Reading – & Now 6

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A love affair with books

An appetizer:

"What are words without a heart beating behind them?"
– Lindsey Drager, The Archive of Alternate Endings

Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk
How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World

Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta

Really interesting book. It has inspired me to stop and look at several things from what is, for me, an entirely new perspective, which is something I appreciate.

Granted, there is much that Yunkaporta discusses—or yarns about—that I don't fully understand; how could I coming from my lifelong immersion in a low-context or field-independent print-based culture. But that doesn't diminish the perspective-expanding gift that this book is. Hopefully over time my understanding will expand and more of what Yunkaporta shares in this book will become available to my conscious and subconscious journey through this life.

Every viewpoint is useful and it takes a wide diversity of views for any group to navigate this universe, let alone to act as custodians for it.

Well. As I always say, if you want to find the next generation of great thinkers, look in the detention room of any public school.

Sustainability agents have a few simple operating guidelines, or network protocols, or rules if you like—connect, diversify, interact and adapt.
   Diversity is not about tolerating difference or treating others equally and without prejudice. The diversification principle compels you to maintain your individual difference, particularly from other agents who are similar to you. This prevents you from clustering into narcissistic flash mobs. You must also seek out and interact with a wide variety of agents who are completely dissimilar to you. Finally, you must interact with other systems beyond your own, keeping your system open and therefore sustainable.
   Connectedness balances the excesses of individualism in the diversity principle. The first step in connectedness is forming pairs (like kinship pairs) with multiple other agents who also pair with others. The next step is creating or expanding networks of these connections. The final step is making sure these networks are interacting with the networks of other agents, both within your system and in others.
   Interaction is the principle that provides the energy and spirit of communication to power the system. This principle facilitates the flow of living knowledge. For this, you must be transferring knowledge (and energy and resources) rather than trying to store it individually, with as many other agents as possible. If the world ever experiments with an actual free market rather than an oligopoly, this would be the perfect system to facilitate sustainable interactions. Knowledge, value and energy in truly sustainable networks of interaction are prevented from remaining static and unchanging by the final protocol.
   Adaptation is the most important protocol of an agent in a sustainable system. You must allow yourself to be be transformed through your interactions with other agents and the knowledge that passes through you from them. This knowledge and energy will flow through the entire system in feedback loops and you must be prepared to change so that those feedback loops are not blocked. An agent that is truly adaptive and changing is open to sudden eruptions of transformation, in which the agent may temporarily take on the role of strange attractor and facilitate chain reactions of creative events within the system.

The narrative of progress is grounded in the myth of primitivism—the widely held assumption that life before the industrial era was brief, brutish, savage and simple. This is contrasted with the myth of development, of advanced societies and people from Europe representing progress and enlightenment. There must be an upward trend to show, to keep the illusion alive. When the masses … begin to chafe at the bleakness of their lives, they are reminded nightly on their screens of how terrible things used to be, how much better and longer and healthier our existences are today.
   Unpacking these narratives and retelling them from our Indigenous perspective highlights a few inconsistencies in the story and a few parts that have been left out. Our standpoint strips away the dogma that constrains our minds and potential, allowing some room for higher order thinking that gives rise to intriguing questions.
   For example, if Palaeolithic lifestyles were so basic and primitive, how did humans evolve with trillions of potential neural connections in the brain, of which we now only use a small fraction? What kinds of sophisticated lifestyles would be needed to evolve such a massive brain over hundreds of thousands of years? What kind of nutritional abundance would be needed to develop such an organ, made mostly out of fat? How does the narrative of harsh survival in a hostile landscape align with this fact? If our prehistoric lives were so violent, hard and savage, how could we have evolved to have such soft skin, limited strength and delicate parts?

Deep engagement encompassing mind, body, heart and spirit has been replaced by a dogged ethic of commitment to labour, enthusiastic compliance with discipline imposed by authority.

