September 2022 | Reads & Reviews

August 2022 Reading Recommendations
July 2022 Reading Recommendations
June 2022 Reading Recommendations

 Merike Estna, I am the smoker of bones, I do look at every stone, I come and I go, I come and I go, 2018
Merike Estna, I am the smoker of bones, I do look at every stone, I come and I go, I come and I go, 2018

Sometimes, a single article or book can alter what you think and read for the next months or years. Recently, Elvia Wilk’s book Death by Landscape did the trick for me, shifting my reading preferences. Away from the anthropocentric literary prose currently en vogue, toward climate literature, mysticism, and the New Weird genre (sth akin to sci-fi).

Somehow, Merike Estna’s surreal paintings (on view at Kai Kunstikeskus) fit well with this new realm. So does the anti-capitalist climate theory of Andreas Malm. So do the news headlines, sadly.

Books read this month:

Best of stories + poetry read this month

  • The White Review published the list of top stories of their annual contest. Read ’em here.

Book reviews

Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm

Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm

Everyone, especially the well-off of the Western world should read this to adjust their consciousness away from the silenced, comfortable acceptance.

Andreas Malm is one of the leading modern thinkers on capitalism and climate change. In this timely book, he walks us through a logical, revealing, and well-argumented journey from the Covid crisis, the human destruction of the natural world, and its dire consequences. Then, Malm pauses to ask: how can we stop this?

The Covid19 outbreak revealed three truths, covertly known to most: 

First, the human hunger for constant growth and luxuries is driving the decline of biodiversity and thereby creating a more fruitful breeding ground for viruses. The blissful consumers in the US, France, and Germany (and all other EU countries) are accountable for the destruction of natural resources and land in distant, third-world countries.

Second, the rich Western countries only care about global pandemics and disasters if they bring discomfort to their own, rich, aging population.

But, maybe even more importantly, Malm notes that in case of an emergency, governments actually are able to limit the production of non-essential commodities. He argues that it’s not anarchy we need to save the world, but strong states acting with a long-term vision.

Some terms & theories to look up: zoonotic spillover, dilution effect (in biodiversity), critical vulnerability (Wisen et al), war communism.

Angels by Rudolf Steiner

angels rudolf steiner

I came to Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical writings via Saul Bellow, notably his Pulitzer-winning 1975 novel Humboldt’s Gift in which the soulful protagonist is occupied with the teachings in ‘spirit science’ of none else than Steiner.

It was a curious book to read, albeit one that makes your thoughts run on a different track. For me, reading Angels resulted in jotting down ideas of a fictionalized cult. I wonder what it did for Bellow.

To give you a taste of the lectures collected in the book, here are some highlights:

“We observe things as they are, not as they might become. We can only grow conscious of spiritual reality by shifting our perception from finished to developing creation. Our past can become the foundation of what we may become in the future.”

“People who want to believe in the spirit, make spiritualistic experiments, letting the spirit manifest, because they only want to believe in a spirit that can take material form. That is no spirit, however, which appears in a gleam of material light. Spiritualism is the most extreme form of materialism. People seek to deny the spirit by accepting as spirit something that only presents itself in the material world.”

Thomas Aquinas made reference to Aristotle’s De Anima, paraphrased by the Intro’s author: “When we attain knowledge and understanding of these realms [the angelic realms, in which process of perception and the object of perception cannot be distinguished], we enter a domain in which we become one with the object of perception. Knowledge of the Angels leads us therefore to being Angel-like ourselves.”

Strange? Indeed. But also fascinating, at least for this reader.

As Douglas Brenner writes in the New York Times’ T Magazine, Steiner was the obscure spirit man of his time (the 1st half of the 20th century) with admirers abounding.

“Practically no one outside anthroposophical circles, it seems, lifted specific shapes or motifs from Steiner, but his concepts fascinated creative figures across the aesthetic spectrum. The exhibition will include pages from Wassily Kandinsky’s diary with jottings about Steiner, fan mail from Piet Mondrian, a note from Franz Kafka requesting Steiner’s comments about a new manuscript and a 1923 invitation from the architect Richard Neutra, then a disciple of the Expressionist master Erich Mendelsohn, to visit the new Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany.”

Essays, reviews, poems:

#essay #cinema | The Ecological Imagination of Hayao Miyazaki by Isaac Yuen , via Orion Magazine, link

“Imagine an ecosystem where colossal fungi unfurl to tower as tall as redwoods. Imagine a world swathed in jungles that spew forth toxic spores where giant mutant insects have evolved to dominate every niche. This is the setting of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki’s postapocalyptic tale where life teems and threatens human survival.

Inspired by the industrial methylmercury poisonings of Minamata Bay, Miyazaki created a version of nature that not only endures humanity’s polluting ways, but actively fights back against it. Faced with the challenges of living with such hostile forces, humanity teeters on the brink of extinction. “

Princess Mononoke
Hayao Miyazaki | Princess Mononoke, 1997

#review #architecture | Xanadu’s Architect by Martin Filler, via The New York Review of Books, link

On the pioneering female architect Julia Morgan and the eccentric commission she landed: San Simeon, the estate of the legendary newspaper proprietor William Randolph Hearst.

“San Simeon’s principal feature is a Spanish Baroque pile formally named La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) but familiarly known as Hearst Castle. Perched on an eminence with panoramic views of the ocean, this cathedral-like twin-spired mega-mansion encompasses 68,500 square feet, with thirty-eight bedrooms and forty-one bathrooms. (Although the castle is enormous by any standard, eleven other American residences at the time surpassed it. The biggest was Richard Morris Hunt’s Biltmore House of 1889–1895 in Asheville, North Carolina, created for George W. Vanderbilt II and almost triple the size.) Yet the publisher’s grandiose scheme—which included numerous outbuildings and a zoo also designed by Morgan, with bear and lion pits as well as giraffe and elephant houses—was still incomplete when his fortunes waned during the Great Depression.

 San Simeon, architect Julia Morgan

#review #history | Our Toxic Nuclear Present by Michael D. Gordin, via The New York Review of Books, link

On the destructive impact and aftermath of nuclear detonations, both in the US Marshall islands and the Soviet Union’s Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan.