I graduated a year ago

when i went to my alma mater’s graduation yesterday i was overcome with an intense feeling of mixed nostalgia and incredible sadness, because as i watched all of my friends who were only a year younger than i grab their little pieces of paper and pose smilingly  it occurred to me that so long as i didn’t visit the campus, so long as i didn’t see this happening, i could have maintained a little fantasy in my head that though i had left, all of these friends of mine would still be there, still doing what they had always done, having the same sorts of parties and petty squabbles we had always had, and in that sense the thing i lost was more the thing i left.  but that really isn’t how this works. if i go back in four years i will know nobody except faculty, not that they don’t count for anything, but the ecosystem which i had personally inhabited will be entirely grown over, replaced, the landscape uncanny and new and not for me.

a friend who graduated yesterday observes this morning in her facebook status, as she prepares to move out:

i don’t know how to do this.

and my response, my thought based on my year turned out:

you know how sometimes you have a dream, really good or really bad or just plain vivid, and after you wake up it kind of stays with you? and you think about it a lot while drinking your coffee and eating breakfast but eventually the day goes on and other things happen, the thousand little mundane expectations and frustrations, and you forget about it for a day or two or a week or however long but then, suddenly, for no real reason, you remember it and it seems just as real to you at that moment as it did when you woke up from it and you experience a sensation of heartclenching injustice at the fact that something so real could so easily and quickly become unreal, and yet at the same time leaving you incapable of not feeling what you still know to be its reality? and you do this again and again as time goes on, forgetting and remembering the dream sometimes at random, or sometimes because you want to tell someone the story, or sometimes because simply and frankly it feels good to feel that way, to remember that even if things aren’t real now at one point they were, at one point every dream you ever had was the realest thing that ever happened to you?

it’s sort of like that. you do it like that.

Pride & Prejudice & People

 

When the zombie apocalypse finally happened
we were so primed for it, culturally speaking
that it almost didn’t happen at all.

At last all the truths universally acknowledged
all the rules of what to shoot and sever
all the jokes and Jane Austen mash-ups meant something.

We’d memorized our escape routes
and plans for barricades
long in advance.

We knew the best way to break a broom handle
and how to stab upward, through the jaw and cranium.
We knew to never turn our backs on the corpse’s corpse.

Years of daily dead-eyed aggression
were unleashed explosively
as we took down our families

our friends and our lovers
and though they were no longer those things
we pretended they were.

Still, in time, there was no denying it
was all over. Then we shuffled back to what we knew
home or office or school, and we

did what we had always done. Old habits
and manners fell back into place
like missing organs.

Now a new viral media craze
has come on so gradually
that we hardly know when it began.

In a recent hit film
a group of surviving scientists
concocts a cure and comes

to overturn our way of life
or rather the thing we have
which approximates it.

One half the world cannot understand
the guilty pleasures of the other
and we admit the premise is ludicrous, yet

now we’re going through all the old Jane Austen
and adding more chapters about the human characters.

I didn’t have a good place to mention it in the post but “anthropocentric bag of dicks” is the best line in Mass Effect 3

So I am on Spring Break, and to celebrate I played Mass Effect 3.  I’ve written about Mass Effect before, and as I’ve said, I’m partial to the series.  I was excited for ME3, though I’d heard some things about it after its script leak that made me wary.  The good news, I suppose, is that the game itself is very good. I am going to talk it about it now, a lot, and there are going to be some pretty MASSIVE spoilers, for all three games, so you are warned.

There are still some questionable things that initially worried me: the series has always been kind of screwy with regards to sexuality and gender, and while the representation of some sexual relationships (especially male homosexual relationships) has some bright spots, there’s also the problem of EDI’s sexy robot body, and the general egregiousness of the sex scenes I’ve come to expect.  But I’m not going to focus on gender for this post.  Rather I’m going to focus on THE ENDING.

Oh, yes, the ENDING.  The ending three games in the making!  In case you haven’t heard, it’s quite controversial.  If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve played the games and will know what I’m referencing, so I’m not going to bother explaining a lot.  Instead I’m going to make a fairly concentrated post on how I think this ending fails, not just narratologically (which it does, as other people have explained, though demanding a new ending is not my plan of action).  The thing about this ending, for me, is that it fails aesthetically and philosophically — to put it another way, by being so bad narratologically it fails to bring the franchise and videogames as a medium closer to art.

