I came across this book while browsing free books on Smashwords. The site is sterile when compared to wandering around a library or a secondhand bookshop. None of those nice pagey smells. But hey, when there’s free books involved …
This one caught my eye because it reminds me of another book, one by H J Paton. I can see you’re impressed already. I bought his (incredibly famous) book, The Moral Law, for good reason: a philosophy assignment. I found the book at the point where I knew I’d seriously underestimated the Kant option I’d (foolishly) elected to take. I’d no idea where to start. And Paton’s book saved my skin. The first half is his section-by-section interpretation of the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. The second half is Kant’s full text. Paton’s interpretations meant I could map out my assignment and get it finished over a (very stressful) weekend. I always wondered since why academic texts are hardly ever organised like this? What’s so wrong about a 50 / 50ish split between primary and secondary texts? So getting back to the book on Smashwords …
Creative Theory, Radical Example got my attention straight away because it’s similarly divided. There’s a very readable introduction, and then there’s a second one with interpretive material for each of the essays that make up the last two thirds of the book. These short essays remind me of Kant. Some passages make sense to me but most of them highlight how much you need to be immersed in this stuff to be advanced enough to understand it. Oh how the wheels of my brain have rusted off over the years! The most accessible material is, however, the explanations behind the ‘regrounding’ methodology used by Koolhaas. Actually, it reminds me of those quickly written ‘morning pages’ suggested in Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer. Except here there’s theoretical gravitas on supply from Kristiva and Heidegger. It’s therefore bizarre that it’s not mentioned that students on creative writing courses might be interested, non? Regrounding theory would make for a great book in its own right.
Naturally, what any book on or by a new theorist can’t offer is tried-and-tested bread-and-butter like Kant. But it will be current. This means brownie points for research. And Creative Theory offers scope too. It covers so many uses of ‘theory’ such as literature, art, ‘posthumanism’, and the Internet, that it’s probably got a quote or two for a range of occasions.
I do have two complaints. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to iBooks, but I found the table of contents too detailed. It’s only when you click a page on from Acknowledgements that you can see the chapters in bold. My second complaint is more serious though. What worries me is the ease. Back in the day when I was a student, you had to look up books on the library catalogue. You had to retrieve them from shelves. You had to pile them up at a desk where you sat down and avoided distractions. You had to scour through indexes and cross-reference your finds by memory and notes. Is all this being replaced by a search bar? If so, then what exactly is ‘study’? Do free and searchable source materials therefore mean that the pass-marks should be set higher?
Creative Theory will attract complaint as much as it will agreement because it’s crammed denser than plutonium with seeds for questions like these. Take the controversial proposals for universities. I mean, the eventual abolition of reading and writing! The idea! I’ve no space left here now: come on, any takers on this one?
So to finish, I should add that I interrupted writing another review to write about Creative Theory. This was more to highlight Smashwords as a source of free books. Amazon has a minimum price. Smashwords offers both free and ‘you set the price’ books, so I shall return there because cheap is my territory. But I do worry that giving away perfectly decent new books is a threat. Sure, to get to them you have to wade through screen after screen of short, autobiographical, pseudo-self-helpy, diluted claptrap. The thing is, how long before this changes? And what paid jobs will there be in publishing when readers expect books to cost nothing or next-to-nothing?
Extract from the section titled Glitch and Poetics in Writing (following on from a complicated quotation from the philosopher, Hegel):
It is anti-intellectual to approach philosophy like this with a prejudiced mind. It is intellectually lazy to reproduce it out of its original geo-historico-political context in order to discredit its validity. Both of these acts avoid engaging with the text with care. To do this with Koolhaas, I recommend the reading advice offered by Nietzsche:
‘to practice reading as an art … requires one thing above all, and it is something which today more than ever has been thoroughly unlearnt–a fact which explains why it will be some time before my writings are ‘readable’–it is something for which one must be practically bovine and certainly not a ‘modern man’: that is to say, rumination’ (Nietzsche 1996: 10)
What, you might ask at this point, has all this text got to do with readers of this book? Writing commentaries on culture seems remote from everyday life, they might object. What is the point in being a Theory Celebrity? Surely texts have little or no influence over the way the world is?
These are valid questions. But before you throw your hands in the air, I shall relate an event in Koolhaas’s life that illustrates how the power relations in language are endemic to everyday practices. It happened in a hotel where she was staying in Spain. A group of English tourists had grown disgruntled at a group of German tourists who were getting up early, occupying the sunbeds, and then hogging them for most of the day. After a few days of this, the Germans pulled their blinds one morning, and then looked down from their balconies to discover that the sunbeds had been re-arranged into swastikas.
In this one incident you can see how many issues there are in this symbolic act. There is the humour and offence experienced by the two respective groups. There is the reproduction of national stereotyping (the efficient, territorial Germans; the plucky, ingenious Brits). Then there is the history – remember that this happened in a country formerly divided and ruled by fascists. Not to be ignored either is how national and military history relate to gender (the tourists were all men). You can probably think of some more aspects.