February 19, 2012
These are books and articles that have inflluenced much of my art, thoughts and writing.
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, is perhaps one of the most highly respected figures in psychology and founder of the field of analytical psychology. His emphasis and research on the “archetype”, dreams and symbols distinguish him in his field. He was criticized by many as perhaps giving “mysticism” too much credit. In his book Man and His Symbols (1962), Jung delves into the history of humankind’s proclivity toward creating symbols and developing religions based on these symbols. There is a strong emphasis on analyzing how symbols come to be mainly through dreams infused with the mother/father dynamic and how many times symbols can easily be misinterpreted (Jung, 1964, p.20). The realization that people today now reflect on our symbols more while early civilizations accepted and worshipped them without question is a predominate theme. “Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional ‘unconscious identity’ with natural phenomena” (Jung, 1964, p. 95). It seems Jung had taken a turn from a more scientific tack and was quite possibly unwittingly one of the arbiters of a post-modern sensibility that was questioning positivism and empiricism. Contemporary art writers like Suzi Gablik, in her book The Enchantment of Art, seems to be documenting the end of modernism by suggesting “we live in a toxic culture, not just environmentally but spiritually (Gablik, 1992, p. 24) she then quotes Jungian psychoanalyst Marie-Louise von Franz; “a civilization that has no creative people is doomed….”(Gablik, 1992, p. 24) and concludes in reference to the new field of psychoneuroimmunology where it’s been determined that “belief is a potent medicine” (Gablik, 1992, p. 24). Jung’s breakthrough book certainly coincides with this idea that belief systems create less detachment and startled many in his field. This books was to me a precursor to a post-modernist ideal, thus pertinent and evidence of a paradigm shift taking place in the mid to late twentieth art world.
Zinn, H. (2003). A people's history of the United States. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Howard Zinn’s concern for democracy and social justice is the undergirding of his seminal history book, A People’s History of the United States (2003). This book is a wealth of knowledge and documents how historical events affected the common person from Columbus to the War on Terrorism. The book reports on atrocities and injustices that have occurred throughout our American history that have been predominantly overlooked or underreported. He cites occurrences of Boston bankers foreclosing on the property of the farmers who had been off fighting the Revolutionary war and unable to make payments on their property. The carnage of Andrew Jackson’s war on Native Americans, the violence and mendacity of slavery and Jim Crow laws are all discussed at length along with accounts of labor unrest which resulted in the murdering of workers who were trying to bring justice to the workplace. Discussed in lurid detail, the author exposes the powers that be, often revered characters in history, as the perpetrators of these crimes. Zinn, an educator and activist for social justice, dispels a lot of myths and I feel he is an important person in our recent history to turn to for lucid ideas about past and recent history.
Wilson, R. A. (1983). Prometheus rising. Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Publications.
Wilson’s book is an exercise in trying to merge neuroscience with technology with a healthy sprinkling of counter culture humor and quantum physics. He wrote this originally as a PhD. thesis for an alternative university that went defunct. In his preface he states; “I decided to rewrite the manuscript in more commercial form. The first change consisted of removing all the footnotes (about two of them per sentence) which gave the original a truly academic stink but would annoy the average reader” (Wilson, 1983, pp. 11,12). The result is a book that meanders through many new ideas in our culture emanating from people and theories like Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, Zen Buddahism and Quantum Theory. He was one of the first proponents of computer science as affecting our culture in a very significant and philosophical way. Wilson states in this book; “We are all giants, raised by pygmies, who have learned to walk with a perpetual mental crouch. Unleashing our full stature—our total brain power—is what this book is all about” (Wilson, 1983, pp. 145,146) The ideas expressed are somewhat Utopian, but just as with Jung and Gablick, what’s being articulated in essence is that we have more power and more abilities than we give ourselves credit. He has some interesting brain “exercises” such as making yourself read books or articles about opposite ideals than what you have come to believe in, which should result in an expanded outlook. The theme that runs through the book is that we are on the verge of some incredible paradigm shifts in our collective mindsets that will approach some kind of new Utopia, but it’s with a sense of humor that he does this and therefore never approaches any level of religiosity or zealousness that others, writing about such heady things, might. He is encouraging limitless though and the idea that anything is possible exists, especially in these contemporary times, which any student should find inspiring.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow. New York, NY: The New Press
Michelle Alexander is legal scholar and professor at Stanford Law School. This book is probably one most current reports that outlines the inequities of our legal system, in particularly America towards African Americans. The book is fraught with declarations and statistics showing how our legal system, primarily through our drugs laws, are keeping African Americans in a state similar, if not worse than the Jim Crow period in our history. It details how the rise of the numbers of African Americans in our prison system today has resulted in a startling statistic whereby there are more African American men in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began. The book relates a litany of problems such as the breaking up of families, the lack of black men in communities (because so many are incarcerated). Most notably is the correlation between the level of education African American men receive, which results in the increased chances of them becoming embroiled in the prison system. The “plantation to penitentiary” (Alexander, 2010, p. 221) problem is foremost an education problem that needs serious attention and action.
Gablik, S. (1992). The reenchantment of art. London: Thames and Hudson.
Suzi Gablik wrote this book 20 years ago and still feels relevant today. She ruminates on postmodernism and its differences to modernism and explains quite clearly and passionately how modernism seems no longer applicable. She delves into the art produced by postmodern artists that deals with social justice and questions modernist claims that “the artist is supposed to be emotionally distanced from the event he is portraying, according to Ortega y Gasset, in his famous essay of 1925, ‘The Dehumanization of Art’. Art evokes aesthetic, not real, emotions….Ortega presents the dying man whose bedside is attended by his wife, his doctor and a painter. He describes the painter’s attitude as indifference: the painter pays attention to only lights and shadow and chromatic values: ‘To actually worry about the dying man,’ Ortega comments, ‘is not the concern of the aesthetics.’ ‘In painting and sculpture, the design is the essential thing,’ wrote Immanuel Kant” (Gablik, 1992, p. 99). Gablick goes on to discuss how we have not changed the artist’s view since the Renaissance, which created the spectator who is outside the picture separate from what he sees” (Gablik, 1992, p. 99). She claims that “today, remaining aloof has dangerous implications” (Gablik, 1992, p. 5) and therefore espousing that the “sub-text of social responsibility is missing in our aesthetics models and the challenge of the future will be to transcend the disconnectedness and separation of the aesthetic from the social that existed within modernism” (Gablik, 1992, p. 5).
Rilke, R. M. (1934). Letters to a young poet. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.
This short book splendidly depicts an actual student teacher relationship and gives both some important ideas about life to ponder. Probably one the best pieces of writing about what it is to be an artist/poet a teacher can offer a student to read; “In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!” (Rike, 1934, p. 24). If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys (Rike, 1934, p. 48). This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us (Rike, 1934, p. 52). There are some rich sentiments for the more mature and serious student, and teacher. One of my students in prison loved it and worshipped the wisdom between its pages.
Casella, J., & Ridgeway, J. (2012, January 06). California bill would increase media access to prisoners. [Online article] Retrieved from http://solitarywatch.com/2012/01/06/california-bill-would-increase-media-access-to-prisoners/
The online article discusses the fact that “the nation’s supermax prisons and solitary confinement units are virtual black sites, off-limits and therefore invisible to both the public and the press” (Casella & Ridgeway, 2012). There is a bill introduced in the California State Assembly that seeks to overturn the ban on interviewing prisoners in solitary confinement. This article is important because most people are not aware of the increase use of solitary confinement as well as the difficulty journalists have in being able to communicate with people that are in solitary. Disclosing the use of inhumane treatment of people, prisoners or not, is important and needs to be something that is available to our press, in order that we safeguard basic constitutional and human rights. This article also should be of interest to the student of Visual Culture, because it illustrates well how powerful an image really is, as well as how threatened artist, journalists and civil liberties are from the use of censorship of subject matter of a political nature.
Gawande, A. (2009, March 30). Hellhole. The New Yorker [Online periodical] Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande
This article goes into detail about the history of isolation and its psychological effects on people who have been subjected to this form of torture. “The imposition of long-term isolation—which can be for months or years—is ultimately at the discretion of prison administrators. One former prisoner I spoke to, for example, recalled being put in solitary confinement for petty annoyances like refusing to get out of the shower quickly enough.” (Gawande, 2009) In my personal experience, I have seen my students, at Tomoka Corrections, placed in solitary for several months for complaining about the food in the cafeteria. This article discusses the recent growth in the last ten years or so of the use of this type of torture and highlights many of the controversial reasons for its use.
Crispo, N. (1997). Return on investment for correctional education in Florida. [Online excerpt from a cost study report] Retrieved from http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/taxwatch/
This is an excerpt which discusses selected results of the Costs Consequences Analysis (CCA) model as developed by the late Dr. Neil Crispo, a Florida State Economics Professor for Florida TaxWatch (FTW) and the Center For Needs Assessment & Planning (CNAP), and adapted by the Florida Department of Corrections (DC). The report uses studies and stats that ultimately support the cost effectiveness of educating the prison populace from a cost savings perspective. In other words, money spent on education reduces recidivism, thus reduces the tax payers need to spend money on Florida’s prison system. In my opinion, this to-the-point document is probably one of the best pieces of empirical data one could have supporting the fact we need to be educating people, no matter where or who they are…if not from a pure humanitarian perspective, but from a sound economic standpoint.
Chomsky N., & Herman, E. S. (1994). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. London: Bodley Head Random House.
In this book Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky describe how an influential clandestine group principally arrange or construct a considerable amount of the news. In our democracy most people believe our press to be free and without influence. Chomsky and Herman do a great job of showing how our fourth estate is influenced by an element of our government which is in turn influenced by multi-nationals corporations, quite often of the military industrial complex variety, and has sway over how very important events are interpreted and delivered as bona fide news in the US. The authors give really clear accounts of how the same story gets published and reported in other countries completely differently than in the US, leaving one wondering of the efficacy of our own journalists and news agencies. It’s a book that illuminates just how much our news is propaganda based and how we can learn to see through the purported charade. Manufacturing Consent does a splendid job of giving a student tools to work with in order to help them use critical thinking skills in the blizzard of words and images coming at them from even our most established and reputable news sources and agencies. While the book was published pre-Internet, it is more pertinent now than ever, as the fact finding capabilities are actually much easier for people today than 20 years ago.
Samuldrada, R. (1998). The Free Music Philosophy (v1.4). [Online manifesto] Retrieved from http://www.ram.org/ramblings/philosophy/fmp.html
The Free Music Philosophy is a manifesto written just when it was becoming evident the way the Internet was beginning to handle intellectual property was challenging years of copyright law. Its basic premise is;
"It is an anarchistic grass-roots, but high-tech, system of spreading music: the idea that creating, copying, and distributing music must be as unrestricted as breathing air, plucking a blade of grass, or basking in the rays of the sun.” (Samuldrada, 1998)
This is still pretty radical thinking. The Free Music Philosophy was supported with reasoning that suggests once something is incredibly popular, it’s going to naturally benefit the creator in many ways, including financially. Therefore, trying to “charge” for intellectual property in general can only slow down the natural “viral” effect that the Internet can have. In other words, the cream will always rise to the top and therefore, according to the author, trying to charge money for intellectual property actually will slow the true creative process. The manifesto uses a question/answer format to develop its premise;
“Won't talented and dedicated musicians give up music because there's a possibility they won't be multi-millionaires? Consider the fact that except for a few hundred musicians who are on top of the billboard charts, the chances of making a living by record sales in the present system are very low. This system cannot be worse for most musicians. In fact, this is an excellent reason to justify the statement that most musicians perform and record with creativity as the primary motivation---any money- minded person can easily use their talents in other fields to increase the probability of actually making some. Thus the source of talented music will never dry up. What we might actually see is more creative and self-indulgent forms of music being perpetuated” (Samuldrada, 1998).
The manifesto emanated out of the “free software” movement with the idea that setting intellectual property free only serves the greater good.