Mar 31 2005

Exoticized Look

Despite the rubbishing of Lovecraft by serious critics over the years, it seems that he’s steadily becoming ‘Canonized’ (like that really means anything) by the American literary eastablishment. Discussing this persistence of interest in the horror writer, 3Quark’s J.M. Tyree had this to say:

“…his weird mythology (is) the nightmare American version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s steadily increasing stock, which is something other than strictly literary. I have one Lovecraft theory, rather political in nature, which I wouldn’t go out on a limb to defend. When a continent is conquered by war, slavery, and racial extermination, the landscape, only seeming to lack a persistent cultural memory, could come back to haunt us, with monsters bred out of the sleep of reason. In this sense, I see Lovecraft in a line with William Burroughs, whose conclusion from a superficial and exoticized look at the native culture of Central and South America, in addition to the white madness that displaced it and the native peoples of North America, was that America was simply an evil land. It is surely right to place Lovecraft’s externalized demons back into his head, biographically speaking, but there’s something odd and inexplicable about his cultural persistence. What it boils down to, perhaps, is not only that America is haunted, an “old world” also (at last, the truth admitted), but also that in Lovecraft we see the ultimate denial and dramatic reversal of the original American Dream of Starting Over in an Edenic land of boundless possibility and natural beauty.”

Certainly an interesting take on Lovecraft, and one that seems to explain his peculiar resonance within the Americas. The parallel with Burroughs is an useful one – here is yet another American whose psychical troubles (Lovecraft was plagued by vivid dreams in much the same way that Burroughs was plagued by all-encompassing paranoia) has resulted in a fiction which acts a kind of crucible for a century of unspoken fears and the ultimate disintegration of America’s faith in the new and the revolutionary.

Mar 30 2005

In The Game

Why does Tim think of games as places? I never did answer that. (It’s because he’s cracked.) My half-written, unpublished and over-complicated attempt to talk about it is two pronged, one prong dealing with metaphor (how we can’t help referring to games as places) and the other to do with cognitive scaffolding and ‘extension of self’, the kind of thing you experience when you’re driving a car or, well, playing a videogame. Throwing the ‘I’ out into the world. (Leaky cognition and way brains use their environment to complete patterns being what I want to talk about but just can’t be bothered to research the relevant materials.)

Now some US psychologists have put proper research time into it and come up with a some interesting observations. Quite what can be extrapolated from their peculiarly abstract experiment, conducted on just handful of people, is debatable, but the researchers aren’t backward about making suggestions.

“This finding suggests that “when people are playing with computer games on a screen, that they temporarily locate their self at their location on the screen rather than within their physical body.”

It suggests that video-game players’ perceptions and actions are affected by having this external representation of self; they might be more likely to perceive and act as if both their body and self are in the game.”

Psychology is an indistinct science at the best of times (“might be more likely” being the key qualifier), but these findings do at least begin to cover the terrain that explains what it is we’re actually doing when we find ourselves absorbed in a game. What does give me the fear though, is the potential for their observations be misused by press and lawyers alike. “So the killer believed he was actually in the game?”

So it goes.

Mar 28 2005

Eno View

Brian Eno interviews well, as is evident in this Index Magazine transcript.

BRIAN: Yes. It led me to my theory that cities are places built for women.
BRIAN: In cities, you have the opportunity to do all the things that women are really specialized at: intense social relationships and interactions, attention to lots of simultaneous details. And of course in cities you can do very few of the things that men are good at.
PETER: Like what?
BRIAN: You can’t break anything in a city. Everything is valuable, so you’re limited in how much you can test the physical nature of things, which I think is a big part of a man’s make up.
PETER: Many urbanists say that public life in the eighteenth century – which is when the modern city began to take shape – was available only to men. Do you think a female city was always there under the surface?
BRIAN: I do. One of the peaks of civilization in the west was the salon. They were nearly always the invention and ongoing project of women.

Also a fan of Rorty, and something I will get round to writing about later in the week.

PETER: That sounds so much like Heidegger or Sartre. I don’t understand what makes Rorty different.
BRIAN: He’s an optimist. It’s not, “We made it all up? Oh shit, so there’s nothing at the bottom of it all?” To me, Rorty’s work is a celebration of what humans do best of all, which is to imagine.

Here’s a man who made his money and has pottered off into the realms of research and theory. I like that. Eno is a new form of the landed Victorian gentleman, who had interests in music and farming but spent much of his time in the lab, poring over ancient law and experimenting with ill-conceived alchemies.