This mostly has to do with the principal villains, the Reapers, which when they were introduced I might have described as “giant spaceship Cthulhus.”   They stopped being this somewhat in the second game, and very definitely stopped being this in the last five minutes of Mass Effect 3, when their purpose was very much explained and, upon scrutiny, didn’t make any sense. I personally think the Reapers should rather have been presented as more recondite in origin/function, something we had to grasp at on our own. I really dig the current body-horror angle they have (and loved the Prothean massacre flashback in ME1), and the idea that they are a technological singularity dedicated to ensuring another singularity never gains traction is a compelling germ of an idea, but it was all handled very clumsily and incoherently.  While it might have done well otherwise, the end of Mass Effect 3 — wherein you are forced by some consciousness in control of the Reapers into a false dilemma among three separate choices that all have practically the same effect on the end of the game — really screws this up.

Before I continue with all these words I will add, yes, I know, this is a lot to expect from a videogame, and probably more than a bit goony. But dammit, if we don’t expect some sort of deep thinking from the medium, even if it’s pulpy space opera, how can we ever hope for it to finally meaningfully comment on human experience.

So.

Essentially, I think there was a really cool subtext and a recurring theme of the games in general that could have been played with a bit more. The Reapers embody the philosophical knot at the heart of the series, because (as we know from the first game on) they completely override the subject’s ability to choose. At the same time they claim all power for themselves — Sovereign claims each Reaper is its own nation, and hell, that specific one is even named Sovereign.

As it currently stands the Reapers reserve the “right” to condense entire species into a homogeneous entity that is, paradoxically, sovereign unto itself but also subject to the greater Reaper collective (or that dumb little kid AI or whatever). The Reapers we encounter are so convinced of their self-sovereignty that they basically tell us “We do what we want, and your understanding or consent are not required” multiple times.

The catch is that full sovereignty — a complete state of exception — is impossible, as the above paradox of the Reapers’ thinking shows. Every individual is subject to something — if not a sovereign, that is if you are the sovereign, then you are subject to the social conditions which uphold your own sovereignty.

This is what makes Shepard important, because as a player you are ostensibly in control of the game and what happens; you are sovereign as player, but still subject to the game abstractions to get what you want, though they’re divvied up via a ridiculous morality system. The current ending even underscores how ridiculous this is by collapsing the moral distinctions that the player has come to depend upon. You are forced to recognize the conditions of your own sovereignty.

This is pretty goddamn cool. In theory. It’s actually just infuriating, poorly written, and an anticlimax. I think the better way to have handled it — the way I was hoping it would pan out — was that the ending would simply have no choices to be made. You simply defeat the enemy (or not) and see what happens (or not). You would, finally, see only the consequences what you’ve, the things that have resulted from or contributed to your sovereignty.

When defenders  make the claim about how the ending is “deep” I almost want to think this is what they’re seeing. But maybe not, because I’ve been looking for it since the first game and all I see is a weak, shallow gesture at what could have been.

Tiny Little Love Stories

My pal Joel Golby has a tumblr called Tiny Little Love Stories where he posts microfiction, which is to say, love stories, which are tiny.  To celebrate Valentine’s Day me and several others have guest written some of the many stories posted there today!  You should definitely go read them all, but in case you’re impatient and only want more ME, here are the specific ones concerning Yours Truly:

Joel’s Intro

The Poems

The Dictionary

Write-up of a dream from 2-3 years ago, which I found today

I had a dream I was watching a TV show about famous scandals. Evidently during the early 90s, Prince Charles had died under mysterious circumstances. Everyone had blamed the Queen, naturally, and taken to calling her “The Assassin of Wales.”

The show then ran a segment on the Assassin of Wales, a legendary creature with the body of a raccoon and head of a human baby that was used by people throughout history specifically to kill the Prince of Wales.

No one had ever seen the creature, so it was usually described as mythological.

I looked up from my seat on the couch and saw an Assassin of Wales in the tree outside my window, but I knew I didn’t have to worry because I wasn’t royalty.

The end!

HP Lovecraft Goes to an Anime Convention

You who consider yourself enlightened may still yet laugh at me, but I say to you again: the mind of man, in his Troglodyte infancy, has never dared to imagine the terror I experienced during my two days and three nights wandering the foetid catacombs of the local convention center.

