August 15th, 2012

lovejoy

August Books 14) Jade Woman, by Jonathan Gash

Another Lovejoy book with a particularly implausible plot, allowing Gash to place his hero in Hong Kong (not contemporary 1980s Hong Kong, but the 1960s city that the author clearly knew well and loved) for fun with organised crime, sex work and inventing a previously unheard-of Chinese Impressionist painter. The antiques scam itself is as beautifully detailed as Gash's description of the city, and Lovejoy is clear that the criminality in which he becomes enmeshed is a consequence of capitalism rather than ethnicity or culture. But the mechanisms for getting him to Hong Kong in the first place, and then out again in the end, are hopelessly contrived. Generally good fun though.
politics

Links I found interesting for 15-08-2012

megaliths

August Books 15) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, by Émile Durkheim

I should stop readng the classic works on religion and culture, because I always end up disappointed. In this classic anthropological analysis from the first years of the twentieth century, Durkheim generalises from studies of the totem cults of Australia to conclude that pretty much all intellectual concepts, including scientific theories as well as notions of God and religion, can be examined as socially constructed phenomena. While sympathetic to the conclusion (having studied the history and philosophy of science in a past life) I was not terribly excited by the journey Durkheim takes to get there. His methodology straddles what today would be fairly clearly demarcated territory between philosophy and anthropology, and I found this mixture of concepts frustrating. More specifically, the Australian worshippers (particularly the women) are never given their own voice; we hear only what white anthropologists think of them. A pioneering work, perhaps, but I rather hope that things have moved on in the last century.
earthsea

August Books 16) Barbaraal Tot Op Het Bot, by Barbara Stok

A couple of years back I read one of Stok's more recent albums, Nu We Toch Hier Zijn and enjoyed it; this is her first collection, a series of autobiographical stories in comic strip format, set around her student days between the Hague, Amsterdam and her native Groningen. It's all nicely observed, self-deprecating humour; the first two-thirds of the book chronicles several love affairs and her first orgasm (a great laugh-out-loud moment); the rest is slightly more disjointed journeyman work (though the pancake shaped like an armadillo is a high point). My memory is that Nu We Toch Hier Zijn has a more even pace, but it's also a more mature work. Unfortunately I don't think her work is available in English but I heartily recommend it to nederlandstaligen.