On holding things in anticipation (and in praise of Michu)

This post would have been more appropriate last week, but what with the harassed unrest of modern life I didn’t get round to it. The prelude to the kick-off of the Premier League season had me thinking last week about the forward-thinking that football fans have at that beginning, and how great a mode of existence that forward-thinking (or being-towards, if I want to be all Heideggerian about it) is to be in. Before the kick off there are possibilities laid bare: some awful, some great, some mediocre. The thinking-forward for all these possibilities makes me engage with the possibilities not just in some decontextualised, abstract manner but in a direct manner, considering the possibilities carefully and attaching them to emotions that could be part of those outcomes. A deep way of engaging with the possibilities that are laid out before the season, far beyond the glib and uninformed dross that the football press pumps out every early-August (see any major newspaper for lazy, derisible spouting off).

Image

Michu celebrates his genius

This set of possibilities can be generalised to any forward event of course, but there is something special about the long-term, multi-event like a season of football – or a new job, like the one I begin next week. In a football game, there are three possible results and although the possibilities for the game are myriad, the 90 minutes of the game mean that the projection forward is itself limited temporally. When thinking of the match, it is only the 90 minutes I am casting forward towards. Some games are different of course, a major qualifier or a play-off final, where the result will determine the position – and the possibilities –  of the team for the following campaign (but not the manner of how the team plays in that campaign. Hence the beginning, the novel and fresh start for the campaign, is so enticing and enchanting when held in anticipation.

Of course, the holding of the whole mega-event (for want of better terminology) is punctured as soon as the event itself begins. A first match will not dictate an entire season, which will be of comfort to QPR fans. It can show possibilities that were not manifest to the person holding the season in anticipation. I knew Michu was good, but I didn’t know how good until last Saturday when I saw him stride with majesty, stroke the ball with authority and grace, and finish like a marksman of vintage quality. His colossal performance, and the majestic sweep that Swansea used to brush aside QPR 5-0 in a performance of exquisite beauty in the 2nd half at Loftus Road, were new, surprising possibilities that in even the most optimistic anticipation I did not predict or hold forth as a hope for the new campaign. Similarly, while I hold a healthy mix of anticipation, optimism and possible blind panic about my new job, the first day could prove as mundane as Coldplay or as brilliant as the genius Michu. At this moment, I hold all the possibilities in anticipation, and that is a nice position to be in; savour the possibilities when they present themselves in this form, the glory is not fleeting and the misery is not crushing. Holding things forward in anticipation is how we think; forwards. When the possibilities are vast, then the thinking we do is great too.

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Restarting the brain – not with “British Culture”

I’m just about done with my PhD. Just proofing (or more accurately getting my much put-upon significant other to use her expert eye to proof) and printing left to done. It’s been such an exhausting experience that I am not prepared to discuss it yet. It’s that bad. I will be using an invitation to contribute to a reader series as a means of thinking through the entire project pre-Viva, and once that’s done with I’ll recount here maybe. Exciting times.

It is an interesting time, because I can see possibilities in front of me now that this project has ended. I still don’t know what I want to pursue, but there are opportunities that have opened up. I am almost certain that does not involve academia, but I’ll never say never. I’m looking forward to using this PhD to get somewhere, rather than be tied to it. I also have a stack of articles and essays to write, and new things to read.

Nite Owl: backstory was utter mediocrity

This is all a bit emo-livejournal, so I apologise. In completing this thesis, I have had to become secluded a little. No xbox. No going out. No films (apart from Spider-Man, which was brilliant) and no reading for fun (apart from Before Watchmen, which I am enjoying in spite of myself, apart from the Nite Owl issue which sucked beyond belief).  Not much fun. This stoic anhedonia may be influencing my thoughts here, but what the hell is wrong with British Culture? I don’t watch much TV usually, going for streaming/movies/games/box sets rather than the TV schedule, but over the last few weeks I have gone for TV as background noise when working. There are hundreds of channels, and they all suck. This is not empty rhetoric or hyperbole for its own sake; you can spend hours going through channels and not find anything worth the effort of automatically focussing your eyes on the screen and engaging your attention allocation systems to the waste of electricity being broadcast. It is an epidemic. What has happened to comedy? I’d laugh more at someone poking an open wound in my abdomen with a charged cattle prod. Is it compulsory for all comics in Britain to be middle-class smug scumbags? Please, do not observe things from your everyday lives “wittily” – I could not care for you if you were being mauled by a herd of starving Rottweilers while feral children lobbed nutella at you. Please shut up. You’re not funny.