What we had found was a broad, common description of Indigenous ways of valuing, ways of being, ways of knowing and ways of doing. Mumma Doris knew it as Respect, Connect, Reflect, Direct. She insisted on that order. She also identified that non-Aboriginal people seemed to work through the same steps but in reverse.…
   Invert that [reverse] process and you'll have something approximating an appropriate way of coming to Indigenous Knowledge and working towards sustainable solutions. The first step of Respect is aligned with values and protocols of introduction, setting rules and boundaries. This is the work of your spirit, your gut. The second step, Connect, is about establishing strong relationships and routines of exchange that are equal for all involved. Your way of being is your way of relating, because all things only exist in relationship to other things. This is the work of your heart. The third step, Reflect, is about thinking as part of the group and collectively establishing a shared body of knowledge to inform what you will do. This is the work of the head. The final step, Reflect, is about acting on that shared knowledge in ways that are negotiated by all. This is the work of the hands.

The beautiful cover of Sand Talk is based on one of Yunkaporta's wood carvings. He used his carvings and the symbols they contain as touchstones (touchwoods?) for the topics he covers in each chapter.

Sand Talk found its way to me through my online meanderings inspired by Claire G. Coleman's books, Terra Nullius and The Old Lie, both of which also expanded my perspectives. In fact, this book helped me to understand Coleman's books more deeply, and also gave me a fresh insight on the beautiful cover illustration of Terra Nullius.

I ordered Sand Talk from Australia, though I see it is now coming to the U.S. on May 12, 2020, when it'll also be released as an audiobook, which I have preordered. I look forward to revisiting the book in oral form at that time.

Paperback: The Text Publishing Company, 2019
Audiobook: Harper Audio, 2020, Downpour⩘ 

Joanna Kavenna, Zed

Zed by Joanna KavennaWell narrated by Elliot Hill

"There will be no further glitches…. That's absolutely guaranteed."

It took me a while to get into this book. In fact, after I had listened to it for a couple of hours, I tuned into another one for a while. Then I found myself reading again and everything seemed so strange, making my mind spin: fake is real, real is fake, people doing crazy things, pretending some semblance of normalcy, wrapping themselves in the assumed dignity of office, yet so batshit insane!

Finally, I closed the online news sites and returned to listening to this book, and then got hooked by its brilliant dive into the insane asylum we're creating, positing what it might be like if we continue just a bit further along our current trajectory, making my mind spin: fake is real, real is fake, people doing crazy things, pretending some semblance of normalcy, wrapping themselves in the assumed dignity of office, yet so batshit insane!

Even though I eventually did get hooked, I have to admit that I found this a quite challenging book. I had to listen really carefully, and still found it quite difficult to keep track of the characters and concepts, so I made myself a key. I'm going to publish it along with this review so I can refer back to it if I listen to the book again, which seems likely.

It is time to call Beetle to account. In the space of just ten years, with its Chinese partner company Băoguăn, it has become the biggest company on our planet and accrued a level of power that threatens us all. It controls our data, watches our every move, warps our democratic discourse, and exerts dominance over our markets and our currencies. Why is there no "techlash"? Because Beetle controls that too! With so much data and power centralized in the hands of a single company, the tech giant has become a serious threat to our basic freedoms and must be broken up.
   On the other hand, perhaps Beetle is so dominant because it is the best company, because its users have chosen it? Who could now imagine living without the services of Beetle? Without BeetleBits and Mercury cars? Without Veeps and VIADS? Without ArgusEyes and ANTs to protect us, without the vast benefits of Real Virtuality, without the extraordinary innovations of the Boardroom and the BeetleSpace? BeetleBands have also saved governments billions in health costs and lost days of work, not to mention corporations, by reminding populations to stay healthy. The simple reason Beetle is so huge is that we prefer it to everything else. We should champion the benefits this innovative company has brought to the wider world.
   Which side are you on?

"One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams." – Salvador Dalí, as quoted by Scrace Dickens in Zed.

