Blogging the quals, Week 2

This week’s readings:

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum
Erasmus, Education of a Christian Prince
Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (selections, primarily Book I)
Machiavelli, The Prince
Sir Philip Sidney, A Defense of Poesie
Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors
John Milton, Areopagitica
Ambroise Pare, Of Monsters and Marvels
Michel Montaigne, “On the Power of the Imagination”
–, “On a Monstrous Child”

This week’s quotation I’ll take from the last of the Montaigne essays:

Those which we call monsters are not so with God, who in the immensitie of his work seeth the infinite of formes therein contained. And it may be thought that any figure doth amaze us, hath relation unto some other figure of the same kinde, although unknown unto man. From out his all-seeing wisdome proceedeth nothing but good, common, regular, and orderly; but we neither see the sorting, nor conceive the relation. Quod crebro videt, non miratur, etiam si, cur fiat, nescit. Quod an te non vidit, id, si evenerit, ostentum esse censet (CIC. Div. 1. II.). ‘That which he often seeth he doth not wonder at, though he know not why it is done; but if that happen which he never saw before, he thinkes it some portentous wonder.’ We call that against nature which commeth against custome. There is nothing, whatsoever it be, that is not according to hir. Let therefore this universall and naturall reason chase from us the error, and expell the astonishment which noveltie breedeth and strangenes causeth in us.

Obviously one interesting thing here is the way that Montaigne exhibits a transition from the older mode of thinking about monsters — to briefly recap from well-worn ground, monster from the Latin monere, meaning to warn or advise, and so the monster becomes that which warns or advises.  Monstrous births were commonly taken to be signs of God’s displeasure, or an omen of strife to come; their bodies were exceptions granted by God in order to communicate these messages.  The monster’s body, hence, existed only to be read: it was a medium of some greater message from the higher realms of creation.

With the transition to a “scientific worldview” we begin to get outlooks similar to those of Montaigne above (also exhibited by Ambroise Pare in this week’s reading).  Monsters are “naturalized” in that they are not suspensions of the rules of generation as such, but rather necessary side-effects of some grand mechanism of creation that appears confusing or nonsensical from a human perspective.

For Montaigne, God becomes the vehicle by which this is rationalized: an all-knowing force to whom nothing is strange, who does not break rules to warn us; rather, a proto-Deist Watchmaker who creates every gear to interlock with another, for reasons often beyond the ken of all the other gears.  As writers like Lorraine Datson have argued, this morphed into the prevailing view of the nascent biological sciences: “monsters” became opportunities to deduce the laws of generation by using dissection and anatomy to note precisely where and how the monstrous body deviates from a presupposed norm.

But from another perspective, what we see here is simply two different ways of making deviant bodies signify: whether it’s the displeasure of God and a coming catastrophe or the obscured laws of nature, monsters exist to tell us (‘us’ taken for granted to be ‘normative’ or ‘non-monstrous’ humans) something.  The monster always exists in the state of exception; it is Agamben’s homo sacer.  Montaigne, I think, shows us something in between these views, a world in which monsters exist, but do not need to be studied; they simply are.  Still, the anthropocentric notion of a knowing God necessarily pulls these things into our (normative, human) orbit, but discounting that, how else might we exploit this apparent gap in the regimes of bodily signification: when or where might the so-called “monstrous” creature not mean but simply be?

Blogging the quals, Week 1

This week for my quals I read:

Augustine, Confessions
–, City of God (selections)
Martin Luther, On the Liberty of a Christian
Arthur Golding’s 1567 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Pliny’s Natural History (selections, but focusing most on Book 7, on the creation and nature of humans)

My selection for “most interesting thing I read this week” probably goes to the following bit from the Metamorphoses in Book II, when boy Phaeton has nagged his father Apollo into let him drive the chariot of the sun.  Things go off the rails, of course, and Phaeton initiates a vast apocalypse that cannot help but bring to mind the current issue of climate change:

His Chariot also vnder him began to waxe red hot. 
He could no lenger dure th[e] sparkes and cinder flyeng out, 
Againe the culme and smouldring smoke did wrap him round about. 
The pitchie darkenesse of the which so wholy had him he[n]
As that he wist not where he was nor yet which way he went. 
The winged horses forcibly did draw him where they wolde. 
The Aethiopians at that time (as men for truth vpholde) 
(The bloud by force of that same heate drawne to the outer part 
And there adust from that time forth) became so blacke and swart. 
The moysture was so dried vp in Lybie land that time 
That altogither drie and scorcht continueth yet that Clyme. 
The Nymphes wt haire about their eares bewayld their springs & lakes 
Beötia for hir Dy[r]ces losse great lamentation makes. 
For Amimone Argos wept, and Corinth for the spring 
Pyrene, at whose sacred streame the Muses vsde to sing. 
The Riuers further from the place were not in better case. 
For Tanais in his déepest streame did boyle and steme apace. 
Old Penevv and Cay[c]us of the countrie Teuthranie, 
And swift Ismenos in their bankes by like misfortune frie. 
Then burnde the Psophian Erymanth: and (which should burne ageine) 
The Troian Xanthus and Lycormas with his yellow veine. 
Meander playing in his bankes aye winding to and fro. 
Migdonian Melas with his waues as blacke as any slo. 
Eurotas running by the foote of Tenare boyled tho. 
Then sod Euphrates cutting through the middes of Babilon 
Then sod Orontes, and the Scithian swift Thermodoon. 
Then Ganges, Colchian Phasis, and the noble Istre 
Alpheus and Sperchins bankes with flaming fire did glistre. 
The golde that Tagus streame did beare did in the chanell melt. 
Amid Cayster of this fire the raging heat was felt. 
Among the quieres of singing Swannes that with their pleasant lay 
Along the bankes of Lidian brakes from place to place did stray. 
And Nyle for feare did run away into the furthest Clyme 
Of all the world, and hid his heade, which to this present tyme 
Is yet vnfound: his mouthes all seuen cleane voyde of water béene. 
Like seuen great valleys where (saue dust) could nothing else be séene. 
By like misfortune Hebrus dride and Strymon both of Thrace. 

This goes on for a while, until Gaia herself beseeches God (or Jove, since the two are sometimes conflated in Golding’s translation and sometimes not) to do something:

The Sea did shrinke and where as waues did late before remaine, 
Became a Champion field of dust and euen a sandy plaine. 
The hilles erst hid farre vnder waues like Ilelandes did appeare 
So that the scattred Cyclades for the time augmented were. 
The fishes drew them to the déepes: the Dolphines durst not play 
Aboue the water as before, the Seales and Porkpis lay 
With bellies vpward on the waues starke dead· and fame doth go 
That Nereus with his wife and daughters all were faine as tho 
To dine within the scalding waues. Thrise Neptune did aduaunce 
His armes aboue the scalding Sea with sturdy countenaunce: 
And thrise for hotenesse of the Ayre, was faine himselfe to hide. 
But yet the Earth the Nurce of things enclosde on euery side 
(Betwéene the waters of the Sea and Springs that now had hidden 
Themselues within their Mothers wombe) for all the paine abidden, 
Up to the necke put forth hir head and casting vp hir hand, 
Betwéene hir forehead and the sunne as panting she did stand 
With dreadfull quaking all that was, she fearfully did shake, 
And shrinking somewhat lower downe with sacred voyce thus spake. 
O King of Gods and if this be thy will and my desart, 
Why doste thou stay with deadly dint thy thunder downe to dart? 
And if that néedes I perish must through force of firie flame, 
Let thy celestiall fire O God I pray thée doe the same. 
A comfort shall it be to haue thée Author of my death. 
I scarce haue powre to speak these words (the smoke had stopt hir breath) 
Behold my singed haire: behold my dim and bleared eye, 
Sée how about my scorched face the scalding embers flie. 
Is this the guerdon wherewithall ye quite my fruitfulnesse? 
Is this the honor that ye gaue me for my plenteousnesse 
And dutie done with true intent? for suffring of the plough 
To draw déepe woundes vpon my backe and rakes to rend me through? 
For that I ouer all the yeare continually am wrought? 
For giuing foder to the beasts and cattell all for nought?
For yéelding corne and other foode wherewith to kéepe mankinde? 
And that to honor you withall swéete frankinsence I finde? 
But put the case that my desert destruction duely craue, 
What hath thy brother: what the Seas deserued for to haue? 
Why doe the Seas his lotted part thus ebbe and fall so low, 
Withdrawing from thy Skie to which it ought most neare to grow? 
But if thou neyther doste regarde thy brother, neyther mée, 
At least haue mercy on thy heauen, looke round about and sée 
How both the Poles begin to smoke which if the fire appall 
To vtter ruine (be thou sure) thy pallace néedes must fall. 
Behold how Atlas ginnes to faint[s] his shoulders though [f]ull strong, 
Unneth are able to vphold the sparkling Extrée long. 
If Sea and Land doe go to wrecke, and heauen it selfe doe burne 
To olde confused Chaos then of force we must returne. 
Put to thy helping hand therfore to saue the little left 
If ought remaine before that all be quite and cleane bereft. 
When ended was this piteous plaint, the Earth did hold hir peace 
She could no lenger dure the heate but was comp[e]lde to cease. 
Into hir bosome by and by she shrunke hir cinged heade 
More nearer to the Stygnan caues, and ghostes of persones deade. 
The Sire of Heauen protesting all the Gods and him also 
That lent the Chariot to his child, that all of for[c]e must go 
To hauocke if he helped not, went to the highest part 
And top of all the Heauen from whence his custome was to dart, 
His thunder and his lightning downe. But neyther did remaine 
A Cloude wherewith to shade the Earth, nor yet a showre of raine. 
Then with a dreadfull thunderclap vp to his eare he bent 
His fist, and at the Wagoner a flash of lightning sent, 
Which strake his bodie from the life and threw it ouer whéele 
And so with fire he quenched fire. 

Phaeton’s corpse tumbles to the earth, where it is buried by nymphs and then sought out by his mother, the nymph Clymen, and his seven sisters, who spend the next four months standing by the grave and wailing.  Then something weird happens:

But Clymen hauing spoke, as much as mothers vsually, 
Are wonted in such wretched case, discomfortablely, 
And halfe beside hir selfe for wo, with torne and scratched brest, 
Sercht through the vniuersall world, from East to furthest West, 
First séeking for hir sonnes dead coarse, and after for his bones. 
She found them by a forren streame, entumbled vnder stones. 
There fell she groueling on his graue, and reading there his name, 
Shed teares thereon, and layd hir breast all bare vpon the same. 
The daughters also of the Sunne no lesse than did their mother, 
Bewaild in vaine with flouds of teares, the fortune of their brother: 
And beating piteously their breasts, incessantly did call 
The buried Phaeton day and night, who heard them not at all, 
About whose tumbe they prostrate lay. Foure times the Moone had filde 
The Circle of hir ioyned hornes, and yet the sisters hilde 
Their custome of lamenting still: (for now continuall vse 
had made it custome.) Of the which the eldest Phaetuse 
About to knéele vpon the ground, complaynde hir féete were nom. 
To whome as fayre Lampetie was rising for to com, 
Hir féete were held with sodaine rootes. The third about to teare 
Hir ruffled lockes, filde both hir handes with leaues in steade of heare. 
One wept to sée hir legges made wood: another did repine 
To sée hir armes become long boughes. And shortly to define, 
While thus they wondred at themselues, a tender barke began 
To grow about their thighes and loynes, which shortly ouerran 
Their bellies, brestes, and shoulders eke, and hands successiuely, 
That nothing (saue their mouthes) remainde, aye calling pit[e]ously 
Upon the wofull mothers helpe. What could the mother doe? 
But runne now here now there, as force of nature drue hir to? 
And deale hir kisses while she might? she was not so content: 
But tare their tender braunches downe: and from the sliuers went 
Red drops of bloud as from a wound. The daughter that was rent 
Cride spare vs mother spare I pray, for in the shape of tree 
The bodies and the flesh of vs your daughters wounded bée. 
And now farewell. That word once said, the barke grew ouer all. 
Now from these trées flow gummy teares that Amber men doe call. 
Which hardened with the heate of sunne as from the boughs they fal. 
The trickling Riuer doth receyue, and sendes as things of price 
To decke the daintie Dames of Rome and make them fine and nice. 

This is par for the course with Ovid — a sort of rambling series of cause-and-effect set-pieces that never quite seem to operate according to narrative logic and payoff in the modern sense.  To be precisely clear, what is fascinating to me here is the way in which the world was very nearly destroyed, it was in so much peril that the king of the gods had to murder someone to stop it — and the overall effect is that some nymphs turned into trees and made the jewel we now call amber, “[t]o decke the danintie Dames of Rome and make them fine and nice.”

There’s an unusual telescoping effect in which Ovid spins outward and shows us the Heavens themselves lit afire, only to end back in familiar (human) Roman society — and yet nevertheless, and perhaps largely unintentionally, suggests the implication of human luxuries in immense and almost incomprehensible environmental exploitation and destruction.

Blogging the quals


You may remember that some point I mentioned I am in grad school.  Well, I am now in a position where I am preparing to take my PhD qualification exams which, in case you’re not already an English grad student or PhD yourself, means I’m going to spend this summer reading something like 150 books.

These will be diverse, though of course largely oriented around my period (Shakespeare and early modern drama) and my theoretical concerns (performance, Renaissance humanism, intellectual history, and contemporary “posthumanism” as it might be broadly construed).  I don’t have any particular interest in saying I’m one type of scholar or another, but I am highly inclined toward what medievalist Eileen A. Joy has called “weird reading.”  Let’s take a look:

Any given moment in a literary work (all the way down to specific words and even parts of words, and all the way up to the work as a whole), like any object or thing, is “fatally torn” between its deeper reality and its “accidents, relations, and qualities: a set of tensions that makes everything in the universe possible, including space and time,” and literary criticism might re-purpose itself as the mapping of these (often in- and non-human) tensions and rifts, as well as of the excess of meanings that might pour out of these crevasses, or wormholes. We’ll call this reading for the weird, which is fitting when you consider that the word ‘weird’ (traditionally linked to ‘wyrd,’ or ‘fate’) is related to the Old English weorðan [‘to become’], rooted in Indo-European *wer– [‘to turn, bend’]. This will entail being open to incoherence as well, as one possible route toward a non-routinized un-disciplinarity that privileges unknowing over mastery of knowledge. The idea here would be to unground texts from their conventional, human-centered contexts, just as we would unground ourselves, getting lost in order to flee what is (at times) the deadening status quo of literary-historical studies at present, aiming for the carnivalesque over the accounting office.

I agree with the general sentiment here.  Joy says in a footnote that she does not mean to jettison historicist criticism entirely, and indeed, I find my current work an attempt to revive some of the stranger, less disciplined qualities of history-making that the Foucauldian turn of New Historicism deanimated.

In order to pass the time by doing something other than simply reading and worrying about my exams this fall, I am going to do my best to post weekly or bi-weekly updates here listing what I’ve read since my last post and, perhaps, some scattered thoughts, impressions, or quotes.  (In this sense I’m taking my cues from when I was in a similar situation as a senior undergrad.)

So let this be the inaugural post in my “Blogging the quals” series.  I’ll list below the eclectic mix of what I’ve read so far this semester, to give you an idea of what’s to come in full force later on.

Lyric poetry (selections)

Lanyer, Aemilia (Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum)
Sidney, Philip (Astrophil and Stella)
Spenser, Edmund (Shepheards Calendar, Amoretti, Epithalamium)
Wroth, Mary (Pamphilia to Amphilanthus)
Wyatt, Thomas (Sonnets)


Ford, John – ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Shakespeare, William – Antony and Cleopatra
— Love’s Labours Lost
Webster, John – The Duchess of Malfi

Period/Field Criticism

Charnes, Linda – Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare
MacKay, Ellen – Persecution, Plague, and Fire: Fugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England


Bogost, Ian – Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing
Latour, Bruno – We Have Never Been Modern
Zizek, Slavoj – The Sublime Object of Ideology


New twine piece, playable here.

This is a very short game about having an uncomfortable conversation with a vaguely sinister white guy.

One ending. Or is there? Ask a friend to play and then compare notes.

On related business, Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky recently posted a podcast in which they discuss the avant-garde in videogames, which is filled with many smart thoughts on these things, and points you to a lot of cool little games to play.  But it also (quite surprisingly!) contains a discussion of my last Twine game, My Father’s Long, Long Legs! I am really excited by the response that game got, which quite frankly has been larger and more supportive than anything I ever expected.

I’ll take this moment to say thank you for reading my posts here, for playing my games, and for generally being a cool person.

Spelunky, Replayability, and Performance on FPS

A few months back I wrote a speculative post on how performance theory can help us understand the idea of “replay value” in videogames.  I was shortly thereafter pinged by Steve Wilcox, editor at scholarly games writing site First Person Scholar, to ask if I’d like to work on something of a similar theme for the site.  I did, and so have turned out a little thing on those themes, in the context of my play of the game Spelunky.  You can go read it now!

My thanks for proof-reading the article go out to my pals Spam, Victor, Dan, and Alex Pieschel.  Speaking of Alex, he and Zolani Stewart recently started a little joint called Arcade Review, which provides some cool videogames crit that you might wanna check out.

I’d also like to thank Dr. Gerlad Vorhees for his reply to my piece, which provides me with some avenues of research that would otherwise be unknown to me (coming at games studies, as I do, rather catty-corner).

As luck would have it, Brendan Keogh a month or two back published a critique of videogames criticism that I in large part agree with, and makes in a different way many of the points my FPS piece led me toward, so that can also go into your recommended reading.  Also keep in mind comments by Ian Bogost and Daniel Joseph, as well as this thorough reflection and roundup by Zoya Street.  What Keogh is gesturing toward seems to me very similar to what Peggy Phelan advocates in her theory, an idea of “performative writing” that attempts to capture through “thick description” (as Keogh at one point calls it) the embodied experience of performance/gameplay.

Relatedly, in a few weeks (?) I’ll hopefully have another post here on the replayability issue, because there was an entire half of the FPS article that I imagined but, due to word limits and being sensible, did not write.  There’s nothing fundamentally new, but rather, I want to focus more on what it means to “performatively write” about a videogame (for my money this piece by Leigh Alexander on Bioshock Infinite is a great example, in case you’re tired of me).  But I also want to demonstrate a different kind of re/play experience that I find myself repeating for similar yet ultimately distinct ways from my account of Spelunky.  I tend to work and think in terms of illustrative contrast, so this is helpful for me.  But it will also demonstrate, I think, relayability in its more bizarre, persona, idiosyncratic, irrational mode.  This relates to something Vorhees brings up — a possible desire to escape the buying-the-next-game cycle — though as he concedes, this isn’t something we can necessarily (so to speak) bank on.

Thanks for reading!


A Post about Shia LaBeouf

Everyone is talking about Shia LaBeouf, for some reason. Because he is being a jerk, or an asshole, I guess?  I don’t have much in the way of opinions on Shia LaBeouf, which is not to say I have none, but rather that my opinions are not so much about Shia himself and more about a vast web of subjective experience that is honestly far more interesting to me than whatever he is doing now.  So I am going to tell you my story about Shia LaBeouf.

The age at which I should have known, or rather cared, who Shia LaBeouf was, was precisely the age at which I did not know or care.  I am referring to his role on the Disney show Even Stevens, which I was not totally informed about since my family never had money for cable or satellite and I only caught the show after the fact, in syndication, on broadcast television.  Still, he existed as a nebulous presence for me, I suppose.

Since television, deprived of the benefits of cable, was not always enough to hold my interest, I also often took to reading.  I read widely and voraciously, and this was something noted about me in school.  When I was eleven and in the fifth grade, a teacher I admired very much asked if I would please read Louis Sachar’s YA novel Holes and share my opinions and experiences with her, because she was considering assigning it for the following year’s English class.

