#nodads

From Metafilter:

I honestly tried to find the least confusing introductions to the #nodads line, but as you can see they tend to refuse that kind of discourse. The point, if I can summarize, is to argue that philosophy, politics, and theory have been predicated in a kind of dad-ness — these discourses seek to discipline people, to reproduce themselves, to boss everyone around, to shout everybody else down, to do all the sorts of (bad) things dads do. #nodads as a slogan (or a “principle of solidarity”) is an attempt to think outside those tendencies.

Now, in practice, #nodads seems to be mostly used to troll people, but there is a kernel of an idea at its core that I thought might be interesting to talk about on this, the most daddiest of days.

Also the rest of the thread is actually some bloody fantastic discussion. There’s weird shit going down right now, even if it is working it’s way out in a weird deferred-adulthood way.

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Clint Hocking on ‘Replayability’

Clint Hocking writes about my favourite bugbear – the word ‘Replayability’:

Replayability is an oft-debated concept in game development…

But what does ‘replayability’ even mean? The word itself implies an obvious definition: that the game can sustain player interest over the course of multiple playthroughs. Yet in a practical sense, data shows that players rarely finish our biggest games, never mind play them multiple times.

I think the above definition of replayability is an oversimplification of a couple of concepts that deserve closer scrutiny.
Which… is kind of what I was proposing in my polemical ‘Replayability is not a word‘ post from a while back (which, incidentally, still gets a ton of hits). Perhaps a kind of eliminatism is in order – get rid of the word in favour of a multitude of descriptions instead. That’s what I (sort of) advocated in my immersion/attention video also.
Interesting to note though that even Clint still needed to explain the “obvious definition” of replayability – it’s easily still a contested and contestable term.
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Some comments on, and two reservations about, #AltLit

I’ve recently joined (found?) the massively distributed online (sub?)culture that calls itself (is called?) Alt.Lit. My journey of discovery is not so important, but it started on twitter, moved to Facebook and now I see it everywhere. And let’s be honest, it’s not really a literature movement anymore; it’s become a cultural juggernaut steamrolling everything in its path. Instead: ‘Welcome to the age of feelings’. In a different vein, but from the same cultural milieu; Welcome to the age of,

…I and most people published that I know of…honestly believe that there is no good or bad in art (for example I 100% believe a 10-year-old’s writing is not less good than James Joyce’s, or replace either with any people)

It’s almost impossible to take that statement seriously (do I even need to mention Freud’s ‘reversal into the opposite’?). No one has talked seriously about art/literature/whatever in explicitly good or bad terms since at least the 60s (good/bad relative to some ‘end’ or cultural/communal/artistic standard, sure, but that’s a far cry from a 10-year old being as good as Joyce).

If I wanted to get Nostradamic I’d be tempted to say that “Alt Lit is the current vision of young American’s cultural future”. On what grounds do I make this claim? On no grounds – and that’s the point, a little bit of a taste of ‘alt lit’ (Alt LITE?). A blog post I read proclaimed that ‘Postmodernism is dead; Long Live Alt Lit’ and I quite earnestly had no idea whether the détournement of that phrase was even intentionally aware of the irony or the effect of twisting the original. Did they mean to do that to the meaning of “The King is dead; Long live the King”? Yeah, there’s a long tradition of Pop Cultural mangling and repurposing of the phrase. What, after all, did the original mean? Is that “the point” or am I giving them too much credit? I don’t think they care. Certainly, no one else in Alt.Lit seems to. Which brings me to,

1) the first of my two reservations about Alt.Lit: How does Alt.Lit do criticism?

How do you criticise something that is (very often) intentionally bad? What would Alt.Lit criticism even look like? Is it all a mask, a shield to forestall criticism? “Hey guys, I know, we’ll never make anything bad if we turn bad into a virtue!” Which seems horribly defeatist to me, but then again perhaps I haven’t “been” defeated in the same way.

