So many books to read, so little time.

The Retweet Button Be Damned

with one comment

While rummaging throughout my books I came across a copy of Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. This volume ignores the novels and instead compiles his 55 shorter works. I have long preferred his stories, or more accurately, his snippets.

Kafka’s longer works have achieved notoriety (who has not at least heard of The Trial or Metamorphosis ?), but lend themselves to abstracting his work – “Kafkaesque,” “absurdist,” etc. Abstraction of this sort, while useful in a macro-literary study, are useless when trying to extract a man’s thinking process. (For my mind,  the only point of consuming any kind of media.)

In the short stories (some only a paragraph long) it becomes clear that these are those moments of pure release, spurts of literary orgasm if you will, those moments that are all too often embedded in longer works, surrounded by fluff. And they are lodged in a specific moment, rather than the timeless quality of longer stories. In this way, these are, in the words of my roommate, “Facebook statuses of the day”, and perhaps that is why they appeal to me so much. We can see actually discern or even ‘see’ the way he thinks.

For example, in contrast to the Metamorphosis, in Poseidon we can easily imagine a bored Kafka staring off into space while behind a desk at an insurance firm, idly contemplating the amount of paperwork the Greek god would have to go through in order to manage the oceans of the world.

Others are more complex. In a short 6 lines, The Departure juxtaposes the men and women who have heard ‘the call’ with those who have not:

I ordered my horse to be brought from the stables. The servant did not understand my orders. So I went to the stables myself, saddled my horse, and mounted. In the distance I heard the sound of a trumpet, and I asked the servant what it meant. He knew nothing and had heard nothing. At the gate he stopped me and asked: “Where is the master going?” “I don’t know,” I said, “just out of here, just out of here. Out of here, nothing else, it’s the only way I can reach my goal.” “So you know your goal?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “I’ve just told you. Out of here- that’s my goal.”

Some can hear the clarion call. To fight, to publish, to build, to photograph, to love, to think, to create. In my experience, this class of people shares the strength to leave. Rather than be confined, or dictated, or silo-ed, or oppressed, they innovate, shatter boundaries, and move – often with surprising velocity. But, as The Departure reminds us, others can’t hear that frequency.

On the question of how those who are limited can transform themselves into those who can hear the call, Kafka is profoundly unhelpful. All he can offer us is a giant fucking caterpillar-man.

But. Perhaps that is a solution. Perhaps the essence of Kafka’s thinking – to observe and then attach your own, regardless of relationship with reality – is the answer. Perhaps, in the modern era, our daily blogging, our hourly Facebook statusi, our minute-by-minute tweets should be, rather than observations of the present, offerings on the unknown, thoughts, snippets, fantasies, but in the end, output the original.

Twitter offers the amazing ability to transmit our most naked and original moments, across time and space, with rich video and imagery, our trials and tribulations. Our sons and their granddaughters will be able to see how we thought with a thousand times more clarity than we will ever be able to comprehend Kafka’s snippets. Perhaps this will drive them to hear the call – itself embedded in the global thought-stream copiously documented online.

Kafka was first limited by his day job, and later in his life, his health, revealing an inverse relationship between constraints and writing the absurd, creating the original. Today we have compounded those physical constraints with overwhelming information overload.

Crippled by this daily infoassault, we cannot even output our absurd, our original. We cannot add to that which we observe. Instead, courtesy of Kafka’s servants at Twitter, we can endorse, but we cannot transform what we experience into our own.

We are reduced to Retweets.


Written by shlokv

March 15, 2010 at 12:18 am

Posted in fiction

Tagged with


leave a comment »

Senator's Son (cover image)

Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude”: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality.  While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.

Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).

Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech.  Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia.  Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.

Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company.  GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”).  Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.

The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights.  Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat.  And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.

Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book.  Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence.  And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.

At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.

But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force).  Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.

This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.

