“Who runs the world?” I ask because I have complaints. The little man tells me the box for such things is down the hall. I stumble, clutching my manifestos. If only the masses would read these typed blueprints for utopia then the world would work, because I am a mechanic for reality!
I get to the box, but it is closed. The sign reads—
SEE WEBSITE FOR DETAILS.
So, I tweet.
and I yelp.
I set my phone to vibrate text alert so if anyone comments their digital voice will trip the invisible wire I have set.
Ding– 1 Comment,
Ding— 2 Comments,
YES! They can join—
Ding, Ding, Ding— 3 Comments
— MY REVOLUTION!
I open the comments like a child tearing at wrapping paper…
“Who voted for this asshole!!!,” one comment reads. “BITCH PLEASSSSSSSEEEEEE! Sit yo fucking-turtle-looking ass down somewhere!,” another retorts. “You is lame!!! #SuckIt MOTHER FUCKER!!!” another says.
I chase those comments with my words. Chase in futility the vulgarity of worldwide mass expression. The little man behind the desk laughs. “What’s so funny?!” I shout. “Nothing, our complaint box is just finally working.” I look. There I am, reduced to a wooden statue taking complaints and handing out smoke.
Who would have thought that from a yellow-ghost-eating ball and a jittery Italian plumber video games would become a medium for complex storytelling (like Starcraft, Bioshock, or Mass Effect) and create worlds of such definition and creativity that would equal and surpass any animation studio?
An understatement: Breath of the Wild is successful. To play it is to live another life. It is eclectic, taking the best of the original Zelda games: their magic, the creativity of the puzzles, the need to collaborate with friends and strangers in the internet to solve them. And it has allowed itself to be influenced by others. The size of the world, the fragility and variety of the weapons, the side quests, they mirror Skyrim or Mass Effect.
The plot is not particularly nuanced. There is a protagonist, allegory of order in a western moral system, who faces, with the assistance of secondary characters, an antagonist, allegory of chaos. Like a Harry Potter that faces a Voldemort, Beowulf a Grendel, Elijah a Jezebel.
But simplicity is not the enemy of greatness. TheOdyssey is about a man who is travelling home (and has some adventures along the way). James Joyce’s Ulysses is no more than a man who walks through Dublin one day. The beauty (and transcendence) of these works lies on their imagination, the awe of their descriptions, the pleasure in reading them, the complexity and newness of their words, how difficult they are to translate, etcetera.
BoTW has a simple plot, but the attention to detail, the texture of every tree, flower, monster, and character is unparalleled. It does not use words to create the world, but code, and it is some beautiful code! It is a monumental project. It requires an active reader to solve the puzzles in order to move the story along. It is not the same challenge as reading a book, but it is an engaging challenge nonetheless.
BoTW is a metaphor of European Colonialism. The main character, a white, blue-eyed young man is destined to save the world. Like Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden (1899)—the racist author of the all-round awful Jungle Book (1894)—Link has the burden to visit the most exotic and wild places of the planet because the inhabitants need him to save them. Like Columbus or Magallanes, he has to “discover” the world, “draw” maps and help underdeveloped peoples to find their way.
Link is the European “I” that faces the “other”. Thus, he finds, for example, the strict matriarchy of the Gerudo; the Gorons, a tribal mining society that appreciates physical strength above all; the Rito, who literally live on trees; and the Sheikah, keepers of ancient wisdom and inhabitants of pagoda-like houses. Link finds all these people of color, saves them, and then, at the end, goes back “home” to save the allegorical woman, who also cannot save herself.
BoTW establishes racial hierarchies and fetishizes the “other”, perpetuates the problematic symbol of the white savior who goes and helps the “third world” or, if you so prefer, the “developing world.” He then goes home and saves the women. Indeed, the video game cover alludes to Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting that has often been interpreted as an enlightened European man looking over a world of wilderness.
Video games do not exist in an ideological vacuum. And maybe the important question is not why BoTW sees the world from the perspective of a European explorer that finds underdeveloped peoples in need of civilization. Maybe the question should be: Why does a Japanese studio choose this narrative of world history as a relevant way to tell the story, and a commodity that will find many buyers worldwide? Maybe, European colonialism is still so natural and a discourse that feels so normal, that we will not question it.
Interpreting video games seriously enables us to understand in what discourses we are immersed. In this particular case, it allows us to understand that racism and coloniality do not always manifest as border walls or dead bodies on the shore of the Mediterranean, but can be subtle and, to dismantle them, we must give them the gravity they demand.