It must be pretty terrible to be a young American right now (how quickly things change – remember when everyone hated you guys? Remember Bush?). And I’m not even talking about the economic climate, per se, rather about the libidinal crushing that America faced when the promised “greatest country in the world” never eventuated. Instead you guys got George Dubya and “Don’t panic! Keep shopping!” I mean, fuck, you guys were promised that you were the best! I’d be mad. I’d be mad as fucking hell.

Either that, or be crushed.  So in that sense, the reflex to avoid criticism makes sense.

But to have a mature and developed form (if Alt Lit even aspires to such – and I have my doubts about that too) means to have “better” and “poorer” examples of the genre. So far all the criticism I’ve seen has been pretty polarised – “quickshit” as a meme (as if a meme even counts as criticism), or “BOOST” the best stuff.

Is Alt.Lit an experiment in excising negative criticism from the entire system? Forget about anything that isn’t worth “Boosting” and just “Live ur lief” instead? Maybe… but isn’t that almost worse? Neglect is the ultimate “fuck you”. I don’t even care enough to say I think this isn’t good.

What’s perhaps worse is the possibility that instead people just don’t say what they mean when someone isn’t ‘getting’ or doing good Alt Lit or something. When someone is just not doing it very well, does anyone actually say so or does the collective just pass over like the Angel of the Lord? Alt Lit can’t be “everything” – there must be better and worse examples and approaches and goodness knows what else. Leaving those things unarticulated and tacit brings certain political obligations (which I don’t think have been properly addressed… but we’ll come back to that at No.2).

I realised while writing this that I hadn’t actually read enough Beach Sloth to know for sure if he really does much ‘criticism’ or just doesn’t mention the not great stuff. Here’s what I found instead:

I don’t know even what is going on in these three songs. Ghostandthesong makes no sense. This may be one of the most baffling, incoherent journeys ever put into MP3 format. I mean that as the sincerest complement possible.

Which is genuinely funny, and a nice deconstruction of mainstream musical reviews…  but what would it mean truly for a medium to treat incomprehension in a work as a virtue? Not a kind of “anything goes” postmodern relativity – but instead an absolutely radical, nihilistic, all-encompassing rejection of attempts at comprehension? Probably something excitingly different to Alt Lit, to be honest, because I much suspect it doesn’t live up to such a stratospheric standard (maybe some of it does – which is what I find exciting).

And I’m not trying to step to Beach Sloth here – I have never met or have even interacted with the guy (I don’t think), and too many people I respect have spoken highly of him for me to think differently. Plus – mad pros to a fellow curator. I did the hard yards at Critical Distance for a few years so I know what it’s like being an often reluctant gatekeeper for a community. I also dealt with many of the same issues. I usually did just pass over the not-great stuff, but sometimes I did mention it. Sometimes you do need to editorialise, y’know? Anyway. Respect for the Beach Sloth.

And that’s the thing – I really, genuinely like all of the people I know and have met in and through the Alt Lit community. And I really value that. But I do worry that the relentless positivity covers up some (mostly) invisible community effects.

While researching for this piece I googled “Alt Lit criticism” and all I found was this one piece on the Bangolit blog, which echoed many of my own points:

I haven’t seen a single mildly critical, or even questioning, comment on a piece of flarf in a while. The review sites are often not much better—since boosting caught on, their fangs have been pulled. Tiptoe around things you don’t like, hem and haw. To openly dislike something can result in public evisceration (see: Hazel Cummings). Not that it comes up often. Everyone is positive about everything, to a fault.

Not making things any easier w/r/t Flarf is the fact that there is a real history of explicit ‘badness’ to the form, beyond just “crappy” badness a la Faceobok. This page (offline? Try a wayback archive) featuring comments and explanations by many of the pioneers of Flarf mentions several times that racial slurs were an important part of making the early Flarf poems. Gary Sullivan defined Flarf as: “A quality of intentional or unintentional “flarfiness.” A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. “Not okay.”

