Which books are vital additions to your Christmas list? With a coming-of-age story for the social media generation, a deep dive into the nebulous networks that make up The Stack and new works by John Berger and Yuval Noah Harari, these are the titles that you need to know
1. A Primer for Cadavers by Ed Atkins
Fitzcarraldo Editions, September 2016
An installation by Atkins is just as likely to feature disembodied heads bouncing endlessly down flights of stairs as it is a lonely singing avatar or a hastily sketched life drawing, but the defining focus of his work is consistently rooted in the written and spoken word. It therefore comes as something of a surprise that this is his first collection of texts to be published, bringing together prose-poetry and scripts developed from 2010 to 2016. His characteristic confrontation of the fleshiness of the human body, and the slippery artificiality of its digital representation, is expelled and splattered across the page in verbal saliva, sweat, piss and other fluids. Published by the ever-excellent Fitzcarraldo Editions, and described by Joe Luna in his afterward as “the diary of a writer glued to the screen of their own production, an elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century”, this is not one to miss.
2.The Stack by Benjamin Bratton
Software Studies, April 2016
As network technology and planetary-scale computation continues to tighten its grip on almost every aspect of our lives, The Stack comes as a timely exploration of the systems and interfaces that both aid and govern us. Bratton defines The Stack as an accidental megastructure, which he breaks down into six layers: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, User. In ‘Cloud’, the ever-growing bank of personal and satellite data uploaded to Google’s online storage systems is examined as a possible future method of control, while ‘Earth’ recalls Jussi Parikka’s Geology of Media in its exposition of the path from mineral mining to device, before going beyond to imagine a future of interstellar energy generators. At over 500 pages long this is a tome that demands dedication, but offers readers a rich and rewarding examination of how to live, build, and communicate within this emerging landscape.
3. Future Sex by Emily Witt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2016
The future of sex is a future enabled and dominated by technology, of personal devices leading to rather less personal hook-ups and hang-outs. Witt delves into the transformations in the sexual desires and habits of her millennial peers, focused through the (at times introspective) lens of her own experimentation and investigation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Navigating through dating apps, online pornography, live webcams and polyamory, she explores the communities that have formed at the convergence of sex, technology and futurism. Her honest and levelheaded writing style, while perceptive, ultimately means that she remains throughout at a distance, unable to make the shift from onlooker to participant. Future Sex is an important look at how we form and maintain relationships today, moving beyond outdated assumptions to question sexual politics in the digital age.
4. Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway
Duke University Press, September 2016
In her newest work feminist theorist Donna Haraway, author of the prescient 1985 Cyborg Manifesto, addresses and examines our place within the world. For Haraway our current epoch is not the Anthropecence, but rather the Chtulucene, a period in which the human and the non-human are now irreversibily linked. Through a combination of science fact, science fiction, speculative feminism and speculative fabulation, Staying with The Trouble maps out new ways to reconfigure our relationship with the planet, and makes a case for its future.
5. Confabulations by John Berger
Penguin, October 2016
“Language is a body, a living creature ... and this creature's home is the inarticulate as well as the articulate.” Art critic and all-round sage John Berger turned 90 this November, the same year that the first book of essays in celebration of his work was published, alongside two new books from the ever-prolific Berger himself. With Confabulations he draws on an issue that is all too pertinent in 2016: the distortion of language. Containing Berger’s own drawings alongside his writing, this remarkable book delves deep into the life of language, and the ways in which it plays into thought, art, storytelling and political discourse today.
6. Dark Ecology by Timothy Morton
Columbia University Press, May 2016
The impact of human beings on the planet has been realised, requiring a drastic reshaping of our understanding of nature, ecology and humanity’s place within it. For contemporary philosopher (and music-lover) Timothy Morton, his theory of Dark Ecology does just this. Conjuring the uncanny, he puts the reader in a radical position of self-knowledge by forcing us to consider our interconnectedness and equality with everything on the planet, thus revealing our place in the biosphere and our incomprehensible belonging to seemingly distant species; animal, mineral and vegetable. Fusing literature, history, philosophy, biology and physics, Morton finds an unlikely source of joy, anarchy and humour in response to the ecological crisis.
7. Surveys by Natasha Stagg
Semiotext(e) / Native Agents, April 2016
Coming of age narratives are nothing new, but Stagg’s wry and carefully observed story of the destructive grip of social media on her female protagonist feels decidedly without precedent. After being discovered by a mysterious semi-famous internet celebrity, Colleen finds herself swept away by the attention that she receives at night from her growing number of online followers. Flipping between her newly-found stardom and her mundane day job at the mall, her ambivalence is overtaken by an immersion in the easy gratifications to be found in social media. A whirlwind of parties and sponsored events follow, told largely in a stream of consciousness through which Stagg is able to capture the addictive nature of this new world. At a time in which online social platforms begin to permeate the art world, from Richard Prince's provocations to Amalia Ulman's Instagram performance, Surveys is a vital look into the psychological dramas and disorders that lie beneath the surface.
8. Homo Deus: A Brief History of the Future by Yuval Noah Harari
Harvill Secker, September 2016
‘What is more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?’ With Homo Deus, the author of the highly acclaimed Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, presents an epic and chilling sequel, which looks forward to an apocalyptic tech-fueled future. Blending science, history and philosophy, Yuval Noah Harari examines our near-future within the context of our transformed present, where suicides kill more than wars, starvation has been replaced by obesity and equality is considered lesser to immortality.
9. How to Know What’s Really Happening by Francis McKee
Sternberg Press, September 2016
Never before has information been so readily available as it is today and yet truth so hard to come by. In this book, writer and curator Francis McKee seeks out ways to determine verity. From spy agencies and whistleblowers to mystics and scientists, this how-to manual attempts to illuminate a path to knowing what’s really happening in the world around you. This edition marks the third book in the non-profit Kayfa ta series, a publishing initiative from artists Maha Maamoun and Ala Younis, in which each book is a monographic essay that sits between fact and fiction. Co-published by Sternberg Press and Mophradat.
10. Spirit is a Bone by Oliver Chanarin & Adam Broomberg
MACK, January 2016
Co-opting a facial recognition system developed in Moscow for public security and border control surveillance, artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin have put together a haunting series of contemporary Russian portraits, which includes Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevic. The format of the book looks back to August Sander’s seminal work Citizens of the Twentieth Century, but the portraits, fragmented and distorted by the new machines that captured them, present a sinister depiction of Russian citizens under surveillance today.