I do not need to start on the mind-numbing tedium of soaps and serials served up by the BBC. Nor can I begin to hide my contempt for the corporate gang-bang masquerading as the Olympics, especially after the fawning and sycophantic coverage of Wimbledon – NOBODY CARES ABOUT TENNIS, IT IS AWFUL. GO AWAY. I won’t be watching the Olympics, if I did want to see a bunch of roidheads gurning uncontrollably I’d check out the bouncers on Wind Street on a Saturday night. Go away.

Not bad. At all.

Damn, that was intense. Thank some deity for the TdF (and Bradley Wiggins’ continued genius), South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Friday Night Lights. This post may or may not have been a result of induced psychosis from writing a thesis, but it could be Euro 2012/football off-season tension. Just to end, Spain in Euro 2012 were transcendental; beautiful, brilliant, brutal. Truly we live in the times of an all time great – appreciate them now before they are gone.

Oh, and John Terry has made being an intolerable scumbag legally defensible. I’ll return to this another time.

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The Importance of the Cord

In  my rapidly failing attempts to avoid all exposure to the fawning Jubilee celebrations being embraced by the subjects in this Country, I have been thinking about the spatiality of my console set up and how it differs from my halcyon gaming days of playing the Sega Megadrive in my dark, dank pit of a bedroom in the early-1990’s.

The Megadrive really was a place-defining piece of kit. Here is an approximation of the console I owned post-Mega-CD purchase in 1993 (£250 I’ll never see again, and not money well spent):

What a piece of kit it was. When that CD drive was running it was louder than a Sepultura concert spent next to an amp, and properly needed some desk space to sit happily as a room-defining machine. This was coupled to a hopelessly deficient tiny TV (14″) with nowhere near a good enough resolution to get the most from the graphics of the machine (although anyone who has run an emulator through a 40″ plus plasma screen will know its a slightly sepia-toned memory destroying moment). What is missing from that picture is of course the key piece of kit for any gamer – the controller. Note what emerges from the top of the controller – a cord. This cord dictated to me where I could sit, lounge, lie, loll and sprawl relative to the machine when playing seemingly endless rounds of Sonic 1&2, EA Hockey, Madden, Ghouls and Ghosts and whatever else I was obsessed with when I should have been outside doing something more energetic.


The Cord, in being physically tethered to the machine, dictated to me the space I could occupy when playing games. As such, it played an important part in the phenomenological experience of gaming. While the machine withdraws from my conscious experience and the controller itself withdraws from my consciousness once a level of proficiency and control was achieved in the game being played (as Heidegger of course would instruct, a la the controller being a tool and ready-to-hand), the controller itself was always controlling my proximity to the display and physical positioning relative to machine through the cord. Sure, there were infra-red remote control controllers available then, but I could not afford to stump up for some work of Deviltry when games themselves were the best part of £40. In thinking about the tethering influence of the controller and how it affected the phenomenological experience of gaming it emerges to me that the controller fixed my spatiality relative to the console. This appears negative, but I would say that the fixing of position actually enabled the kind of transfixed gaming experience that I recall so fondly. I’ll illustrate my point through Gynoug, a game I literally played until its death through breaking the cartridge in frustration on the last level of the very hard difficulty setting:

Gynoug – epic?

Lets be fair, the graphics look awful on that screenshot. There is a good reason for that – they were awful. A simply designed horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up, Gynoug was not particularly exciting, highly derivative and hard only due to the ultra-frenetic and often hard to spot enemies, that had the annoying habit of blending in with the dark and ill defined backgrounds. I spent hours on this game. Days. Parts of my life that I will never get back. I loved it though! The game is very fondly remembered, but on reflection it simply is not that good. I’ve tried on an emulator – diverting for about 10 minutes, but no longer. Of course I am playing the game now in an entirely different phenomenological world; I do not have the same equipment that situates me in a place where I had those phenomenological experiences of awe and wonder as a young adolescent. My gaming world of the early 1990’s no longer exists as the equipment that gathered me into that world of experience I no longer have, and I bring so much that is different myself to the experience of gaming now that I need to modify the environment in order to achieve that feeling again – if I ever can.

Let me be clear, I love playing games today. I spent 6 hours yesterday going through Deus Ex: Human Revolution on Xbox 360 and I love it. Not only does it look AMAZING (like a cyberpunk wet-dream)

Cyberpunk awesome

and plays brilliantly, but it is genuinely immersive. Like all great games of this generation, it has depth as one can explore the world of the game. Like Megadrive games, in order to explore effectively one needs proficiency in the controls of the game so that you no longer need to attend to the controller to move through the world. In achieving that proficiency the controller withdraws from conscious experience and the world of the game becomes phenomenologically primary, becoming in itself an immersive experience as the control of character has oriented the player towards the world. Deus Ex has a complex set of controls, and as such takes a little patient play, but once done the player is oriented in that world and the game takes the position of place through the manipulation of tools.

