Today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, an American holiday which sees the unnecessary slaughter of gazillions of poor turkeys; a particular day, like today, when a well-organized group of killers is continuing to slaughter people in Mumbai, India out of fear and hatred of our country; when we are poised equidistantly on the annual calendar between an historic election and an equally historic presidential inauguration, I'd like to recommend a book to read instead of a film to watch, for a change--Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West.
Even though the book is about five years old, going on six, I think it's the absolutely perfect thing to read right now as we enter another year and think about the possibilities of launching ourselves into this "brave new world" we've been meaning to realize for a while now, but, somehow, keep fucking up.
Solnit, a crackling, sparkling prose artist won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism for River. She celebrates the life and work of Eadweard Muybridge, a modern visionary and singular spirit. In Solnit's estimation, Muybridge had much to do with the world as we know it today. She weaves together biography, history, art, technology, the worlds of landscape and photography, and creates an original portrait of the world on the threshold of modernity, always circling back to Muybridge and his substantive contributions in high-speed motion photography, an advancement that made the motion picture possible. (See? No worries; we always come back to film.) She revisits the global histories of mass transportation, mass communication and mass migration, in the context of the unrelenting industrialization of our everyday lives. She draws distinct and thrilling conclusions about our tenure on this planet, thus far, and how we've intereacted with it and with one another through space and time.
Luc Sante, one of my literary soulmates (meaning the man speaks to me deeply with his words, not that we're literary equals!), writing for Bookforum, said, "Extraordinary. . . it is hard to do justice to Solnit's far-reaching perspective. We observe the shadowy Muybridge walking, as if in his motion studies, against a continuously unspooling panorama of nineteenth-century America, so that Solnit is able to link, say, Sitting Bull's pipe-smoking break during a pitched battle in 1872 with the Great Strike that nearly changed the country's course five years later, and both events with Muybridge's bridging of space and time, her prose, terse and poetic, makes the book a pleasurably dizzying page-turner." Click on the Amazon box to order it for yourself or to gift it to a friend.