For the November installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invites Peli Grietzer to tell us about his favorite books. Peli is finishing his book Big Mood: A Transcendental-Computational Essay on Art, which makes a mathy case that Modernist/Romantic/avant-garde ideas about poetry, thought, and knowledge might be literally true. He got his PhD from Harvard in comparative literature under the advisorship of Hebrew University mathematician Tomer Schlank. Peli’s work (like the cult-hit Theory of Vibe) borrows mathematical ideas from machine-learning theory to think through the ontology of “ambient” phenomena like moods, vibes, styles, cultural logics, and structures of feeling. He’s an on-and-off contributor to the experimental literature collective Gauss PDF and a sometimes curator/dramaturg, currently working on the artist Tzion Abraham Hazan’s first feature film. Below are his favorite books.
She ws a very rare gal, i think by Nadia John
Poems for Babies Trilogy by Holly Melgard
Registration Caspar by Gordon Faylor
The Compleat Purge by Trisha Low
Seven Controlled Vocabularies by Tan Lin
Some of my favorite books from a community that I call ‘my scene’ in my head, although objectively I’m not really a part of it. Lots of the writing I grew up admiring is like a dream or drug-experience, but this stuff is more like whatever weird structural lesson about real life you sometimes feel you’ve picked up from a dream or a drug-experience.
I think of ‘my scene’ poetry as trying to build insight from language but not in language—like how Frankenstein’s monster is a person made from Homo sapiens parts but not through Homo sapiens ontogeny. I mean, let’s really roughly say that Language Writing and Conceptual Writing were interrogations of the networks of iconic and indexical relations that materially underlie language’s capacity to function as ‘the language game’ or ‘space of reasons’ or ‘the discourse.’ I’d say that writing from ‘my scene’ is trying to reuse this network to rig infrastructure for describing heretofore indescribable structures in/of the lifeworld. It barely works and it’s amazing and life-changing.
Lenz by Georg Büchner
I’ve never really gotten over reading Büchner. Most of my engagement with art—with anything really—feels like trying to learn someone else’s language. There’s kind of a voluntariness or even forced-ness or at least hopefulness to my involvement, a reaching-out in the hope that there’s a there. With Büchner though the call is coming from inside the house. My life’s immediately and irreversibly at stake.
One thing I share with lots of Büchner characters is a weird helplessness with anything more abstract than somatic pressure but less abstract than a theory or vibe. I mostly know my own body in space, then History or The Forms, and the mise en abyme of other minds. Everything in-between is… Ghostly? Flashing? Sometimes maddeningly poignant but usually ghostly.
Thinking How To Live by Allan Gibbard
A book of technical philosophy that has a weird anti-depressive power over me. It’s meant to solve this classic problem we’ve inherited from 18th century philosophy, which is that calling something good or bad seems like it’s maybe just a way of stating our emotions, but we also spend years reasoning about whether stuff is good or bad, so in conclusion it’s impossible to say whether morality is facts or not.
Gibbard’s idea is that not just morality but almost everything we think about—epistemology, practical rationality, interpretation—are subsystems of a basic sapient function he calls planning, which roughly means thinking what to do. What’s magical about this book though is that ‘planning’ is both just this concrete thing we as reflective, conceptual primates do, and a kind of transcendental vantage point from which the Good, the Beautiful, and the True are as real as electrons or whatnot. And if you try to stop planning you die of paradox!
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
“Good-night, Dr. John; you are good, you are beautiful but you are not mine. Good-night, and God bless you!”
Instant-cry line. It’s my favorite novel-y novel, and the best artwork I know about… Having a personality? The power and the terror of identifying with your specificity and finitude? It’s like a goth poem about the novel-form.
"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach Mag are invited to share the works of literature that have made the biggest impacts on their reading and writing lives. Sebastian is the author of Not I and 49 Venezuelan Novels. Read previous installments of Favorite Books here.