The experience of gaming is still rich, still absorbing. I’m still not feeling that all encompassing, nukes-could-detonate-in-the-hall-and-I-would-not-notice feeling that I used to get though. I thought at first it was age, but I’m basically a case of arrested development so I don’t buy it. The games are more engrossing now, so its not that. Looking at the materiality of gaming, the cord is missing. While that in itself sounds uncomfortably Freudian, its at the material level I am aiming. The cord tethered me to the machine, and to a particular existential locale that I came to inhabit through familiarity and continual presence. My infra-reds now allow me to game, to move as I feel fit. With so many more mobile technologies around me I’m not just gaming as with the cord; I’m reading texts and emails on my phone, consulting game guides if I’m feeling really lazy on my iPad or MacBook. I’m no longer tethered, and I think that is why my teen entrancement is not going to return – not that it is necessarily a bad thing.

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Why I hate football: May 30th 2011 vs May 30th 2012

Of course, I don’t hate football. I love the Swans. I now add Liverpool to that shelf below Cardiff City for what I hate about football, but all in all I love football. It is crazy how this date has thrown up two completely contrasting sets of emotions over 366 days.

Oh yeah, for those that spiked the reader numbers of my blog yesterday, you might want to skip this entry. No Object-Oriented Ontology here – just matters of life and death to paraphrase a Liverpool manager that deserved respect unlike their next one.

Today, via Twitter and Sky Sports News, I’ve watched in horror as the manager of Swansea City, Brendan Rodgers, has decided to leave the club to take over at Liverpool. Literally billions of people will be unaware that this is happening. Many people will think

Much, much better times

“so what”. A few people will be saying “take a look around the world Leighton, and get some perspective you sad b*****d”. Well, its my blog and I did say in the first post I’d be wallowing in sports-based imbecility for a while, so bite me. This is, for me, a deeply upsetting event. One year ago to the day, Swansea City won promotion to the premier league with a magnificent 4-2 victory over Reading at Wembley in the 2011 Championship play-off final.

This was an event of unimaginable magnitude in my life. 30 years previously, Swansea had played for 2 seasons in English (and Welsh) football’s top division, but I was far, far to young to remember such events, let alone attend matches. For the 20 plus years of my patronage, Swansea City have frankly been dismal beyond belief. There were just ever plunging expectations from 1994 onwards, as the club progressed towards an abyss that would have swallowed Swansea City whole had we not won this match that I still think was more important than the one above:

After that game, things got better. Swansea improved year on year, promotion to league 1, The Coming of the Messiah Roberto Martinez saw promotion to the Championship in 2008 playing the best football I’d ever seen a Swansea team play, and 2 high finishes in the Championship under first Martinez (before he became el Judas and joined Wigan) and Paulo Sousa meant things were kind of good. I mean really good. Then came Brendan. Oh Brendan. 3rd in the Championship. Ahead of the hated Cardiff scum. Victory over Forest led us to that day – 1 year ago today – when Swansea beat Reading to get to the Promised Land.

Well, I say the Promised Land. Premier League football is a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve loved seeing Swansea turn over Arsenal, eventual champions Manchester City and Liverpool (new hate figures) along with less glamorous wins such as against scummy WBA and the frankly inhuman Stoke City. I’ve also hated the gaps between matches, Sunday kick-offs (nothing religious, I just need to sleep it off on a Sunday) and the lack of steaming vitriolic abuse being hurled at over-paid prima donnas continually through the match has been not so good. I’d take it over 4-0 home defeats to Kidderminster Harriers in front of 2,000 on a cold Tuesday night, but I still have a sick hankering for those days (see a future post…). All in all though, good. 

Due in no small part to our new footballing messiah, Brendan Rodgers. Rescued from the football scrapheap in the Summer of 2010, idolised by fans and respected by the media for his achievements. What does the tw*t go and do? Join Liverpool, a club that has sunk to new lows in the past season by seemingly signing every English carthorse available for staggering amounts of money, and have been reduced to the position of racism apologists in support of a player that makes Pol Pot look a nice man. Just one year on from bringing us our dreams, this dipshit walks out to take over a shrine to faded glory. Asshole.

