THE OTHER NIGHT I had yet another great encounter in the Nod House. She and I were both in and outside a film, making out, when I became aware that soon the dream would be over and I’d once again have lost out on an emotionally & physically rewarding relationship. I asked her what other films she’d been in, so I could look her up on IMDB once I was forced back into wakefulness. She went on to list a few, none of which I had heard of — the most interesting of which was a horror film about a toilet with a set of eyes embedded in its tank, facing the wall, which no one ever discovered were there.
In any case, I woke up, sighed, and went about the business of trying to figure out what the fuck planet this *is* anyway.
: : : : :
It would often seem that the women I meet in my dreams, divorced from the sheer mechanics of fantasy, have at times provided a fuller, more complex, and healthier array of experiences than those I’ve been romantically involved with in the waking world — tho certainly not for lack of hope or trying. I’ve fallen in love, been married, known passions unexplored otherwise, and had weepy moments of self-reflexive conversation in which we addressed whether our interaction was founded on past life interaction, cognitive magnetism aspiring toward actualization, or simply the phantasmal workings of my mind alone. I’ve written of experiences of this sort before.
Regardless, I’ve recently been considering my personal foundations for attraction, no matter their plane of operation. Everyone has their first crushes, grade-school infatuations and the like. Personally, I can’t remember a time when the romantic impulse didn’t thrive inside me. In kindergarten, there was a girl named Leanne Wolff. I tried to convince a friend of mine to help me build a net to use to catch her so she’d marry me. In first grade, braving mutual embarrassment, I knelt and kissed a girl’s hand in front of our entire classroom. Then in second grade, my first official girlfriend, Crystal Shepherd, and, next year, Crystal Lakes. I’ve been steadily heartbroken ever since.
Sexual awakenings, of course, are of a different sort entirely.
I did this last year and some folks seemed to dig it; plus, I enjoy the hell out of making lists and reading lists like these so I’m doing it again this year.
Even granting that these represent my own interests (film, philosophy, art, literature, etc.) and therefore omit plenty of titles I’m sure were great but fall outside my purview, with so many badass nonfiction books published this year it was nearly impossible to select only twenty titles. Tough cuts had to be made.
So my thinking behind this list was to present you with books that might not already be on your radar. Which is to say, a brilliant book such as Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, or Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, or Jamie Iredell’s I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, for instance, aren’t on this list because I figure you’ve already read them or are at least aware that they are completely awesome and that you need them.
Without further blah blah, you can expect two more of these in the coming days, one for fiction and one for poetry.
If you’re like me and haven’t even begun shopping yet, hopefully this list will help you find something for someone. Oh and for those who care, my click-throughs use my Amazon Affiliate number…the pennies that come back to me when you click on the titles go toward diapers and baby soap for my four month old son.
by Daniel Muehlmeier/Lee Mothes
Warm Wax Inc., 1991
2 players / 30 minutes / $19.99 from eBay
CENTERPIECE is a board game designed by Daniel S. Muehlmeier, self-described “unlocker of secrets,” with art by Lee Mothes. It was taken off a Goa’uld mother ship.
You won’t find CENTERPIECE in the Toys & Games section of your local Barnes & Noble. The game, originally published in 1991, is a notoriously tough sell. “I do well in the twenty-dollar range,” said the author in his recent Kickstarter campaign, which managed to raise only $615 of funds from 23 backers. “I keep a few game boxes in my cars back-window. Creating sales proved tough for me.”
“One restaurant placed five games. Near where people pay. All five disappeared, I never even restock them. Example of really bad-marketing skills. Yet I’m really looking forward, to direct mail to customers.” Following the close of the Kickstarter, the game is now being listed on eBay under the heading “tradition game, toys and Hobbies.” Yet this is just a stepping stone for Muehlmeier, who would eventually like to see his game displayed in a contemporary art museum.
Nor is this a delusionary ambition. Bad-marketing skills aside, Muehlmeier’s creation intrigues; in fact, it’s best approached from the vantage point of art (as opposed to game) criticism. Even taken as a game, CENTERPIECE is an answering shot to the pet theory that the whole of a game’s value rests within its mechanical core, for which the superficial elements of theme and appearance serve as mere window dressing.
CENTERPIECE‘s mechanisms of play are invitingly familiar. In fact, CENTERPIECE could accurately be called a pastiche of several games known to all American children: Monopoly, Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders. Pastiche in both senses of the word, since CENTERPIECE‘s core mechanisms walk a tricky line between quotidian simplicity and schizophrenic montage, made no more easily reconciled by the often indecipherable rules, which read like an antique riddle. “Players are encouraged to use common sense,” the single-leaf rules advise. “For example, if both players are sent to the Bird Cage; because a player rolled a two, while visiting the Honey Jar space. The player who rolled snake-eyes would roll for doubles first. Both player would stay for three turns, unless doubles were rolled.”
