Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Books of obsolete knowledge

Recently I have been finding a number of books about the Arab world, Middle East, Islamic culture, etc. in used bookstores. I have been gathering them as I feel that there is interest in the subjects and that Americans need to do a bit of research in order to form a better world-view. The book that I found most ironic was the one published in 2000 with the title "Iraq: Old Land, New Nation in Conflict" by William Spencer, published by Twenty-First Century Books (a division of the Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CONN.)

Looking through this book is like reading a book on typewriters published in the late 1990's, as that technology was being phased out. There are no American companies making typewriters. I believe that the last company on the planet to make a typewriter was an Italian firm and they stopped making them near the millennium step-over. Looking through this book had that feel for me of holding obsolete knowledge. The country described in this book is not the country that exists today, and yet the history of the nation of Iraq is a valuable read to anyone interested in how it was that a Saddam Hussein could rise to power in the first place.

In that sense, this is a completely worthwhile book. I am reminded of a book I found several years ago on the subject of the Spanish American world, written in 1899, full of American propaganda and feel-good fluffed egos. I remember as I found that book and held it in my hands that Gore Vidal has said that we had lost our way as soon as we became an Empire, and that we Americans don't like to think of ourselves as having an Empire and that this Empire of ours began with the Spanish American war and the taking of Cuba, Philippines, and the rest. THAT book represented the end of our innocence and the beginning of our self-denial.

Reading Spencer's book also has that feel of "divine intervention" and the blessing of what is about to follow. America was right and justified....blah blah blah. Poor Iraq, if only they could be like us. That sort of nonsense. The fact that the British carved Persia into two unequal pieces after the first World War, the fact that the CIA overthrew neighboring Iran's government in a 1953 coup, the fact that Europe has been meddling in the affairs of these "tribal peoples" for HUNDREDS of years seems to be glossed over, airbrushed out, forgotten - buried under the last sandstorm....except to the people who live in Iraq and Iran and across the Middle East. To them we are the great hypocrite. Promoting democracy in name only while securing our control over their natural resources (OIL)

In THAT sense this book is almost an embarrassment. Almost. Of course, the Bush-Cheney years has brought a naked ignorance/arrogance to the Middle East that will take years to undo. I am sort of interested to read a book written in late 2008 about the West's dealings with Iraq and Iran sometime in, say, 2015 or so when that book will either be accurate or woefully wrong.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

booking for its own sake

Last weekend I got a reprieve from my wife and was allowed out into the world without my kids for a few hours. I went "booking". I unloaded some books, exchanged a few others, and picked up some more using store credit from one of the used bookstores that I frequent.

Among my "finds" was a 7 page poetry pamphlet published in 1985 by Orchises Press (Washington DC) of two poems by W H Auden, "The Platonic Blow and My Epitaph".

I find that second-hand shops are in some ways better than used bookstores to find unusual material since the folks at second hand shops are less knowledgeable than bookstore owners, typically, and their incentives are different.

I am reminded of the book Booking Pleasure by Jack Matthews and the explanations he had for some of the items he found and some of the reasons he collected what he had. It's a book that I will be re-investing in sometime soon. But for now, I am trying to ween myself a bit of my own stacks of books. And weeding through my own layers of printed material.

I have read many of the books by Tony Hillerman but since his death I have decided to try and finish reading the series featuring Joe Leaphorn. I have been collecting books by Zora Neale Hurston as well, with the intention of reading. Reading and collecting can go hand and hand, but not necessarily. Some people collect book as a form of investment. Reading the books are, often, an afterthought.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kerouac as an innovator?

Okay, I need to confess....I had a copy of this book when it first came out and it was when I was a lot younger and the idea of having tape recorded transcripts as part of a book was not something that I was "having" at the time. I was maybe 19 when the book came out and I had read a bit about Kerouac enough to know that this was a book that had not yet been published but was an underground hit. But I thought it was boring as hell so I gave it to someone along the trail of my life. It's been an interesting and long path now, and I happened across another copy of this book.

I have since read the "cut-up" novels by William Burroughs and the tape recorded "novels" transcribed by Paul Bowles. The main reason I am bringing this up is that Visions of Cody was written in 1951-52 and a bit over 15 years later Andy Warhol became known as a "novelist" for his A which was a book that was entirely composed of recorded conversations.

1952 was before Brion Gysin's "accidental" discovery of cut-ups by about 5 years as well. Nowadays, no one would think twice of using technology to create fiction. I am aware of a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose "alter ego" is a computer-generated 'poet' and this person's poetry is being published in journals - unaware of the hoax, if that's what it is - yet for me at THAT time, I didn't think much of his experimentations. Hopefully I have grown since then.

Monday, November 3, 2008

an update from Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan

from an email translated and sent to me late last week....some information removed to protect the poet and his friends.

"Dear Steven

first thank you very much for your concern. My trail will be on the coming Thursday. The judge will hear from those who accused me and some members from the Jordanian writers association who will present a creative reading on my poetry book.

Still I am receiving threats from islamists and the Friday prayers in some places in Amman described me as infidel what annoy me the mosque close to my house in xxxxxxxx convicted me and urged people to stand against infidels people like me.

Also, people who are close to the government advocate people to attack me.

I think running away is the safest solution.

With best wishes

Islam samhan
Amman Jordan"