And here’s my take on this sort of thing: in your closed community you can pretty much say whatever you like. If you and your mates wanna use whatever horrible slur you like in private, go nuts! But as soon as you get out into the world-around-internet you aren’t in a private space anymore. Someone will stumble upon something you’ve written and find it genuinely offensive, horrible, and reinforcing priviledge/oppression/racism/sexism etc– and they wouldn’t be wrong just because they don’t have your community context. ‘Authorial intention’ (or lack thereof) doesn’t wash. Outsiders misunderstanding it, not getting the “irony” of your subversive/reflexive redeployment of the term “wetback” or “cock-boy” or whatever doesn’t make it any less of an example of real and actual oppression. Which brings me to my second reservation…

2) And that is that Alt.Lit, as far as I can tell, is so white, so middle class.

If you’re going to do “internet community” as the main exercise of your art scene/movement/etc, and you’re not going to do it in a private forum or whatever – if you couch it as art or literature – then you don’t get a free pass on issues of diversity and inclusiveness and politics. Whether you want to be or not, you are a part of the world, and the world is political. Don’t misunderstand me – it isn’t about being explicitly political, in fact it’s better if you aren’t, but get the political dimensions of what you do and say and who you hang with and BOOST and whatever else.

I’m not wrong, am I? Alt Lit has a diversity problem, in both race and class – it’s pretty great actually that there seems to be quite a bit of gender diversity (you’re beating videogames!), but it’s still a pretty huge whitewash. This is a weird position for me to be in because, as an Australian, I am surrounded by whiteness where I live and in where I grew up. The stereotypes are kinda true.

I’d love to be wrong about this point, and in fact about all of it, but they seems pretty important to me (admittedly, a bit of an outsider). The Alt Lit community and its irrepressible positivity is a bit of a problem, even if it is (or has been) such a strength. It’s a bit of a paradox. If Alt Lit is going to be influential outside of just “white kids making stuff for other white kids” can it keep its positivity and aversion to critique? Because, that’s kind of been a defining feature of it… and maybe that’s not always a great thing…

Anyway. I don’t have an answer for either of these reservations, but I’m keen to hear from anyone who has an opinion or suggestion on either of my reservations, or even if you just have a different take on them. Beach sloth! If you read this and want to tell me what you think, my email is on the sidebar to the right. The same goes to anyone else involved in the scene, basically.

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Sad Keanu

Really identifying with Keanu Reeve’s for some reason right now.

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Matt Taibbi on Presidents & Mitt Romney

Most presidents have something under the hood – wit, warmth, approachability, something. Even the most liberal football fan could enjoy watching an NFL game with George Bush. And even a Klansman probably would have found some of LBJ’s jokes funny. The biggest office in the world requires someone who buzzes with enough personality to fill the job, and most of them have it.

But Romney doesn’t buzz with anything. His vision of humanity is just a million tons of meat floating around in a sea of base calculations. He’s like a teenager who stays up all night thinking of a way to impress the prom queen, and what he comes up with is kicking a kid in a wheelchair. Instincts like those are probably what made him a great leveraged buyout specialist, but in a public figure? Man, is he a disaster. It’s really incredible theater, watching the Republicans talk themselves into this guy.

From here.

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Leigh Alexander and Slavoj Zizek

A reminder that this talk by Leigh Alexander exists:

She makes the following claim quite near the end of her talk:

“…we need to trigger that panic response that gives birth to new societies.”

And a quote from Slavoj Zizek in this NY Review of Books piece on his two newest ones:

“The Khmer Rouge were, in a way, not radical enough: while they took the abstract negation of the past to the limit, they did not invent any new form of collectivity.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, Zizek is not literally advocating mass murder and class-based genocide… perhaps he’s trying to evoke the “panic response” that Leigh is talking about. But I don’t know, I’m no Zizek expert. Interesting parallel anyway.

Pity the NYRB review is so down on him and his stuff, despite (seemingly?) giving it a pretty fair shake. I’m pretty interested in ideas with novelty at the moment, so I’m inclined to at least entertain Zizek’s weird “violent visions”. Maybe that makes me horribly complicit, but so far it’s entirely imaginary violence.