Once mastered, CENTERPIECE is an almost fully luck-driven affair, a roll-and-move game destined to be despised by the modern board game community, who have become spoiled by worker placement, economic engines, asymmetric player roles, and all the other innovations the last two decades have brought to the medium (remember, CENTERPIECE is a time capsule from the early ’90s, although aesthetically, it hearkens to an even earlier era). Yet the game’s “superficial” elements are not to be discounted, for they create a metaphorical frame or structure as the game plays out, turning a simple reimagining of Monopoly into something that far exceeds the sum of its parts.
As if to embody this very statement, the first bread crumb along CENTERPIECE‘s allegorical trail is the fact that the game’s box, colorfully illustrated by artist Lee Mothes, is also central—both literally and figuratively—to its gameplay. Once the board has been unfolded, the box top is placed at its center, a mechanically unimportant gesture that receives special emphasis in the game rules—and is hammered home with every turn, as the dice pounding off of its cardboard surface speak testimony to its substance (that the dice must be rolled off of the box top is another apparently superficial but ritualistically significant gesture). As the eponymous centerpiece, this raised rectangle of cardboard naturally draws the eye—it is the only spot of color in an otherwise black-and-white composition—while hiding the game’s deepest secrets. A display of puzzle pieces nestled beneath track the players’ scores, and it is to Muehlmeier’s infinite credit that he keeps this indispensible information hidden away until the moment that the box is lifted, a moment that always coincides with a change in the data under scrutiny. It is the uncertainty principle actualized.
December 4th, 2013 / 12:00 pm
December already?? A brief & informal list of some of my favorite books read during the year 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013).
In Time’s Rift by Ernst Meister (Wave Books, 2012)
Translated by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick
will eternally be
an unknown to you;
anyway, you’re no longer
known to yourself.
Béla Tarr, The Time After by Jacques Rancière (Univocal Publishing, 2013)
Translated by Erik Beranek
“We cannot identify ourselves with their feelings. But we enter into something more essential, into the very duration at the heart of which things penetrate and affect them, the suffering of repetition, the sense of another life, the dignity assumed in order to pursue the dream of this other life, and to bear the deception of this dream.”
Creature by Amina Cain (Dorothy, A Publishing Project, 2013)
“When I got home, my partner was eating an egg. This is what he does when I’m not around. He also eats fish. I was harsh to him, but without speaking. I expressed myself through the violent putting away of a pan. Later I saw on his lap and dreamed about the future. This was together alone.”
Love Dog by Masha Tupitsyn (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013)
“My ears have been hearing things, things which aren’t even words, or messages, while my eyes, along with everyone else’s, are forever telling me that nothing is here. That nothing is happening. It is the difference between inward and outward. Between me and everyone else.”
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage Books, 2007)
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories by Pamela Zoline (Mcpherson & Co, 1988)
“2. Imagine a pale blue sky, almost green, with clouds only at the rims. The earth rolls and the sun appears to mount, mountains erode, fruits decay, the Foraminifera adds another chamber to its shell, babies’ fingernails grow as does the hair of the dead in their graves, and in egg timers the sands fall and the eggs cook on.”
The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker by Michael du Plessis (Les Figues Press, 2012)
I’m afraid we’re inventing something that isn’t there.
Why is sex with you another blank?
Waiting, as you consider it, is fine but there comes a moment when the conditions you impose outweigh any present emotions. “I can’t be with you until…” translates into “I can’t be with you until caution becomes indifference.” Yes, as you say over and over again, you’ve made me feel again; truly, I do feel again, enough to be able to tell you that I’m only telling myself that I feel with you.
Irritant by Darby Larson (Blue Square Press, 2013)
“In something of red lived an irritant. Safe from the blue from the irr. And this truck went in it. Safe. Something of red in it back to the blue to the red. This truck and something extra. Listen. The nearby something extras in front of the truck. The man in front of the truck trampled from front to back safe from the blue. And all this while the man scooped shovels of dirt and trampled from front to back front to back.”
Anna Patova Crosses a Bridge by Renee Gladman (Dorothy, A Publishing Project, 2013)
For one second, I spoke “sentence,” which confused her, since all this time I’d been saying “paragraphs.” It was a moment of our mouths missing one another. Her mouth was emitting sound. She seemed to be calling my name, breathing heavily, she seemed to put her words inside me. “Writing my frightening paragraphs,” I said, involuntarily.
War and War by László Krasznahorkai (New Directions, 2006)
Translated by George Szirtes
“I no longer care if I die, said Korin, then, after a long silence, pointed to the nearby flooded quarry: Are those swans?”
Music & Literature Issue 2: Krasznahorkai / Tarr / Neumann (Spring 2013)
From “About a Photographer” by Lászlo Krasznahorkai (Translated by George Szirtes):
“Condemned to look, yet at the same time to be deprived of sight, we are in a complex pitiless trap, a double cage, to the recognition of which—though it cages us all—fate condemns confusingly few. In any case those who do suffer the agonizing moment of recognition could easily be consumed by an all-but fatal melancholy, so it’s no wonder they try to struggle free, their first recourse on their dire necessity being the thought of some device.”
Between Appear and Disappear by Doug Rice (Jaded Ibis Press, 2013)
“I want to find a sentence that in the making becomes a resurrection. Our skin marked by the remains of language from childhood dreams near the river. The Allegheny. The Monongahela. The Ohio. This trinity of cold rivers that demand that we never forget to forgive.”
Murder by Danielle Collobert (Litmus Press, 2013)
Translated by Nathanaël
“It’s strange this encounter with the internal eye, behind the keyhole, that sees, and finds the external eye, caught in flagrante delicto of vision, curiosity, uncertainty. The one that looks out, to see outside itself, what is happening in the world, perhaps, or inside itself, this eye, doesn’t know whether it’s looking into the emptiness, into the air, into the other, or into a distance landscape, which it brought to like, like a memory, a wanted decor, chosen, an elemental power, that could be the background of its life.”
[Originally published almost a year ago.]
SOME TIME AGO I had a breakthrough: I discovered I could hate my food. I was at a bar and ordered a burger I knew was a good one. I’d ordered it before and had every reason to look forward to it. I was in a shitty mood tho, so when it arrived, I made it the object of my disdain and aggression. I h(ated) the fucker GONE, right out of existence.
You always hear people say things like, “I demolished that pizza,” or, “I murdered that salmon mousse,” but how often does the appropriate emotion coincide with the act of eating?
Boldly I say, Fuck Sustenance.
Nutritional, cultural, social, or otherwise.
We had some plans but an unexpected medical procedure canceled those plans. READ MORE >
Last week I watched Nathan Staplegun eat salted peanuts on spreecast. What started off as Nathan eating salted peanuts soon turned into Nathan asking his roommates or friends (and thus turning the computer camera in their direction) what they were preparing in the kitchen, and quickly became a spreecast showing one of Nathan’s online friends playing guitar. On the surface, Nathan Staplegun eating salted peanuts on television (that’s what platforms such as spreecast are: do-it-yourself TV) would seem like a snooze, a no-brainer, an excuse to read more books. But, what Nathan did was really great. He put on TV a thing that he would have done anyway and by doing it on TV turned the act of eating salted peanuts into something else: an event, perhaps.
I love to tell the story of Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party. In 1978, Glenn O’Brien and friends (and his friends were people like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amos Poe, Deborah Harry, Walter Steding, Chris Stein) got together and decided to take advantage of public access cable television in New York City. The format was simple: hang out with friends, get high (one episode had Fab Five Freddy in costume teaching viewers how to roll perfect joints), have your friends play music, and talk to people (viewers called in live while the show was on air and used their short time to make death threats and complain about how shitty the show was). By television’s standards, the TV Party shows were shitty, but they were fun to watch. And, in their own way, became increasingly popular (special guests included David Byrne, Klaus Nomi, and Mick Jones of The Clash) and influential (in one of his early top ten lists David Letterman cited TV Party as an influence). Art and everyday life will never be separate things; although, the art marketers sure seem to want us to believe that they are. Friends get together, record each other doing silly things, or someone we hardly know broadcasts himself washing dishes or whatever, and art’s possibility is renewed, if not, realized.
I have been kicking around the idea of starting a series of posts in which I cruise my facebook friends’ facebook photos and post the ones I like as part of ‘Creeper: Favorite Facebook Photos of My Facebook Friends’. The word ‘creep’ (and its variations) has not always had negative connotations. When Radiohead hit the pop charts in 1992 with their debut single “Creep” the song seemed like a strange, wonderful call to embrace the pathos of a loser, a lost subcultural weirdo whose dreams and desires are too much for himself and the world. Much like Beck’s “Loser” the song seemed to reinvigorate a long-standing yet dangerous tradition in the arts: the elevation of the low, the loser, the outsider, the emotional clown, to the status of cultural barometer, of artist. Long-standing because American cultural producers had carefully exploited this type for profit since the early days of white rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis Presley) and the first teen films (Rebel Without A Cause). Dangerous because sometimes people actually believed in these characterizations enough to begin to act like rebels, not satisfied with merely listening to them on the radio or watching them at the movies.
In 1969, Vito Acconci made art by simply following people around New York City. Acconci spotted someone on the street and followed them until they disappeared into a place he couldn’t, or didn’t, want to go. Acconci’s performance lasted almost a month. He’d get up, go outside, spot someone, and follow. Most spreecasts, for better or for worse, go on way too long. But, so does hanging out with one’s friends. At some point, you want to be by yourself or hang out with someone else. With the advent of the spreecast you can hang out with people you know or don’t know or want to know simply by joining in. It’s the logic of the club but not as restrictive. Of course, hanging out on spreecasts may never beat the intimacy of being in the same room with a friend or a loved one or turning it all off and reading a book. But I’ve known a lot of people who got all the companionship they needed by simply watching episodes of Breaking Bad or whatever–and apparently, according to some, you can be plugged in and still experience solitude.
