On Chloe Howl – “Rumour”



Rumour” is predicated on Chlöe Howl’s gaze returning back to us. I don’t mean this in a familiar register — this isn’t warmed over Laura Mulvey with a reflective moment stapled on. There might be fertile fields here to understand how that look is agential, important, or whatever liberatory quality we want to claim that it has. What strikes me about this gaze isn’t its performance of power, but that it is a pure surface.



In 2013, I wrote this about rapper phenomenon RiFF RAFF:

Riff Raff’s body is pure surface; it is pure aesthetics. He stands in front of us. He dances. His famous “wardrobe changes” happen in front of us, in split seconds. Riff Raff takes on the persona of a biker. He takes on the persona of a basketball player. He takes on the persona of someone who actually wears a shirt. Riff Raff adapts and changes; he doesn’t take on those roles–he is them all, concurrently. Each of them is the “real” Riff Raff. It isn’t a coincidence that he repeatedly claims that he could have played for the Lakers, or the Seahawks, or any other sports team. Riff Raff is pure potential.

Rethinking the claims here, we can summarize that quotation with something more simple: Riff Raff is presenting us with a Deleuzian virtuality. He is literally pure potential, able to do or become anything in a contingency with what has been actualized in the world with, and around, him.



“Rumour” is the visual opposite of “Neon Freedom.” The sole narrative environment of the music video is a grand, British-esque hall. “Rumour” has baroque and historical where “Neon Freedom” was violently decontextual, and we can imagine some real Hogwarts shit going down in the “Rumour” space (but the weird old man on the stage is a chessmaster instead of a wizard). There’s some bondage going on, perhaps allegorically in a world where you want to read allegories, and we see unbound chess players winning games as tied and gagged losers are taken away in protest.


Of course, in the spirit of the radical rock n roll difference, Chlöe Howl shows up to mess this whole business up. She plays chess, laughing and performing indifference, and the establishment can’t handle it. The chessmasters become infuriated, lose, and then are hauled away by their own system. It’s the perfect dream of the liberal youth. Hope, change, and things’ll be better when I’m in charge, man.




Chlöe Howl is always looking at the camera in a tableau. She gazes, and in gazing in presented as part of an apparatus that is looking directly at us.


While it seems like the intent here is to create a forceful gaze that decenters us, or decenters the ability to merely look at persons like objects, my experience is that it does something directly opposite of that: Howl becomes part of a landscape. The gaze is much like an apple staring back at me from a fruit bowl, unable to differentiate itself from the mass despite clearly being separate from it. Howl’s persona here is eerily similar to Riff Raff’s in the “Neon Freedom” video, despite the world around her being quite different. Relationally, she is defined through the surface that she is a part of–Riff Raff was amongst a play of surfaces; she is merely the metasurface, part and parcel with all other objects.

Despite seeming more actualized, more real, than Riff Raff’s ephemeral surface-being, Howl is further into the virtual. Part of everything, pure potential to cause things to happen, she recedes into the landscape painting of existence.


Posted in Critical Riff Raff Studies, Music, Theory, Video | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

On Metal Gear Solid V

There’s spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in this article. Sorry.


In nature there is no such thing as boundless slaughter, there is always an end to it. But you, Snake, are different. The paths you walk on have no end, each step you take is paved with the corpses of your enemies. Their spirits will haunt you forever. You shall have no peace.

– Vulcan Raven, Metal Gear Solid



Huey Emmerich is screaming at the Diamond Dogs as they put him on trial. He’s yelling that he’s one of them. We know that Kazuhira Miller and Revolver Ocelot are torturers, murderers, wet work mercenaries for the highest bidder, international operators beyond the law, and every kind of Soldier of Fortune fantasy that one could have during the height of the Reagan era. They’re bad people. They’re our heroes. Huey Emmerich is screaming that he’s one of them, but that doesn’t do him any favors.


The Metal Gear Solid games used to be separated up into screens. They had doors in and doors out, and whatever happened in the middle added up to something like a puzzle that you had to solve with stealth, gadgets, or guns. As the games went on, those screens got larger, and you had more room to sneak or shoot around enemies with AI routines that became more complex as the series proceeded.

The open world of Metal Gear Solid V drops the puzzle screen structure, and it gives us what every gamer wants these days. It’s an open world where you can do anything you want. Following the pattern of Grand Theft Auto V or Far Cry 4, you can do whatever you want in this open world. You are beyond the law, fully immersed in an experience where doing the goofiest things the simulation will allow while also pulling off lethal headshots on mercenaries is the name of the game. You can look at YouTube and see thousands of hours of it if you happen to get bored of it yourself.