Follow Ricardo Quintana Vallejo on Twitter @realquir
Dennis Cooper’s blog, The Weaklings, has been a wonderful place for those who wanted to find alternative representations of reality–a few degrees removed, darker than midnight. It is an alley many could walk down, and then quickly walk away from if (when?) it became too much. Eros and Thanatos are not just connected in the Universe of Dennis Cooper–they are permanently in each other’s arms, in the darkness of a corner room, open to each other and engaged in a perpetual state of procreation. The romance of Cooper’s most delicate and meaningful love affairs (the most tender one I have encountered yet would be in his graphic novel, Horror Hospital Unplugged, 1993) is always tainted by the reality that in a heteronormative world, in a world which promotes its dominance, its “rightness” by making these desires criminal, the ostracized queer will go on to become a criminal, to attract the darkness to them. To criminalize the queer is to make them a self-fulfilling prophesy. This is not some new dimension of fetish reduced through pornography, this is where desires hold both liberation of the self and the traps of social consequence. This is the territory of Jean Genet’s sailors on a phallic ship, where the structure of society is reworked.
Through high school, Dennis Cooper was the reason I cleared my browsing history before my parents could look something up on the computer.
Cooper’s blog is the only place where you can find detailed prose-poems about male escorts and the world of rent boys hooked on drugs and masochism, and esoteric and obscure reflections on the history of art, sensational crimes, transgressive and punk writers from the tradition Cooper helped initiate, and long lists of elaborate decorations or images, often without commentary, centralized around a theme. My personal favorite was a series of Halloween decorations that ranged from the mildly gross and humorously creepy to the outright traumatic, represented through a series of demonstration videos and .gif sets. Cooper’s interest is the only thing connecting it all. In many ways, The Weaklings was a darker corner of Tumblr before Tumblr existed. In my first year of college, I found a magazine called PYWSM?!? And in that exchange met a beautiful man who gave me hope for queer people hoping to create art outside of the rainbow paradigm. I discovered the films of Pasolini and the plays of the mad spiritual Artaud. The blog offered Cooper fans a place to interact with the author, in the form of a “PS” at the end of each post. Cooper responded to almost every person who left comments, and used the section as an opportunity to promote young artists he admired.
[Cooper, in an interview with Hilda Magazine, talks about his publishing history, including a large section about the composition of a blog post, including a discussion of the “PS”]
And one day it all disappeared. Cooper went public with his story about the removal of his blog and the deletion of his account, which cost him years of work, including a novel in progress. It was a moment that could have easily shattered another artist and forced them to close up shop. To lose a work in progress is one thing, to lose an archive at the same time is to feel as though your work never existed in the real world. I was reminded of the incident early in Hemingway’s career, in which he famously lost a trunk full of manuscripts, or the drunken remarks that Capote had finished Answered Prayers and put the book in a locker, where it has yet to be found. The lost work always holds out hope and dread. These are the moments in which the artist has to choose whether to continue working or to abandon their efforts. Following international outcry, the account, along with the blog, was returned to Cooper, with almost as little explanation as its disappearance. All that is left is speculation.
The Weaklings, or DC’s[NSFW] as it is now called, can be described in its new incarnation as an art project moving in two directions: a restoration of the lost material of the blog that Cooper originally wrote and published for over a decade, in addition to new posts, creating a space where the past and the future are unfolding at the same time. This archiving/creating project moves in conjunction with Cooper’s turn towards the digital form, exploring what writing means in a digital landscape. From his early career in the zine scene of the 1980s to his most recent print novel, The Marbled Swarm (2011), Cooper has focused on the breakdown and manipulation of language. The digital landscape has given him a new avenue to explore.
Zac’s Freight Elevator, published online by Kiddiepunk.com right after the blog controversy, is the third in a series of highly experimental works composed entirely in .gif images. These works are freely available on the Internet, either as downloadable packages or as things you can scroll through on your web browser of choice. To call these works novels is to present them within a particular context that the genre hounds among us might find uncomfortable or unsatisfactory. They are, after all, wordless, and who created a wordless novel? (Lynn Ward and his woodcuts, perhaps, but no matter.) These works are exactly what you would expect from Dennis Cooper: dark, occasionally funny, twisted, disturbing, filled with images that will stick with you long after reading. The only difference is these are actual images, not representations of visual events in words. Each text is made up of film clips, music videos, spinning rock lyrics, advertisements, and oddities found throughout the web. The images short-circuit what we have come to expect from literature. It is, of course, the case that many of these images are tapping deep into your unconsciousness, sending signals not unlike the signals from the telegraph device featured in the preface to Zac’s Haunted House [NSFW], the first of his “GIF-Novels.” Imagine a silent film without title cards or music to accompany the action.