This isn’t a plug for spreecast, who I could give two fucks about. It is a plug for a kind of art that denies the art market and realizes itself in everyday life. One doesn’t need an important architectural group, a big publisher, and a major museum to support an effort to follow and document people in your neighbor (although Acconci had all of those). One does need ideas. I was talking to Elizabeth Emily D’Agostino in her car about art. We were parked outside my apartment–a perfect venue to discuss anything. Our conversation shifted to cultural amnesia, an easy target. In our desperate efforts to predict the future I described for her a story written by Tao Lin and boldly proclaimed that this was Lin’s crowning moment and that history would look at this moment as an opportunity lost. The story is simple enough:
when i was five
i went fishing with my family
my dad caught a turtle
my mom caught a snapper
my brother caught a crab
i caught a whale
that night we ate crab
the next night we ate turtle
the next night we ate snapper
the next night we ate whale [. . .]
The last line of the story is repeated almost endlessly or as long as the writer/reader can endure it. Although, I have read a version of it where it ends rather abruptly. For a video account of its hilarity, you can listen to Tao read it here.
Why an opportunity lost? Because when an artist with the talent of Tao Lin comes along he seems to come with a two-pronged fork capable of reflecting the zeigeist back to us and/or breaking the hold the zeigeist has on our attitudes, desires, fashions, discourses, etc. In the post-Warholian world in which we live contemporary artists have made it clear that they are more interested in and perhaps more capable of showing us who they are (i.e. reflecting the ‘zeigeist’ back to us) than breaking the mirrors that bind us to a social-medial and political-economic worldview that reinforces the notion that ‘we’re fucked.’
We are fucked. In Sheila Heti’s novel, How Should a Person Be?, someone comes up with an idea for an ugly painting competition. I say ‘someone’ because not even Sheila, our narrator, knows who came up with the idea. The idea of making the ugliest painting is more difficult than you’d think. Relationships are ended, lives are changed. During the height of the national crisis that was punk rock in England in the 1970s, a roadie for The Who dismissed the movement as a mere ‘revolt of the uglies.’ I mean, imagine calling a bunch of teenagers parading their misfortunes, economic hardships, childhood traumas, bad skin, social awkwardnesses, and fashion made of actual garbage found in the street as revolting or, worse, ugly? It is with these two sentiments in mind–a conceptual call to ugliness in the name of something else (Heti) and its celebration as an insult (punks)–that I invoke the writers and artists of the alt lit movement, a movement that has come to signify everything that’s right and wrong about everything that’s fast, cheap, and out-of-control in the arts today. Perhaps the time has come to break the mirrors that bind us to our own little personal victories (i.e. ‘I’m internet famous’) and begin the more fun and difficult work of smashing those fucking mirrors so that we–and the big, bad world–may see ourselves again, as something else, something more, something seemingly uglier and thus, perhaps, more beautiful. Of course, you could choose to ignore me (I’m used to it, really)–your career path probably profiting more from it–than listen to me whisper to you, from the salted peanut gallery.
I’m Cassandra Gillig and I can’t believe that it’s Not Illegal to buy this new chapbook by Alice Notley. It’s not even imprudent or tacky, it’s just a good thing that is good. I did it two times and am waiting for the results !!!The Results Are In!!! just kidding they’re not I only ordered it seven minutes ago.
No one has gone to the bother of describing the book I have no idea how many pages it is this could be not even a book IS THIS ACTUALLY A BOOK WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST BUY I AM CALLING THE POLICE if Not A Book then What is It I think probably It is Good do you need more than that? You do? OK it is this big: 5 1/4″ x 7″. I don’t remember if quotes mean inches or feet. Is this a SEVEN FOOT TALL BOOK? This is just how it has to be when you need it to happen. I still don’t know if this is a book or not.
Back in the late seventies or early eighties (what) Robert Creeley said of Alice Notley, “She’s the Boss.” There was even another Boss at that time: Bruce Springsteen. Alice was just that good; she was better than thunder road or hungry heart–much better. I can’t believe I know people who have decided to not buy this chapbook I think it’s just rude. You’re sitting and not buying how should I feel about it if not personally offended. I am a little sour you have not bought it why are you still reading this and not having this page open to order and buy this chapbook. This chapbook was made by The Catenary Press which seems like a reliable source of chapbooks. It seems like–generally–people give them money and then they give those people chapbooks. It’s so crazy this fucked up capitalist economy where you can buy things or even buy works of art. What the fuck I miss the good old days when carriage rides were all that moved me.
I can’t review it because I haven’t read it but I can tell you that without Alice Notley’s work I would be probably engaged to be married to The Wrong Guy. God what would I have done with The Wrong Guy? Would we have even been able to Go Out? There’s a Wrong Guy on almost every corner of every street in every America. I bet none of them would buy this chapbook. Oh god what did I almost do??? I am a marked woman through and through.
