Words I-V

This is a series of 5 “downloadable” blog posts that form what I’m calling “Words I-V” because each individual post is either Words 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Seems straightforward enough.

The point of them at the time of writing each one was slightly different for each, but they are loosely united by the desire to be as unconscious in my writing as possible; just let is all hang out for all to see; as little self censorship and self guidance as possible. Whether they succeed or they fail as anything else, they each stand on their own. You can read them in order, in reverse order, or no particular order. Not reading them also constitutes some level of engagement with them, since I take it that you are reading this post about them right now and your decision will be to either read or not read them. Unless you decide to read them and then don’t carry through on that decision because you put them on your desktop and never get around to them which is what I have a tendency of doing.

They are things, they exist. Here’s a download link.

If you like them, or even if you hate them, would you please tell me so?

The Judge’s Wig

The Judge's Wig, Yarrangobilly CavesI walked through the cool, dripping heart of a mountain today. It contained an inspiring number of caves filled with stunning white stalactites and stalagmites. A giant cathedral of a space easily 50m high, a room filled with an organ-like series of brilliant white columns, and numerous other chambers along the path were lit by delicate white lights from angles and hidden locations that helped set the spaces in the most majestic and beautiful way possible. A glittering wall of flowing limestone shimmered as one moved, looking so much like a wall of diamond-studded ice. A reflecting pool lit from below revealed the water’s pearlescent aqua colour. Another chamber twenty metres below disappeared into the black earth as the only light cast from the lamps faded into the gloom.

There were a few locations along the path set aside to better view particularly beautiful and sublime formations. At one of these, highlighting a particularly imagination stirring formation was a sign that explained the cave system had been named first been surveyed by a fellow by the name of Oliver Trickett. The sign reads,

He recorded and assigned names to many of the formations. The large orange formation he called “The Judges Wig”; nearby are the “Lambs Fleece” and the “Wedding Cake”. Today we prefer not to use fanciful names for such formations, but to present them for what they are.

Can you feel the exasperated nuisance the writer feels at having to tell the plebs about the irrelevant names given to these beautiful and wondrous formations? Why even tell us what the formation is called if today’s standards prefer to “present it for what it is”, as if one can simply present what A Thing is with one terse piece of scientific rational description. With what authority does the writer of the sign appeal to reality?

Truly, it is a cold and boring “reality” that seeks to replace the descriptive, the subjective, even the fanciful with… I don’t even know! They never say what it supposedly is, except to go on to say that “The orange tints are…due to iron.”

Have you been floored by the persuasive and rhetorical power of this rational description? Iron makes the formation look orange. I am simply in awe of nature.

The totality of the thing labelled The Judges Wig cannot be explained away in simple description by attributes, nor can it rightly be summed up in the “fanciful” name given it by Trickett. But it goes a lot further than any bland, textbook description ever could – it does look considerably like a Judge’s Wig, with a curved central back and columns flowing down the sides from it. I imagine that just knowing it is called “The Judges Wig” conjures more images (and perhaps more interest) in the thing than an attributive description.

The text on the offending sign

You might ask, why pick on the poor National Parks and Wildlife Service sign writer? It’s because I believe that how we describe the world is important and non-trivial, and also because appeals to “reality” as if whatever reality actually is were something self-evident, itself smacks of arrogance, smugness and a lack of imagination. As someone who cares about the natural environment, with an interest in seeing it preserved and human impact upon it mitigated to the greatest possible extent (there’s a larger discussion about the place of humanity within nature that I’m deliberately not addressing here). I want people to be rhetorically persuaded of the importance and value of things like The Judges Wig. Just consider this – it has sat underground for millennia. It has probably gone unobserved for longer than there have been people to observe it. If the scale of that is not humbling, I don’t know what is.

Written on 20th of July while holidaying in the alpine town of Talbingo. Visit the thermal pools.

My Thesis in Three Minutes

There’s a young man living in Brisbane who wears a sweet hat, talks really fast and with his weekly videos critiquing and criticising videogames draws multiple millions of views from around the world. His name is Yahtzee, he’s a British-born Australian, and he’s the king of videogame critics.

My thesis is about online videogame critics like Yahtzee and the communities that have grown up around them over the past number of years. Videogame criticism is still a pretty new deal – as recently as 2006 Chuck Klosterman noted in Esquire magazine that “There is no Lester Bangs of videogames”. Bangs being a bit of a rock star music critic of the 60’s and 70’s. Today there are literally hundreds of amateur and semi-professional videogame critics writing for hundreds of blogs and websites, and since 2007 when I first included myself in their number, I have seen the community explode with activity. My research will look into the particular community I’ve been involved with, document its emergence and characteristics, and use it as the focal point to examine three broad themes.

The first is inspired by an increasing wealth of literature that spells out the co-dependent relationship the human mind has with technology. It is becoming evident that far from simply shaping technology as in the great enlightenment narrative, rather human cognition is to an equal or greater extent shaped by the technology it engages with. How we evaluate the beneficial, detrimental, or ambivalent nature of those changes is an area still in development.

The technology central to my research, and the second broad area of investigation, is the internet. The globalised space of the internet would at first seem to repel or diminish expressions of nationality, but mounting evidence and my own observations suggests that the actuality runs counter to this. For a nation of a mere 20 million, there certainly seem to be a heck of a lot of Australian videogame critics operating on the internet – and Yahtzee, who I mentioned earlier, is just one of them. Why and to what extent the online community of critics attracts or encourages expressions of nationality will be investigated.

Thirdly and finally, I will attempt a reading of the critical videogame community on the internet as a place of resistance to neoliberal principles of capital. I will attempt to argue that internet communities, and the critical videogame community in particular, presents itself as an expression of disillusionment with and resistance to, “the right of capital to exercise its sovereign power wherever and over whomever it chooses” to quote Terry Eagleton. Nine times out of ten these critics do their work and give it away for free, and I think that’s significant.

In conclusion, the arrival of these communities of like-minded authors and critics, working together to develop ideas and expand a field of criticism, expressing cultures and identities that are both global and locally based, has been enabled by one of the most revolutionary technologies of the past hundred years. The Internet and the videogame critic, that’s the subject of my research.


I came across this picture/quote at the Archive Fire blog in a post entitled “nationalism is fascism“.

Until quite recently I would have unquestionably agreed with the title and sentiment of the post– nationalism is so close as to be identical to fascism in most cases, and it is quite often the case here in Australia. I’ve argued with people that there is no logical basis for patriotism, as all it consists of is an a priori assumption that your nation is better than another.

Blog author Michael suggests in the comment thread an alternative to nationalism that also resists the hegemonic term ‘globalism’ and it’s capitalist overtones, suggesting that,

…rich, diverse planetary ways of being and knowing open up possibilities that could compel us to be better with and for each other.

Which is all well and true, but as John Ralston Saul pointed out in his talk at the Sydney Writers festival recently, apart from a few global elites who spend their lives jetting around the world Ryan Bingham style, most of us are and will spend out lives as citizens largely of one place. For the majority of the earth’s population, we exist in a more or less single location.

Perhaps more to the point, what makes any one place in the world any more or less a part of the global thinking than any other? Why privilege the unknown/other place in your planetary/global thinking?

There seems in fact no other level to engage with “planetary ways of being and knowing” except the very local and immediate vicinity. It’s a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the oft denigrated slogan “think global, act local” and while it does ring with a sense of falseness and defeatism, I think that’s a result of a lack of momentum or the ‘critical mass’ necessary to make it work. If enough of us actually did think globally – or if capitalism were to be suddenly replaced with a system that included thinking globally – it would only make sense to act locally. Where else do we act other than where our own bodies and lives touch the earth?

Yes, let’s promote thinking and knowing on a planetary scale, as Jeremy Rifkin has suggested will be necessary if we are to stave off complete planetary entropic disaster. But we also aught not practice the mental writing-off of everywhere outside our own patches of turf until that critical mass is achieved, for that smacks of selfish short-sighted libertarianism.

In light of all this, I’m thinking again about nationalism and a piece I’m writing at the moment for the Killscreen Magazine. I’m writing about the issue of Australian nationalism and identity and while I won’t go into too many details, I would like to float the idea of a not entirely repulsive Australian nationalism based around an appreciation of the unique landscape that is outside our own back door.

Here’s an extract that I think speaks to the issue,

…the 1930s and 40s saw a resurgent interest in an Australian nationalism in connection with the land, and according to Bill Ashcroft and John Salter, saw the ‘establishment of a legitimate link between the people and the Australian landscape.’ In a three-part essay from 1935 on ‘The Foundations of Culture in Australia’ PR Stevenson, considering the case for an Australian identity, advocates for one informed by the environment itself. He suggests that ‘as the culture of every nation is an intellectual and emotional expression of the genius loci, our Australian culture will diverge from the purely local colour of the British Islands to the precise extent that our environment differs from that of Britain. A hemisphere separates us from “home”—we are Antipodeans; a gumtree is not a branch of an oak; our Australian culture will evolve distinctively.’

It probably helps that PR Stevenson was a beautiful raging communist in the years before he came home to Australia, turned into a nationalist, and began writing about how our twigs and grasses and venomous animals add to the national character. At least his brand of nationalism is an inward looking one, and not one facing an ominous, encroaching outsider.

So I’m going to say that the kind of ‘localism’ that involves a strong sense of connection to place, along with a nationalism approaching a communal acceptance of such, goes a long way towards planetary level empathy. I’m going to resist naively saying that it’s the solution, but perhaps it’s at least one solution.

I’m being followed by someone I don’t know

You scoff at the thought of a videogame scaring you.

Then Penumbra: Overture tells you to “turn out the lights” and adjust your gamma settings until you can barely make out the image. It takes itself so seriously you start to doubt your own bravura – and you don’t entirely follow their instructions. You keep the lights on, a shadow of trepidation forms somewhere in the back of your mind.

The screen fills up, worrying you with its surprisingly easy immersive quality. No HUD, complex inventory system, fiddly physics to move objects. Things have real weight and heft; drawers slide out slowly as if it takes a great effort.

You’re now walking through a cave or a mine and the sound is sparse, hollow wind movements and you mistake hearing your own footsteps for someone else. You stop and whip around, scanning the darkness. But it was only your own footsteps. You begin to feel the paranoiac sensation of being followed even though no one is there.

You enter a room. A metal trapdoor slams back and forth suddenly, as though a terrible inhuman force is being applied to it in an attempt to Get To You. You jump a few centimetres out of your chair in surprise and cry out in half delight – instant reaction. You’re acting purely on instinct now, your body short-cutting your rational brain. In the wake of the scare the brutality of silence rushes out at you like a fist in pitch darkness and thumps you in the chest. The silence is worse than the noise – at least you knew where It was when It was making a sound.

A small gap between bars in the hatch permits some line of sight to what is on the other side. You don’t even want to see what’s on the other side. But you peer through. Nothing. It’s the only place you can go. You don’t want to go. As the seconds pass and the violence clamour stays away you build up your courage.

Over the next few minutes you take some time to hit [ESC] and sit on the menu screen, listening to the (by comparison) comforting sound of wailing wind. You alt+tab out and mention to friends the Sheer Irrational Terror gripping you. You haven’t even seen what it is that’s making you afraid.

And it’s exacerbating your growing sense of dread…