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Cover art for 'Sexual Hegemony'

Sexual Hegemony

by Christopher Chitty

Links between the punishment of sodomy and the construction of capitalism

  • Recommended by Aven
  • Read February 04, 2021—March 27, 2021
Cover art for 'Curious Visions of Modernity'

Curious Visions of Modernity

by David L. Martin

An archeology of modern rationality's contradictory relationship with the sacred.

  • Recommended by Wednesday via Emrys
  • Read December 25, 2020—January 09, 2021
My thoughts

The book covers three subjects: the curiousity cabinets of the Renaissance and their relationship with modern museums, the development of anatomy and visualizing the dead body as alive and the alive body as dead, and the link between fixed point perspectives and the development of modern cartography.

From the first chapter, my main takeaway was to think about the process of "unpacking" knowledge. In modern museums and all throughout our society, knowledge gathering is seen as a process of assigning things into fixed or semi-fixed categories which can then be viewed at a distance. The curiousity cabinets, in all their private strangeness, were not a "precursor to the museum" but an entirely different epistemology. The items in the cabinet would be unpacked in a chaotic and unorganized manner, and the spontaneous associations the cabinet-owner might form would cross taxonomical boundaries and thus reveal a greater divine truth encoded into all things. This is partially inspired my personal wiki, which acts as a "living" place of knowledge-gathering that must get continually unpacked, rather than a static organization scheme.

The second chapter spoke to how modern anatomy was born out of public spectacles of human dissection, conducted exclusively on convicts who had the previous day been forced into the public spectacle of execution. Martin draws a line between both of these as playing out a common drama, and also calls attention to how these acts formed the basis of our modern "anatomical vision" and the animate "muscle-men" who frequent our textbooks. Anatomic knowledge was generated out of dead bodies and then applied to living ones, and thus by visualizing alive bodies out of dead ones, we've also learned to look upon a living body as anatomical, or "already dead."

The third chapter was the most interesting. I particularly am finding myself thinking a lot about my relation to maps. Originally, European society didn't imagine the sort of exact cartography we do today. Instead, they had abstracted models of the world, sometimes even literally mapping the world onto the body of Christ, and for measuring distances between places they used linear travel ledgers. The modern map emerged first out of fixed-point perspective drawings of cities from a high vantage point, and then over time the perspective on these maps rose higher and higher until it eventually arrived at the modern disembodied perspective looking down from heaven. These cartographic were understood as fundamentally grounded in conquest and colonialism: to hold a city, a country, or the whole world in a single image was to in some sense conquer it.

Cover art for 'B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs 1'

B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs 1

by Mignola & Others

Stories about the side-cast of Hellboy.

  • Recommended by Wednesday
  • Read December 23, 2020—January 01, 2021
My thoughts

Gonna be honest, this one was pretty rough. The book is divided into three sections, the first two are collections of short stories, and the last is a single longform story. The stories range from "fine" to "yikes" and everywhere in between, but there were occasional snippets of good things cropping up.

Looking at the stories written by Mignola, it seems like he's putting a more concerted effort into doing character writing and development for this series, and you can tell it's not what he's best at. By the time we to the last, longer story, the writing seems to have gotten a little more reliable, and there were a number of genuinely charming character moments, and even a surprising moment of surrealism in an otherwise more "serious" series.

Also, it took her the whole book, but by the end, Liz really felt like she was a character who does things! She saves the day for everyone! Finally.

I am looking forward to seeing where B.P.R.D. goes as it finds its legs as a series.

Cover art for 'Hellboy: Library Edition Volume 3'

Hellboy: Library Edition Volume 3

by Mike Mignola
  • Recommended by Wednesday
  • Read December 23, 2020—December 30, 2020
My thoughts

This collection contains three stories. The first, Conqueror Worm, is very in-line with the previous two longform Hellboy stories, but with the added element of being haunted by the ghost of classic pulp comics. It's a weird vibe! I don't have a lot to say about this one.

The other two stories are some of my all-time Hellboy favorites so far.

The opening of The Third Wish has a lot of the same energy as The Corpse, a colorful cascade of folklore, before Hellboy is sucked into the main plot in his confrontation with the sea-witch. A good and proper fairy tale plays out involving mermaids, wishes gone wrong, and a lovely parable about the proper way to honor the dead.

The Island is incredible. It really feels like Mignola was pushing himself in this one, and the result is a mixture of amazing abstract imagery, haunting ghostly vibes, and the biggest lore-dump about the Hellboy world we've seen yet.

After finishing these, I found myself reflecting on the role of Hellboy's backstory in the comics. Before doing these readings, my impression of Hellboy was really that we was more of the "man with no name" archetype, an element of chaos to be added into other stories in to drive the action, where his past is the least important element. In practice, all of the longform Hellboy stories have put a huge emphasis on Hellboy's origins and his destiny, and what is more surprising to me is how well it is pulled off.

