is work in progress, and although it is something of a labor of love,
it is also extremely time-consuming. I am constantly coming upon notes
and refences to various books or essays that had slipped my mind as
sources of ideas and inspiration. This only one of several bibliographies
I eventually hope to include, and it is only a beginning.
Kenny. Ed. Nature's Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies.
San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2004.
collection of essays on developing sustainable technologies and using
them sustainably includes sections that explore the practical, philosophical,
and spiritual aspects of addressing modern-day problems and trying to
reverse or mitigate their effects. Topics range from biomimicry to agribusiness
to bioengineering, and the necessity of finding and using new models
for economics that acknowledge the interdependence of human beings and
the natural world. Contributors include Paul Hawken, Wes Jackson, Michael
Pollan, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, David Orr, and Terry Tempest
Williams. The link is to his bio on the website for Bioneers,
which was kindly (and enthusiastically) suggested to me by one of my
fellow pubmates on the Serenity forum.
Mary Catherine. Our Own Metaphor: A Personal Account of a Conference
on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation. Washington,
D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.
conference referred to took place in 1968, and was organized by anthropologist
and psychiatrist Gregory Bateson; it included discussions on biology,
cybernetic processes, learning, and ecology. Conference members included
Warren McCullough (cybernetics), Barry Commoner (biology and social
science), Gordon Pask (cybernetics), Horst Mittelstaedt (zoology, cybernetics,
physics), Fred Attneave (psychology), Will Jones (history of philosophy),
Peter Klopfer (zoology), Anatol Holt (psychology, physics, chemistry,
mathematics, linguistics, computer science), Gertrude Hendrix (mathematics
and pedagogy), Bert Kaplan (psychology, 18th and 19th century German
philosophy), Ted Schwartz (cybernetics and linguistics), and Mary Catherine
Bateson (anthropology and linguistics). Discussions centered on the
then-emerging connections among cybernetics, systems theory, and the
human sciences. This edition (the original was published in 1972; I
first read it in 1981) features a new foreword, in which Mary Catherine
Bateson notes that developing "ways of functioning that will not
destroy the viability of our planetary home will depend on conversation,
understood in its widest sense: individuals in interaction manipulating
words and tools, the symbols of economic exchange, political power,
and passionate belief. Over time, there is a need to develop an ecology
of ideas that will allow diversity and change and permit individuals
to identify with the larger systems to which they belong" Tellingly,
she goes on to refer to the conference itself as "a parable for
the worldwide conversation that lies ahead of us" (xv). This is
probably where I first got the idea for worldwide, small-scale conversations
as an impetus for change. It also encouraged me to think about what
human beings can decide to do, as opposed to what they're conditioned
by social conventions to think they must do.
Wendell. A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural.
San Diego, Calif.: HBJ, 1972.
I was first introduced to Wendell Berry in the '80s, in the same class
that inspired my re-examination of William Morris: "Poet Economists,
Poet Ecologists" (taught by Prof. Tim Redman). Reading his work
reminds me of coming home—of revisiting
familiar places, people, and ideas. As an essayist, Berry touches on
themes that have become intertwined in my own work (both writing and
teaching), and it is very difficult to locate when and where in his
books I first encountered them. His considerations of the interrelatedness
of life, the land, language, and the "household" were probably
more influential than I will ever be able to acknowledge.
Standing By Words. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983.
book, and in particular the eponymous essay, focuses on the ethics of
language—on saying what one means, and meaning
what one says; it has become, for me, the contemporary, more ecologically
evocative, surrogate for Orwell's "Politics and the English Language,"
and seems—more than twenty-five years later—particularly
timely in its observations. Berry's description of propriety was probably
instrumental in my consideration of the relationship between technology
and necessity, about which he asks the following essential question:
"how appropriate is the tool to the work, the work to the need,
the need to other needs and the needs of others, and to the health of
the household or community of all creatures?" (51).
What Are People For? San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990.
this collection of essays on everything from sex to technology, Berry's
reasons for not buying a computer are alone worth the price of admission;
but since it's available here,
you can get a nibble for free.
Murray. The Ecology of Freedom. Palo Alto, Calif.: Cheshire
One of the criticisms
I expect to arise concerning my story is that it is essentially naive—that
people could never live like this, that human nature is incapable
of long-term cooperative efforts, that capitalism is somehow the natural
state of affairs for human beings. Reading Murray Bookchin made it
clear that people much better versed than I am in economic theory
think that human beings are capable of engaging in many alternatives
to the global economy that has already characterized the twenty-first
century. He died in 2006, and there's a nice obit at the Institute
for Social Ecology, along with an interview
in the Institute's journal, Harbinger.
introduction to utopian theory came in late 1975, when I enrolled in
a course at Stony Brook called "Perspectives In Philosophy,"
thinking I was going to be reading Plato and Aristotle. Instead, the
course was called "Perspectives In Community," taught by Pat
Hill. Buber was on the reading list, and I was immediately hooked; the
resulting tip toward socialism, as they say, changed my life. A good
introduction to his work, from Maurice Friedman's biography, Martin
Buber: The Life of Dialogue, is available online: "Community
and Religious Socialism."
Clifford. Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia.
Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1971.
though it's nearly forty years old, this is still one of the best treatments
of Islam available. The reason I include it here, however, is that it's
an example of Geertz's notion of ethnography as "thick description"
as well as an eloquent illustration of how environment (both physical
and cultural) affects belief. This book and his Interpretation of
Cultures (1973) have informed much of my approach to anthropology.
He died only recently (2006), and there's an obituary
at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, where he was emeritus
Lewis. The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.
New York: Vintage Books, 1983.
his own words, "It is the assumption of this book that a work of
art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more
precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two 'economies,'
a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential,
however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there
is not gift there is no art" (xi). Grounded in anthropological
theory and ecological consciousness, Hyde explores the role of art in
the modern world. His ideas have informed mine (and those of my characters)
about the nature of art and the nature of economics. His newer book,
Makes This World is equally worthy, and inspired a short story
I wrote called "Left Behind" (copies on request). A description
of his latest project on the Cultural
Commons is available on his website.
Don. Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science. Evanston,
Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998.
My earliest dissertation
research involved the newly-developing field called (for want of a catchier
term) "philosophy of technology." When I began exploring the
topic, the most interesting theoretical conversations were taking place
in Continental philosophy, stemming from the work of Martin Heidegger.
Neo-pragmatists like Richard Rorty were helpful, but Don Ihde was at
the forefront. I heard him speak at a couple of SPEP (the Society for
Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy) meetings, and began to read
his books. Since hermeneutics (roughly, and inadequately, described
as the "science of interpretation") is at the root of translation
studies (something I was also working on at the time), Ihde's work was
a natural fit. He's an engaging speaker and an accessible writer, even
for those who haven't much background in modern philosophical discourse.
This book provides a lucid explanation of the importance of visual technologies
in the practice of science, and points to the increasing similarities
between the sciences and the humanities in the modern world.
Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1990.
book provides a solid, accessible introduction to ways of thinking about
technology, and does one of the best jobs I've encountered of describing
the relationships between human beings and their technologies. When
I mention to my students that one reason they can't interpret cave paintings
is that they live behind too many veils of technology, I'm paraphrasing
Ihde (and probably one or two others).
Ivan. Tools for Conviviality. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1973.
can't be sure, but this is probably one of the wellsprings from whence
arose my interest in a critical approach to modern technology. As Illich
puts it in his introduction, "Our vision of the possible and the
feasible is so restricted by industrial expectations that any alternative
to more mass production sounds like a return to past oppression or like
a Utopian design for noble savages" (xiii). Reading Tools,
probably in 1974, inspired early conversations with fellow students
at Penn on the development of appropriate technologies, and how completely
our lives at the time were governed by the technological choices that
had already been made for us. Some of our angst had to do with having
to stand in long lines with boxes of key cards in order to run a computer
program, but Illich's critique sparked something in all of us. His notion
of "deschooling" must also have been one of the early influences
on my educational philosophy. The link leads to e-texts of many of his
Vol. 1, "The Problem of Civilization." New York: Seven Stories
after I had begun my project, and only just before it was finished,
I discovered this book at my local Half Price store. Had I discovered
it earlier, I'd have enjoyed instant confirmation that the ideas I deal
with in the story are out there, being articulated and explored by many,
many others. The view that civilization itself lies at the very root
of modernity's problems is refreshing and timely, and Jensen's own project
(vol. 2, "Resistance," was also published in 2006, but I haven't
read it yet) is doubly gratifying because he's an activist, engaged
in trying to change the world. Jensen is a frequent contributor to Orion
Magazine, and prompts a considerable amount of discussion with every
not sure how much this book really influenced me, but I kept picking
it up to read while I was working on MNFN. Karatani combines
his Asian perspective with recent Continental thinking on aesthetics
and technology into an interdisciplinary philosophical journey through
areas that all have something to do with what I've been writing about.
Susanne K. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism
of Reason, Rite, and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1957.
the Spring of 1967, I enrolled in a special, experimental Western Civ
section at UC Riverside. I'm convinced that the reason I made the cut
(just fourteen students were selected, and were joined by twelve faculty
members) was that I was the only Greek major on campus. The idea was
to create an interdisciplinary colloquium in which we would all read
core texts, discuss them, write about them, and discuss what we had
written. The reading list included Gombrich's Meditations on a Hobby
Horse, Tom Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
Herodotus's Histories, and Suzanne Langer. Although I didn't
continue in the class after that quarter, the heady intellectual atmosphere
stayed with me. Langer was the first philosopher I read outside of Plato,
and she has informed my academic life ever since, both in my studies
of philosophy and of anthropology.
Le Guin is certainly
my favorite writer of any kind of fiction, and I taught this book
in my "Utopia and Technology" class. I also wrote about
it in an essay about postmodern utopias for David Channell's "Science
and Postmodernism" class. The preamble to the novel, in which
Le Guin imagines a future population in a specific location in California
probably inspired me to think about a future Owens River Valley as
the setting for a story. Although the Kesh society she describes and
explores is both interesting and compelling, its spiritual basis has
always seemed contrived—not the way a
post-apocalyptic society, it seems to me, would really evolve. Her
notion of technology as morally dangerous is thought-provoking and
philosophically useful, but the novel itself falls into the after-the-bomb-we-all-become-primitives-of-some-stripe
category of speculative fiction. As such, it played for me much the
same role that Bellamy's Looking Backward did for Morris—as
did Le Guin's other utopian novel, The Dispossessed.
at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New
York: Perennial Library, 1989.
addition to being a superb fiction writer, Le Guin is a consummate essayist.
I enjoy her non-fiction prose at least as well as her science fiction
and fantasy. In particular, "A Non-Euclidean Vew of California
as a Cold Place to Be," may be one of the best short articles available
on the nature of utopia. But my real love in this book is her very short
piece called "The Space Crone," a paean to women "of
a certain age." It has inspired two characters in other stories
I've either written or am working on, and quite frankly, I
want to be the old woman chosen to go to Altair.
The Dispossessed. A New Harper Perennial Classics edition was
published in 2003.
Along with Always
Coming Home, this novel taught me much of what I know about imagining
utopia. Anarres is an intentional community writ large, complete with
the problems one could easily predict given a marginal environment
and a large population. Le Guin explores the inevitability of centralization
in such an economy, and imagines a society of idealists—some
of whom become ideologues, and some of whom succumb to various pitfalls
of human nature, such as power hunger and greed. This novel showed
me that a utopian community almost necessarily requires a utopian
environment and a limited population. The Odonians of Anarres weren't
anarchistic enough for me; I needed to see how like-minded people
would live, given conditions that would enable them to compose a world
without rigid rules and centralized governments.
Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the
Imagination. Boston: Shambala, 2004.
collection of essays, this contains "A War Without End," which
articulates better than any other work I can think of, the need for
utopian thinking. It also asks somer really hard questions that, were
we to answer them honestly, might actually lead to changes in the way
we behave toward one another, and toward the rest of the world.
Bill. Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age. New York:
Henry Holt (Owl Books), 2003.
name is usually associated with his groundbreaking effort, The End
of Nature (1997), which called for a radical rethinking
of human/nature relationships. But Enough is dear to my heart
because it explores a topic I considered in my master's thesis on bad
metaphors drawn from science. McKibben explores the misuse of Darwinian
evolutionary theory as a model for cultural evolution by those he calls
the "techno utopians." These folks seek the ultimate in technological
fixes: augmentation and change in human evolution by technological means.
I was profoundly gratified to find this book as I was finishing my own,
because it provided me with a measure of hope. If there are critics,
especially critics with a well-established audience, all is not lost.
Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly
on the Earth. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.
book illustrates the fact that change is not only possible, but it's
occuring as we speak: on Roanoke Island, with the reintroduction of
wolves, at Curitiba in Brazil, and Kerala in India. At the end of his
introductory chapter,"Home," he says "This book offers
no utopias; indeed, as the word is commonly understood, we have been
living in a utopia all our lives, a place as sumptuously appointed and
as divorced from physical labor as any in history. What I have been
seeking instead are models of some post-utopia, places that resemble
neither our pleasant daydream of a society nor the varous nightmares
so obvious in the world around us. Some places that make hope real .
. . " (55).
Helen. Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking
and Pithy Quotations. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green
Nearings were early influences on my love for gardening and on my interest
in the organic movement. I read through this newer book while I was
writing More News From Nowhere and thinking about what people
would eat. The work of Helen and Scott is being carried on at their
last hand-built homesite, The
Good Life Center. Her comments on Scott's dignified death in 1983
are available at In
Context. A short obituary
for Helen (who died in 1995) can be found on the European Vegetarian
David. The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention.
New York: Oxford UP, 2002.
I came across Orr's book in a short blurb in the Chronicle of Higher
Education, just after its publication. I ordered it for the Kelley
Library at the Art Institute of Dallas, and read it shortly thereafter,
being struck both by its treatment of familiar themes, but also by its
practical advice. A recent article in the online journal, In
is Education For?" is also well worth reading by anyone involved
in higher education. He explores education more fully in his new book,
Earth In Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect
(Island Press, 2004).
Carlo. Slow Food: The Case for Taste. New York: Columbia University
Slow Food movement is one of many current attempts to reject the relentless
pace of modern life in favor of mindfulness—in
this case about what we eat and how we cook it. Petrini's book is the
movement's bible, and promotes a philosophical approach to consumption
of various kinds. Further information is available on the movement's
websites: Slow Food
International and Slow
David. Hand's End: Technology and the Limits of Nature. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1993.
on in my studies at UT Dallas, I noticed the relationship between translation
and metaphor (they're words for the same thing in Latin and Greek),
and began to think of tools as metaphors for parts of the human body.
Since one of the characteristics we're most proud of is that we make
things (including tools), it seemed pretty logical that most of our
tools are actually metaphors for hands--extensions of the hand designed
to perform particular tasks. Rothenberg goes well beyond what I was
musing about in the '80s, and describes in this book an intriguing history
of how we have thought about nature and technology in the West, from
the simplest of hand tools to the computer. He may also have been the
first person to drive home the message (to me, at least) that knowing
how the rainbow is formed does not diminish the wonder of its
existence. For a review, see this
from Howard Reingold.
Witold. Taming the Tiger: The Struggle to Control Technology.
New York: Viking, 1983.