I read Zac’s Haunted House, in about 15 minutes. Reading is, I realize, a somewhat dishonest term–not because the book is wordless but because I scrolled through, not wanting to look, even as I kept going. It is traumatizing, a horror film you watch through parted fingers. Even still, there are moments of tenderness hidden in the work. Comfort is to be found in the arms of another man, even if this other man could also betray you and send you spiraling, as men so often do in Cooper’s work. There is love, but it is fleeting, snatched away before it can be turned into something sentimental.
These works dependent on the archival and collaborative nature of the internet. Each consists of found image sets, rearranged to create movement and contrasting scenarios. This is a new kind of storytelling that grew out of the blog space, one that lets readers create the context between images and situations. There is no specific plot. It takes the gaps of experience (the life we live between Facebook posts) and makes that the narrative structure. With each new work in this form, the form itself develops, resulting in a smoother, more finessed experience of Cooper’s juxtapositions. In a time when many of us scroll on by, Cooper has adapted to the scroll and made it part of his work.
It is in these narratives that Cooper is finding ways to present the world to readers anew. Like his prose fiction, it is dark and frightening, but it is also able to contain moments of great tenderness. It is the radical honesty Cooper demonstrates by placing his work in the world, that makes his blog and his novels in a new media form into avenues worth exploring in our digital wonderland before they are blocked off.
The Internet is a museum that goes on forever. This is what I want to believe, at least.
We are firmly in the grasp of the Digital Humanities revolution. This means things are irreparably different now. The Digital Humanities—and what that term is going to encompass is a question we are still working out—will bring us everything and nothing new all at once.
The changing reality of the Digital Humanities era means that we can no longer function in a single framework. We need to find ways to push beyond the frames we inherited, to find where that frame can be connected with others to form new structures. Periodically, these structures will be ruined so that we can begin again.
We are the first generation that is able to hold 2,000 books or more in our hand at one time without being crushed under them, on a device equal in weight and smaller in size than your average poetry collection. Whether we will remember these works and use them, or not, is another matter. This is one of many paradoxes of the Digital age.
A museum holds what we value, or at least what we are supposed to value. Value always has a particular concern behind it. We should always ask who is deciding where value is to be found. There are things we value too much for questioning. We call these things traditions. These are the things, of course, that we must question most.
The Internet is a museum that goes on forever. The art of museum directorship lays in having a knack for knowing what to keep and what to expel. No one vessel can encompass everything.
The Internet is the most democratic form that exists–so long as you have access to a computer, electricity, wi-fi, modems, consumerism, a capitalist world, money, time and the English language.
If you have access to this ‘launch pad’ you can find anything.
But as anyone who has tried to find Truth will tell you, it vanishes rapidly before your eyes. This is where we start to find our limits.
The Internet is finite and infinite, something that stretches outside of the dimensions of space, while still suffering from the borders of reality.
The Internet is a museum that can be demolished without the weight of a falling bomb.
On the Internet, things end with a whimper, not a bang.
We surround ourselves with the things we value, and the things we are supposed to value, both in reality and on our Facebook walls.
We can try to archive the Internet, either in other digital spaces, or we try to print it out as a form of banal artistry, only to find that it reproduces like a family of rabbits.
No one will ever see the entirety of the Internet.
It is imperative that we recognize the limitations of our space in the same way that we recognize what this same space capable of. We need to know how to break the frames of our existence, but to break them well, in the best way we can.
This is true of life as well as the Internet.
We exist in finite museums, sectioned off from an infinite world. That is the joy and terror of our condition in a sentence.
This finite space is here to find what is worth preserving and replicating, to find an aspect of the previously unfocused and unfeatured.
The Internet is a lot like the vanishing point in a painting. The Internet lives in that moment where space seems to go on forever. You cannot see the whole of the Internet. And yet you can put this image within a frame and place it on your refrigerator, to make it a smaller part of your larger world, to capture it if only for a moment or two.