Addendum: in ‘Slavoj Zizek responds to his critics‘, Zizek excoriates the NY Review’s selective quotation and says his own position is the absolute opposite of what they describe. I had hoped this was the case, and reading some of the longer quotations that Zizek posts in reply is illuminating. For Zizek, violence is not the typically straightforward planting-of-fist-into-face, but instead is more about an abstract imposition of force. With this knowledge, it’s clearly easy to see how and why Zizek can label Ghandi the “more violent” than either of Hitler and the Khmer Rouge:

Instead of directly attacking the colonial state, Gandhi organized movements of civil disobedience, of boycotting British products, of creating social space outside the scope of the colonial state. One should then say that, crazy as it may sound, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. The characterization of Hitler which would have him as a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions, but nonetheless a man with balls who pursued his ends with an iron will is not only ethically repulsive, it is also simply wrong: no, Hitler did not “have the balls” really to change things. All his actions were fundamentally reactions: he acted so that nothing would really change; he acted to prevent the Communist threat of a real change. His targeting of the Jews was ultimately an act of displacement in which he avoided the real enemy—the core of capitalist social relations themselves. Hitler staged a spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive – in contrast to Gandhi whose movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state.

I find that a rather more compelling vision of ‘violence’ than the typical. It also gels with how I think of Leigh Alexander – a ‘violent’ person but not in the punchy sort of way – as a person willing and able to “do violence” (of the Zizekian sort) to ”trigger [the] panic response that gives birth to new societies.”

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I am in Melbourne right now

Come up and say hi if you see me on the street!

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Liquid nuclear reactors powered by Thorium

Christopher Person put me onto this documentary about the energy potential of Thorium and I gotta say, it’s mighty convincing.

Some interesting takeaways: it almost doesn’t matter how perfect a thorium/liquid salt reactor is, it just didn’t have the allies it needed to be successful. Very Latourian.

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Jon McCalmont on Prometheus, Myths and Calvinball stories

At his consistently exceptional ‘Ruthless Culture’ blog Jonathan McCalmont has a great meta-review of Prometheus, in which he locates the film within the broader constellation of ‘myth-making’ in films and modern popular culture that is so prevalent right now. Having not seen Prometheus yet, I can’t really agree or disagree, but his analysis of wider popular cultural obsession with mythmaking is very convincing. But I had a few reservations – possible fault lines in his argument, I guess you could call it.

McCalmont (rather convincingly) argues that “as a culture, Westerners no longer crave stories… they crave mythologies” and he suggests that Prometheus is an attempt at critique of  that obsession with mythologies (coming at the expense of the ‘neat, self-contained story’ which has indeed rather taken a backseat to trilogies, series and the rise of the ‘franchise’). McCalmont says:

I believe that Prometheus is best understood as vicious critique of the tendency to seek answers to big questions and to weave these answers into some kind of escapist fantasy. Far from providing us with a mythology that makes sense and answers all questions, Prometheus suggests that life is nothing more than a series of random events leading not to Tolkien’s meaningful ‘turn’ but to a sense of profound bafflement.

As I said, I can’t really comment on this aspect of the film, and whether or not it succeeds. But there’s something funny about the way he mixes up the difference between “Big Questions” (aka the metanarratives that post-modernism has been so utterly against since forever, but which it has never really gotten rid of) and questions of the decidedly non-big variety. He notes that,

Though ostensibly a mystery, the plot of Prometheus is really nothing more than a series of doors slammed in characters’ faces by a cruelly indifferent universe. The film begins with a group of humans voyaging to the stars in search of Big Answers to Big Questions.

But some of the questions he lists are not big questions: they are (or should be) answerable, quite straightforwardly, e.g.:

  • What did the android say to the alien upon its awakening?
  • Why did the alien respond to a first contact situation with psychotic violence?

