metacriticism

Morbid Reductions .2

NYRB Obit - Oct 2011

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Patrick Leigh Fermor; Travel Writer, War Hero

The diction and the structure conspire to depict PLF as a literary mind of the highest order. Syntax is elaborate; sentences are densely structured, and unabashedly so. A line like: “A war hero of polymathic exuberance, brilliant linguistic skills, and an elephantine memory” has a celebratory extravagance, evocative of a hyper-learned, swashbuckling, exuberant traveling scholar.

The text is peppered with asides containing PLF’s own observations and bon mots; the tone verges on energetic and playful. Descriptions of PLF’s books bleed into descriptions of his own activities, intentionally so: “the style was the man.” The ‘aged PLF’ is depicted as of a piece with his picturesque Mediterranean home, itself woven into a familiar and grand Grecian countryside.

Descriptions of PLF’s books include choice quotes (“a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly”), a range that telegraphs global conscientiousness and, again, a ferocious breadth of study. Then we get accounts of his wartime daring. See: a German commander-kidnapping immortalized as a movie, mentioned as an aside, because the film is dismissed as “lackluster” with an abandon that does as much as any device in the article to impress the outsized dimensions of PLF’s grandeur. Naturally, PLF and the kidnapped commander established grudging mutual respect for one another predicated on - what else? - a shared appreciation of Horace. But he loathed the war.

A warm, concluding anecdote opens a window into PLF’s last days and verifies, finally, his unflagging spirit. But we don’t really need it, by that point. The article is just under 2000 words. It combines dense, elaborate style, detailed but wide-ranging geographic imagery, personal quotation, personal anecdote, a range of classical literary references, authoritative statements regarding PLF’s state of mind at various points, and a colorful account of PLF’s primary achievements.

This is, perhaps, the first time I’ve found the photo’s characterizing effects overshadowed by the prose. The personality is developed enough - and sufficiently connected to the Mediterranean sea-side - by the end of the article that the photo succeeds only in quietly confirming PLF’s youthful vigour, intensity of thought, and dashing Italian style. That said, it communicates brightness and poise, and it’s mildly surprising to see a war-hero so physically slight.

A Small Linkdump of Recent Smart Things Written About the Internet/IRL Dichotomy:

+ Thankfully, someone at the Times had the good sense to publish an effective rejoinder to Bill Keller’s hysteria piece, The Twitter Trap. Jenna Wortham’s Does Facebook Help or Hinder Offline Friendships? takes a nice, smart, even tone—and a realistic portrayal of the way most of us actually roll.

+ Oh, to be a real academe. Here’s a Twitter link to Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick’s paper-in-progress, Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies. I would like to write the “adult” version of this paper.

+ From Yale’s Law & Technology blog via the site of one Max Cho (a post that deserves a link if only for its title alone): Unsell Yourself — A Protest Model Against Facebook. I feel like this piece fails to account for the prevalence of irony in Internet humor (and how certain social logics emerge to form new stratas of power—we see this in the art world all the time). But hey, sure—go ahead and “like” Lady Gaga and call it protest. It’s just Facebook, after all.

GIF by Dump.fm user Timb.

And how could we forget the game critics, those very serious young white men in their 20’s and 30’s, who will join them to celebrate of the final refinement of these sacred formulas. These critics would never stoop so low as to see these games at face value, oh no. They are on a very important mission to bring to light the great achievements of art that these games truly are. So what if they stretch them so paper-thin that they’ll start to resemble something completely different from the actual games themselves. How can you rhapsodize at great lengths about the joy of violence in a videogame without sounding like a complete psychopath?
— 

The Monster Within | Midnight Resistance

I don’t agree with everything Liz Ryerson writes, but she is a strong and powerful alternative voice in games criticism and, simply, a pleasure to read. Here she writes about Hotline Miami and videogame violence and game critics being too forgiving.

entertainment.time.com
"I don’t write hatchet jobs. A thoroughly negative review needs to justify its existence thoroughly, and for that you need a lot of words, and TIME’s book reviews don’t run long enough. So if I don’t like a book, I leave it alone. Books come into this world mortally wounded as it is. It’s pretty rare that a book is so malignant and so tough that it needs someone like me to come along and finish it off. It’s enough to deny them care."

Lev Grossman, in Time, on book reviewing. I’m a sucker for this kind of piece anyway, and I think Grossman is very right – when there’s so much available, and so many competing voices, it’s increasingly important to lionize good stuff instead of trashing bad stuff.

(This is not to say that I didn’t find James Wood’s review of HHhH intelligent and precise, and also especially prim and joyless.)

(And also: who’s the bean-counting dweeb at Time who decides to take a piece like this and interrupt after every couple of paragraphs with a semi-relevant link? Makes you feel bad for Grossman, for writing for a publication that respects writer and reader so little.)

But to tell a critic he has no right to review a novel because he’s never written one is a dangerous notion, because it strikes at the heart of the idea of expertise (and scholarship, and judgment) itself—it’s like telling a doctor that he can’t diagnose a disease because he’s never had it, or a judge that he can’t hand down a sentence because he’s never murdered anyone himself. The fact is that criticism is its own genre, a legitimate and (yes) creative enterprise for which, in fact, very few people are suited—because very few people have the rare combination of qualities that make a good critic, just as very few people have the combination of qualities that make a good novelist or poet.
— 

A Critic’s Manifesto: The Intersection of Expertise and Taste : The New Yorker

Daniel Mendelsohn’s manifesto on literary criticism is just as applicable to the ongoing teething of videogame criticism.

But I thought postmodernists didn't like metacriticism?

     In 1973, Kurt Vonnegut got a book published which dealt with such pressing issues as why someone would call a delivery company “Pyramid” and the difference between a beaver and a vagina. However, under its surface it showed the author’s view on life in America and on Earth. However, one writer, Peter Messent, does not seem to think that what Vonnegut had to say was exactly original. In fact, he asserted that this book is mere repetition of what Vonnegut has said before. According to Messent, the fact that elements which the author has used before are present shows “carelessness on the part of the writer” (104). He backs up his claim by showing that the strong use of water as a symbol as well as phrases, such as “bang in the noon-day sun” (104), have been used by Vonnegut in the past. Messent claims that the author is not “using the same words deliberately in the way that he uses the same characters and settings throughout his novels,” but that said repetition is evidence of “tiredness in Vonnegut’s writing” (104).

     While it is fully possible that Messent’s criticism of Breakfast of Champions is accurate, it seems to me that he is too focused on the idea that inter-story repetition is undesirable to imagine it being used deliberately. This is supported by the fact that Messent does not actually explain why he believes that the repetition was accidental, just that he does believe it. Now, while it may just be my bias due to my fondness for Vonnegut’s work, I disagree with Messent’s review. I see Vonnegut’s repetition between stories as a way to imply that each story represents the events of the same characters in different versions of reality. This appears to me as a statement of the idea that while all of us live in the same world, we experience life and reality in a wholly unique way. 

Work Cited

Breakfast of Champions: The Direction of Kurt Vonnegut’s Fiction.” Peter B. Messent. Journal of American Studies, 8.1. Cambridge University Press, (Apr., 1974), 101-114. JSTOR. Web. 10/9/12.

youtube

One of the best reviewers I’ve stumbled across on YouTube (performatively, that is; I can’t judge music) on the topic of content interlocking with style. Actually, on content competing with style, which - really - is all you’re ever talking about, regarding art.

Addendum: occasionally, a well-written piece of criticism makes something way more enjoyable to me and, on an even sparser basis, an essay will makes something less (though not necessarily un-) enjoyable by virtue of understanding it, and this bro’s Childish Gambino Review is one of those latter situations. “Gambino kind of takes what little things seperate us and then he just gets upset about it…Being the odd man out is the only card Gambino knows how to play. And the thing is, is that he’s not that odd, and he’s not that out…If this album is truly not him, then the character he’s playing…comes off, to me, as really insecure.” But bro gives props to the largely killer final monologue and name-drops NPR while doing so; hence, filtered through me-O-vision, he’s kind of oozing credibility from his pores right now.

Watch on gruntosaur.tumblr.com

Love songs are, of course, nothing new for TV on the Radio, but they’re usually cast against the grim backdrop of life during wartime: Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes’ doo-wop serenade “Ambulance” spoke of emotional commitment using the language of hospital care; Return to Cookie Mountain’s “Province” effectively equated a declaration of love with an act of radicalism. On Nine Types of Light, however, there seems to be a more concerted effort on the band’s part to not let external pressures sully their inner spirit: Set to steady shuffle beats, “Will Do” and “You” are impassioned, open-hearted addresses delivered free of any political context

Look, I know you write for Pitchfork and everything, but I don’t think you can definitively assert that somebody else’s song has no intended political significance, especially when the band is TV on the Radio…

and ESPECIALLY when the relationship in the song is such an obvious vehicle for America’s relationship with Barack Obama. I mean, come on.

Metacriticism

Got emailed the following question: 

Can you recommend any writings that are more general and perhaps introductory to the subject of game critique/theory?

This was my response:

For theory, I would start with the books I list here: http://critdamage.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/a-videogames-reader.html (sneaky tip, search for pdfs of expensive academic books you can’t afford on libgen.info) For non-academic critique, the essays I list in http://www.newstatesman.com/helen-lewis/2012/12/where-find-good-videogames-criticism are a good place to start reading. In particular, Kieren Gillen’s manifesto on New Games Journalism is a good place to start thinking about this stuff: gillen.cream.org/wordpress_html/assorted-essays/the-new-games-journalism/ Also L Rhodes Ludorenaissance interview series at Culture Ramp is superb: http://cultureramp.com/the-ludorenaissance/ Also Jenn Frank on Medium talking about critique: https://medium.com/play-time/dd2d4df6b94 Cara Ellison on ‘subjective’ game criticism: http://caraellison.co.uk/commentary/condemnation-iteration/ Also if you went back through the older BrainyGamer podcast series, there is one where Michael Abbott interviews Chris Dahlen and Jamin Warren about the launch of Kill Screen where they say a whole lot of interesting things about writing about games, and I think the second half is an interview with Tom Bissell about Extra Lives which is good too. So that is where I would start!

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In my current artistic practices I try to critically observe contemporary post-internet paradigm and so connected blogosphere phenomenon. The core of my research lays in the topic of self-presentation posed by my early works. Since then I’m focused on melting pots between personal and general, systematically hoping to find an essence in my self-portraits that can be understood as a general, non-subjective statement. I understand blog as an easily accessible work and presentation space open for interdisciplinary exchange and order of ideas, thoughts and “finished works”. It forms a visual diary, a self-presentation self-critique platform, a platform for institutional critique, a new universe where nothing is finished, maybe a parallel one, any sort of critique could be used and in the same moment be easily erased forever. You are able to be nobody and everybody, to be followed and vice versa, who cares. People who knows do not give a single fuck.