I was familiar with Sachar, primarily from the Wayside School series (grade school David Lynch, and probably a formative influence in those early years) and jumped at the change to read this new book, despite it having a synopsis that failed to tickle that same Wayside itch.

But I read Holes and I loved it, I highly recommended it be read in the future by any and all students.

It is very difficult for me to articulate now, through the gap of the years, precisely what is was that worked so well in Holes.  Part of it, I think, was that it managed to be completely absurd (in a more-subdued-than-Wayside School vein) while tackling some very serious issues (discipline, punishment, authority, race, family, legacy, ethical duty) in a way that did not feel condescending.  That might be rose-tinting, and it could fall away if I looked back too closely.  But I can recall with stone certainty at least one point on which the book captivated me.

The protagonist, a young boy named Stanley Yelnats, is fat.  He is overweight, unathletic, intelligent but not a genius, and bewildered by a world that supersedes the limits of his comprehension.  But the thing I want to stress here is: he is fat.  He is fat and he knows it, and he feels bad about it, outcast by this one other thing in addition to all the other crazy bullshit in his life.

I was a fat kid, and I knew it.  School acquaintances and family members commented on it in sometimes direct, sometimes sly and subtle ways.  I acted like this did not bother me, and performed this bit so well it eventually seemed like it worked, because while it’s not the best of all possible worlds I think it’s much easier to get through school with an abject body-type as a young man rather than a woman.

Stanley Yelnats and Holes provided the one precise instance I can remember reading a book as a kid and picturing myself in the hero’s position, seeing in the hero someone who was like me — not the bland, slim boys that populated the front lines of so many other adventure novels, but someone who was uneasy in the bulk of his own body, who wiped drops of sweat from the smeared lenses of his glasses, and who felt a vague malevolent pressure on him at all points in his life (for Stanley, this turns out to be a family curse; for me, the issue is a lot hazier).

So Holes got made into a movie in 2003, and when I first heard of this, even at the age of 15, I was at first excited about the prospect of seeing Stanley (who was, in my mind, basically me) onscreen.  But of course, as you well know, the Stanley I pictured and sympathized with was not the Stanley I got.

The Stanley I got — the Stanley we all got — was Shia LaBeouf.  Hapless, tousle-haired, lanky Shia, the embodiment of the bland and slim adventure hero-boy as he is available in the “slightly goofy” custom model.

I think the film version of Holes is actually pretty good, all things considered — the casting is actually pretty excellent, and even Shia LaBeouf brings his charisma (which we must remember he had, once).  But it never sat easy with me — never will sit easy with me — how the boy I pictured who was so much like myself was erased from his own story and replaced by the precise sort of person he (and I) was not.

But at least he’s not famous anymore, I guess.

Music Videos My Students Tell Me About

As a teacher of freshman composition, I insert a tiny clause in the very back of my first-day syllabus promising students a point of extra credit on their first assignment if they bring me the name of their favorite music video on the second day of class.  This is basically a test to see who’s reading the syllabus through, and this semester for the first time I actually got hits — and not just one, but four!  The other point of this exercise is to give me music videos to think about for when I demonstrate film analysis in the course’s second unit.  Reproduced below are the music videos my students told me about, followed by a brief paragraph of commentary.

Gas Pedal

Sleek and dark — oppressively Gothic but also chic. Women are objects, props. Furniture and wind-up dolls. Shots of figures down hallways at times Kubrickian. The video seems to know how terrifying it is, hence a little post-credits “blooper” that shows Sage the Gemini tripping before doing a light-hearted dance. We watch the script that has been dictating this haunted house ride fall through.


Very 90s in a way I can’t precisely pin down, since the entire video is a kind of recapitulation of 80s pop culture. A distinction between dream and reality that the viewer might be tempted to make is turned on its head as the end suggests a series of interlocking dreams culminating in the band’s spectacle — music stardom as ultimate dream/fantasy.