Unbounded from the past screen-based structures of the designer-god, you can do whatever the hell you want in war-torn countries during their tailspin out of colonial control. You’ve been given the playground you’ve always wanted. Unshackled by morality, you can live life the way you see fit. Watch it happen in slow motion. You’re one of the good guys.


There’s a lot of rage in Metal Gear Solid V. Volgin, resurrected from the grave that Big Boss put him in, is controlled by a literal child. He takes everything that can be thrown at him (bullets, an RPG rocket, tank shell, more) and throws it right back out in a horrifying blast of fire. The child manipulates him like a puppet. The Third Boy, young Psycho Mantis, the pathos-spewing psychic literally scarred by the oppressive world outside his own head, directs Volgin around. We never find out quite how direct that control is.

Is he merely a puppet controlled by a faceless child?



The Metal Gear games play in a middle space of showing you everything and hiding it all. Is there any other series that has inspired critics, forumgoers, and people at bars to attempt to clarify and elucidate things that are directly told to them in the game? I can’t tell you how many criticism pieces I have read about the series that have literally just stated what happened, in what order, and what the game says that those things mean. The game is complex enough that the act of just laying it all out feels like a challenge, but it draws us into a necessary conclusion: the game does the work. What’s the point of doing critical work on an object that does the work for you? Worse yet, what does it mean when the thing does the work better than you could in the first place?

Hideo Kojima, David Cronenberg, Michael Bay.


This game wants to knit the series up, and it’s been a terminal problem that nearly every game in the series has done the work of knitting it up. Kojima’s team always proliferates threads. The knitting never goes quite right. An answer never quite feels like a proper one.

After you wade through hell and complete the game, you’re presented with an audio tape of “The Truth.” It features one of the primary movers of the series, Major Zero, talking to various characters from the series’ history. You figure out their place, or you figure it out a little better, and that’s it.

It feels better that it’s an audio log. There’s no room for artifice here, or at least Kojima and his team and much worse at being artful within the pure audio format. The big budget filmmaking mimicry and the slick camera movement doesn’t translate to a text-based locked room scenario, and it feels more real because of it. You’re being given The Truth. Everyone is hooked into everyone else. In the future, forty years from now, the systems that Zero, Ocelot, Big Boss, and Kaz put into motion will have lives of their own, and Ocelot’s efforts to interpret his mother’s dying wishes in relation to those systems with turn him into a worse villain than his is already. Or we’ll treat him like the villain he already is.

It feels like things are more wrapped up this time.


Quiet is the most competently plotted and written character in the Metal Gear Solid series. It’s purely an effect of how she functions in the plot. She cannot speak English for fear of infecting everyone. She sacrifices herself. She puts herself in harm’s way for Big Boss. She understands the global stakes of the conflicts at hand, and she makes a choice not to embrace the Diamond Dogs’ military apparatus, but instead to care about Big Boss as a person.

There’s an erotic tension between Big Boss, Kaz, and Ocelot. The latter two are constantly at odds, and in the long arc of the series the latter has the former killed, but you feel that it’s almost structured as a jealous dyad. They need the Big Boss’s attention because that attention gives them access to the dreams of the dead Boss–they can build a new world if only they have the right amount of super soldier muscle.

It seems like that’s the story for Big Boss. He’s a vehicle for a verbal meme, a dying wish, and Quiet is the only person who cannot speak her interpretation of that meme. Her story does not need him, and yet she chooses to be involved. Short of the Boss, she might be the only person who generally cares for the man named John in his entire life after the Virtuous Mission.

I’ll defer to Leigh Alexander for the comprehensive read.



Brendan Keogh highlights “magical militarism” in the game. He explains that the game infuses a weird occultism of psychics, pseudobiological explanations, and military logistic implementation in a weird synthesis, and that it might be a cornerstone of the series.

On the other end, I might argue that the games are meant to show that the military form can adapt to anything. The very way that an atom bomb functions is basically magical to the average person, doubly so for the people alive when it was being developed, and the magical quality of the series gestures at just that thing. We live in a world of escalating technology sometimes indistinguishable from magic, and so much of it is geared at killing us. The United States can pinpoint the location of people from around the world, and it’s mostly for extralegally killing them from a mile above the surface of the planet.

CIA tests, Nazi occultism, and chemical investigation into the structure of human bodies. The military apparatus will eat anything to produce death, and if there was a psychic child in a mask that could control a giant weapons platform, you can be damned certain that we’d police the world with it.


The Mother Base gets blown up? You make a new one. The ideology of where you are doesn’t suit you? You make a different kind of heaven. The government you work for is escalating the world toward death? You deescalate the conflict with trickery. Can’t recreate a supersoldier? Generate a system for generating supersoldiers. Can’t solve the conflicts of the world? Override it all.

Metal Gear Solid has always been about management, or managing what appears to be unmanageable, and that stretches from spreadsheets to nanomachines to language itself. It’s about attempting to control things on your own terms before things begin to control themselves, and the long 20th century of the games suggests that the things of the world, the networks and information systems, have a much easier time of control than even the most super of soldiers.

If we wrangle it, if we control it, if we set it up the way we want to, what does that do to us? Kazuhira Miller says a lot of horrible words, but they’re words that could have been put in the mouths of lots of different characters in the series. They aren’t only his.


“I chose the language of gratitude instead, and go back to silence.”

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Review: Halo 5 at Paste

The things that are different are merely parasitical developments from other massive first-person shooter games of the contemporary period. You can do some boosting, which feels much likeAdvanced Warfare’s exo suit boosting. You can jump and climb onto something, which adds a bit more strategy to the experience of play. You can now aim down your sights with all weapons, which the game calls Smart-linking for some reason, but if you get shot you’re pulled out of it. Those mechanical changes, as big as they are, are merely changes that bring this game in line with another franchise. We’re barrelling toward some kind of ur-shooter with these franchises, but the decision to add these particular mechanics to Halo feels almost cynical. There has always been something charming about a military-affiliated Master Chief who just runs around and shoots things like he’s living in Unreal Tournament world, and the addition of Call of Duty-style “tactical combat” invites a tone that the game neither wants nor can support.

Halo 5: Guardians review at Paste

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On Bruns’ On Ceasing To Be Human

I recently finished Gerald Bruns’ On Ceasing To Be Human, and I just wanted to jot down a few notes about it. I’m going to put those notes here because why not?!


1. Ceasing is a wonderful summation of a particular strain of posthuman gesturing coming out of the 20th century. It’s a theory Greatest Hits album when it comes to discussing the big theorists of the last hundred years and their relation to thinking about the limits of the human. Bataille, Blanchot, Foucault, Agamben, Deleuze, Guattari, Derrida, Levinas, and more make appearances both minute and extended in this volume, and Bruns has a way of condensing each of their thoughts on the delimited human down to a couple sentences. It could be a real nightmare scenario, but it isn’t, and we’re given a meaty gloss of lots of different viewpoints on what happens.

2. My interest in what has been (was?) called “the nonhuman turn” is ethical. I’m interested in how to construct ethical systems that resist hierarchies between humans, animals, and machines while also recognizing differences that make a difference between the seemingly-infinite variations between those registers (and differences within those broad categories such as Sunaura Taylor’s complications of human/animal and Alexander Weheliye’s reconfiguration of human life).

Bruns does a beautiful reading of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am that doesn’t deliver much beyond the essay. However, the reading is so concise and excellent at drawing out the salient points of the essay, and that concision really helps to elaborate the ethical paradigm that Derrida is trying to elucidate in explaining his cute little (very real) cat that see him naked. There’s something about the way that Bruns collapses all of the big, difficult theory into an understandable chunk that needs to be celebrated, and the fact that he’s not having to “file the edges off” in order to make it concise is laudable. The concision of the point to get to ethics is helpful, and it makes me think about concision-as-ethics.

Yes, Derrida wrote about his cat seeing him naked. It’s worth reading the book.

3. It makes me feel good to see Bataille and Blanchot showing up in the “nonhuman turn” literature, especially because I feel that Colette Peignot, whose work Bataille was riffing on for much of The Accursed Share and his other “big” work, gets very close to a comprehensive description of what is occurring on a physical level when humans and nonhuman-yet-agential objects become proximal. Peignot has a wonderful prose poem/essay about (or I read it to be about) the agency of a church fire and how it has a particular kind of effect on a group of people. More and more I think about assemblages (or actor-networks) as also needing a complementary theory of competing sovereignty, in which objects are often at odds with each other over which has the most impact over a particular local ecosystem (or, my preferred, body). To get there requires a heavy dose of Peignot with Bataille’s variations, and Bruns does some of that here (but only through the latter with not mention of her, of course, like so many others have done).

Posted in Theory | Tagged , , , ,

On a Gigabyte G1 Commercial

I move objects with my mind. I climb the tallest mountains and slay dragons. I defend my galaxy from ruthless aliens. I am never bored. I am stronger. I am faster. I am G1.

The commercial is the ultimate synthetic product of masculinity, “badassitude,” and computer parts. If you think that sounds like a joke, you’re not wrong. It’s funny, and it’s incredibly sad, because this is what this hardware developer thinks it should do to sell me some marginally better parts for my computer.


And what about boredom? I am never bored. This product will fill a hole in your life. You will never feel alone again. Experiences will fly at you constantly, and the more new ones you purchase, the better you will feel about the hardware buy you made after you saw a sweet commercial on YouTube that made you feel like you might be a cyborg.


We’re in the network culture. We’re all strapped in. God forbid we be bored.

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On The Martian

Somewhere around the winter release of the film, Daniel Joseph tweeted this about Interstellar:

Daniel has a way with pithy reviews, and he’s 100% right about the way that Interstellar functions. It takes some large-scale problems like ecological devastation, the strategic defunding of scientific endeavors, and the perils of genetic modification and boils them down into some very simple and understandable vectors for understanding them. The grand revelation at the end of the film, which is that these things can be solved if we just pitch some of our base scientism out the window in order to embrace some metaphysical love, produces some real hope for solvency in the viewer. Things might be getting bad in the world, a viewer might think, but damn if Monsanto corn won’t get us through this if there’s a little bit of black hole help.

the martian

The Martian follows a similar pattern. Where Interstellar puts ecological devastation in the viewer’s face, The Martian does its best to bracket out anything other than the distinct relations of scientists to their science (Watney to Mars; NASA to Watney; NASA to science production facilities; the human public to Watney; Chinese scientists to NASA). The Martian refuses to give us the rest of the world, and we have to take that world as being almost entirely utopian in its creation. Geopolitics are sublimated beneath the mission to rescue a space botanist; political battering rams like space technology are sacrificed in a grand human mission; people around the world universally celebrate the rescue mission.

Despite the handling of settings and what we know about those settings, Interstellar and The Martian are functionally the same film on a basic level of ideological assumption. No matter what, capitalism will find a way to get us through this short-term crisis. Both are profoundly hopeful, but both require a hope that defers toward a future where capitalism has solved itself.

When Interstellar functionally summons God to solve its plot, or when The Martian eliminates all the political repercussions of its basic plot in favor of “science the shit out of it,” what we are left with is a purposeful faith that capitalism will solve all of its excesses. Both films feel like artifacts out of the 1990s, some weird “capitalism with a face” or “Clintonian third way” in which an Independence Day-style universal patriot speech wouldn’t feel out of place.

The Martian is the micro. Interstellar is the macro. Both tell the story of an economic system that has solved its problems by allowing technocracy to do its work. If only the engineers, the scientists, and the corporate entities were allowed to do what they do best. Nation states are the enemy in these worlds, and if we really want to rescue that scientist or get off the rock, we need to let things just work the hell out, despite what that does to 90% of the population.

Then, finally, we will have space colonists and corn on a ringworld.

Read Nick Montfort’s critique of The Martian too.

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liz ryerson on leaving games

the thing i love about game culture is so many people try and preserve what creations were left behind by a ruthless, brutal market and bringing it back to the forefront in a passionate, sincere way. that’s the best of what something like Magfest has to offer the world to me – an unaffected, infectious, incredibly excited exploration into the world of games (and especially the music, which i’ve always connected to so much). the thing i hate about game culture is there’s no real creation, no challenging, no constructive criticism, no moving forward, no healing. the fundamental truths of games can never really be questioned unless you want to greatly offend people’s entire basis for being. even as the industry moves on coldly and the world of indie games moves on just as coldly. and so it just seems, in the end, like the church for a lot of very damaged, lost people. and nothing i’ve ever experienced in games – even after several years of being involved in the “social justice warrior” side of games, has really challenged this fundamental truth for me.

liz ryerson, “I’m leaving games

Liz has written, or been responsible for in some possible chain, some of the most interesting and important articles about games over the past few years. Go to her site and read everything.

The real horror of our loss (and this is, to be sure, a net loss in the critical games writing community that is wholly the fault of the community, whether those of us who are aware enough of the problems to fix them have the ability to or not) is that the exact process that Ryerson is describing will continue without stopping. People will continue to reinvent the present through the process of reinventing their childhood. We’ve lost quite a few great writers over the years to being ignored, to being selectively cut out of conversations, to being actively attacked, to interpersonal conflict. And there’s so few of us doing this kind of work on a consistent basis that we’re all either in it or on the periphery. There’s not a lot of space in this level of orbit.

It’s not something that can be fixed, really, and I think most of that has to do with the mediums that we use to communicate these very complex ideas to one another with. It’s much easier to say that someone is wrong than it is to produce nuance of any sort. It’s much harder to apologize in a meaningful way in 140 characters. But that’s my own hobby horse.

Like Liz, like many others in the past/present/future, I’m tired. And I’m sad to see another person going. The best thing we can do at this point is to not forget another person, but even that’s hard. So read the work.

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