The first few times, when we saw Hellboy breaking free from the destiny that others prescribed to him, I came away feeling like, "oh, yeah, I guess now we don't have to worry about that." But instead, it's only gotten more complex, as the story shifts from a simple "not fulfilling others' bad expectations" form to a more complex narrative about reconciling with and renegotiating your role in the world. We find that some villains want Hellboy to fulfill his destiny and bring about the end of the world, while others want to kill him and lock him away because they're afraid of what he might be, and yet others want to steal his destiny and take it as their own. In the end, it seems like Hellboy can never escape from birthright/curse, but he also consistently refuses to allow it to define and control him.

Wednesday commented that it seems like Hellboy is really at its best when all the Nazi stuff is out of the picture. She described it as a "crutch" and I have to agree. Basing his narratives in folklore seems to take a lot more work, but also ends up more meaningful and rewarding in the end.

Anyway: those ghosts tho. Nobody does ghosts better than Mignola. Oh to wander some ancient runes, fall into a deep dark crumbling hole into a room full of ominous statues, and to have ghosts whisper prophetic warnings to me.

Cover art for 'Hellboy: Library Edition Volume 2'

Hellboy: Library Edition Volume 2

by Mike Mignola

A collection of short stories about everybody's favorite Boy

  • Recommended by Wednesday
  • Read November 2020
My thoughts

This collection makes it absolutely clear that short stories are where Mignola thrives the most. The stories here range from "that sure was a hellboy story" to "what just happened" to "oh my god that was so good". The fan favorite, "The Corpse", is considered that for a reason, it was such a delightful romp through Irish myth and was made all the more delightful by having this grumpy demon man as our protagonist.

This collection makes the interesting decision to organize the stories by their in-universe chronology, rather than by publishing date. It produces an interesting effect, having a ticking clock moving through the book like that, but in practice, Hellboy mostly isn't a character where chronology is particularly meaningful! He's much more like the Man With No Name, or Mad Max, or whatever, as an archetypal character who can be plopped into a situation without needing context. It did mean the book kicks off with "Pancakes", though, and you really can't do better than that.

Liz still doesn't get to do anything, but Mignola introduces Kate, a folk historian in this collection, and I really liked her!

Cover art for 'Hellboy: Wake The Devil'

Hellboy: Wake The Devil

by Mike Mignola

Hellboy fights dracula

  • Recommended by Wednesday
  • Read October 2020
My thoughts

This book is dedicated to "Dracula, and all those vampires [Mignola has] loved". Mignola: vampire fucker. Anyway. What's cool about this is that when Mignola sets out to write a vampire story, he does so as a folklorist. He's less interested in the properties of vampires than how they interact with culture, history, and place.

There was a big snake lady and I liked that.

Liz: still not a character.

Cover art for 'Hellboy: Seed of Destruction'

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction

by Mike Mignola

The renowned "Hell Boy" goes on his first published adventure

  • Recommended by Wednesday
  • Read September 2020
My thoughts

Wednesday is introducing me to Hellboy one book at a time in approximately order of publishing. This is the start. What's immediately striking is how expertly Mike Mignola executes on his genre tones even as he mixes them, combining gothic horror (old mansions, family curses, etc), eldritch horror (strange demons at the edge of reality), and even a bit of sword and sorcery (evil wizards and apocalyptic prophecies). And then he introduces a protagonist who doesn't care about any of that shit and proceeds to throw a wrench in all of these intricate workings. It's a marvel to behold.

I wanted Liz to be more of a character here, but it seems that Mignola isn't really interested in that. Ah well.

Cover art for 'What is Sex'

What is Sex?

by Alenka Zupančič

A lacanian analysis of the sexual

  • Recommended by Sophia
  • Read April 2020—August 2020
My thoughts

"Men believe that they are men, whereas women pretend to be women." The philosophical concept of "the sexual" is an amusing one because it seems to, in some sense, include everything except sex. It's a nebulous idea that I still don't fully have an explanation for, but you might describe different perspectives on it as "mortality" or "vulnerability" or "drive".

Sophia recommended this book to me because it goes over some specific philosophical concepts that are very important to her. Full of ideas that I didn't have the words for. Many of them I still don't really have the words for, but I feel closer to understanding at least. A lot of the book is really dense philosophical discourse, and it felt like listening to one side of a highly specific phone call, having no real understanding of the different philosophies that she was comparing and criticizing.

The ending surprised me – after a long book of the author mostly just studiously drawing connections and considering the consequences of different philosophies, in the last few pages she finally takes a step into putting herself into the work, drawing a connection between comedy and the sexual, and proposing a path away from Lacan's cynicism into an attempt to understand just how we can truly sustain love. Freud and Lacan emphasized in their work a pattern of cycles of impossibility, where after a brief moment of a drive being fulfilled we end up trapping ourselves in a loop where we constantly reaffirm the drive as being something impossible. That brief moment was an "interruption" of a cycle of this sort, a moment when the impossible became possible, but the act of chasing a return to the interruption traps us.

