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The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice (Christopher I. Lehrich, 2018/#25): The concept of analyzing magic/"the Occult" in its own terms is an interesting one — I think of it as akin to fannish meta in its Watsonian mode — but the author spends most of his time dissing contemporary authors in ways that, to the degree that I can evaluate it, oscillate between the intriguing observation and the malicious misreading. The book contains a number of nice turns of phrase and striking conceptual images, but... I guess a way to put it is that, while I'm interested in, although not swayed by, "magical" conceptual constructs, I'm neither interested in nor swayed by the more Derrrida-esque structuralist/post-structuralist theoretical arguments and battles. But then, as an undeconstructed positivist with a weakness for Borgesian aesthetics, I'm more a subject of the author's analysis than part of his intended audience.

Familiar Quotations (1905 ed.) (ed. John Bartlett, 2018/#26): It's sobering to see how much that was found memorably felicitious but a few generations ago is now almost unreadable in feeling and composition, if not language itself. But the right editor can do much, both in selection and commentary; I love Bergen Evans' Dictionary of Quotations, even if many of its quotations are as old as Bartlett's.

News Networks in Early Modern Europe (Ed. Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham, 2018/#27): There's quite a bit of space dedicated to methodological issues I'm not very interested in, and to detailed quantitative descriptions that (perhaps ironically) feel fishy to me, but nonetheless it's a large book full of goodies about avvisi, newsletters, newsbooks, the fine line between grateful travelers informing patrons and paid crown spies, and a lot of ceteras. While reading it I was frequently swept by the desire to launch a newspaper of some sort — so dynamic, scrappy, and full of potential were the networks and textual, technological, and commercial practices they were coming up with at the time — which is of course insane; we're living on the other side of that threshold now, and empathy and sympathy aside, what was a fascinating plunge *then* would be a manneristic affectation *now* (nothing wrong with manneristic affectations — under atheist conditions, a lot of life (excepting of course interpersonal ethics at both micro and macro-scale) is an act of style — but, if nothing else, it's convenient not to be delusional about what you're doing and why).

Hybrid Knowledge in the Early East India Company World (Anna Winterbottom, 2018/#28): A look at how the knowledge development initiatives of the (early, pre-territorial) East India Company (and very closely associated organizations, like the Royal Society) actually played out on the ground through the specific activities and interactions of (poorly supervised) agents with multiple overlapping agendas, natives with different sets of goals and degrees of autonomy (from the kings and officials on whom the very survival, not to mention profits, of the EIC settlements depended, specially during the XVIth/XVIIth century before the military balance of power shifted, to slaves, going through ex-captives, phonies, and other individuals with multiple, hybrid cultural identities). Issues of official and unofficial patronage, the balance between commercially valuable secrets and reputationally necessary publicity, collaborative networks of doctors, traders, seafarers, scholars (and most people were at least two of those) sharing local know-how and samples, the practice of "medical diplomacy", etc. — paraphrasing a bit, it's Latour knowledge-building under conditions of *serious* power asymmetry. A note of interest is how racism is, at that stage, more geographical than physiological; it's less "how you look" than "where you live" and a bit of "how you live," with climate and geography assumed to have insidious, cumulative effects on the old moral fiber. It's only slightly later and partially as a reaction to the ambiguous, shifting contact and interaction between "races" that more "scientific" concepts of races as biological categories developed.

The Mughal Empire (John F. Richards, 2018/#29): Quite a revelatory book to me. The Mughal empire was the second (if not the) largest and richest empire in the world, giving the XVIth-XVIIth century Ming a run for their money. The book makes clear the astounding wealth of the Indian subcontinent, and the effectiveness and sophistication of the Mughal's fiscal and political arrangements... that is, while they worked. It was only in long range/military seamanship and, eventually, the most concentrated gunpowder-based forms of violence that they (and China) fell behind Western societies — before the Industrial/Scientific revolution, that is — and there's a point to be made that the various East India companies took advantage of the deep self-inflicted wound of the Decaan wars' quagmire. It was a world of multiple overlapping religions, ethnicities, and cultures (the way Islam fostered violent and non-violent long-term relationships is interesting; conquest was of course the main way, but there was also pilgrimage and the way reputation and religious authority was contested and diffused; Iranian/Persian culture and governing methods — including very document-intensive patterns — had a huge influence); the Mughals could teach the Habsburg a thing or thirty about building and ruling that kind of empire (that said, the Deccan Wars...). Of note, the Central Asian/Mughal/Ottoman inheritance-by-deathmatch protocols were as spectacularly destructive as you'd imagine, and I'd argue that having a civil war every generation might not be the best way to build an empire over the long term; sooner or later you get a relatively evenly matched set of candidates, and then it gets really bad. Recommended; non-teleologically speaking, that's where the action was during those centuries.

Echopraxia (Peter Watts, 2018/#30): A reread.



cass, can you not

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