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WHAT I'VE BEEN READING LATELY ...
Donna Haraway's Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium is a provocative survey of the ways in which biological technologies and global capitalism are refashioning our definitions of humanity at the start of a new millennium. She takes her protean notion of the cyborg relation between postmodern humans and technology into the realm of large-scale political economy and in the process she still keeps the centrality of the body and the politics of gender in focus.
David Noble's A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Modern Science. This book redeems for me the value of reading history. It persuasively tells a very different story from the conventional one about the relationship of science and the christian church. More startling to me, along the way, it establishes the history of how and why the christian church came to be so oppressive toward sexuality as such. Noble sees modern science and the modern university firmly rooted in monastic culture, a faithful child of the church politically and intellectually. The key to the story is the exclusion of women from a role in the church, and then from the sciences and the university. But to me this is the story of how a church establishment distorted European attitudes to sexuality for its own political purposes, and in the process gave birth to a tradition of scientific and academic values that still has deep faults in its foundations.
Michel Serres' Genesis, and other later works (Troubador of Knowledge, The Natural Contract) have interesting connections with the work of Bruno Latour, who admires Serres' a-modernism as he weaves together classic archetypal themes from mythology with contemporary events and issues, always seeking for new insights that can be quite startling. Serres also makes a persistent cases against agonistic stances in academic work and in life. Serres is the only interesting philosopher I have read in ages. He was originally a mathematician and classicist.
The later work of Bruno Latour, Pandora's Hope, also should not be missed, along with his interview and conversation with Serres, Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time.
Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel provides an interesting overview of arguments about ecological factors in human history and pre-history. A semi-popular account, based on a substantial synthesis of the research literature in several fields (including biogeography, archeology, paleontology, and linguistics), Diamond looks at the longer timescales of human sociotechnical development (1000s to 10,000s of years) and argues that the availability of domesticable plant and animal food species on different continents had more to do with the rise of urban and high tech ecosocial systems than did human variability -- at least biological variability, cultural variability seems somewhat less salient in the analysis. Worth a critical reading.
Mark Bickhard and Loren Terveen's Foundational Issues in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science (Elsevier, 1995) offers an incisive critique of dominant views about representations, schemas, and meaning and provides a general sketch of alternatives that are quite consistent with ecosocial dynamics -- essentially a view of meaning-making as grounded in interaction and emergence. Other work by Bickhard explores functional-contextual approaches to language based on his interactionist model, converging with systemic-functional views on many points, and begins to look at issues that may be relevant to 'topological' meaning-making in material systems.
David Harvey's Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (London: Blackwell, 1996) opens a window on the New Political Geography, a neo-Marxist view of space and place that takes a very ecosocial view of the geography of social inequity. Well worth a look.
Arjun Appadurai's Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (University of Minnesota Press, 1996) is a collection of essays from the revitalized field of Area Studies, now transformed into an examination of global diasporic communities that presage the coming irrelevance of the nation-state and nation-based cultures in people's lives -- in favor of something quite different. Not all the essays are equally persuasive, but the basic perspective is eye-opening and significant. Appadurai also cites much interesting literature written by non-European scholars.
George Landow has revised his excellent work on hypertext and postmodern literary theory into Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) and also offers a good edited collection on these themes, Hyper/Text/Theory (Johns Hopkins, 1994). A lot more needs to be done to understand the potential of this new medium to make new kinds of meanings in new ways; a whole new mode of textuality and text semantics is emerging here.