At every turn a new grotesque assailed my eyes: from shimmering diaphanous wraiths with silver hair, to abnormally corpulent beings whose very bodies seemed unnaturally imbricated in the bounds of our sublunary space, and also their homemade Sailor Moon outfits.  My relief at spotting, in the undulating mass of terror, a pair of fuzzy cat ears turned quickly to extremest nausea when I saw they belonged not to a cute little kitty but a squamous youth protesting loudly to the price of a certain table’s merch.

I retreated to the balcony to recompose and it seemed, for a moment, as if a noxious cloud hovered over the entirety of that hideous scene, a condensation nearly visible in its dank iridescence.  The cries of those foul creatures echoed up the columned walls, ululating cries for such incomprehensible entities as “huggles” and “glomps” — and even, in some tenebrous corners, were the hushed, mad whispers of “yiff!”

“Eh, you must be a stranger in these parts,” murmured a voice to my side and, turning, I saw a slight, yellowed old man who by his attire I recognised as a custodian.  “Happens every year.  Olways a young man not much dif’rent than yeself shows up to this here convention, not knowin’ what he’s in fahr.”  His eyes regarded me with a lizardlike intelligence that inspired in the pit of my being a wordless unease.  “‘T ain’t so bad onct yer used ta it,” the custodian continued.  “I’m rememborin’ way back in Ninety-Eight when we began hostin’ this deal…. Wal, Sir, you can believe thar was a lot o’ outcry at the noise an’ the mess.  I was one o’ them!  But after some years had gone by and by ye start to git used to perty much anythin’, ye reckon.”  He chuckled loathsomely.

“Anyhaow,” he said, shaking the leathery head when he saw my horror was not assuaged, “what it was fer me, was I seen ’em at their meals.   This stuff called… ah, ah, Pocky, ye ken?  Can’t tell ye ‘zactly whut makes it whut it is… a kinda… cookie dipped in… dipped in whatever one might imagine, d’ye see?  An’ I saw ’em with it, monchin’ and snarfin and snackin’ and I jus’…. got a cravin’…. Queer haow a cravin’ gets ahold on ye, eh boy…?”

My mind pushed to the very limits of exertion, I made to flee for good.  Yet the convention center maps, posted to the walls like horrid, unremembered glyphs, are all but unreadable and after more than one wrong turn I realised I had furtively stumbled into the very nexus of that maelstrom: the Screening Room.

That thing — that terrible unnameable thing — towered above me, projected through the fuliginous aether of that room to proportions unnatural, though it was dimly and reluctantly understood that even unprojected it was a being wholly disproportionate to any known body: its eyes hovered like gibbous moons, iridescent like pools of ichor suspended whole, against the natural laws of physics, in a malformed skull, while about it splayed in non-Euclidean angles, in a shade of the most decadent purple, structures that might have been in some perverse evolutionary perspective homologous to hair.  Before I could leave the room that thing began to gambol, to the amusement of its wretched audience, and began to gibber in its alien tongue: “Onii-chan!  Onii-chan! Itai!!!

And then came the tentacles.

Itai!!!

 

2011: Arcs, the Apocalypse, and American Horror Story

My review of last year opened with a rather definitive statement.  There will be no such statement this year.

2011 was a different sort of year, a more difficult year, a year of complication and nuance and building and unraveling and expectation and perhaps — overall — fear.

When speaking of narrative a term that gets thrown around a lot is “arc.”  Where does a character start, and where do they end up?  The thing about life is that you’re always starting somewhere and ending up somewhere else, and then starting again.  You never really stop moving.  2011 was the year many arcs ended, and when many other began.

2011 was the year of learning what it means to occupy; to learn its dangers, and its signification.  American Horror Story is not just the name of a hit new series on FX, it’s also a buzzy phrase for our current political and economic clusterfuck.

But, then again, it’s also the name of a hit new series on FX.

I watched it recently, and American Horror Story is pretty good.  It did its homework on haunted house movies, and it’s got some visual flair.  It’s also one of the most sloppily written things I’ve seen in the past few years — there are, perhaps, no ghosts, just the mournful whisper of wind through the gaping and multitudinous plot holes.