One of today's
most prolific writers on things architectural, Rybcznski's eclectic
interests include the history and philosophy of technology--about
which he has written two books (the other is Paper Heroes: A Review
of Appropriate Technology, in 1980). One of his chapters, "From
Cabin to Cockpit," includes a cogent discussion of the rationale
behind the Arts and Crafts Movement, and a contrasting picture of
Bauhaus aesthetics--as each fits into his critique of technology.
He's now the Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania,
and architecture critic for Slate magazine. A recent interview
is available at Slate.com.
Barbarians. New York: Scribner, 2010.
This book, like
Alan Weisman's The World Without Us (below), would have been
an enormous help (and psychological lifter-upper) when I was writing
MNFN. I discovered it recently in a chain bookstore and blogged
about it on Owl's
Farm. It doesn't really belong in this section, but until I set
up the "What's Happening Now" bibliography, I wanted to include
it for anyone who doesn't think it possible to live the "savage"
life of my utopians. Sandbeck's book, which urges us to abandon many
of our modern sensibilities about what we really need in order to survive
and "live bravely" on our planet, is already helping me to
thumb my nose at naysayers.
David. The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American
Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
book, which I first encountered while doing research for my dissertation
proposal, provides a valuable history of the quest for the "simple
life" in the United States, and of the utopian impulse that underlies
efforts to fulfill it. The final chapter, "Affluence and Anxiety,"
holds up well as a description of the beginnings of environmental and
economic awarneness in the years after World War II, and as a characterization
of the continuing search for the "good life." David Shi is
now president of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.
Gary. The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco: North Point
essays in this book, like everything Snyder writes, are taut, inspiring,
lucid, and just plain enjoyable to read. I especially love "Tawny
Grammar," in which Snyder muses about the sanctity of wild spaces
and beings. Snyder lives in the northern Sierra Nevada, and his affection
for the area and for the idea of the wild as valuable in itself--beyond
any economic considerations--is both profound and inspiring.
Yi-Fu. Morality and Imagination: Paradoxes of Progress.
Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
some ways, this book is about ends and means. We are, in fact, what
we make, and what we make is a product of our imagination--so that the
moral content of imagination is worth examining. The question of progress
looms large, as does the (resulting) desire to return to an often romanticized
"simpler" life. Tuan's discussion of the role of fantasy is
Passing Strange and Wonderful: Aesthetics, Nature, and Culture.
Washington, D. C.: Island Press, 1993.
this book, Tuan argues that a love of beauty--the aesthetic impulse--lies
at the core of human culture, and explores its sources in the senses.
Because he does not focus exclusively on Western ideas about aesthetics,
he offers some very useful insights into differences between how we
see the relationship between nature and culture, and how other peoples
understand it. I think that part of my attraction to his work stems
from the fact that his Chinese origins resonate with my childhood in
Taiwan and Japan, and we both left Asia as children. I can't wait to
read his new book, Returning to China (University of Minnesota
Press, 2007), to see what he says about the experience of going back
sixty years after having left.
Segmented Worlds and Self: Group Life and Individual Consciousness.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
is almost nothing this book isn't about, but at it's center
is the concept of community, and how individualism fits into notions
about "common worlds."
Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and
Values. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1974.
One of my favorite
things about libraries is the possibility of accidental discovery
when one enters the stacks to look for a particular book. I have no
idea what I was looking for when I happened on this book, but Tuan's
insights began to inform my views of everything from time to space
to the environment the minute I sat down on the floor in front of
the shelf and began to read. Like Mary Catherine Bateson's Our
Own Metaphor, Tuan's Topophilia became a touchstone
over the next twenty years or so, one to which I returned frequently.
Quite a while
after I uploaded More News From Nowhere to the web, Weisman's
book and website
appeared in the firmament. It answers many of the questions my students
have posed about what future archaeologists would find, were we to
disappear for whatever reason. I wish it had been published before
MNFN came online, but it will certainly factor in any re-imagining
that occurs in future, or in any of the sequels that keep popping
into my imagination.