Wake Up Call

A series of incoherent vignettes stylized to look like the trailer of a contemporary crime film. The strongest discernible plot thread concerns Adam Levine shooting a ladyfriend’s manfriend (notably bloodless, woundless) and then enlisting her to dispose of the corpse, which for unclear reasons leads to him (but not her) being arrested. The police are women in very tight uniforms, for some reason. Did the ladyfriend betray him (and also the other band members, who are also arrested)? Shots of the band performing interspersed with “obviously” fake film scenes accomplish a similar sort of double logic as the Gas Pedal video — yes, women are sexual objects, nameless props for this story about men, but none of it’s real.

Story of My Life

One Direction shows us their family photos. They gaze upon their pasts, but so do we, as their family members are pulled into the video for reenactments.  A nod to similar trends on line, recreating childhood photos with older siblings, etc. Intense nostalgia. Suggests both the closeness One Direction fans feel with the band but also, via the strangely panopticon-like structure in which the band stands with the camera, the sort of prison such fame constructs.

The Privilege of Horror

Cameron Kunzelman via Twitter recently reminded us all of a thing:

Zoe Quinn’s Twine game is very good, and does precisely what I think she intends it to do — to demystify the strange fandom cult that Lovecraft accrues through a rigorous application of Godwin’s Law.  What I think is great about the game is how well it forces one to evaluate their principles with regard to Lovecraft by demonstrating that he was not just “some racist” in the way that nearly anybody 100 years ago (or today, as a matter of fact) would be susceptible to systemically and structurally inculcated racism.

HPL was the sort of racist who went out of his way to be racist, to think up ways to be even more actively racist than any white person living in the 1920s was on a day to day basis. Obviously Lovecraft’s racism is something I’ve known about for a long time, due to my familiarity with his work. It’s something I’ve developed thoughts on, but weirdly enough it wasn’t until replaying Quinn’s game last night that they all came bubbling out in a multi-tweet series. 


This was probably what did it, really.  My realization was that I know Lovecraft so well that I can actually sense the man in his racist statements devoid of context — both through his prose, and through the logic of his racism, the assumptions that underpin his scientific materialist worldview.

I got a perfect score on the game.







But I suppose this is as good a point as any as to make clear my stance, however half-formed.

Horror is about being afraid — and I believe this is valuable.  It was valuable to me when I fell in love with the genre, because I was a very anxious child in a very unhappy environment and stories about monsters told me that it was okay to be afraid, because there are indeed things to be afraid of.

The cosmic despair of someone like Lovecraft is a luxury.  It is a result of his race and his socioeconomic class that he could survey all of creation, pronounce it barren and hostile, and then amuse himself by populating it with phantasmagoric projections of anyone who was different from and thus upsetting to him.  For Lovecraft the decline of humanity was synonymous with the decline of a certain type of rarefied whiteness, inevitably a result of miscegenation and the embrace of the unknown.

If horror has an ethical dimension, then it is this: to remind us that there are things to fear.  To remind us that we don’t always win.  That many humans on this planet did not win: they were mowed down by regimes of exploitation, oppression, and hate far greater than they could comprehend.

2013 in review

Wow, what a year.

I skipped last year’s review because I felt like it was simultaneously too boring/stressful and I didn’t want to do a write-up, but then THIS year happened and it was simultaneously more boring and stressful than last year, so I figure why the hell not.

I finished my graduate coursework and will now be moving into qualifying exams, preparing my reading list for the summer for my oral exams in the fall.  I have wrapped up a very difficult semester of teaching, two sections for the first time, and after my department switched out the class I was supposed to be teaching in favor of something else only a few weeks before the beginning of the semester.

I made two games with the hypertext program Twine, and they were both pretty well liked by folks!  For reference, here’s a very flattering write-up Alex Pieschel did for my game Tower of the Blood Lord.  The second game, my father’s long, long legs, very nearly crashed my webhosting here and then actually did crash my webhosting, and courtesy of Peter Damien was featured on a website for people who read books instead of internet.  Emily Short wrote a very brief but thoughtful piece on it and I recently found out all-around Cool Chap Cameron Kunzelman included it on his GOTY list.

Interactive fiction — and games in general — have become much more important to me recently, as I find myself being very interested in 400 year old plays on the one hand and very new and weird digital things on the other.  The uniting factor, to rehearse the cliche, seems to be that “play’s the thing” — gameplay, shakespeareplay.  Or something.  Anyway I am continuing to press on this and what it means for me as an academic (which is my job) but also as a person who wants to be better at being a person, generally, and to make things that help others enjoy life and be people.

