Archive for the ‘Mish-Mash of Books’ Category

Apropos of nothing much … except error & vulnerability.

In General Mish-Mash, Mish-Mash of Books on September 23, 2011 at 11:18 am

I have just come to the end of a book called: This is not the end of the book.

It is a conversation between Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere, curated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac.

A delight to read – or, really, eavesdrop. Easy going, mostly (that is if you don’t mind reference to arcane, ancient and obscure texts).

The book has been criticised because it contains a whole swag of inaccuracies – but you’d expect this in a conversation. I supposed the errors could have been corrected in the editing … the atmosphere would change and it may have become a bit sterile.

Anyway, both Carriere and Eco have huge private libraries, and exceptional careers in the literary world, making them ideal commentator on the subject of the decline of the book. Their conversations is triggered by the incessant claim that the technology shift spells the end of the book. Hence the book’s title – it is a refutation of the thinking that the web means the demise of the book.

Eco’s library has over 50,000 volumes (I have spoken of this library before) – his collection of ancient text (about 1200 volumes) is dedicated to mistaken science, lunacy, magic, the occult. At one point he says:

“I collect books whose contents I don’t believe.”

Eco seems fascinated with error, misconception, deception, and misjudgement. Which brings me to this post.

It is so easy to form a vastly misjudged, one-dimensional view of someone – especially when they have high profile and attract media attention. One dimension expertly crafted by those tools (error, etc etc) we so often apply without any consciousness or conscience.

Patti Smith and Germaine Greer are women I’ve admired for their talent and toughness – I imagined them to be hard, harsh people, somewhat lacking in sensitivity or empathy.

Earlier this year I read Patti Smith’s book Just Kids – memoirs of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York.

Mapplethorpe portrait of Patti Smith

I am now about a third of the way through Germaine Greer’s Daddy We Hardly Knew You – which I picked up last week at a market.

Germaine Greer

It seems to me now that even the titles of these books are antithetical to my biased perceptions. In fact, I bought Greer’s book precisely because its title challenged my perception.

Both of these books are very personal, evocative, and exceptionally moving.

More importantly, for me, these books placed a spotlight on my perceptions. It became obvious how easily and effortlessly I’d locked them both into a 1-dimensional prison, or flatlined them into 2 dimensions …

It must happen so often with such unfair and unrewarding outcomes.

Humans are multi-dimensional – no matter their profile or fame, no matter the public persona they cultivate, and no matter the perceived dominance one or a few of their characteristics.

And most of the time, most of those dimensions are simply not available or inaccessible, they must largely remain unknown and may be completely unbelievable.  An opportunity for adventure and illumination – much like Eco’s library, or even the mysteries that may reside on the pages of a single book.

And of course, we would never judge a book by its cover – especially now that we have been assured that this is not the end of the book.

The Art of Engagement – 3 Worlds Collide!!!

In General Mish-Mash, Mish-Mash of Books on August 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

The Art of Engagement - Lally, Eng, & Anderson

Is it possible for commercial, creative, and community interests to be in complete alignment? What happens when they are?

A new publication hits the bookstores this week. This publication has great relevance for me – it documents a project that occupied my attention for some time.

The C3 West project.

In brief, this project calls up the potential power existing in territory defined by the intersection of 3 categories of endeavour – Commerce, Creativity, & Community. The geographical focus was Western Sydney. Hence C3 West.

These areas of human effort seem to meet infrequently – and when they do it is all too often about employment rather than engagement. It is driven by more by transaction or exchange rather than by collaboration.

  • A business commissions a piece of art or offers patronage/sponsorship to a local gallery,
  • A company makes charitable contributions to community initiatives,
  • An artist is driven to articulate some expression about a community issue,
  • A community canvasses designs to enhance a public space.

The value of these connections, and others like them, are vital. Their importance should never, ever be underestimated. Nevertheless, they are exchanges that provide a momentary bridge between disparate disciplines.

What if? What if … at some time, in some space, under some conditions the drive within these 3 areas was in unison. What if the imperatives of commerce, creativity, and community were treading the same path, in the same direction, towards the same goal.  What a potent time and space that could/would be.