Swansea will be fine. We’ll have a new manager, he’ll do well and we’ll have a great season. That won’t make this any less hurtful. After years of disappointing garbage, Rodgers became a personification of the most joyous moment of supporting the team. After 23 years, that makes him a pretty big totem. His leaving for a once mighty but now pathetic club is hurtful because it juxtaposes so sharply with that joy. Feelings from sport are real when you attach to a team, and I feel mighty angry and hurt tonight. Those are real emotions, and that is I guess the power of sport. This is not shallow, unreal or a distraction because sport becomes a part of the fabric of our identity, life and being – and when something like this happens, we get mighty hurt.

I’d wish him luck, but I won’t mean it. Maybe one day I’ll forgive him. In many ways though, I’m a very bitter man.

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An interesting philosophical kerfuffle

Interesting comments by David Berry at Stunlaw on  Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) based around what is the philosophical purpose of OOO and what are the political questions that arise from a clarification of that philosophical purpose. David writes a great (semi-) polemic on OOO, by fundamentally questioning the importance of knowing what it is like to be a thing, and why this form of knowing should be privileged within a philosophical system. The flat ontology of OOO is framed (correctly in my view, which is why I am opposed to OOO although sympathetic to OOO as a way to approach things and how they “thing”) as a de-privileging of humans as a co-constructor of meaning, knowledge and understanding. As the pivot which my PhD thesis precariously rests, it would be foolish of me to disagree with David’s objection to this position; unsurprisingly I do not disagree. David situates OOO as important in software and platform studies, but the ontology (concern with Being) is transferred to a concern with things or objects (beings) that questions the possibility of OOO (but not Object-Oriented Philosophy). More polemically (maybe, I’ll have to ask him) are the accusations of conservatism inherent in OOO through the de-privileging of humans in the “ontology”, as the relegation of humans from a correlationist position effectively leads to a forgetting of Being (a classical symptom of Enframing in Heidegger) and as David nicely puts it a form of writing both for and by products of late capitalism, and hence conservative, while also not paying due attention to the source of many of the objects or things that are so important in OOO, human labour.

Flat ontology

Levi Bryant, at larval subjects, responds to David’s concerns about this political and cultural aporia at the centre of OOO through a comprehensive re-statement of his own OOO and an illustration of how that OOO engages at the political and cultural level. While I agree with Bryant that objects (especially public toilets, which he adapts skilfully from Zizek in the blog to illustrate the difference between an OOO and ideological analysis of objects or things in the world) do require a cartographic investigation of their relations in order to understand the full extent of their ordering, which I argue in my thesis also necessitates an investigation at the level of code for computational objects, I question the conclusions that are drawn from that analysis. Bryant’s onticology does not ignore the meanings humans have about the world from their significations, but also draws attention to the non-human, non-signifying connections between things that also make differences in the world. Again, fine. Drawing from Bogost, that “…not all objects exist equally” there is a great discussion of the hierarchies of things that OOO affords and how this explains events of political and cultural significance through a close and systematic inspection of the relations between non-humans and how these interactions are vital for understanding a given cultural or political system. Again, agreed. Thinking about the non-signifying interactions of things is critical. No argument.

Things (and humans)

So, it looks like I am sitting on the fence, but really I am not. While Bryant’s OOO is both convincing and a great introduction to OOO in itself, I think it misses what David’s main objection is – and if it not David’s, then it would be mine. While agreeing with Bryant that a full understanding of the importance of things necessitates the kind of cartographic approach that he advocates, it can only be made sense of from a position that humans are asking the question of what are the importance of things or objects and why should we understand them. Things themselves may be asking this question, but if they are how would we know and why would we care? While Bogost’s metaphor and carpentry (see Alien Phenomenology) are very important additions to our toolkit in understanding things and how we understand and theorise such interactions, it does not advance a position that things themselves are understanding the relations between themselves in any way that can be understood as a thing. Humans are asking the questions as Heidegger argued from the beginning and as such OOO is for me a way of thinking about the things that are co-constructors of the world with being which is being-there, not an ontology itself. I now prepare to be shot down in flames.

Let me make it clearer! We absolutely need to understand things, the relations between things and how those relations are important in shaping understanding of the world for humans. It’s just that the understanding (and world) we question and aim to understand is necessarily human in that it is dependent upon human understanding in both making sense of things and in trying to grasp the understanding of those things. The questions of OOO are part of that understanding, not aside from, above or below that understanding. I now fall on my sword hopefully having offended none. Many thanks to David Berry and Levi Bryant for a great night of reading and thinking, and I hope you follow both blogs.

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The Raid and Post Cinematic Affect

DANGER: POSSIBLE SPOILERS ALTHOUGH I’LL TRY NOT TO…

I went to see the Raid on Wednesday, and oh boy. It was good. Good in the way that delicious food makes Homer Simpson drool. Hubba hubba. It was good in short, satisfying my base desires for cathartic violence and death very nicely. It is also the most obvious example I have seen of a video game being presented as cinema. This was remarked upon extensively in Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review programme on BBC Radio 5 this afternoon, and the structure or form of the film is alarmingly alike many expansive, immersive console games that are available. Steven Shapiro made much of the increasingly pervasive effect of digital cultural forms such as video games on traditional media forms in his 2010 book Post Cinematic Affect, using the example of the 2009 film Gamer starring Gerard Butler and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor and Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. I found the latter profoundly boring, the former (despite myself) immensely entertaining despite a paper-thin plot:

Gamer surfaces the influence of both audience-participation in media and video game cultures in a hyperreal media form in the future. The action and narrative structure of the film is also “borrowed” from video games, with the narrative driven by short, cut-away segments that punctuate the action sequences in the manner that cinematic cut-aways are used as narrative drivers between missions or action sequences in video games. This form is found in The Raid, with short sections of dialogue between small groups of characters punctuating extraordinary violence and death with a bewilderingly brilliant emphasis on martial arts. Many listeners to on the radio programme complained about the lack of characterisation and plot in The Raid. Two answers to them: first, grow a pair and second, so what? The film is intentionally not a character study nor a dramatic piece that builds to a ultimately conclusive ending through the characterisations and tensions between those characters. It is balls-out physical storytelling, with the plot and characterisation established through the effectiveness of the fighting techniques employed by the protagonists (we see the hero and the villain etc through the fighting and treatment of corpses). The plot is expressed through the action and through the hyperkinetic scenes, not through the traditional narrative forms. Observe:

Shaviro frames these developments in cinema as a the result of shaping of form by new digital media, and new forms of sensibility emerging from these forms. This new sensibility is what is missed by the critics of The Raid that base their criticism on the lack of characterisation and plot. The film is part of this new form in which those traditional features are replaced with the new sensibility that emerges from the influence of video games on other media texts, and as such those criticisms are only of limited value as they refer to different forms entirely.

My own enjoyment is a puzzling issue in itself. If I accept that this is a video game as film, and therefore I am experiencing a video game vicariously as an observer, why do I enjoy it? My enjoyment of games comes from he control afforded through the interface and through the learning and orientation to the game world through utilising the controller as a tool to explore and orient to that world. In this film, I am not given that affordance, unlike something like Red Dead Redemption where accomplished control derived from patient learning of the control mechanisms leads to a richer and more fulfilling experience of world and worldhood.

Red Dead Redemption – Pretty freaking awesome

The Raid positions me as an observer to the hyperkinetic action rather than experiencing that action through a responsive interface that allows me to explore the world. My enjoyment is perhaps a function of the shortened form (the film is a lean 1 hour 30 minutes, Red Dead is something I have played for well over 30 hours, and continue to play post-completion) and a perfection of video gaming as an activity. The director does not need to learn the controls or develop familiarity with the world, and as a viewer I am positioned into an environment where worldhood and skill have been pre-established. I’m just strapped in for the ride, like the hyperkinetic missions at the end of games like Red Dead Redemption. It’s a type of filmmaking that could easily go wrong but Swansea director Gareth Evans gets it right in The Raid.

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Kickstarter: funding media texts for the 21st century

I’ve recently “funded” 2 media projects on Kickstarter, Amanda Fucking Palmer’s new album with the Grand Theft Orchestra and an indie film called Ghosts with Shit Jobs. I’ve been a fan of AFP for a while and funding this was a no brainer, although the response to this Kickstarter has been of more interest than the product itself (the first track released, Do it with a Rockstar, is excellent though and I recommend checking it out by funding the project for as little as $1). Ghosts with Shit Jobs, a low-tech sci-fi based on the hypothetical resolution of the current economic depression looks like an excellent film that is just to my tastes and so this was a no brainer. I became aware of both projects through social media; through AFP’s Twitter feed and the social reading facility on Facebook for Ghosts with Shit Jobs, and the implications of this are interesting to say the least. Less than one week since the floating of Facebook on the NASDAQ exchange, the doomsayers are already predicting the downfall of the erstwhile social network as the share price slides from the opening issue of $38. My experience with Ghosts with Shit Jobs shows one way of leveraging the social network (based on my interests and in this case the interests and reading habits of people I have linked to on the network) to provide a financial result for a product. Similarly, AFP’s Kickstarter promotion via Twitter can be viewed as advertising over a social network – to a group of people already engaged with the artist. These are examples of direct media promotion facilitated by social networks, and as such these projects are working EXACTLY as projects launched, promoted and contingent on social networking audiences should; the audience is identified, promotion is targeted at that demographic, and the audience pays for the text based on interests that they already have expressed. Here, I want to pull this funding model apart (just a little) and speculate on how this will impact on “traditional” media funding and ownership and the role of corporations in media production in the 21st century. While I am enthusiastic about these projects (and hope the artists realise huge success through their entrepreneurship) the big players are going nowhere for a very, very long time. But we all knew that!

