Books that Broke my Brain

This meme is going around the net. Interesting to see so many right wingers, and shocking how many actually cite “The Bell Curve.” I would have expected Rand, but Murray? Yes, many on the right aspire to racism. They think they are brave for being willing to acknowledge this in public. ("It’s about the skin color, man. Yeah. It makes you stupid. It's like, scientific.")

Not sure why anyone else would care, but here’s mine while I’m slowly emerging from many days of bronchitis brain fog. It was kind of fun to think about. Interesting how few non-fiction books I can think of that really stand out. Self-revealing--not always in good ways.

The Dialectic Imagination—Maxine Greene
I spent a good chunk of my doctoral program following back the citations of this book and trying to figure out where she got these fascinating ideas. Now I think she really doesn’t get the “public” at all, for all that she is a master of the aesthetic. 99.9% of the time the public is more a sausage-factory than an inspiring self-factory, however much she might want it to be otherwise.

Origins of Totalitarianism—Hannah Arendt
People usually cite the Human Condition, but the last half of OT is more profound in many ways (although you can’t really “get” OT without HC and maybe On Revolution too). Greene led me to Arendt, who I also decided doesn’t get the public, although she is profound enough for a dozen political philosophers. The work I’ve done on Dewey was really an effort to figure out Arendt, even though I don’t cite her (or even read her) anymore.

Reveille for Radicals—Saul Alinsky
A theorist hiding in a populist. Too arrogant for his own good, too certain (in his public speech) to be sufficiently self-critical, and too willing to lie about his accomplishments in service to his own ego. And yet, he provided the best shorthand vision of political empowerment so far written in America, laying out what Greene and Arendt didn’t want to hear. His followers turned his principles into rules, killed the dangerous creativity, and now ACORN’s just fallen to rubble. Time to take some risks.

Nova—Samuel Delaney
Taught me what literary science fiction could do.

Cannery Row—John Steinbeck
The best book ever written about nothing.

The Moviegoer—Walker Percy
The second best book ever written about nothing. An attempt to turn a philosophical engagement with Kierkegaard into a novel. Should have been a total failure.

Citizen of the Galaxy—Robert A. Heinlein
Saved me on a trip to the crazy grandmother. What a “sense of wonder” means. Could have picked others.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang—Kate Wilhelm
Not actually the book, but really the person who, with her husband Damon Knight, took in a wet-under-the-ears teenager and taught him how to write.

Maybe Discipline and Punish? Domination and the Arts of Resistance?

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