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.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Theater of Cruelty--Some Unpublished Images

Today there was a memorial service on campus. The students and faculty joined together as a sign of unity, arrayed in a circle, all holding hands. It was an attempt torecognize a community that "live[s] as a unified body, while acknowledging our uniqueness as individuals." Or so I hear. When I arrived, the crowd had already begun to disperse. The clouds rolled in, and I walked down the hill by the still-flooded waters and thought.


I remember distinctly, as I sat and I typed out the last few citations, formatted the last few images, the sound of the chanting from down below. The letters recited; the anthems all chorused. And, of course, the trumpet. That damn drunken trumpet. It wasn't any sort of majestic sound. It was just a hollow blat, bursting out drunkenly as the player staggered back and forth outside my window. I stared down at an image of a colossal shoe suspended in air, ready to crash down upon New York City. And for the life of me, I could not decide whether to laugh or to cry.


At the end of the First World War, in the wake of the pillaging, and the futile grind of the trenches, and the epidemics that swept the land, two new schools of art, born of madness, emerged in Europe. They were Dada and Surrealism, and they were both a reaction to the collapse of the system of the world. Dada embraced the idea that meaning had been utterly lost, and that the ideals of the Enlightenment and rational western society had collapsed in upon themselves. It was an expression of madness loosed upon the world. Its greatest artists--people like Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Hoch, and George Grosz--freely attacked any and every target, lampooning everything from sexuality in the age of the machine (Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even"), the arbitrary nature of scientific standards (Duchamp, again: "Standard Stoppages" sets up a system of measurement based on randomness), to the shiny new order of consumer culture (Check out virtually anything by Hannah Hoch), or the pathetic weakness of the political regimes of the period between the wars (Grosz's acerbic work fits in here--he really had it in for the Weimar Republic). The great message is that there is no great message, and all art in the face of inhuman tragedy is barbarism.

On the other side of tragedy lurked Surrealism, the warped, basement-dwelling introspective brother of Dada. The surrealists sought to express, unfettered, uncontained, the murky depths of the human subconscious. They dwelled on images of mantises consuming the heads of their lovers, of slit eyeballs, masturbation, hoards of barbarians roiling across nightmare landscapes, dismembered bodies, and on and on. While Dada attacked the external world, Surrealism descended ever inward, seeking the underpinnings of the human mind, drawing from the young science of psychology in their quests.

What the movements shared, then, was a reaction to tragedy, a fragmented and disturbing set of visual tropes, an obsession with the comforting and familiar turned strange and threatening, and a growing disillusionment with the supposedly rational behavior of humans in general, and leaders in particular.


I cannot remember the attacks myself; not clearly, anyway. I was 10 at the time, and my parents and teachers nobly shielded me from all but the vaguest images and information. I remember just--only--a sense of confusion, a wondering just what the big deal was. Scuffing my shoes in the mulch of the playground, watching movement of those worried faces, I was displaced for the next several years.


It is 80 years since then. Art Spiegelman has become a famous man. His masterpiece, Maus, has helped to catapult comics out of the scrappy heap--into the critical eye of the world. Amidst all this growing of fame and importance, the comicker, convinced that oblivion is nigh, begins to create a series of plates titled In The Shadow Of No Towers. They're a nightmarish reenactment of his journey through the city of New York on September 11th of 2001, and of the political and personal upheaval. Their central image is a vision of two luminous, skeletal towers. Their targets for satire and anger include everyone from the monstrous perpetrators of the acts, to the political establishment that took advantage of the assault, to anirony-blind media, to complacent citizenry, to Spiegelman's own neurotic persona. In these strange pages, the ghosts of Dada and Surrealism reemerge, specters of the madness of the 20th century, reassembling their skeletons and collages and nightmare visions. Spiegelman is haunted by things that he did not see, and these ghosts fill the void.


On the day that Osama bin Laden was announced dead--killed in Pakistan--I sat at my desk typing an essay on Dada, Surrealism, and the echoes of 20th century art within Spiegelman's work. I sought to explain why the work is so difficult, and yet is so resonant. I saw, within its pages, my own confusion, displacement, and ambivalence. And then the news came in. I was floored. The great beast of the desert, avatar of Terror, the monster that we chased for nine long years, was mortal after all. I reeled. I saw, crystalized, suspended in history, the futility and pointless waste of life that was our last nine years.

And, meanwhile, students that at the time of the attacks were six or seven years old--even further removed in understanding than I--celebrated this death with a wild, raucous party. Our team had won.

By pure chance, by dumb luck, I was left sitting, staring down at Spiegelman's text, reading over and over again the panels where he asks, desperately, why the emblem following the attacks had been a flag.

"Why not... a globe?!"


Each year I question my own muddy feelings.

I still have not found easy answers, save to take solace in art and its shared experience.

Happy anniversary.


If you're interested, the essay on Spiegelman and the 20th Century can be found here. It's a bit of a doorstopper, but I'm rather fond of my analysis, and, hell, Shadow is a work that gets too little credit for its genius. I explain why it gets so little credit in the essay, actually.

I probably don't need to say this, but this essay--or maybe I should call it a prose poem?--is rather personal for me, much more so than my usual works. Please, if you post comments, try to consider my feelings, as scattered and ambivalent as they are.

On Tuesday we'll resume more regular subject matter with another installment of Ways of Reading Gaga. And things will proceed from there.


  1. "I still have not found easy answers, save to take solace in art and its shared experience."

    That is as true as anything ever said. As I get older, I'm becoming more and more of the opinion that there simply are no easy answers at all, except that one.

    Simply a beautiful work you've posted up here, Keeper.

  2. Nice work there.
    The way you alternated between a more personal, emotional style and a more accademic one is very you, in my opinion.

  3. Very touching man.

    I have an academic point, but I'm not sure if the title was going for a factual use or a gutteral response. And as such I will leave it be. It is minor in comparison to the rest of what you wrote, which is far more elequent than I could hope to capture my own thoughts on that day. Which are very different than yours (having been 4 years older, and not sheltered outside of the media's choice of images). I didn't realize how much it still affected me until Osama's death.


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