Mar 27 2005

Selfish Revelations

It’s worth reading Will Self’s introduction to William Burrough’s Junky, as taken from the recent Penguin Classic edition.

“Burroughs’s own conception of himself was essentially fictional, and it’s not superfluous to observe that before he began to write with any fixity he had already become a character in other writer’s works, most notably Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’. He also signed his letters to Ginsberg, Kerouac et al. with his nom de plume, as well as using his correspondence as a form of work in progress, peppering his Epistles to the Beats with his trademark riffs and routines. By the time Burroughs was living in Tangier in the late 1950s, his sense of being little more than a cipher, or a fictional construct, had become so plangent that he practised the art of insubstantiality with true zeal, revelling in the moniker ‘El Hombre Invisible’.”

Rather less interesting and actually quite horrible to behold is this recording of Self reading his introduction to the pocket book of St John’s Revelations The Revelation of St. John. Peculiarly, Self chose to read it as a kind of faux-Biblical (shudder-inducing) beat poetry, rather than allow himself the freedom his normally entertaining and agile vocal manner, and it really doesn’t work.

Mar 26 2005

Pro and Contra

During a train journey last week I overheard a businessman talking into his phone. I thought he said ‘send me the end of year prophets.’ Considering that the reality was probably a little more prosaic led me to think about how these kind of perceptual tricks have always amused me ever since I spent a bit of time studying them at university. Having noted this latest instance down, I decided to write something about ‘aspect change’, or the phenomena of ‘how you look at something’ most famously demonstrated by the duck-rabbit. The problem of how we instantly perceive meaning in the world is a weird and fascinating subject – one of those grey areas where very few people have a handle on precisely what is going on. I used to think that the most interesting side of this subject was to do with scientific studies of consciousness and cognitive behaviour, but increasingly I’ve realised that it has other connotations in more abstract philosophy. So I sat down and spent the last three days writing about it.

As it turns out, I’ve started out with a long and fairly rambling consideration of the status of philosophy as a subject for full time education, and then ended up caught in a snowballing effect where some of my other interests have kept me writing about uses for philosophy and then back into further ramifications for the problems of meaning perception. It ended up being nothing to do with duck-rabbits or End of Year Prophets (wouldn’t that be a great band name?) but maybe it will prove stimulating to someone out there. This first part is fairly light reading, but as I go on I do descend into quoting from a few philosophical papers, and end up coming over all existential. I won’t post the full thing just yet, but will break it up into a couple of pieces, to allow for a little more clarity. Continue reading

Mar 24 2005

The Hairy Skyscraper

I spent the whole evening writing about philosophy and, as an aside, discussing the sinister nature of remixed Garfield strips. Perhaps I’ll post my rambling essay on meaning perception another day, or in a parallel world where someone actually gave a shit.

Subsequently I’ve been looking for the inflatable mosquito-house designed by French architects from space, R&Sie, but could only find this design for a furry building that grows hairs out of pollution particulates.

Mar 23 2005

Mongrel Media

So then: Dog The Bounty Hunter. Mullet-wearing celebrity meathead Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman is, according to his website, a ‘modern day Billy The Kid’ and ‘the greatest bounty hunter in the world’. So he’s a treacherous, horse-thieving teenage outlaw? No such luck. Actually, if he really is the greatest bounty hunter in the world then it suggests that this hard-bitten profession is dead in the water. If Dog’s heroic deeds, such as strong-arming crack-addled teenage geeks and ringing up a mark and asking him to kindly come down to the office to be arrested (which he obliges to do with no protest whatsoever), are representative of the state of modern bounty-hunting then perhaps Jim ‘Cat’ Rossignol could soon be taking on Dog for that coveted title. Or perhaps not. The title of Bounty Hunter is, of course, a TV-friendly misnomer. Dog is actually a bail-bondsman who features in a television show that plays out like The Osbournes would have done had Hitler had won the war. Unintentionally hilarious and at the same time deeply unsettling, it somehow sums up all the TV I watched when I was in the US, underlining an unspoken motto that seems to read “it’s okay to be stupid, because it’s more honest than trying to use your brain. Look, airplanes!”

I can’t get enough of the steady stream of jingoistic hyperbole that gushes from US television channels. The UK’s attempts at home redecoration and emotional manipulation are bad enough, but American channels fill me with a kind of exuberant incredulity, a dizzying side-effect of their torrential array of high-bandwidth conceits. Advertising for erections pills that might cause heartburn and brain ulcers, second and third mortgages to ‘pay off’ your mounting debts and DVDs of endless country ballads fill the void between the really good stuff. Is it any wonder that the country is in a state of perpetual warfare when there are at least two documentaries about how awesome guns/tanks/Navy Seals are on the TV at any one time, and only McDonalds, Garth Brooks and Walmart’s own-brand debt-consolidation to look forward to in the rest of life? Before I’d had breakfast I’d already been briefed on UAV drones, the development of Napalm and non-standard paratrooper tactics in Afghanistan. World War II seems to have involved some ‘ass-kicking’, while all the good military tech development is doing us could barely be crammed into a single program about dehydrated food and Kevlar. Don’t mention Vietnam though, that’s just not polite.

People occasionally mention the lack of irony amongst Yanks and point to TV as evidence for this. Actually, most Americans I’ve met have had a pretty good grasp of irony, often with a sardonic wit to boot. I think that US TV is actually only evidence of mindless greed and a remarkable lack of sympathy for what it actually is to be human. This is no longer the opium of the masses, it’s Largactil – a deliberate bludgeoning of consciousness that will not relent until all our souls have been roundly bruised, broken and sedated.

Back in the UK, more televised news events from the US fill me with great sadness. On the one hand there is a crippled woman, whose established wishes, as well as those of her husband, are to be trampled by aggressive legislative processes intended to ‘preserve life’, while on the other there is yet another gun-rampage in a school. Where is the legislation designed to preserve the life of those people? What is the internal justification for those people who support the gun laws? How can they possibly write off events like these as ‘acceptable losses’, when they’re the same people who are not willing to let one severely brain-damaged woman die in peace? When will the hypocrites get kicked to death by an army of the bereaved? Not in this lifetime, I fear.

Mar 21 2005

Limousine Scene

I am returned. Currently struggling with limited sleep in the last 48-hours, thanks to time change and a screaming infant on the aeroplane. I’ve got a mass of things that I want to write about, but I think they’ll have to wait until I’m feeling more coherent.

Highlights included a trip to an obscure suburban pizza joint in a limousine, some photorealist painting and something about a game I was supposed to be reporting on.

Also rain. In California. For fuck’s sake.

Mar 13 2005

The Fatted Gamer

The St John restaurant in Smithfield is one of the great eateries, the kind of place where food becomes a story, rather than simply fuel.

“We’re going to a place where tonight’s special is deep fried squirrel,” said my friend as we drank Belgian lager in a central-London pub, pickling ourselves in preparation for a feast.

Even my palate didn’t extend to rodents, so the ox heart and beetroot was for starter, followed by a hare pie. Robust food, well-cooked offal. Meat, stock and cabbage. A ginger sponge to finish, perfectly steamed. It’s been a while since I’ve had a meal that made me want to stand up and cheer, and so to eat in the undecorated, unpretentious dining hall at St John suddenly made me aware of how awesomely lazy I’ve been in the last couple of years. My cooking has deteriorated from naive but adventurous to formulaic and staid. I’ve not even been writing about food. It’s been slipping away from me.

To counter that trend I’ve been leant a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s gonzoid report from the oily abyss of international catering, Kitchen Confidential. Food is visceral, and Bourdain’s writing emphasizes, with wretched energy, just what an important part of being alive the substance and process of cooking really is.

He says of eating at St John: “It’s where people who truly love food, who know what’s good about wiping grease off their chins, can congregate without fear, safe from the dark clouds of processed foods gathering over Europe… A meal at St John is not just one of the great eating experiences on the planet – it’s a call to the barricades.”

Mar 11 2005

The Grind

Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself.
– Jorges Luis Borges, Autobiographical essay 1970

Sometimes you just have to do the work. This is one of those times. I make money by writing about games and, right now, I feel like games commentary has addled my entire consciousness. It’s left me adrift on a sea of purchase-recommendations and over-wrought value judgements. Games and game-talk is all that comes to hand, no matter where I turn. It’s like drinking salt-water.

Earlier in the week I wrote a draft for Part Two of my ‘Greatest Show’ games ramble, but it came out all fusty and academic sounding – most off-putting. Expect it to be delayed for a fortnight while I sort out all the other matters that have piled up on my schedule. I need a clear head and a clear inbox.

So while I’m off poking geeks in California and eating ambient noodles in London, you can have a read of Alice’s GDC notes, or have a look at what A-B’s allies are producing.

Oh, and for those of you who need some fictive distractions, I wrote you this.