Could we consciously create that condition, that space, that time? Wouldn’t that be interesting and, perhaps, rewarding!

It certainly was both interesting and rewarding for me.

It is a great project. The project was, and is, being followed and documented by:

  • Elaine Lally, Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts & Social Science, UTS
  • Ien Ang, Professor of Cultural Studies, Director of Centre for Cultural Research, UWS
  • Kay Anderson, Professor of Cultural Research, UWS

They have co-authored this publication:
The Art of Engagement: Culture, Collaboration, Innovation.

Click on the cover picture above or here to get more information about the book.

Click here and you can have a look at some extracts from the book, including the Foreword by the fabulous Liz Ann Macgregor, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.  

The Long Walk – Chapter 100, Freedom

In Mish-Mash of Books, Uncategorized on July 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Last night I reached Chapter 100 of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom – it is the freedom chapter, February 1990.

11 February 1990 – Nelson Mandela release after more than 27 years in prison.

It is a big book about big events and big issues … but it is has a quiet, calm tone. A tone that is nevertheless resolute and shows the strength of personal belief, principles, and integrity. There is much to discover between its covers – certainly plenty that is of historical significance. More importantly about human-ness.

One attribute that stands out is his [Mandela’s] recognition that even those who have the most despotic and anti-human behaviours nevertheless retain a core of humanity. It may be deep and difficult to see … but it is there.

I get the sense that Mandela sees almost all human failings as being a product of the system within which they have to work and live. He certainly believes it about those who are the workhorses of the system, those in the lower ranks of the system.

One of his jailers, Piet Badenhorst, had behaviours that were cruel and sadistic. Mandela describes him as being the “most callous and barbaric commanding officer we had had on Robben Island”. When it came time for Badenhorst to depart Robben Island, he showed Mandela a level of empathy and understanding that was surprising.

Mandela concludes:

Ultimately … his [Badenhorst’s] inhumanity was foisted upon him by an inhuman system. He behaved like a brute because he was rewarded for brutish behaviour.

It is a thought that is not unique or illuminating, but it is one we need to keep in mind.

It does raise a couple of questions for me:

How does a system that diminishes humanity become entrenched? Is it the leader that is responsible? Or the people being led?

And, how do some people, rise above the system?

Thinking about systems and structures and the impact they have on behaviours always brings to mind the youthful but sophisticated poem/song from Bob Dylan – about the shooting of Medgar EversOnly A Pawn In Their Game.

There are plenty who dispute the facts used by Dylan for this song. What cannot be disputed is the potent imagery and poetic analysis of a society’s system and the impact it has on individual action and behaviour.

The deputy sherriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Medgar Evers – being arrested, 11 days later he was shot in front of his home.

Linchpin or Lynchmob

In Mish-Mash of Books on May 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I am nearing the end of Seth Godin‘s book Linchpin.

 Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Godin provides a very interesting slant on some big issues – leadership, art, … even the structure of our brain. In fact he blames the deepest and most primitive part of our brain – our lizard brain – for our failures in creativity and leadership. Of course, schools also get a bit of a shellacking for their role in helping the “lizard” train conformity and compliance to the “human”.

An interesting, instructive, and entertaining take on a human characteristic that continues to trip us up. The story here connects well with the writings of Russ Harris (The Confidence Gap; The Happiness Trap) on the level of personal development.

The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom

It also fits nicely into the business framework painted by John Vamos. In his publication, Elephants and the Business Laws of Nature, Vamos replaces Godin’s “lizard brain” with an an elephant that represents the deep workings of our brain. Vamos’ book that instructs the reader on how to systemise business behaviour to counter the effects of an uncontrollable, rogue subconscious (The Elephant).

Each of these writers places a high level of importance -maybe even an imperative – on acceptance and acknowledgement of the outpourings of our “lizard”. Being mindful of the lizard;s activity then allows us to move on, do what needs to be done to create art; give gifts; take risks; lead; earn confidence; or manage a business.

Not fighting the lizard, not trying to control the elephant, will help unravel the mish-mash … or at least enable you to work amidst the mish-mash.