So thanks to not only the people I’ve linked here, but the people who’ve played my games, talked about them, shared them — and all the people who made the games I played and wrote the things I read that suggested to me that this was something I could and should do myself.

I am going to continue to work with twine.  It’s been a very therapeutic process for me in a lot of ways, allowing me to look at old memories askance, and to synthesize a lot of the information and theory I get from my work as an academic, but to put it towards ends that are in some ways more personally rewarding than simply writing a research paper.  2013 could probably be called the year I remembered to think about myself.

Also: this was the year I asked my girlfriend to marry me.  She said yes.  The date is a ways off — not until she finishes her grad program in another year and a half, at least.  But that’s certainly a thing that happened in my life, a very big and important thing, in a year that seemed to be filled with important things.

It was a tough year for a lot of folks. Next year might not be any better, but we’re all here right now. For a time, at least, we’re moving and saying things in a crazy multifaceted fully articulated material universe, and things just keep going.  So thanks for taking a moment out of your busy, fully articulated (but eternally obscured) schedule to read this, to read any of the words I’ve written on this blog, or elsewhere.  Best of luck next year.

I will end this post with a block quote.  Rather than provide any explication — apart from the fact that it is something I think about often — I will let it stand on its own, and perhaps its significance will become clearer in time to both you and me.  From The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton:

“What place can this be?” he asked. “Can it be the old devil’s house? I’ve heard he has a house in North London.”

“All the better,” said the Secretary grimly, planting a foot in a foothold, “we shall find him at home.”

“No, but it isn’t that,” said Syme, knitting his brows. “I hear the most horrible noises, like devils laughing and sneezing and blowing their devilish noses!”

“His dogs barking, of course,” said the Secretary.

“Why not say his black-beetles barking!” said Syme furiously, “snails barking! geraniums barking! Did you ever hear a dog bark like that?”

He held up his hand, and there came out of the thicket a long growling roar that seemed to get under the skin and freeze the flesh — a low thrilling roar that made a throbbing in the air all about them.

“The dogs of Sunday would be no ordinary dogs,” said Gogol, and shuddered.

Valerie Traub on History and Early Modern Queer Studies

Demeaning the disciplinary methods employed to investigate historical continuity and change does not advance the cause of queerness; nor does the charge of normalization. For those of us committed to nonnormative  modes of being and thought, the derision implicit in this accusation can only be construed as an attempt to foreclose any possibility of resistance. While proclaiming a uniquely queer openness to experimentation and indeterminacy, the unhistoricists disqualify others’ ways of engaging with the past, seeing in the effort to account for similarities and change over time only a hegemonic, if defunct, disciplinarity. Paradoxically, unhistoricism arrogates to itself the only appropriate model of queer history even as its practitioners imply that history is not something they are interested in making. The categorical quality of their polemic, which implicitly installs queer as a doctrinal foundation and ideological litmus test, goes to the heart of historiographic and queer ethics. It goes to the heart of academic and queer politics. It goes to the heart of interdisciplinarity and its future.

Rather than practice “queer theory as that which challenges all categorization” (Menon, “Period Cramps” 233), there remain ample reasons to practice a queer historicism dedicated to showing how categories, however mythic, phantasmic, and incoherent, came to be. To understand the arbitrary nature of coincidence and convergence, of sequence and consequence, and to follow them through to the entirely contingent outcomes to which they contributed: this is not a historicism that creates categories of identity or presumes their inevitability; it is one that seeks to explain such categories’ constitutive, pervasive, and persistent force. Resisting unwarranted teleologies while accounting for resonances and change will bring us closer to achieving the difficult and delicate balance of apprehending historical sameness and difference, continuism and alterity, that the past, as past, presents to us. The more we honor this balance, the more complex and circumspect will be our comprehension of the relative incoherence and relative power of past and present conceptual categories, as well as of the dynamic relations among subjectivity, sexuality, and historiography.

from The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies