The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Here's A Follow Up Post About My Immortal and Death of the Author

I wrote about Tara Gilesbie. I podcasted about Death of the Author. Now I'm writing about both together. Because everyone kind of expects me to.









You could read my decision to publish a half hour discussion of Roland Barthes's Death of the Author directly after declaring the author of "My Immortal" not merely dead but a weird ghost as a kind of rebuttal to reality itself. About 15 different people predictably sent me the Buzzfeed article about Tara Gillesbie's shocking re-emergence and book deal, which came out shortly after I wrote my article on Tara the Cryptid, after all, so there was some expectation of a follow-up. And the follow-up I gave was, I suppose, me digging my heels in.

Of course, I just happened to be far enough along with that audio project that I could get it out that week. From an Authorial Intent standpoint, reading it as a response would be wrong.

But you could do it anyway.

That's, like, kind of the point.

Where we get into more interesting questions is whether or not we gain anything by reading Death of the Author and the Tara-as-Cryptid article together, as part of this month's like meta-theme or whatever. If it works as a meta-theme I'm not going to try to take credit for it--I'm sitting here grinding this out right now with the full knowledge that none of this was planned. If I figure out the thesis of this piece by the time I reach the conclusion it'll be a miracle. But can we get something out of bringing these things together, reading them with or against each other?

I mean, might as well give it a try since the first piece mashed up My Immortal, cryptids, Derrida's Hauntology, and parafiction, and the second combined Barthes and David Bowie. Keep getting stranger and all that.

All this is already pretty strange, of course. At least it feels strange to me. Not the article itself--I wrote it with the full knowledge that it might be made irrelevant quickly and I think the argument is basically disinterested in whether the Tara of the Lost Fictionpress Account is real or not. There I was focused on the effect that its uncertainty creates and what it reveals. But... yeah, it's still weird and even a little uncomfortable to have fiction give way so suddenly to this flood of (a certain kind of) reality. 

I don't think the effect would be so profound if not for the fact that the real woman herself, Rose Christo, is apparently into Wintersun, Zeromancer, and IAMX. Yeah, I discovered that yesterday as I was researching for this piece. It's in her FAQ on her tumblr, right below a bunch of the "yes I'm really Tara" content. I'm pretty used to people not really knowing who those bands are (though IAMX is, of course, famous for the song "Volatile Times" which was turned into lyricstuck). Seeing them pop up in the bio of Rose Christo The True Author Of My Immortal threw me for a bit of a loop. There's other things too. Like: I wrote the whole first article deeply conscious of the fact that Jim Morrison was the same age as I am now when he died and, unsettlingly, Christo is also 27. 

I mean, Rose Christo is into Wintersun! I mean what the fuck? Is she, too, waiting anxiously for Time II, worrying that it'll take another fucking decade for the band to put out their follow-up to Time I? Is Christo, too, wondering why the heck they released a totally unrelated album five years later after saying that Time II was recorded and being mixed in like 2014? Does Christo, too ,sometimes wonder whether the only reason anyone expects there to be a Time II is because they named an album Time I and, like, when Dream Theater wrote Metropolis Pt 2 they were just fucking with prog metal fans but then they went and recorded an entire ALBUM called Metropolis Pt 1 anyway, so do even troll bands (they're viking metal, is it possible they are literal trolls?) feel some pressure to bring such narratives full circle? 

Does even a troll eventually cave under the sheer magnitude of a massively successful trolling effort? Is it possible to maintain the ironic relationship to your troll art, or do you, eventually, have to reveal what's really going on, make sure the world knows what you've done?

Does Christo wonder that? 

About Wintersun? 

I mean?

I mean, I don't really mean to suggest that Wintersun are trolling. In fact, as I dug deeper into Wintersun's history in order to make that joke about Time II finally coming out, I found a post by Wintersun's primary creative force Jari Mäenpää that discussed, in bluntly frustrated terms, the difficulty crafting the band's dense, layered tracks in his "shitty apartment" (relatable) and the problems with raising funding to produce material at the level of complexity and polish he seems to desire (also relatable). So, I don't think Jari Mäenpää is deliberately withholding Time II from us just to screw with us, even if I have to wonder exasperatedly why The Forest Seasons was finished and released first.

For what it's worth, Christo speculates that maybe the band decided to release The Forest Seasons for record contract reasons. I should probably have mentioned earlier that she does just have a bunch of answers to my questions on her tumblr? But the thing is, I only just thought to look up what she's said about her favorite metal band Wintersun, because it just doesn't occur to me to do shit like that. Is this weird for you? Well, it's weird for me too.

The whole notion of simply asking authors about things is a confusing one to me, not merely for theoretical reasons but because of a long history of things like JK Rowling providing post-hoc rulings that I thought were clear, obvious bullshit, and various people (well, really just creative director Brady Dommermuth) reacting to questions about Magic the Gathering's canon with "if I tell you that you're just going to use it against me, later." The author, it seems, is better off dead than a disappointment.

Or does it seem that way? We might pathologize The Author in the way that Roland Barthes suggests: of course Van Gogh's works are the product of his madness, what else would they be? But the text, any text, even critical texts, are tapestries of signs--they convey meaning apart from the individual psychology of the author because that's just sort of how language works, always at several (or infinite) removes from the object. I'm not sure that you can simply move through my own writing and say, well, all of this stems inexorably from that time Sam got into a flamewar with author Matthew Stover over a children's card game. Or rather I should say, I hope to god that you can't reduce everything I say down that far.

Wintersun's latest album, not Time II but The Forest Seasons, is a set of four epic songs with the titles Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring), The Forest That Weeps (Summer), Eternal Darkness (Autumn), and Loneliness (Winter). Are these goffic titles a product of Mäenpää's frustration with his shitty apartment? Can we decypher, as the New Critics do, how each of these songs reveals the specific pain of trying to mix a record on a computer that literally doesn't have enough RAM to handle your orchestral layers? 

Eh. 

It's hard to get really enthusiastic about such questions, to my mind. This feels to me like trivia masquerading as insight, the critical equivalent to treating high scores in video games as interchangeable with insightful analysis of games' systems and meaning. Just because you can master a thing doesn't make that mastery into a superseding critical mode.

But that doesn't stop the story of a text's creation from being interesting, nor does it stop the temptation to read those intriguing narratives into the text. That's... actually probably ok? As much as Death of the Author lays out a radical vision for freedom from interpretive authorities, it's probably not that big a deal that we still talk about authors. Certainly I keep referring to Death of the Author as "Roland Barthes's essay and argument." Certainly Barthes speaks of (e.g.) Proust's narratives, his characters, his dynamics within the text. If we were to be true structuralists, perhaps we would remove all proper nouns entirely, strip away the whole notion of the author, demand that texts be sent into the world anonymously, or under pseudonyms, authored by purely speculative entities, cryptids, ghosts, Tara Gilesbies. 

But if we were to do that we would have to admit that Barthes is certainly a failed structuralist by those standards.

Imagining this kind of extreme structuralism where we develop fictional characters reveals, though, a major point Barthes makes in his essay: our sense of the author can only ever be a fiction that we project because to write is to enter a space of inherent ambiguity, where it's impossible to determine with certainty where the assumed character ends and the real author begins. 

I wonder what Tara Gilesbie thinks of The Forest Seasons. Is she into it or is it too intense and frostbitten for her tastes? Does she make the leap from My Chemical Romance to 14 minute long folk metal rambles? What does she think of the creation of the album, and of Mäenpää's shitty apartment? Does she imagine him as a viking warrior riding through the fields of snow to challenge the very gods, a son of winter and storm?

Asking these questions is strange for a whole bunch of reasons, and Tara being a fictional persona might be the least of those reasons. What's really strange about these questions is that they are by necessity different from questions about Rose Christo, but at the same time it only occurs to me to ask them of Tara once I'm aware that Christo exists, once she gives me a reason to wonder. Tara is the thing that we can say emerges from the text of My Immortal, the author function that takes on that weird multivoiced role, the narrator who speaks but inherently ambiguously, just as Balzac's narrator, for Barthes, is always a weird multivoiced entity. What we can say about Tara is inextricably tied to her literary voice, and we can say things about her only by passing over that text and seeing the quotations and references of which her body is composed.

At least I assume based on what other people have done over the years with My Immortal that we can do such work. I've never actually read My Immortal, myself. I should probably have mentioned that up front?

Anyway, it seems weird to me to feel suddenly compelled to consult the text like an oracle to answer questions that are more relevant to the actual, real person, Rose Christo. Questions that only exist because Christo offers the information on her Tumblr! It's incoherent and I suppose what I'm attempting to convey here, with recourse only to words and to style--and this attempt at clarification is limited only to those same things!--is the muddled, messy reality on the ground. It's really handy to be able to adopt my own persona of Knowing What The Hell I'm Doing but really I'm trying to carry out a series of patch jobs on the places where theory breaks down for one reason or another--sometimes simply because I find those breakdowns so uncomfortable that I can't sort out logically how to work with them.

Like: it's much easier to talk abstractly about what We Want as a culture and how those desires are revealed through parafiction than to actually articulate my own feelings and desires with respect to who I wanted "The Real Tara" to be. That's probably in part because I genuinely didn't have any expectations or desires until a few damn weeks ago. Now here I am, confronted, with the far more complex reality of Christo's life, and I don't quite know what to do with it. Sometimes I'm seized by a manic kind of reaction to this sort of thing. I found myself last night reading a German wikipedia page for a band that headlined with Wintersun, for example, because I was worried that Wintersun was palling around with people like arch-reactionary lunatic Varg Virkenes. They're not, but like, there's learning the backstory of a text's creation and then there's creeping on every aspect of a person's life and the pull of the latter unnerves me.

Death of the Author has, effectively, practically nothing to do with this, I think. Not Barthes's essay, I mean. If you've listened to my attempted summary you should be familiar by now with the basic scope of what Barthes was arguing. It's a structuralist essay, focusing on the way that language exists unbound by grand authority figures! But... Rose Christo isn't a grand authority figure. And really, I don't know that this changes a textual analysis of My Immortal. It's practically got nothing to do with it from a structuralist perspective. The text functions as it functions, narratively speaking. The fact that Christo wrote it (allegedly) in order to find her brother is beside the point for a critic.

And maybe the inverse is true if you're interested not in criticism of My Immortal but in the story of Christo and what IT does. I mean, god, I have to confess, nowhere in any of this have I really felt that much like I had to sit down and read My Immortal. I read the first two chapters today and was sort of like, ok, that's good, that's enough for me. I think I'd be more interested in reading criticism about My Immortal than reading the text itself, and I'm far more interested in reading Christo's autobiography than either thing.

And that's a tempting place to leave this. Christo's story obviously hasn't come out yet but the basic contours of the story seem fascinating, and, well, look she's into Wintersun and Zeromancer! And she's really gay for Undyne! That's awesome! My Immortal is... fine, it's fine that it exists in the world, but while I'm a little fascinated by the character of Tara Gilesbie, so far I'm finding Rose Christo the far more intriguing entity. If I was really trying for something satisfying here, I'd put the cap on this line of thought with an ironic reworking of Barthes, something like:

The birth of Rose Christo must be ransomed by the death of Tara Gilesbie.

And if I was really on the ball I would have called this My Immortal Author, too.

But the chilly touch of the Death of the Author keeps seeping back in.

I just can't shake the sense, you see, that there's something unreal about Rose Christo. Not un-genuine or made up... I don't know how much of what we've heard so far is promotional material but I don't really care about any of that. I have a degree in a field sporting not one but two actual wizards. I totally get why some folks have expressed skepticism that My Immortal could really be some long game designed to use the entire internet for the purpose of locating one person, but in the context of the other nonsense I'm willing to accept from cishet white dudes who happen to be Great Artists I feel it's only fair to extend to benefit of the doubt.

No, it's the sense in which all authors are unreal, in which they exceed our grip because of the basic limitations of language. Rose Christo is conjured for me as a reader through her text, and there's something uncanny for me about the way, as I approach closer and closer to feeling a kind of intimacy via shared experience (even something as seemingly dumb as the shared love of a viking metal band and that band's foibles, which are themselves something of a projection...) that gap becomes all the more accentuated. It's not just that such a myth has grown around this person that encountering her feels unreal--though that's part of it--it's the way that this dynamic keys into that fundamental gap between critic and author.

I'm not even going to try to pretend this is definitely a universal thing or that my response is like Rational and Normal. If you've been following me on social media you're probably aware that I'm Probably Autistic, or at least I have strong suspicions, and part of the way that manifests for me is deep bewilderment about my own mind and the minds of others. Part of the reason I find affect and phenomenology so interesting is because of the possibility they offer for a theorized way of accessing experience, something that otherwise for me is often quite perplexing. And yet...

There's something a little unnerving to me about An Author, because of these limitations. Death of the Author appeals to me not necessarily intellectually but affectively. It's an excuse to not have to worry about the weird presumption of reading texts autobiographically. And it does feel presumptuous to me, perhaps from both perspectives. How is the critic to know that they are accessing the truth about their subject's experience? To feel satisfied with the completeness of the account? To not feel a little suspicious about what's been omitted? And how is the author to trust that their experiences are being fairly conveyed? Isn't there something a bit... well... gross about rooting through some total stranger's blog to find out all their musical tastes and correlate that to your projection of that person's personality? Isn't there something a bit uncomfortable in the friendly intimacy this assumes, despite that intimacy being entirely illusionistic? How comfortable can I really be with a reality where exploring a person's existence inevitably seems to involve narrating that existence, presuming to turn Author into Text and Text into Author?

And holy fuck wouldn't you know it but I literally was about to wrap this up and send it out when I discovered that the tumblr FAQ is just gone, it's been taken down! I linked to the Wayback copy above but... yeah the page itself is gone. Which, what the heck? I don't know what to make of it and it just sort of underscores how uncertain and weird and potentially invasive all of this feels to me. I'm not even entirely sure that including the archived copy of the FAQ is the right call to make here and I might just delete it later. 

It's so much easier when authors remain visored ghosts and cryptids!

So, yeah, this is all pretty weird for me. I don't have a neat conclusion here, all I can offer is my attempted self-examination in order to parse out how weirdly the legacy of Death of the Author intersects with the actual way that I and others perform criticism. And well, I can say that I'm really glad Christo seems to have a good life, and I really hope the book does well. Beyond that, man, I can't wait to get back to analyzing something with less fraught authorship.

You know what I'm saying, right?

Do you, really?

Am I the only one awake
Am I the one who is fading away
There was so much I wanted to say
Do I have a reason anymore to stay

-Wintersun, Loneliness (Winter)

This Has Been:

A Follow Up Post About My Immortal And Death of the Author

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