That AFP will readily engage with her fanbase via Twitter is, in my mind, a major reason why her Kickstarter-funded project is doing so well. As of this morning, the project has been funded to the tune of $841,142 by 17,241 backers (including me!). The target funding amount was $100,000. I think this project qualifies as a SPECTACULAR success based on this funding round alone. This surplus of funding is not being ploughed back into AFP’s pockets (I’m not convinced AFP is one for pockets) but is instead being used to diversify and rematerialise the product itself. One can back the project to receive a digital download, CD with artwork, Art Book, or a private party with AFP and the GTO at one’s own abode (seriously cool, but beyond my budget and sure to hack off the neighbours). The home visit comes for a pledge of over $10,000, and so can be achieved through utilising social networking to create flashmob-style groups of fans in locales that can pool their resources in order to achieve the requisite pledge for this top-level “product”. The funding does not convert to profit as we know, even though the album has already been recorded; the Kickstarter is in place to cover manufacturing and distribution costs that would usually be covered by a major record label leveraging economies of scale and globalised manufacturing and distribution chains. AFP’s latest blog entry details this spending in a much better way than I ever could, as does this video:

The purpose of Kickstarting this project is therefore to leverage the audience to replace the funding functions of the record label. The text itself is freed from any interference by the record label and the corporate pressures on the artist are replaced not with a freedom to produce but with a necessity to target the audience for their work with an engaging social campaign to ensure the final production and distribution of product. It’s interesting that in the video AFP correctly identifies being a musician as her “job”; unquestionably, this is a labour-intensive activity on the part of the artist, where many of the functions of the corporation are taken up by the artist in trade for the implied freedom to create a text that is free from corporate interference (be it deadlines, interference in artistic direction or taking ownership of the project, or any other constraint). The audience itself becomes a part of the production process and as such takes a new level of ownership of the project. In the age of filesharing, this opens interesting avenues – will the “backers” be inclined to rip the CD’s that they helped to produce and redistribute them via torrent clients? I’ll be keeping an eye on Pirate Bay and others with regards to this, but I’m going to wager now that if (when) this happens there will be a community backlash against such sharing (although inevitably some will download and seed regardless).

The point of interest in this project is whether this is a viable route to production for other musicians. The AFP project makes visible the role of the record company in the production of music products – CD’s, digital downloads, marketing materials, music videos, airplay on radio, digital and print advertising – and the question to be answered is can others achieve the success AFP has achieved. Without the immensely strong links to audience that AFP has built over many years of active audience engagement, I’d say no. The aspiring garage band with a record in plan has little or no chance of leveraging such audience funding for projects, as they have no audience. AFP’s previous engagement with Roadrunner Records has insured an audience for this project and as such a potential funding stream for this work, and I’d argue that it is only artists that have been through the record company system that could work in this way. More modest projects could be funded via a kickstart, but not something on the scale of AFP’s project – although this does raise the possibility that continued use of this model could eventually result in an audience engagement through a snowballing of audience numbers that would allow for a project on this scale. However, that may take years and years – albums are not produced in a night, and those that are run the significant risk of sucking badly. So, the role of the record company (in a time of collapsing physical media sales and fragmenting media audiences) is secure I’d argue for some time, although with revenues in physical music sales collapsing (see any damn source you want via Google) the future of the music industry is still questionable. Kickstarting music will work for some artists (cap doffed to you, AFP) but it is not the panacea to the endemic issues that the music industry suffers from in this time.