The answers to these are not “because there is a god” or anything meta like that. And that’s the crux of it, I think: if Prometheus is like LOST and other “Calvinball” type stories, it’s only because such straightforward questions are warped, twisted, or deliberately obscured as if obscurantism were somehow a statement about the degeneracy of meta-narratives (or even a statement about anything at all other than the arbitrary whim of a storyteller/mythmaker). And this is why I was a bit on the fence when McCalmont states his thesis as the following:

To my mind…attempts to wring meaning from the text of the film are hopelessly deluded as Prometheus is quite explicitly a film about the absolute futility of seeking Big Answers to Big Questions.

But obscurantism is not anti-metanarrative, in fact it’s just a reinforcement  the meta-narrative of an “indifferent” universe. McCalmont makes the claim that “Mythologies differ from scientific explanations in so far as the logic they use to explain events is narrative rather than causal” which I’m also not so sure about. Science is, after all, it’s own mythology. Chris Bateman’s forthcoming “The Mythology of Evolution” touches on some of these issues, with Bateman saying,

the imagery of evolution threatens to distort our understanding of the incredible history of our planet. There is no science without mythology, and the only way to reveal the facts is to understand the fictions.

Bruno Latour has a great quote about the operation of science, saying (and I’m paraphrasing) that it has to explain one thing in terms of another thing, and then that thing in terms of a third, and so on until it ends up looking more and more like a fairytale. Count the number of intermediaries between “you” and the alleged Higgs-Boson.

So where are we, then, on the issue of Big Questions or metanarratives, and why does McCalmont’s piece seem so indicative of the current? I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment, and his term “geek spiritualism” encapsulates it perfectly, but I don’t think we’re even remotely close to a myth-less state, and I don’t narrative obscurantism actually does point to a lacuna or disavowal of metanarratives. I think we’re in a situation where we’ve internalised the post-modern disavowal of metanarratives (the “Big Questions” will never be answered satisfactorily) but perhaps the effort has not been taken seriously, since we can’t disavow the metanarrative of science, as it works so damn well for us at the present. (As an aside, many critics of postmodernism have pointed out since the very earliest phase of its adoption that a disavowal of metanarratives can become itself a metanarrative.)

I find myself agreeing with McCalmont’s analysis of the dual cultural and market forces that are driving the increased mythologisation of popular culture:

The problem highlighted by the very existence of Prometheus is that the demand for synthetic mythologies is now so intense that it is beginning to distort the nature of popular culture. With fans demanding mythological depth and investors demanding the type of monies that accompany owning people’s fantasy lives, the market for self-contained stories is beginning to shrink.

But I think his  argument is a bit of a kludge – narrative obscurantism of the Calvinball type isn’t the same as a real or genuine disavowal of metanarratives (including the metanarratives and myths of science). To my knowledge, one of the few people to take seriously the challenge of a meaningless, indifferent universe is Quentin Meillassoux and his acausality. But again we find the same tension as in McCalmont’s piece – Meillassoux believes in a fundamental, hyperchaotic and meaningless layer of reality as the only necessary and non-contingent layer of the universe, yet at the same time, the universe at present remains contingent and explanatory mechanisms like science remain accurate, and may remain so until long after humans have disappeared from the universe.

McCalmont ends his essay by saying that he fears for the future of “self-contained stories” in the face of increased myth-making, and that Prometheus, while terrible, perhaps “contains the future of all popular culture.” Which I think is an accurate assessment, but I don’t agree that self-contained stories are a “solution” to the problem of metanarratives. But I remain sympathetic to the desire for less mythologising – though perhaps only because most, if not all, modern attempts at it are so utterly shit.

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David Wenham’s pitch-perfect ‘Bogan’ in Gettin’ Square

David Wenham is the Ur-bogan in the film Getting Square, Part 1 (the sound is very quiet):

And part 2:

Even without any of the wider context of why he’s going out the window with no pants or shirt (something about escaping from either the police or a drug deal gone wrong – if memory serves) the amount of character portrayed just by the way that he runs is simply amazing:

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