Interesting piece on the Romantik of the 70s. Reference-heavy, but mostly familiar texts & media, I think.
Also, click on the second footnote’s link to read the Eno thing: Naked and Neurotic. It’s kinda wild/ weird: “The only time my feet aren’t cold is when I make love, which I do all the time. I only make love to keep my feet warm.”
Depression is a different animal entirely. For the depressed person, the bulk of precedents—be they figures one admires that also dealt with depression, or works that seem to encapsulate the modern understanding of this phenomenon—have occurred in the last hundred years or so; and although it’s not difficult to develop a strong empathy for depressed figures like Lincoln, Nietzsche, or Albrecht Dürer, the lines of history tend to blur and complicate personal afflictions to such an extent that for every book that might exist exploring the various miserable icons we’ve had, there are hundreds documenting their triumphs and love affairs to bury these desired texts neath the fantastical self help mega library.
TWO FEASIBLE PRECEDENTS
The first, and perhaps most obvious best friend to the depressed person post-1995 who happens to enjoy literature, is probably David Foster Wallace. Before him, the aforesaid lines of history tend to make the case of Sylvia Plath or Van Gogh fairly cut and dry, to the extent that Plath’s life might be seen as her sitting down at a desk and writing some beautiful works, then immediately falling into such a vat of misery that she stuck her head in an oven, the same model largely applies for Van Gogh except it’s paint, with a bit of ear-severing—though not as drastic as history has made it out to be—and the man shooting himself in the heart twice before walking back into the city undead, only to die two days later. With Wallace, however, we have an accomplished intellect who came to suffer severely from depression after the road had begun to be mapped out for him. Already well into his college career—and of course you can argue that his depressive tendency existed before this, but as I understand it this was when Wallace really came to blows with the malady—he seemed destined for literary accomplishment before being thrust into the void of chemical dissonance and thus forced to consider contemporary (this is important) means of salving the indiscernible wound. And, luckily for us, he managed to write some of the most fascinating fiction and non- about the subject to happen in years. This is a curious thing to me. For all the talk I’ve heard of Wallace’s mastery over the contemporary form, or something, I seldom hear discussed his great command over the subject of fucking misery, modern boredom, or complete and total suicidal ideation. I guess it’s hinted at much of the time, but as far as I’m concerned the guy is close to our American Foucault as it relates to the depressive animal, with “Good Old Neon” or the Kate Gompert portions of Infinite Jest—perhaps my favorite in the whole book, weirdly enough—or Wallace’s nonfiction and more—the subject tends to permeate everything as far as I’ve gathered—what we have in Wallace is a guide for the solving of the plight described by Scott Fitzgerald years prior to this, that “the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness.” For more on this I highly recommend Postitbreakup’s fairly recent post for Dennis Cooper’s blog, “David Foster Wallace’s triptych on depression.” READ MORE >
In an era of broad canonical redefinition, when more and more previously marginalized forms, from comic books to slash fiction, are receiving the literary attention they have always deserved, one storytelling medium remains stubbornly difficult for anyone, even its devotees, to take too seriously. That medium is gaming, and I’m afraid that it’s all my fault.
I am a gamer. I have, admittedly, much more passion reserved for gaming’s potential, its Platonic ideal, than for any of its present, more or less imperfect incarnations. Sadly, my attitude toward such an ideal waxes cynical of late. Ten years ago, electronic gaming was just starting to emerge from its reflex-test swaddling clothes and make faltering baby steps in a dozen directions exciting new directions, each a distant promise of something previously unseen in the world of art and literature. Today, the bloated man-child of mainstream gaming has all but sunk into a quagmire of the same stories repeated like a tattoo, with more flash and less substance as each year passes, as the intersection of “game” and “story” becomes increasingly cemented in a model that leaves little room for the kind of progressive storytelling originally promised. Its syntax, the language of player interaction in which its message is couched, has become lazy and predictable. The once promising child’s development may be permanently arrested, and I, as a gamer, am to blame.
In a McCluhanian nod, that syntax, rather than the literal story being told, is the true carrier of gaming’s message. It’s the push-pull between the intentionality of the game designer, as expressed in the structure (digital or physical) presented to the player as “game,” and the player’s own investment and empowerment within the narrative. It is, in many ways, a revival of the call-and-response communal storytelling of folklore and early theater, except that, in a gleefully postmodern twist, the storyteller hopped a jet out of town months before the audience even arrived. The “story” is the sealed and packaged structure left behind, its white spaces carefully measured, the player’s responses anticipated and, in many cases, artfully curtailed. The syntax encompasses both the (always limited) means by which the player is allowed to respond to the piece—say, by rotating the camera, jumping, pulling levers, pushing boxes, et cetera—and the degree to which the storyteller has correctly anticipated, and provided appropriate responses to, the player’s interactions. Games that employ the same syntax cannot help but deliver the same message, over and over, no matter what the “story” appears to be on the surface.
Critically, the syntax is always imperfect (otherwise, the game would be a perfect simulation of real life, which would negate the game designer’s authorial intentionality and, in any case, be unplayably boring). A great deal of gaming’s storytelling potential lies in the allowed-but-unanticipated interactions, the frontier spaces wherein the player becomes more than a marionette acting out canned responses and takes on a more active, improvisational role. Not that this always occurs within the game itself.
Theoretically, games could be as broad in their form and intention as the written word. However, the vast majority of mainstream games occupy a stiflingly narrow syntactical space, forcing the player to repeat the same deeply worn gestures ad infinitum. First- and third-person shooting games—often, the only difference is whether the protagonist’s legs are visible—dominate the home console market, with action-adventure titles in the style of Devil May Cry and God of War picking up most of the slack. On computers, the preferences differ, but the tropes are no less ingrained. With 90%-plus of a game’s syntax devoted to the art of war, you can imagine the narrative range allowed.
The gating factors of syntax aside, there is a deeper problem preventing mainstream gaming from establishing itself firmly in the realm of serious storytelling: the interests of gamers, even those who look toward the horizon, are simply counterproductive to good storytelling. Put another way, people don’t play games, even story-driven games, with the same expectations and motivations as they would read a book. Gaming attracts and rewards certain personality types and behaviors; in fact, it trains those behaviors, in a Pavlovian sense. Gamer’s want to win, they want to win completely, and the act of playing the game reinforces those desires and expectations.
When I play games, I want to talk to, collect, and do everything that the game allows. I am not a competitive person; rather, I’m driven by a desire to fully appreciate the game’s construction. If there are multiple endings, branching options, I want to see them all, and I want to see my time and effort rewarded. The problem is, these desires just don’t make for very interesting or effective stories; I am incapable of acting in my own best interests in this regard. Even those games that attempt to push the envelope ultimately have to succumb to the gamer’s demands, or they will not get played.
And worse, as a gamer, I do not actually want what I think I want. For the past decade, video game publishers have consistently pushed choice-driven storytelling as a key feature in their major releases, and it is clear from consumer response that this is something most gamers think they desire. From Fable to The Walking Dead, Deus Ex to Dishonored, the message is clear: gamers desperately want a part in the story being told; they want to feel as though their interactions matter.
EA and Bioware’s Mass Effect series lives up to this promise better than most. From the first release of this space epic trilogy in 2007, the series has placed an emphasis, almost to excess, on player-defined storytelling that is both novelistic in its scope and cinematic in its execution. The series offers a roughly even split between kinetic over-the-shoulder shooting and loquacious story content, during which the player is bombarded by constant dialogue choices utilizing a “conversation wheel,” via which players can select the tack, though not the actual content, of their in-game avatar Commander Shepard’s responses.
‘Hello Nature: How to Draw, Paint and Find Your Way’ by William Wegman
Artipelag, Värmdö, Sweden 2013
In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer’s meticulously investigates the circumstances of modern agricultural industries. Foer’s methodology accounts for the cultural paragons that shape human behavior, linking personal memories to certain gastronomical experiences. The writer proceeds by contemplating the ethical limitations that determine our consumption of animals, introducing a provocative question to illustrate the subjectivity of what we are capable of viewing as food: why don’t we eat dogs?
To the popular conscience, William Wegman’s art encapsulates the compelling etiology of the gut-reaction the canine question propels. Wegman’s mass recognizability resulted from his vibrant photographs of dogs. The artistic depiction of the generous companionship dogs offer to their owners is a sentiment that vastly appeals to mass audiences as the foremost point of reference. Wegman’s photography of his pets functions as a catalyst for most people to draw from their personal experiences to meaningfully engage with the oeuvre. READ MORE >
1) When Sachin Tendulkar, famous cricketer, walked back off the Wankhede field in Mumbai after having accumulated nearly 16,000 Test Runs in exactly 24 years at the highest international level (a career surpassed in excellence only, perhaps, by Sir Donald Bradman) he proclaimed “I am ready to die a violent death.”
Yes, it seems the world’s most famous cricketer (a virtual God in India and the rest of the subcontinent) is headed for new glories, laurels and great, foaming spikes of URL fame in the crazy, wide-open world of Alt Lit.
2) “Yes,” Sachin continued, “I plan on running amuck in the woods muttering glorious Carpe Diem extravagances”— whereupon Steve Roggenbuck leaped out of the Wankhede stands and hoisted Sachin up on to his shoulders and started chanting “Boost! Boost! Boost!” and the whole crowd, 40,000 strong, joined in immediately, voraciously chanting “Boost, Sachin, Boost” and Eternal Lief seemed all-too possible. Beautiful. Exquisite. Here. Now. Now.
