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  • Clifford Siskin discusses his new book, System: The Shaping of Modern Knowledge, which explains the long history of "blaming the system" from Galileo to the political economy of the early-nineteenth century to today.

    The book opens with Galileo’s “message from the stars,” which is depicted on the jacket. How did Galileo and Enlightenment thinkers contribute to the knowledge of our own computational universe? 

    In the histories I tell about system, I pair Galileo and Francis Bacon as helping to launch system on its upward trajectory at the turn into the seventeenth century. System was first used in English in the same year—1610—that Galileo first trained his improved spyglass on Jupiter and discovered that the world (read "universe") was a world full of systems: Jupiter, like earth, was the center of its own lunar system—and both of those systems were part of a larger one: a solar system. System only became, to use Galileo’s own word, “really” interesting when it became plural—when systems started showing up inside of each other. Seventy-five years later, that interest led Isaac Newton to choose system as the genre to convey the philosophical impact of his discoveries. Empowered by that decision—a tale I tell in detail—system rapidly became the primary form for explanation during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in the West. The linear growth of systems in print was paced by the publication of what I call Master Systems during the mid and late decades—Systems that attempted to include all previous systems—followed by a takeoff in specialized systems (of education, of the income tax) at the century's end. By that point, system and the world were bound together in a powerful explanatory framework centered at the core of modern knowledge. When they changed, they changed in relationship to each other. Thus our new notion of a computational universe—as I outline in the Coda of the book—combines a new kind of system, algorithmic information processing, with new ways of comprehending the world, as something that systematically computes itself, perhaps into an infinite number of selves.

    Posted at 12:30 pm on Mon, 19 Dec 2016 in humanities, science
  • Recently rereleased by Semiotext(e), Cruising the Movies, is an acerbic, queer-eye take on the greats and the not-so-greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Written by Boyd McDonald from a single room occupancy in gritty 1980s New York, the book takes no prisoners in its reviews of famous films from a bygone era. Some of McDonald’s targets include the Reagans, Steve McQueen, and Gary Cooper, throwing shady before it was even a thing. Cruising the Movies with its quick wit and DIY aesthetic reads as a sort of punk-poetry for the then underground gay scene. In our concluding Pride Month installment, William E. Jones, who wrote the introduction to his book, reflects on Boyd McDonald’s importance to a culture that is vastly underrepresented in history.

    Boyd McDonald (1925–1993) was the main creative force behind one of the most distinctive underground publications, Straight to Hell, the first queer zine, founded in 1973. Self-published and crude, Straight to Hell’s sense of urgency was as strong as its contempt for authority. It was devoted to publishing its readers’ explicit sex stories ranging from the innocent to the raunchy, with emphasis on the latter, and McDonald interspersed these with a running commentary on the hypocrisy and corruption of the American political establishment. Nothing was sacred; the man who assembled this material didn’t give a damn about any recognized standard of taste.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Fri, 24 Jun 2016 in humanities, literature & poetry
  • Last week’s post for Pride Month featured an excerpt from David Getsy’s Queer. Continuing our celebration, we went deep into our backlist to bring you Simon LeVay and Elisabeth Nonas’ City of Friends: A Portrait of the Gay and Lesbian Community in America. City of Friends, written in 1995, explores the diversity of the various gay communities that existed at the time. Aside from surveying the various communities, LeVay and Nonas examine topics surrounding this vibrant group, including history, health, culture, and rights. Published at a time of increasing acceptance from the general public, yet many years before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, City of Friends provided a unique perspective from one of the most diverse communities in the United States. The following is an excerpt from the Preface of City of Friends.

    Posted at 11:00 am on Fri, 10 Jun 2016 in humanities
  • Today marks the 105th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. In celebration, we revisit Claudio Lomnitz's The Return Of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón, which was recently awarded the 2015 Latin American Studies Association Mexico Humanities Book Award. In this book, Claudio Lomnitz tells a groundbreaking story about the experiences and ideology of American and Mexican revolutionary collaborators of the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón. It is a tale, never before told, of anarchy, cooperation, and betrayal at the margins of the Mexican Revolution. The following passage illustrates the country's political climate on the eve of revolution:

    Posted at 01:00 pm on Fri, 20 Nov 2015 in humanities

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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.