Picked this Dutch literary thriller up as it won an award recently. A quick read, done in a few hours. The structure is shoving the scaffolding of the design in your face too much and keeps you acutely aware you are walking around in a deliberate construct rather than in France on the Camino between Le Puy and Conques. The supposedly thriller elements I felt were somewhat clumsy as they neither thrill the protagonist nor the reader, and you see the final reveal (of who B. must be) coming very quickly.

Yet ultimately it does not matter.

Not to the very real subject matter of the traumas of the Balkan wars.
The first hand stories I heard of confusing realities spinning out of control into bloodshed and what it does to you, and my work in the region that continuously showed its traces, the still ringing nationalistic tunes, they all fit with what Niewierra worked into her story.

Not to the questions she raises about what shapes identity, who you ‘really’ are.
Shaped by context and the propagation of older collective trauma and getting subsumed in the momentum when it breaks to the surface, or shaped by what resides in you, things brought forth by small kind encounters, or nipped through other unkind ones. The way identity can get pulled into different directions simultaneously metaphorically and geographically, like I encountered working in Serbia.

In that it reminds me of The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, by Gordana Kuić. She published her debut bestseller in Serbian in 1986, right when Serbian nationalism became dominant and the path towards the Balkan wars of the early nineties was becoming set.

Ultimately we all walk our own individual camino, if not the one to Compostela. A path that always must include the past, and those we walked it with, but a past that should not determine the choice of current traveling companions, where to linger for a while or when to move on, nor preclude a change of direction in the now.

Received this yesterday. It’s a 1987 collection of interviews with German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. I bought it after I saw Chris Aldrich sharing some annotations.

Started exploring. The context is important to take into account. 1980s Germany, after ’68 and before the Wall came down, the contrast between Habermas and Luhmann while both being ‘famous’ in left and intellectual circles at the same time.

Last weeked E and I visited Groningen together, and spent some 90 minutes or more browsing the Godert Walter bookstore. We had the place mostly to ourselves and it was a pleasure to browse the shelves unhurriedly. In the back in a reduced price box I found the 900+ pages tome ‘Information: A Historical Companion‘. It aims to dive deeply in the information strategies and personal knowledge management practices from Roman times until now. It was published in 2021 by Princeton University Press. With chapters covering specific historical periods, and chapters covering specific concepts (cards, memory techniques, accounting, databases etc.), plus a detailed Index, this promises to provide me with lots of interesting material to browse.

The book Information: A Historical Companion, after I brought it back to the hotel.

Favorited Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty by Tom MacWright

I read this book myself in the summer of 2002, as part of making sense of the US response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. I stood at Ground Zero three weeks after the attacks, and heard the stories and rumors in the city that were identical to those a year earlier after a fireworks explosion in my hometown. I was at Grand Central Terminal in NYC when the news of the US attack on Afghanistan in response on October 7th broke, and saw the wave of reaction going through the crowd. I understood the emotions, I did not understand, do not understand, the watershed moment the US made it for itself to be. The twisting of the global wave of empathy into the extortionist statement ‘if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists’. I understood and felt the pain, not the lashing out. That’s when I started reading Rorty as a counterbalance of sorts. It also centered me on a pragmatist approach to philosophy and ethics in general, during the years of philosophy of technology courses I took around then, and cementing my perspective on working adjacent to tech as a political activity. A constructive yet critical approach, it has become a prime ingredient of my personal definition of optimism. I still have the book, perhaps I will reread it.

…a friend lent me Achieving Our Country. He’s been raving about it for years, that it was the most pivotal read of his political evolution.

Tom MacWright

a generated image (by MidJourney) from the prompt ‘a man is lying in the grass reading a book with Pont du Gard in the background’, which is more or less how I read the book in 2002.

Enjoyed this one by Karl Schroeder a lot. A fun extrapolation of “not your keys-not your crypto“, set in a society in ecocollapse with AI automating most work, institutions both public and private holding on to their assets while they disappear and crumble, surveillance everywhere and everyone bumping into the demands and constraints of the planet’s carrying capacity. Will explore his other books.

Schroeder is a futurist and writes for clients as foresight consultancy.
Reading it made me ask a number of questions, around the development of AR/MR glasses, specific aspects of crypto and smart contracts (also because of its role in the book I read right before this by Suarez), reducing the cost and increasing the scale of sensors in the environment, and gaming and virtualisation. I’ve jotted those down during reading and started exploring.

The follow-up to Delta-V that I read in 2021, a tech thriller by Daniel Suarez that is somewhat predictable, more because of its genre than the story itself. Just having explored the much richer world (and wildly different world) of Cage of Souls this techno-optimist tale felt a bit flat. Some fun exploration of the geopolitics of escaping Earth’s gravity well and using that to contain and reverse climate change. Some interesting thought experiments about DAO’s and blockchain set-ups that you can’t buy yourself into or convert your existing stuff into, to make it stand fully apart from the existing economies, as well as splitting governance and capital fully.