Which oddly questions why Ghosts with Shit Jobs has worked. I had never heard of the director Jim Munroe or his work previously, but on investigating the project I became interested in the content of the text rather than the funding of the project. The trailer is, to use the parlance of our times, epic:

The numbers funding the project are much lower than with the AFP project, and the final amount raised is subsequently lower too:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1453845642/tour-for-a-lo-fi-sci-fi-feature/widget/card.html

The project realised nearly 4 times the amount it required for funding the promotion and distribution of the text though, and this is significant. The $5,000 budget is based on digital distribution of the text rather than physical production. My $30 pledge has secured me a very cool physical artefact though:

Taken from the “Ghosts with Shit Jobs” Kickstarter Page

For my $30 (lets call that £18 for arguments sake) I receive a 8GB USB drive bracelet (in Abed from Community mode – cool, cool, cool) and the film in 1080HD. I’d call that a bargain seeing as I paid £12 to watch the Avengers in 3D last week, with a mouthbreather talking to her boyfriend in the seats in front of me all the way through (and standing up – I nearly lost it at least 10 times). The distribution of the text in this form both ties into the themes of the text and in my view anticipates the inevitability of redistribution of the text by the audience through digital means. This kickstart again is about replacing the corporation and their distribution and marketing channels with an audience-funded model. In my view this project has worked because it has identified its audience and reached them in a number of ways (being featured in Wired does not hurt), has appropriately packaged the product in ways that appeal to the core audience that has been identified and has has most importantly marketed a quality text – the film looks good damnit! For smaller scale projects, this mix is what I’d argue is going to dictate success or failure for their projects. Will this compete with the $200m Avengers? Never. That is not remotely the aim of the producers though, and this must be a conclusion to the discussion. AFP is not Beyonce and Jim Munroe is not Joss Whedon, but most importantly they are not trying to be. Realistic aims are critical to realisation of crowd-sourced distribution and manufacturing via Kickstarter.

I’m really looking forward to both projects, and I’ll review Ghosts with Shit Jobs in July when I get my wristband! Kickstarter is a very effective way of getting media projects to consumers for some projects, but the “majors” are going nowhere soon. That’s very depressing in many regards – if you disagree then look at the listings for your local multiplex or look at the top 40 singles or albums chart. If your tastes are a little more refined, perhaps Kickstarter is a page you need to bookmark, and choose what you want to support and receive rather than have that choice made for you by media multinationals.

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Alien Phenomenology

From Bogost.com

I’ve been reading Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) since 2008 when I first encountered Graham Harman at a seminar at UWE Bristol and went forth and read his Tool Being, which I considered the canonical text in OOO due to clarity of philosophical position and helpful proximity to my own philosophical position and writing on things and objects. While I never bought the central premise that all things are tools and that all causation is vicarious (for various reasons that I won’t go into here) Harman’s work, in Tool Being and other later works, is something that has to be read by anyone interested in objects or things and their place in human worlds because of his outstanding lucidity and genuinely fresh and interesting arguments on the role of things as tools in the world and what this means for understanding the concept of world. After reading Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, I’d add this book to that critical canon.

I’ll get the gushing praise out of the way firstly. Bogost is a brilliant writer, and this is a fantastic book to read. Harman is easily the most entertaining and clear interpreter of Heidegger that I have read (and unsurprisingly I’ve read many), and while Bogost does not attempt any long exegesis of Heidegger or Latour (who is more important to this work arguably) this does not impact on the flow of this work. Bogost’s skill is in the bewitching array of crystal-clear examples that he calls upon to stage and illustrate his lucid argument. In reading this, the logical progression of the argument through the chapters is also worth noting, and something I need to learn from for my own monograph. In short, brilliantly written and easy to read. A background in OOO may have helped in the ease of reading and perhaps a reader needs some prior exposure to the ideas that form the position; its hard for me to comment given my prior experiences, but I would think this is easily understood by the lay reader as well as the engaged academic.

The full title of the book, Alien Phenomenology: or What its Like to be a Thing, sets Bogost’s question pretty firmly: what is it to be a thing? My major problem with OOO has always been a simple one. What’s the Point? Why would we spend time speculating upon what it is to be like a thing, or what the relations between things are stripped of a human understanding of the nature of relations, when our knowledge of such relations can neither be verified nor (more importantly) understood through our perspective on the world that is irreducibly and irrevocably human. My delight in this book probably arises from the surprise and pleasure that Bogost actually deals with such concerns. While all 5 chapters are worthwhile in their own right, the chapters on Metamorphism and Carpentry are revelatory; these two chapters address the concerns I have always harboured on OOO. In Metamorphism, Bogost argues that metaphor itself is a way to grasp alien objects’ perception of one another. My scepticism is rooted in the acknowledged (with a firm and welcome nod to Nagel) impossibility of grasping or understanding the relations between other things, and Bogost’s answer to this is both to reaffirm this distance and reframe it within the possibility of reflecting the relations of things down the infinite chains of actors through metaphor. While metaphor does not encapsulate what the relationship between two actors is, it reveals the chain of relations beween things in actions and so places things as critical in actions themselves, de-centralising human agency and affirming a position where things are central. The why of OOO for me is partially answered.

