others believe that there are actually all kinds of different cognitive mechanisms happening, and language reports them out. So the function of language is to talk about it, talk about what you know and communicate, "Hey! Look here, I know how to cook a fish. Here, let me show you how."

    The full Seed Magazine conversation between Michael Gazzaniga and Tom Wolfe can be read here (video extracts from the conversation can be seen here.)
    wilfriedhoujebek     Sun, Aug 3, 2008  Permanent link
    Hey Obvious, great link, very useful. However the dividing-hemisphere argument is only one (albeit important) piece of evidence used by Jaynes in his project to retell human history. What makes Jaynes unique is that he attempts to show that conciousness is a) very recent and b) that the change from bicameralism to conciousness has been recorded in human literature. To me that is a very wacked-out to do.