years ago Channel 4 in the UK had seasons where they showed blocks of short films through the night. this was before they really did 24 hour television. so it was novelty to fill the schedule with this short form stuff that didn’t really get a slot otherwise. i had been keeping an eye open, because i’d seen word that there was going to be a short film based on the work of simon ings. i saw it listed and recorded the night of films - and was surprised when i watched it back to find this film “tomorrow calling” - based on the gernsback continuum. i’ve mentioned it to people a few times, but never found it online (though i have a video cassette somewhere…), till now - not great quality, but it exists.
The Gernsback Continuum is a wonderful example of “paleofuture” and, really, just kind of wonderful. An excerpt:
“Watch lots of television, particularly game shows and soaps. Go to porn movies. Ever see Nazi Love Motel? They’ve got it on cable, here. Really awful. Just what you need.”
What was he talking about? “Quit yelling and listen to me. I’m letting you in on a trade secret: Really bad media can exorcise your semiotic ghosts. If it keeps the saucer people off my back, it can keep these Art Deco futuroids off yours. Try it. What have you got to lose?”
…During today’s talk, Cage showed off a new prototype using their new technology and a new engine. The idea was to improve emotion in the game…”What you are going to see is this prototype I told you about,” he said. “It’s running in real time on a PS3. It’s not CG, it’s not pre-rendered. It is displayed by our new engine we created after Heavy Rain. The capture is almost raw.”
The perfect juxtaposition: shaky, handheld video of the cutting edge in human simulacra performance. This is “the new aesthetic.”
Serkan Özkaya’s “David…” (2012) parked outside @StorefrontNYC for Art & Architecture on Kenmare St. (Taken with instagram)
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
“Often the narrative shell of a game (“you are the specially trained commando who has just landed on a Lunar base; your task is to make your way to the headquarters occupied by the mutant base personnel…”) masks a simple algorithm well-familiar to the player: kill all the enemies on the current level, while collecting all treasures it contains; go to the next level and so on until you reach the last level. Other games have different algorithms. Here is an algorithm of the legendary “Tetris”: when a new block appears, rotate it in such a way so it will complete the top layer of blocks on the bottom of the screen making this layer disappear. The similarity between the actions expected from the player and computer algorithms is too uncanny to be dismissed. While computer games do not follow database logic, they appear to be ruled by another logic - that of an algorithm. They demand that a player executes an algorithm in order to win.
An algorithm is the key to the game experience in a different sense as well. As the player proceeds through the game, she gradually discovers the rules which operate in the universe constructed by this game. She learns its hidden logic, in short its algorithm. Therefore, in games where the game play departs from following an algorithm, the player is still engaged with an algorithm, albeit in another way: she is discovering the algorithm of the game itself. I mean this both metaphorically and literally: for instance, in a first person shooter, such as “Quake,” the player may eventually notice that under such and such condition the enemies will appear from the left, i.e. she will literally reconstruct a part of the algorithm responsible for the game play. Or, in a diffirent formulation of the legendary author of Sim games Will Wright, “Playing the game is a continuous loop between the user (viewing the outcomes and inputting decisions) and the computer (calculating outcomes and displaying them back to the user). The user is trying to build a mental model of the computer model.”
There’s this spooky little parable I heard somewhere…There’s a young boy who who hears the sound of a horn - maybe he hears Miles Davis - and he realizes that all he wants to do is play the horn. So he looks to the sky and says, “Please, please, please, make me a great horn player.” And the voice of the universe says, “Yes. Become a great trumpet player.” So the guy does that. He plays his horn. He devotes his life to it. He succeeds. He does all the things a usual obsessed person does, all the highs and lows. And at the end of his life he says, “I spent all my time playing the goddamned trumpet. That’s all I did, and I missed so much because of it. What a tragedy.” And the same voice of the universe speaks to him and says, “Yes. What a tragedy.”
“…‘Kenneth Goldsmith,’ writes Tuma, ‘says that what defines our moment is knowing that it has all been done in poetry, in writing, and art…’ I didn’t spend much time on thinking about the passage (I’d barely touched my coffee), except to note Goldsmith’s typical concern with what it means to be up to date, what it means to be engaged with things specific to our own time.
Then, this afternoon, I was plugging away re-reading Yeats’ autobiographies, taking notes for a chapter about his work I hope to write for a book of criticism I’ve been working on. And there, in a passage about his association with the poets of the Rhymer’s Club of the 1890s, I found Yeats describing himself and his peers as ‘men who spoke their opinions in low voices…and timidly as though they knew that all subjects had long since been explored, all questions long since decided in books whereon the dust settled…’ Yeats and the Rhymers came to this belief after reading Walter Pater’s Renaissance, particularly the chapter on Michelangelo, where similar sentiments of belatedness were expressed. Pater’s book appeared in the 1870s…”
We long for the revolution of modernism, even the rupture of post-modernism, because we’re adrift. If Kurt Andersen and others are to be believed, we have been for some time. Andersen sees a lack of cultural innovation in the last two decades and concludes that,
“…[I]t’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts…[W]e are clinging as never before to the familiar…”
At the end of his post, Archambeau offers his own assesment of our condition, nominally in response to Goldsmith:
“…Maybe one of the things makes our moment distinct is our need to think that we’re distinct from a past with which we actually have a great deal in common — our compulsion to find differences and distinctness at any cost, even historical accuracy.”
No revolution, no rupture, if not a “compulsion to find differences,” then a desire to feel at home in our own time. So far, that desire has manifested as appropriation, sampling, nostalgia, etc., various particulars used to generalize about the now.
For so many years, we moved forward, forward, forward. We stopped dealing with history, rolled culture over every decade without any concern for processing it, since it was passe to to look anywhere but ahead. Anderson takes stock and sees stagnation, a sort of collective psychological crisis in the face of all this new stuff. I take stock and say we spent too long not learning from the past. Thus, we play catch-up. We float, though it may appear we’re drowning. Show me any recent cultural phenomenon and I’ll show you an attempt to sort through our backlog, decades of accumulation, cultural “superabundance.” Not clinging to the familiar, just clutching it as if to climb it like a ladder and, hopefully, kicking it away once we’ve reached the top.
His exhausted face, with its scarred mouth…As his pock-marked jaws champed on a piece of gum I had the sudden feeling that he was hawking obscene pictures around the wards…But what marked him out was the scar tissue around his forehead and mouth, residues of some terrifying act of violence…Heavy black hair…Broken and re-set nose bridge…His features looked as if they had been displaced laterally, reassembled after the crash from a collection of faded publicity photographs. The scars on his mouth and forehead, the self-cut hair and two missing upper canine gave him a neglected and hostile appearance…His hard mouth, with its scarred lips, was parted in a droll smile.
Images created using law enforcement composite sketch software and descriptions of literary characters. All interesting suggestions considered. (Include descriptive passages if you can.)
“Like I was involved with socialist politics for a while, but, like when I went to protests or whatever I felt really embarrassed. Like being surrounded by college kids saying things like, ‘we’re the vanguard of the working class.’ I don’t think there will be a socialist revolution.”
This was the first time I had admitted that to anyone, including myself.
“I don’t think there will be either. When I think about leftists I know, like my friend who is pushing me to write a book, I think about how privileged he is…like he says things like, ‘I didn’t go to an ivy league, I went to the University of Maryland’, like that means something.”
“Are you talking about Malcolm Harris?” He was another writer who wrote in the same places as Adrien Brody whose articles I read sometimes, who I knew enough about to recognize that he was talking about him.
“Yes, Malcolm Harris.”
I gasped. “He’s only twenty two, right? He’s so smart!”
“He’s a pretty smart guy.”
He went on to talk more about Malcolm Harris, and how aggressive and self-promoting he was, and how seriously he took himself. “But I guess that’s what you have to do to succeed…”
“What if Malcolm Harris led the revolution?” I asked.
I’ve held my tongue about this, but considering that the State of New York subpoenaed Twitter for 3 months of information regarding Malcolm Harris’ account on Thursday, I figured there was some cause to point and gesture.