Of more importance to this reader (and of genuine surprise) is the chapter on Carpentry, which details which tools philosophers should use to do OOO. Firstly, this concretisation of method is huge – like, totally huge. The field of OOO is instantly married to many other craft and engineering fields (and I know proponents of OOO have been saying this is the case for years – I’ve either wilfully ignored it or they’ve not argued it as clearly as Bogost does here) and the possibility of OOO as a field of enquiry, more than a theoretical speculation, is opened. Bogost uses excellent examples including a NES emulator that re-renders gameplay in frame by frame detail giving an insight into what it is to be a TV (!) and also uses some of his own experiences with the Atari VCS to show how we can engineer tools that display metaphor, and hence let us understand the relations between things. I am going to read a lot of Bogost’s work over the summer, so I don’t want to write more on these examples here, but I can attest that this was genuinely breath taking. An obvious reflection is that describing the relations between AV equipment and a console is fine as the technology either exists or can be created to do this but doing this with two rocks is not as possible. This is to miss the point I think: while all things are equal in a flat ontology, all things still withdraw (a point I’ve made since reading Tool Being and perhaps the one thing that could allow people to accuse me of being an OOO-ist) and as such the rocks withdrawal is something that cannot be surfaced by technology, while the interaction of NES and CRT can (more accurately, it is simulated and then surfaced). This is critical stuff; we need to think of ways to make stuff to do philosophy (and indeed Media Studies) and as such this is genuinely exhilarating.

The final chapter on Wonder is also worth reading, not only for the excellent audience critique for The Wire and American Idol but also because it reframes and reiterates why we look to understand things on something other than the level of natural sciences and why doing this is so important. In OOO, The Wire is a thing; it is a thing that through the advancement of social relativism the audience uses to understand what it is like to be in the Baltimore ghetto dealing drugs to stay alive. The thing The Wire regulates the understanding of the audience, but tells the audience nothing of what it is to be that drug dealer. The Wonder or awe of the world is reduced down to a spectacle of reproduction and representation of life that is beyond the grasp of the audience. Awe itself should be embraced according to Bogost; as a phenomenological experience of the withdrawal of an entity and a struggle to grasp the entity while failing, it informs us about the nature of things. The Wire (for all its brilliance as a text) flattens through our engagement as social relativists and the text as a piece of social realism. We look at things through the lens of ontology rather than natural science (reductionist) or social scientists (reductionist) because we want to understand what things do rather than what they do for us.

So, a really good book. As a Heideggerian, I am attached to the centrality of human beings to understanding world, and world itself being a region of human understanding based on our use of things as tools. The OOO has always been difficult for me because it challenges that view, but I was always able to shrug my shoulders and fall back on the idea that I would have no idea why anyone would want to purely speculate on relations between things. Bogost begins a sweeping away of that – but also reaffirms my position in a roundabout, try-to-save-face kind of way. The use of metaphor is important; it reaffirms the position that we cannot know what it is like to be a thing or what the relation between two alien things is from our position as humans. While humans are not central to world, they are central to the human concept of world. The phenomenological experience of world as a human being is all we have and all we will have, although we can try to build (and can build) things that advance our understanding. That world of alien things exists (according to Bogost) and is around us, but our primary experience of world will always be world as human-centred and our understanding of things will always be through the lens of our world. OOO and me can co-exist. Much more reading on Ian Bogost in the summer, deeply impressed.

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RSA Animate – Manuel Lima

Very enjoyable RSA video on networks. I’ve always found these animation videos excellent as the animation itself adds to the presentation rather than detracting from or distracting from the argument. As a visual aid to the main channel of communication the animation builds interest, builds attention and produces an enjoyment factor. These points should be transferrable to all discussions of this kind – worth keeping in mind for the future.

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First post

so…

This is a blog to record my thoughts on stuff. I like stuff. I encounter stuff on a daily basis, and I like to ponder the excruciating minutiae of every encounter with stuff until I suffer a sub-cortical haemorrhage of thinking. Or something.

I’ll be blogging on the important things – films, comics, video games, sports, you know, the critical aspects of the world during an unprecedented financial crisis. I’ll be applying my theoretical positioning derived from Heideggerian phenomenology when I can remember to also. Fun.

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