Random House Audio, 2020, Downpour⩘ 

Maja Lunde, The End of the Ocean

The End of the Ocean of Maja LundeTranslated by Diane Oatley; narrated by Jane Copland and Jean Brassard

Using a story told in two parts, Lunde intimately personalizes the climate crisis in this book that was originally titled, simply, Blue.

In 2019, Signe, a 70-year-old Norwegian from Ringfjorden, a village on the fjord near the Blåfonna glacier, thinks back on her life as she sets sail alone across the ocean, fleeing from a climate action-related crime she committed in defense of the ice and water of her home village. Signe has long seen the climate crisis looming and attempted actions to inspire more people to work to avert it, unfortunately, ineffectually.

In 2041, after their hometown in drought-stricken, war-ravaged, and water-scarce Southern France burns to the ground, David and his daughter, Lou, desperately try to make a temporary life in a refugee camp, where they must also come to terms with the probability that their wife/mother and baby son/brother perished in the fire.

Signe's sea voyage ends near to where the future refugee camp will be located, and the traces of the end of her story eventually touch the lives of David and Lou, rejuvenating them with a few drops of hope.

Lunde is only 44, but still seems to have a fairly good insight into Signe.

Sometimes I forget how I look. After a while you stop caring about your appearance when you live on board a boat, but once in a great while when I see myself in a mirror on land, when the lighting is good, I am startled. Who is she, the person in there? Who in the world is that skinny old biddy?
   It is strange—no, surreal, surreal is the word—that I’m one of them, the old people, when I am still so completely myself through and through, the same person I have always been. Whether I am fifteen, thirty-five, or fifty, I am a constant, unchanged mass. Like the person I am in a dream, like a stone, like one-thousand-year-old ice. My age is disconnected from me. Only when I move does its existence become perceptible—then it makes itself known through all its pains, the aching knees, the stiff neck, the grumbling hip.

The cover illustration is beautiful. Unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to find out who to credit for it. There isn't a cover credit that I've been able to find published with the audiobook or ebook. Perhaps the paper versions have one.

Harper Audio, 2020, Downpour⩘ 

Carl Sagan, Contact

Contact by Carl SaganNarrated by Laurel Lefkow

I accidentally came across this audiobook recently, and realized that, while I had watched and enjoyed the movie a couple times, I had never read nor listened to the book itself, even though I had read other books by Sagan. That's unusual for me, as I tend to very much prefer books to films. So I decided to give it a listen. It's a shame that stories so often have to be dumbed down so much when they are translated to film.

Though I shouldn't have been, I was surprised by just how different the story in the book is. It is, as books usually are, deeper and richer than the film. I gained new insights into the thinking of the characters, which I appreciated.

The film does excel in a couple ways. First, the scene of leaving the Earth to the cacophony of audio waves leaving the planet and traveling out into the universe, gradually quieting as we travel further out and into our past, is amazing, vividly illustrating the relationship between time and space. Second, the visuals of the actual journey through the wormholes to visit other regions of space are astonishing, far beyond what I would've been able to imagine had I listened to the book before watching the film.

A final, somewhat disheartening observation: though the audiobook was released more recently, the book itself was published 35 years ago. One way its age shows is that I doubt its dedication would find its way into a book being published today:

For Alexandra, who comes of age with the Millennium. May we leave your generation a world better than the one we were given.

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2012, Downpour⩘ 

Jaroslav Kalfař, Spaceman of Bohemia

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav KalfařVery well narrated by Jot Davies

Aha! I read for rare moments like this, when such a book materializes in my universe.

I had traveled through Space, I had seen truths unparalleled, but still, in this Earthly life, I had barely seen anything at all. Something rests in the mortal soul, hungry to feel anything and everything in its own boundless depths. As boundless and ever-expanding as the universe itself.

I also like the way Kalfař begins and finishes his acknowledgements: "I'd like to thank: My country and my people. For their resilience, wisdom, art, food—and their humor in the face of great adversity.… Most importantly, I'd like to thank all readers of books, for keeping the conversation alive across centuries."

Little, Brown & Company, 2017, Downpour⩘ 

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