The cynical outlook frames this as a tragedy; Zupančič redeclares it a comedy. She asks how we might learn how to, instead of chasing a past interruption (or "new signifier"), to embrace a process of constantly creating more. I really like this! It aligns so well with my own perspective of love as an endless project of transformation.

Cover art for 'Broad Band'

Broad Band

by Claire L. Evans

A narrative history of women in computing

  • Recommended by Cara Esten
  • Read July 2020—August 2020
My thoughts

This was very enjoyable light reading. Some of the histories in here were familiar to me but many others I'd never heard of. It's refreshing to hear these sorts of untold stories.

By the end, a running theme begin to emerge: Men in computing put the computers themselves at the center, while women care about people. The result is that it's frequently women who push computing into new contexts, spaces, and possibilities. I'm really tired of computers-for-computers-sake, so it was nice to see this reaffirmed.

My only real criticism in this book is that Evans seems to struggle with knowing how to end a chapter. It often came off like she was trying to come to some sort of "In conclusion" moment, and it would end up being something entirely unnecessary because the story had already spoken for itself.

Cover art for 'Labyrinths'

Labyrinths

by Jorge Luis Borges

A collection of metafictional short stories and essays

My thoughts

So much of the online culture I spend time in is steeped in references to Borges, so it was interesting to finally go to the source. The Library of Babel more thoroughly explores the philosophical ramifications of the idea than most of the riffs on it I've seen.

Something that surprised me about it is how Borges was clearly an academic, and he put no effort into pretending otherwise in his fiction. There are a few non-fiction essays in the back that are nearly indistinguishable from some of the stories.

Ultimately the fact that Borges is a man and is not (afaik) queer really left me feeling discontent with his writing. There's this delightful kernel of surreal philosophical metafiction, but it regularly felt like it had nothing compelling to say to me.

Cover art for 'The Body Keeps the Score'

The Body Keeps the Score

by Bessel van der Kolk

A comprehensive and empathetic resource on trauma

  • Recommended by Aven
  • Read August 2019—December 2019
My thoughts

I'd recommend this to anyone who has trauma, as well as to anyone who is close to traumatized people. This gave me a much more in-depth understanding of how trauma functions, and also discusses forms of treatment that I had never heard of!

Content warning in here for descriptions of traumatic events.

Cover art for 'How to Do Nothing'

How to Do Nothing

by Jenny Odell

An essay-memior reflecting on attention.

  • Recommended by Her XOXO Talk
  • Read 2019—2020
My thoughts

This was a delightfully pleasant read, though I found myself frustrated throughout that Odell never brought the queer perspective into her writing. If you want something lightweight (my coworkers have read it) that makes a good starting point for a discussion, I'd recommend it.

I started birding because of this book.

A part I really liked was the use of the word "dismemberment" to reflect the ways in which we are detached from our communities, and "remembering" as the opposite of this word, a form of communal healing.

Update February 2021: the longer I sit on this book the more I think it is a brilliant model of how to write an academic work. I've been constantly frustrated by the texts I've been reading and their habit of offering interesting ideas but refusing to step into the tangible and offer real paths forward. How to Do Nothing is written from the personal perspective, and with a weigh of action behind it as the author describes her own efforts to manifest her thinking into her life. I hope that any theory I might write could match this level of humanity.

Cover art for 'A Safe Girl to Love'

A Safe Girl to Love

by Casey Plett

A collection of short stories about trans women and their varied experiences

  • Recommended by Fran
  • Read July 2019
My thoughts

I loved this so much. The short story structure made it a lot easier to take the heavier stories, and it really touched me quite a few times. My favorite was the last story about a mother and daughter who are both trans, and the messiness of their generational divide.

Cover art for 'Nevada'

Nevada

by Imogen Binnie

A story about messy trans feelings and America

My thoughts

I read this on the train to visit my friends and it fucked me up. Despite the perspective of the book being very different than mine, it was still a wild feeling to be reading a physical book with a story about a character who I find relatable.

Cover art for 'Island Book'

Island Book

by Evan Dahm

A comic about what lies beyond familiar shores

  • Read 2019
My thoughts

A perfect little fairy tale. A gentler retelling of Moby Dick and a colorful bit of Zone Fiction

Cover art for 'Vattu: The Tower and the Shadow'

Vattu: The Tower and the Shadow

by Evan Dahm

The third in a comic series about colonialism

  • Read 2019
My thoughts

Oh jeez oh jeez what's gonna happen next. I'm so curious where Dahm is going with all of this!

Cover art for 'Tales of Nevèrÿon'

Tales of Nevèrÿon

by Samuel R. Delany

Metafictional philosophical sword-and-sorcery

  • Read 2019
My thoughts

This is such a weird book. It opens and closes with fake essays that frame the story as being Delany's interpretation of a (nonexistent) ancient story fragment written in one of the first languages. The stories take the pre-history setting of sword-and-sorcery, and twist it into winding philosophical tales about gender, capitalism, slavery, sex, and subversions of hierarchy. Was particularly surprised to find a sword-and-sorcery story that was willing to take long digressions on the nature of gender that *didn't* bore or disgust me.

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