On Pancho and Lefty

I think I discovered “Pancho and Lefty” when I was twelve or thirteen. It was the Willie and Merle version, the pop transformation of the lilting, crooked ramble that Townes Van Zandt pulled from nowhere.

I’m certain that my dad was listening to it. He was barely out of diapers when it was originally written, but was some kind of teenager when it dominated the airwaves in the early 1980s. I don’t know how he heard it, if he ever had some kind of strange personal moment with it, but as soon as I could I stole whatever mix CD he was listening to and hoarded it in my room.

I listened to it when no one was around. There was a strange double embarrassment of listening to some “old” country music that my dad listened to, betraying my own then-current tastes of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Outkast. There was also the emotional factor: listening to the words, I would well up with this sublime something that couldn’t quite land anywhere sensible. And so I listened to it over and over again for a long time.

I had forgotten about it until this past weekend. I heard it mentioned, looked it up, and fell down the hole again. There’s not many songs that do this to me–that pick me up, carry me away, fail to let me go: Neil Young’s “Thrasher“; Daughter’s “Candles“; John K. Samson’s “Letter In Icelandic From the Ninette San.”

I can say that all of these songs are haunting in the proper sense of that term. They refuse to leave. They mill about. They pass through and yet remain. That’s something unique to music for me. No film, no tv show, no game manages to linger with me like a haunting song will. A song can infect you with melancholy, using its earworm nature to keep you spinning in its grasp.

Haunting games? Haunting films? Some refuse to leave me, but they don’t weigh on me like a song does.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

May Waver explains cybertwee

Cybertwee is a contemporary foil to Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk of the 1980’s and 90’s  was dark, dystopic, and rejected softness in favor of cold tough hybridity. Cybertwee, which adopts the twee suffix from the music genre of that same era, proposes that  what we need now is a cyborg existence that embraces tenderness as a survival  mechanism, that holds dear our vulnerabilities because they are what connect us to each other. It is a reclamation of emotional complexity and sweetness, characteristics that have been devalued by capitalism’s demand that we be tireless and patriarchy’s demand that we harden in self-defense. Cybertwee is cuteness as retaliation as well as pleasure. “Our nectar is not just a lure, or a trap for passing flies, but a self-indulgent intrapersonal biofeedback mechanism spelled in emoji and gentle selfies.”

- Emily Gaynor, “Artist Interview: May Waver

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Ursula K. Le Guin on the use of the “surface elements” of fantasy

‘Surface elements,’ by which I take it he means ogres, dragons, Arthurian knights, mysterious boatmen, etc., which occur in certain works of great literary merit such as Beowulf, the Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, are also much imitated in contemporary commercial hackwork. Their presence or absence is not what constitutes a fantasy. Literary fantasy is the result of a vivid, powerful, coherent imagination drawing plausible impossibilities together into a vivid, powerful and coherent story, such as those mentioned, or The Odyssey, orAlice in Wonderland.

Familiar folktale and legendary ‘surface elements’ in Mr Ishiguro’s novel are too obvious to blink away, but since he is a very famous novelist, I am sure reviewers who share his prejudice will never suggest that he has polluted his authorial gravitas with the childish whims of fantasy.

Respect for his readers should assure him that, whatever the book is, they will honestly try to follow him and understand what he was trying to do.

I respect what I think he was trying to do, but for me it didn’t work. It couldn’t work. No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?”

- Ursula K. Le Guin, “Are They Going To Say This Is Fantasy?

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Julie Cruikshank on Glaciers

Surging glaciers engage the senses. Visually, they are spectacular. Aurally, they are alarmingly noisy. Hunters, scientists, hikers, and Aboriginal elders all remark on the thunderous cracking and explosive noises they make. Tactile imagery is central to many stories that portray glaciers as bitterly cold but also, surprisingly, as emitting unbearable heat. Glaciers in these stories appear to be sentient themselves. They respond to humans and especially to smells when meat is fried nearby. They are also quick to hear and to take offence when humans demonstrate cockiness by making jokes at their expense. They are apparently equipped with vision when, for example, they are characterized as giant worms “with eyes as big as the moon.” Ambiguous entities like glaciers call to mind other ambiguities. Stories told about glaciers slide into other stories.

- Julie Cruikshank, Do Glaciers Listen? p.69

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Announcement: “the bleak” book project

MICROMOLAR is an art collaboration that I am one half of, and during the next few months we are going to be putting together a book around the concept of “the bleak.” We are inviting submissions of essays, visual art, and sound art. Accepted submissions will be paid a (meager/literary journal-ish) rate.

If “the bleak” interests you, please check out the CFP here.

Also, please share this around on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, and all of the other websites where it might gather interest. Thanks so much for reading!

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L. Rhodes on Gone Home

If, then, you are receptive to it, the videogames’ interactions do more than just lead you through a linear series of events that might have been communicated as effectively (if not more so) as a prose novella. Similar to the way that Gaston Bachelard wrote of a “poetics of space,” playing Gone Home encourages you to explore a narratology of space. Over the conventional meanings of the representational spaces found in the eponymous home, the incremental unspooling of the story superimposes additional significance, gradually guiding the player toward the increasingly secretive spaces where the most momentous decisions were made. The kitchen is not just a room outfitted for the usual functions of a food storage and preparation; it’s also freighted with the memory of a young woman’s changing relationship to a childhood friend. The dining room is not only where the family eats, but also where her parents refused to come to terms with the person she had discovered herself to be.

Thus, each of the discrete interactions required to play one’s way through the videogame—explore, examine, read, listen—point the player to a more significant set of underlying behaviors. The house becomes a spatial pattern, and the detective work of uncovering clues serves as an inducement to shape the narrative according to that pattern. While the narrative elements are placed before the player more or less linearly, the effect of play is to arrange them into a 3-dimensional skein congruent to the space where they were told or took place. “Home” ends up being something more than “house.” The difference is in how we imbue the structure with interpersonal meanings no architect could have anticipated.

- L. Rhodes, “Phantom Interaction

What an amazing piece — please more essays that take seriously the genealogy of Gone Home out of first-person shooters into immersive sims and then whatever we have now.

Posted in Video Games | Tagged , , , ,

Five Out of Ten on Patreon

A quick promotional moment: Five Out of Ten has recently made a shift to Patreon and if you like games criticism you should pass the publication a few bucks a month. I’ve had the opportunity to write some really exciting stuff over there, and bringing that editorial vision into a broader circulation seems like a really great thing.

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