3) “Will you be going to Brooklyn?” READ MORE >
by Sandra Simonds
He doesn’t love you It’s just a way for him
to feel less lonely in his love for me Hope you got some
money to take care of your AIDS and keep
your ignorant mouth shut Hope that you end up
committing suicide If you care
about your life at all you will SHUT THE
FUCK UP WHORE You greasy slimy jstinky
mentally Jewish nasty whore Kill yourself
cunt I will FIND YOU (Namaste) If you care about
your life at all (Namaste) you will SHUT THE
FUCK UP WHORE I am tall witty thin blonde Sorry
If I see one FUCKING THING about me anywhere I am coming
to your house Men of power and influence have been
and are attracted to me You’re writing is
GARBAGE Yes people in the world
Change You moron you can’t even pronounce “koan”
Sometimes even beautiful poets who come
from money such as myself fall in love
with poor white trash alcoholics and go the south
and live with them a few years Enjoy the charity people
who want their dicks sucked Women get
divorced It is
awful DOG don’t give your kids AIDS
You should commit suicide Believe it! I’m rooting
for you You only had them
so you could be a “mommy poet” (Namaste)
In some sense, this is a conceptual piece of writing in that it takes verbatim language delivered in one context (the stalker to me) and subverts it by delivering it back (me to the world) in an entirely different context/ new audience. It moves from the private (email) to the public (website) and in this sense it moves from the relationship of abuse (me and the stalker) to the relationship of reality/ sympathy and understanding (me and my other social relations). I would have never dreamed that I would write this sort of poem a year ago, but after having been stalked and harassed by this person for so long, after having called the police, after having ignored the stalker and fought back, I felt like writing the poem was my last recourse.
note: I’ve started this feature up as a kind of homage and alternative (a companion series, if you will) to the incredible work Alex Dimitrov and the rest of the team at the The Academy of American Poets are doing. I mean it’s astonishing how they are able to get masterpieces of such stature out to the masses on an almost daily basis. But, some poems, though formidable in their own right, aren’t quite right for that pantheon. And, so I’m planning on bridging the gap. A kind of complementary series. Enjoy!
November 13th, 2013 / 9:00 am
April 1988. A Murder & A Hanging.
by Michael Bussmann
Patient Sounds, PSS004, February 2013
14 pages / $12 Buy from Patient Sounds
Only one chapbook among my small library of codices made the journey with me this summer from my home in North Carolina to New Haven, where I’ll live for perhaps only enough time to make it a home. The postmark on the miniature manila envelope housing the chapbook dates the mailing for February 11, 2013, and upon my arrival to my new dwelling place in August, I had yet to pinch the tiny metal wings to open the package. Six weeks of seminary soon handed me a divine urging for more verse, and because I had recently overdosed on Wiman in preparation for sharing the same building as the man, I opened the envelope waiting on top of My Bright Abyss. Shipping tape covered those metal wings, so I ripped it open with my teeth.
I wish I hadn’t waited so long to travel back to April, 1988. A Murder & A Hanging (Patient Sounds, 2012). Michael Bussmann, one of two poet laureates of Fort Collins, Co., during the year of the collection’s printing, curates his first chapbook under a theme of “hyper-local horror poetry.” Specifically, he tells the story of a real murder, or rather murders, in his small Colorado town using seven poems. Bussmann first heard the tale (likely over beers since he works for the brewery that now makes the town famous) from a buddy, and the swiftness of death from life has haunted him since.
Bussmann sets the stage in his introductory note:
With “this fair town,” Bussmann shows, not tells, of his intimacy with Fort Collins, and it’s this relationship of place that contributes to the upsetting impact the horrid ballad has on him. “I have seen the sight [perhaps a purposeful homonym error] of the murder, and the hanging,” he notes. “And I have seen a piece of the rope they used to hang him.”
Bussmann begins his retelling with the site in “The Night Before” that ends with Eva’s ending the day of. He draws from his long nights in bars, on the job and other wise, in his deft description of James: “Long in night, he returns home too soon, / breath hot and rancid, stale from tall tales told.” Waking up in the morning after yelling, pints, and a forgotten teeth-brushing session bring me to James’s state. The taste is my mouth is a cross between peanut butter, sour patch kids, and old soy sauce.
It’s not long before Bussmann pairs these crude offensives with “beatings / and threats with knives” and Eva’s self-defense offense that starts as a thought and, like a buried lead, ends up a fatal action:
and packing the steamer trunk in your mind.
He sometimes lunched at home, but never
was the trunk packed. His eyes looked mean
and the knife came quickly. You pleaded, ran,
then cried murder (twice). Gertie wasn’t home
and for that you were grateful, and dead.
Bussmann’s spare but insightful use of a line break not solely before a transition shows he knows how to balladeer with suspenseful pauses (Compare, “He sometimes lunched at home, but never / was the trunk packed.” with “He sometimes lunched at home, / but never was the trunk packed.”) But I could have done without the concluding ode to Jerry Garcia. Instead of alarmed by a husband stabbing after his wife after she tries to leave an abusive relationship, I’m left thinking of “Sugar Magnolia” and Garcia’s missing middle finger.
Nonetheless, Bussmann soon recovers from a trite train of cocaine with the next two first-person poems from Eva and James, respectively. They further entrench the reader in the minds of two victims (everyone in this tale is a victim)—in a visceral, stream of consciousness manner. Quick, staccato pacing defines most of “Eva Howe, number one” as she looks down, unsure of what to do, where to go, and if she still lives:
in this dress’s duty completion.
It soaked through
as the slit gaped,
everything went red, wet,
the breech kept my bleedables
Bussmann’s alliteration of “breech,” “bleedables,” and “bleeding” drives how much “red, wet” flows around Eva after James stabs her. With later mentions of “muddy ways,” “arterial,” “deluge,” “pool was warming,” and “wet and dead,” Bussmann wants the reader soaked in the drained liquid of life—now unlife.
He shifts viewpoints to the killer in “James Howe,” who appears more occupied with thoughts of his bed than on his poor dead mate:
slightly acrid with this novel and bloody smell.
What has happened, just before now?
Beyond the footway’s darkness during lunchtime,
who’s to say … I found myself alone and dressed
in this bed, our (my) bed.
Bussmann’s parentheticals focus the reader’s attention on the newness of James’s situation. We discover the acute changes in James’s life at the same time he does. We don’t read after the fact; instead, we read with the fact.
November 11th, 2013 / 11:00 am
part 1-- on my way back from Atlanta I was listening to Kylie Minogue and enjoying and cringing at her cruelty:
If love is really good
You just want more
Even if it throws you to the fire fire fire fire
All the lovers
That have gone before
They don’t compare to you
Don’t be running
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers
Basically what we have here is an insatiable sexual appetite inciting its lover the way a jockey uses a crop to get the last bit of zest out of its thundering horse. (or I dunno, I dunno, I mean I really like Kylie)
part 2– then, wrapped in the sky’s lust, I was thinking about Kill List which I think about often kinda the way I think about God a lot even though I’m a total atheist. I guess I mean I was thinking about all the fanatic reactions. All the foaming at the mouth. All the literal morons. Blah, blah, blah (yawn). . . .
. . .And then I thought perhaps I should write a Kiss List but before that even took root in my brain (shimmer, shimmer) I thought a Spank List might be better
CAConrad’s got a sweet ass
Greg Bem’s got a gorgeous ass
Reb Livingston’s got a sweet ass
Kris Hall’s got a sweet ass
Josef Kaplan’s got a sweet ass READ MORE >
“All bad poetry is sincere,” I got that from Harold Bloom, who got that from Oscar Wilde, who got that from his clever self, which hardly means that “all great poetry is insincere,” which again I’m getting from The Anxiety of Influence (1973), not the actual book but from Amazon’s virtual “look inside” feature, its animation, estimation, or interpretation of reading less affectionate than reading itself; that is, with a book, whose every page one holds the corner of, and hears going by, one by one, like shuffling a deck of cards in the slowest way possible. Bloom’s point is evident in his title, that the history of literature is ripping off others in the quest to be original; how this is both logically impossible yet always manifesting, albeit inadvertently through our “misreading” of the original. It is true when I let my subscription to The New Yorker expire, months later, at the magazine rack, I solemnly wonder about what I’m missing. I feel the same way passing bars at night, the brittle tinkering of glasses as a high-hat over the cacophonous rumble of voices. Like the red marker a teacher uses to point out what is wrong, the red squiggle of spellcheck is a kind of incision into the flesh of intention, if you were a half-blind James Joyce typing Finnegans Wake. More ominous is the green one, citing sentence fragments you didn’t know were fragmented. “Ignore all,” one may apply to grammar, dentist appointment reminders, and their social life. After watching The Road (2009), I told myself that a few weeks before the end of the world — faithful that Fox News or a crazy person would alert me — I would simply buy a can opener. As people ate each other, I’d have clam chowder and lychees. I didn’t read the book; that this is still considered blasphemy is redeeming: we still believe in the higher collaboration between sole words and imagination. Jonathan Franzen admits to buying copies of his books to give as presents to friends. At the register, he feels like he’s buying a Penthouse. “No, it’s not for my own use…” he says, or at least says he would say, I mean this is the problem with quoting a quote, to which the double quote shielding a single quote offers itself as a solution, like a large circle containing a smaller one — a bagel around a cup of coffee, inside a gurgling stomach — or a ventriloquist with his hand up someone. Everything that is wireless eventually concedes to a cord. Battery is not a crime. Nor is the stomach flu really influenza; it’s gastroenteritis, which hardly needs you to go viral. A man shot another man in Russia over an argument about Kant (the gun must have been a manual). Exactly how sour is cream cheese supposed to be? A man publishes a blog post in America and quickly walks to the bathroom. He has that not so refresh feeling all day. This was entirely made up.