But then there are also actually the ghosts.  The fact that the show is so poorly written means that, when you get right down to it, the character arcs make no sense.  Stories of haunting, as I’ve written on this blog before, often deal with that which has been denied or displaced or forgotten, the problems we’ve neglected to face but which still occupy, however nebulously, some space in our lives.  To save you from any spoilers, suffice it to say that the arc of American Horror Story does not attempt to navigate this hauntological cohabitation of the past and present.  What it does is cheat, in at least two ways.

One is the introduction of an apocalypse storyline — something the latest season of Dexter danced around as well — which is probably the most boring thing imaginable in a horror story for me.  The antichrist, the fruition of Revelation — so fucking what?  Supernatural or horror-inclined shows need to learn is that betting the whole damn farm only makes me think you’re not taking the game seriously.  The stakes are so high they’re meaningless.

The second way AHS cheats is a bit more subtle.  Though it wants us to think the apocalypse is a Bad Thing, total annihilation is in fact the only workable way out offered by the logic of the plot.  The only way our ghosts can be overcome — or at least, cohabitated with — is to be ghosts ourselves.  To force ourselves to belong to the past, or as the past seems to those who inhabit it, in a character’s words, “one long today.”

The apocalypse is the end of futurity.  If there is no future, there can be ghosts.  The ghosts become us, or we them.

Interesting, then, that the world is supposed to end in 2012.  I doubt this, of course, but I guess I could be proven wrong.

But for the time being, no matter what American Horror Story (the series or the situation) suggests, I rather think I’d like to continue soldiering on into the future, with my ghosts in tow.

In 2010 my life was working to a clear, definite point.  It was a time of transition but that transition’s nature felt solid.  The solidity fell to pieces in 2011, when many things happened.  These weren’t necessarily bad things; my graduation was one of them.  I am the first person in my family to obtain a four-year degree, a first-generation college student and, now, a first generation graduate student.  These are wonderful things.

And they are frightening things.  I am on my own now, further afield than any chick from the ancestral nest.  My friendships from undergrad, though they maintain in some ways thanks to modern technological convenience, have ended their arcs for now.  I need to build new relationships, I need to find new ways to occupy the world I’ve made for myself, and that others have made and will make for me.

It would be dishonest to not here mention the one arc still hanging from undergrad: the most frightening and the most wonderful thing of all about 2011.  She knows who she is, and to her I say thank you.  Thank you for staying in this story, even as it got messy.

For the rest of you, I wish you and all your ghosts a happy new year.

Cormac McCarthy’s Pre-Written Obituary

The world was saddened today to learn of the loss of author Cormac McCarthy.  Mr. McCarthy lived a long life and anticipated his own passing some time ago, and thus wrote his own obituary well in advance.  It is printed without editorial comment below.

the old man

 

The old man died this week.  He was known chiefly in the region as a charlatan who peddled illusions to a people desperate to speak back into the echoes of its own savage past and there scrape up the dried blood on the worn stones of this country’s history.  He had white hair and a face dry and cracked like an ancient arroyo scraped into the land by a presence perhaps implied by circumstance but far from tangible and at many points seeming to be a figment altogether.

The old man had read quite a few books and at some point took it to his own mind to produce a few which was hard but honest work and in the end the satanic engines had churned up and down the hillsides devouring the trees to make the paper on which his thoughts were printed.  His works included Child of GodNo Country for Old Men, Blood Meridian, and The Road.  Several were bought by soft men in suits and these men went back to their luxurious cities and they made these stories into talking pictures not entirely to the old man’s taste but it happened regardless, inevitable like the onrushing dark as the sun sinks down into the parched earth and extinguishes the light of gods and reason.  On account of one of his books he met the black woman Oprah.

The old man was not always an old man but was once a child.  He was a child partly in the East where he was born but the currents of his life dragged him West and his fascination with this place was to become in some ways metonymic with the old man himself.  When the old man was a child he once saw a dog beaten to death with a tire-iron by a local rustic and as the child who would become the old man watched the animal’s eyeball stalk and all drip like egg yolk down the cracked skull he thought, One day that will be me, and in the grand design of things he was not far off.

The old man’s favorite song was Always on My Mind but not as you would expect based on his demographics the Willie Nelson version but rather the recording from the 1980s by the Pet Shop Boys. It will be played at his services this Thursday no matter whatever his wife says.