(cross-posted at Wizards of Oz and Zenpundit)

Written by deichmans

February 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Posted in fiction

The Information Bomb

with 23 comments

Verso, 2006

Verso, 2006

Compared to Deleuze and Guattari, reading Virilio is a breeze. This is a short book of about 150 pages, yet it packs as dense a punch as A Thousand Plateaus and uses similar concepts and terms. Virilio retains a pessimistic outlook regarding humanity’s relationship to technology, and views all scientific and technological development as being driven by military necessity. Hence, the internet itself was developed by the Defense Department and originally named Darpanet, but is then unleashed upon the world as a means of connecting the world via information, and ultimately giving the world finite boundaries that can be transversed instantaenously. Actual reality, which is governed by physical spaces and distances, is now supplemented by a virtual reality that produces and reproduces its own information that alters actual reality. Virilio’s world is one in which all ‘locals’ are truly ‘global’, where only ‘world time’ exists since all unfolding events are simultaneously broadcast across the world at every moment. And just as we can instantaenously broadcost information to the world, the world can just as easily look in, and following the vast network of information exchange to focus on any event or place in the world. Thus, we have an age of ‘tele-surveillance’ made possible by the ‘Grand-Scale Transhorizon Optics’ of universal global virtual reality (p. 13-15). The planet itself has now become cybernetic and endogenous, meaning that all information broadcast on each reflexively feeds back onto itself and all points on earch, creating new responses to new information created and disseminated in virtual reality. Everyone can which everyone else as global media focuses in and out of new objects, a process that has its own strategic value ripe for manipulation.

Take advertising. Given a global audience and a global market by the information bomb, capitalism can now invent demand for any of its products among every single human population. This is a ‘new-world ecology’ of information, making possible new possibilities for self-perpetuating ‘war-machines’ (p. 49) that reproduce themselves using global information channels. Since all information and locales are connected to each other competition with one’s adversaries (military or economic) necessitates that each actor wages an all-out war of information, to disseminate itself to all other actors, essentially to control information and how it is perceived. Thus, globalization creates a single ‘panoptical’ point of observation, in which we are all directed to observe the same events and all observers can observe each of us (p. 60-61).

Virilio deplores the homogenizing effects of the information bomb, yet at the same time fortells its own destruction. By creating a self-referencing virtual reality grafted onto actual reality, the information bomb creates the possibility of an ‘image crash’, where virtual ideas distort actual reality and do not conform to the perceptions of other actors. In monetary terms: “Virtual inflation no longer relates solely to the economy of manufactured products [or] the financial bubble, but to the very understanding of our relation to the world.” (p. 113) Virilio almost perfectly describes the American financial crisis in this section, itself caused by making up things that didn’t exist. Collective disbelief, or at least belief in something else.

Instead of historical periods (longue durees), time is reduced to light and speed – “a cosmological constant capable of conditioning human history.” (p. 119) ‘Conditioning’ is creating mechanical mental responses that automate human existence, even democracy becomes automatic as life becomes cybernetic:

“This history of the end of this millennium, held in a levitated state, is based almost solely on the incessant tele-presence of events which do not really succeed each other, since the relief of instantaneity is already winning out over the depth of historical successivity…Finally, everything is reversed. What arrives, what suddenly comes to us is far more important than what leaves, what goes off to the depths of our memories or the far reaches of the geographical horizon.” (p. 127)

Discursively creating a ‘telepresence’ using global information technology can be understood as information warfare, fought over creating ‘real time’ exchanges on the dimensions of geophysical, techno-scientific, and ideological global reality. (p. 143) As if war was fought at light speed by the transmission of successive images that created new interests and objectives in the minds of other people. And because the new ecology is linked to every other part of itself, it can change rapidly and create dramatic shifts in group identities and interests. Historical processes that might have taken hundreds of years before the information bomb might be condensed or vulnerable to rapid and chaotic change because society is ideationally moving faster, literally toward light speed. Thus, Virilio invents the term ‘dromology’ to describe ‘the logic of speed’. It might be interesting to see how dromology relates to contemporay wars, particularly irregular conflicts like those raging across southwest Asia.

Update:  for another look at Virilio, check out Adam’s review which kicked off this blog.  Yes, reviewing the same book without realizing would constitute something of an EPIC FAIL on my part, thanks for asking.

Written by stephenpampinella

January 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nuclear Proliferation, One More Thing to Read About and Worry About

with 2 comments

Tom Barnett linked to this really good article entitled “Hidden Travels of the Atomic Bomb”. The article had this awesome graphic.

The article is based in part on this new book. I read the article, my hand hovered over the mouse. You know how this ends.

I bought the book.

When will I ever be able to read it? Who the heck knows. I hope so.

(Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz)

Written by lexingtongreen

January 5, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Posted in Nonfiction

A Thousand Plateaus

with 2 comments

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

Finally finished A Thousand Plateaus (actually I skipped a 100 pages in the middle). This is intense postmodern critical theory, much more complicated than anything Foucault has written. In the Intrdoduction, the authors write that each chapter doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order, reinforcing the feeling that each goes in its own (schizophrenic) direction. On the whole, you can discern a method to the whole piece, as it evolves from discussing psychology, language, and interpretation to more concretely political concepts like the state and the war machine.

Before getting to the overtly political issues, Plateaus reads as if someone opened up all the possibilities of perception to one’s mind, emphasizing that all events and objects in the world can be viewed differently depending on one’s spatial position and the assemblage of linguistic signs (semiotic) that assign meaning to observations. In such a world without fixity and in constant flux, what we should strive to be is a ‘body without organs’, and always maintain the ability to renegotiate our internal structure (organs) to the reality we perceive. The BwO is a “connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities. You have constructed own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines.” (p. 161) In interactive situations, to maintain this fluidity requires constantly being able to change one’s face, or ‘faciality’. The shifting combinations of black holes on white screens (orifices on the pristine face of Christ) form locations of resonance that connect the realities of interacting persons (we observe each other’s face to understand how other faces perceive us and their surroundings, whether their expressions indicate anger, satisfaction, etc). And like the BwO, we should strive to have an ever-changing face:

“To the point that if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine, not by returning to animality, nor even by returning to the head, but by quite spritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings that get past the wall and get out of the black hoels, that make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face…” (p. 171)

The overtly political elements are interwoven throughout the text, but are fully expressed towards the end of the book in chapters discussing the war machine, the state’s apparatus of capture, and smooth and striated space. These sections make clear Deleuze and Guattari’s affinity for the Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun, whose Muqaddimah charts a universal history of Arab civilization. The state itself is juxtaposed against a war machine it attempts to appropriate for its own policy, in the form of military institutions. However, the war machine is always external to the state and outside its sovereignty, and has to be continutiously controlled by the state lest it becomes self-perpetuating, and takes over the policies of the state only to reproduce itself and block the development of states by keeping societies segmented and divided. (p. 355) These actual segmentations between social groups represent striated spaces that set the boundaries of smooth or ‘nomad’ spaces. “One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space.” (p. 385) The state works against an insurgent war machine that is “revived…a new nomadic potential” develops with each act of mobilization by nomads (p. 386). At the same time, the state “reimpart[s] a war machine that takes charge of the aim, appropriates the States, and assumes increasingly wider political functions” (p. 421). Therefore, we can invert the Clausewitzian relationship between war and politics and say that politics is the extension of war, a global war machine created by capitalism that politically constitutes states with the knowledge and linguistic signifiers to smooth and striate space (p. 421), and give new territorial representations to otherwise deterritorialized locations in space.

This discussion of space is especially interesting in a military context given that IDF Brigadier General Shimon Naveh has incorporated the smooth-striated space concept to describe a new tactical approach in attacking insurgent threats, commonly known as ‘walking through walls’ (see this article, and these couple posts). Naveh had misappropriated Deleuze and Guattari to think about space only in a physical sense: by walking through walls to kill an enemy, soldiers are smoothing out otherwise striated (physical) space. However, these tactics only serve to reproduce the social stratum that separates ‘Israelis’ from ‘Palestinians’, as well as the war machine that makes necessary the use of violence against subjects that are outside the state. In other words, a strategy of ‘walking though walls’ has the social effect creating hostile perceptions of threat between the IDF and its adversaries, just as indiscriminately using airpower can erode political support for military action. If the attempted smoothing of space is not accomplished by the state simultaneously appropriating (and controlling) the war machine, it will ultimately weaken, if not destroy the state.

If we take the smooth-striated model and adapt to social space, we can begin to see how insurgents and counterinsurgents compete to shape space, and attempt to turn the war machine against their adversary. Insurgents deliberately use violence while embedded within civilian population, baiting states to strike and cause collateral damage (witness the current Gaza war). Insurgents in this example try to use the war machine of the state to destroy its own political will to continue fighting. At the same time, collateral damage only recreates the communal identity of insurgents among the civilian population. Conversely, if insurgents use violence against the civilian population as a means of establishing their political authority, the state can mobilize its war machine ‘in defense’ of the civilian population. Thus, the state creates a shared identity, a smooth space of common action and cooperation that excludes insurgents whose uncontrolled war machine destroys their claim to authority. Thus, the state’s (or insurgent’s) ability to ‘capture’ war machines relies upon the inability of adversaries to ‘capture’ their own, and instead are consumed by it.

On the whole, A Thousand Plateaus speaks to the vastly complex and infinite range of possibilities taken by human societies. In exploring the theme of relativity regarding social actors (a Body without Organs recomposes its internal structure with what it encounters externally) speaks to social scientific approaches that emphasize a philosophy of science similar to quantum mechanics as opposed to Newtonian physics, yet it concerns itself with ideational elements instead of purely material ones. This is the same ontological stance that provides the foundation of John Boyd’s postmodern theory of strategy. Destruction and creation are themes of both Boyd and Deleuze/Guattari, and a greater (and more accurate) application of critical theory to war can illustrate how social entities themselves (in terms of both their boundaries and perhaps the structural-functional composition of their internal parts) are created and destroyed in war. Indeed, this process itself often determines victory and defeat.

Written by stephenpampinella

January 5, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Now Available: SE’s Reading List

with 4 comments

I have written before on the nature of my personal reading program. Since I published that post I have received email and blog comments (both at my personal blog, and at Chicago Boyz) from various people requesting a copy of my reading list. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by smitteneagle

January 3, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Posted in fiction, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Excellent “Best of” List from The Middle Stage

with 2 comments

One of my favorite blogs is The Middle Stage, written by Chandrahas Choudhury.

Chandrahas writes about literature as well as history, fiction and nonfiction, and very frequently alerts me to books I have never heard of, but which I wish I had time to read. In particular, he writes about Indian history, a vast subject I want to know more about.

His list of best nonfiction for 2008 contains several which might interest the Antilibrarium team, and our readers.

I would particularly like to hear about what others think about his choices related to India.

Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.

Written by lexingtongreen

December 28, 2008 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Nonfiction

2008 – the best of books, the worst of books

with 2 comments


I’ve read a stack of books this year. Mostly non-fiction, some novels as well. Here’s the best and worst of them.

The best of books

  • Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace. Excellent history of the diplomatic negotiations between the European powers during the Congress of Vienna. Zamoyski exposes the horse trading and double-dealing, the land grabbing rapaciousness, and the sexual antics and moral depravity that stewed beneath a courtly veneer.

The worst of books

  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road. Pretentious and self-indulgent swill, and creepy to boot. I’ve been meaning to read this book for 20-odd years. Now I wonder why I bothered. It beats me how some people see this drivel as deep philosophy.

The book I didn’t get to

  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization. I bought this book in a fire sale about 12 months ago. Still haven’t read it. At 1300 pages it’s far too long. And I’m getting tired of reading about the Middle East and its never-ending woes.

Written by kotare1718

December 26, 2008 at 6:52 am

Posted in Nonfiction

Clausewitz Roundtable on Chicagoboyz

leave a comment »

ChicagoBoyz will be hosting a roundtable discussion of Clausewitz’s classic On War, starting in January.

Announcements regarding the roundtable are here.

On War is certainly part of my “quantum library”, and I am enjoying re-reading it, and I expect that our extraordinary group of participants will have much of value to say about the book.

Written by lexingtongreen

December 17, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Email Forwarding as Modern Superstition

with 7 comments

From my inbox this morning–“The President of Argentina received this picture n called it ‘junk mail’, 8 days later his son died. A man received this picture & immediately sent out copies..his surprise was winning the lottery. Alberto Martinez received this picture, gave it to his secretary to make copies but they forgot to distribute: She lost her job & he lost his family. This picture is miraculous & sacred. Forward to 10 people.”

This was forwarded by at least ten people before it got to me. It’s easy to see how this meme could spread–the cost of doing nothing is potentially losing family/job, etc, while the cost of averting this is just a click of the “forward” button on Gmail. So it is seemingly rational behavior. However, the irrationality lies in believing (1) things you read on the Internet without cross-checking Snopes, otherwise you will be taken in by anything and (2) the idea that a serious curse could be alleviated by the simple action of email forwarding. No self-respecting voodoo priest dreaming up a curse would make it THAT easy to get rid of. Fascinating, but incredibly annoying.

Written by Adam Elkus

December 10, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Posted in Nonfiction