Ben Abraham interviews Ben Abraham

I was having trouble writing proper blog posts, so I decided to interview myself. After all, who better to know the good questions to ask me than myself? So here we go.

Ben: What are you interested in right now? What are you reading, and why?

Ben: Right now I’m interested in a lot of neuroscientific philosophy, like theory of mind, philosophy of the mind and it’s relationship to the body, and stuff like that. Why now, and why that particularly? Partly because I think I’m at a stage in my research where I need to know some facts about reality. As much as I love philosophy, philosophy only gets you so far. That’s not to subsume philosophy beneath the all-powerful sight of Science! because there are lots of instances where science doesn’t quite do it all for me, and there are plenty of people out there willing to point out science’s shortcomings (Bruno Latour being just one of them).

I’m also deeply indebted to recently reading a lot of both Quentin Meillassoux and Timothy Morton, who both could best be described as science-influenced-philosophers. I’m of the firm opinion that, ultimately, science and philosophy are somewhat fundamentally the same thing, they just take seriously different rhetorical and theoretical approaches to a common goal.

Ben: What are your feelings on videogame blogging / criticism at the moment?

Ben: Ambivalence. Huge, slathers of layer upon layer of ambivalence. I love and hate it in equal measure, the hate probably intensified because I love it so much. ‘Calls to arms’ and new manifestos happen with disturbing regularity and are almost never taken up widely (and all too often for perfectly good reasons). I made my own appeal for more ‘mere description’ in Latour’s sense, along with appeals to go just an extra half-step further in analysis, as well as pleading for the dismantling of compound terms (replayability, gameplay, etc) for the sake of clarity, almost none of which have been heeded.

When Dan Cook wrote his polemic piece back in May I was reminded that I am, for better or worse, arguably the best positioned person to get a sense of the top-down view of the “whole” blogosphere… and all I really get from that ‘view’ is an increasing sense of the immensity and scale of this endeavour that is ‘critical videogame blogging’. I get the real sense that there is a high chance there are tens of blogs out there that could be included in Critical Distance but are not ‘connected’ in the community in the same way, for whatever reason. Language was one barrier I pointed out a while ago; another is the Austro-America leaning of my circle of acquaintances.

But even further, I think there’s something about the way we are going about writing about games that’s not-quite-right anymore. Perhaps it’s just an accumulation or ossification over time, but hardly any writing about games seems weird enough anymore. The most interesting and unexpected insights that I remember (and I could be remembering with rose tinted glasses) from the quote-unquote “early days” of the blogosphere were always from weird posts, from strange or forced comparisons, and from jarringly unexpected angles. Have we turned inwards too much, forgoing writing about the intersection of games and other stuff too much? Possibly, but there we are again. The unavoidability of the manifesto and ‘top down’ directives about How To Do Videogame [Criticism/Journalism/Writing/Blogging] (erase as applicable). The answer has always been to just do it yourself but I really don’t have the energy or enthusiasm these days. I wish those that do, however, Godspeed, and I’ll be the first to pat them on the back and link them in TWIVGB.

Ben: What other kinds of writing would you like to be doing at the moment?

Ben: Writing about weird, apparently unrelated things/topics/issues which actually share strange and non-linear connections. Maybe even just saying ‘Fuck it’ about games for a while and writing whatever is interesting. For example, I want to write about JUSTICE’s video for their new song ‘Civilization’, and view it through a Tim Morton Eco-Thought-lens.

I find it interesting how it positions the Buffalo herds as subject – it’s plain that we’re meant to be paying attention to animals. That right there, is odd, but it hints at Morton’s dissolution (following Darwin) of the categorical difference between human and animal. The video, perhaps echoing the lyrics of the song, seems to be showing off the precarious and destructive nature of not just human civilization (thought the extinction of the Buffalo herds of North America being the ultimate example of this) but of the whole world. It tilts on an axis and everything goes sliding around.

It’s particularly Tim Morton-esque, however, in that it avoids the frankly boring “nature is good / civilization is bad” dichotomy of so much green/environmentalism. When the whole world is turned physically upside-down as well as metaphorically, it doesn’t matter if the things about to crush you from above are man-made statues and buildings and bridges or if they’re just giant slabs of stone – that’s The Ecological Thought: they’ll kill you all the same.

The final shot of the clip, of a buffalo leap-falling into the golden, shining human face is interesting as well: the whole inside of this ‘planetarium’ (Planisphere?) seems to be in miniature, and so this could be the shining, golden face of a real-human, peering inside the strange interior globe. Why depict the human as golden? Perhaps to depict, somewhat critically, the privilege and majesty of humanity (which The Eco Thought would deny to it). Gold is wealth, riches and priviledge, but it’s also inanimate, and inhuman. The Human is also inhuman, it seems to say. More inhuman than buffalo!

I quite like the idea that a band I love is ahead of the curve. Morton suggests that typically artists catch us theoreticians unawares. Perhaps a good rule of thumb for original theory might be that if someone’s thought of it, and written about it, an artist has already made some artwork expressing elements of it already. Morton’s The Ecological Thought is rife with examples of artworks that exhibit The Ecological Thought (don’t mistake The Eco Thought for merely thinking ‘green’ or ‘environmentally’ – it’s about thinking the interconnectedness of everything, not just plants and animals and us). The conditions (predicates?) for thought and changed-thinking are really interesting to me, but damned if I know how to investigate something that huge with anything approaching rigour.

Ben: What are you finding really difficult right now?

Ben: Dealing with things across multiple fronts: a small personal crisis of realisation about my self-image; a professional crisis of needing to get shit done as well as wondering what-comes-after-this; and an acknowledgment that my current lifestyle is ultimately unsustainable in the long term.

On the first count, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that other people clearly have a very differently picture of me than I have of myself in my head. Trying to reconcile my own internal image with the ‘reality’ (at least as far as others indicate contrary to my internal model) is, suffice to say, hard. But it’s something that I need to do because it’s a mental block to a lot of things that I would really like to do. A strange aside: playing around with the twitter account that is ‘FUTURE10RDBEN’ has actually been really great in this respect. Think of it as doing something like performing the role of ‘visualising yourself more how you’d like to be’ but I don’t have to visualise it because he tweets just tweets crazy stuff and I go “man, that’d be kinda awesome – why aren’t don’t I be (a little bit) like that?”

One the second, I have to actually produce writing, that’s what a PhD is. I’m coming up with all sorts of amazing shit-hot ideas, but if I can’t get them to the page it’s kinda worthless. And then once that’s all said and done and submitted (at the end of 2012, no less)… what then? My life may look quite different by then, but I wouldn’t mind applying for some work around the nation, or even around the world. The idea of just uprooting myself and going somewhere else for a few years is kinda appealing. I’ve lived in Sydney all my life, essentially, and while I’ve been lucky to have travelled quite a bit, it’s not really the same as having to live somewhere for an extended time. I still live a mere 20 minute car trip away from my parents, which is actually really awesome because my parents are amazing, but it means I haven’t really moved all that far yet.

Thirdly, and finally, I realise that my sitting around reading books all day, scanning the internet for interesting things, and writing about things on the internet is not going to be my routine for life. It’s all going to end, and possibly sooner rather than later. Time is flying and it’s a worry.

Ben: Thank you for your time.