Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
When I was doing illustrations for the book, this was one of the first stories I tried. But the image I chose was, well, just about impossible to capture properly. You'll just have to read it and guess which one I mean.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
|An extremely unlikely example of a fork.|
|Mate with two rooks.|
|Mate with one rook.|
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
First there was Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, and the marketing was a little better than the game itself, the ideas cited by the creators more compelling than what they did with them, though here and there — through the dodgy aiming and tedious field-resuscitations — there was the glimmer of something compelling in whole.
Then came Dog Days which, in its fifth month of release, can be purchased for less than twenty American dollars in these United States, a reflection of its rapid descent from the good graces of a public primed by similar maybe-better-than-the game marketing, and a mixed critical reception.
But I love Dog Days, and for a time, while I was still in the middle of it, couldn’t articulate why. It’s ugly, visually and thematically. It’s simple. On the later levels, and higher difficulty settings, the fragility of your avatar often renders it tedious, but I kept playing. I beat it, in fact, after picking it up just to try it out, when I was stuck on a particularly obnoxious bit of Dead Men. Intending a brief jog, I was sucked into a marathon, beating it in two sittings before I polished off the final chapters of its precursor, and by the time I was done I knew why.
It is about the dogs, those dogs, at the end. You know the ones.Yahtzee sure as fuck knows them, but he doesn’t get them, doesn’t see that what he glibly dismissed as an artifact of sloppy design is just a pointed middle-finger to his expectations, and those of an entire subculture of media-consumers.
We often think of immersive computer and videogames—like "FarmVille," "Guitar Hero" and "World of Warcraft"—as "escapist," a kind of passive retreat from reality. Many critics consider such games a mind-numbing waste of time, if not a corrupting influence. But the truth about games is very nearly the opposite. In today's society, they consistently fulfill genuine human needs that the real world fails to satisfy. More than that, they may prove to be a key resource for solving some of our most pressing real-world problems.
Across the country, 12.1 percent of kids questioned in the BJS survey said that they’d been sexually abused at their current facility during the preceding year. That’s nearly one in eight, or approximately 3,220, out of the 26,550 who were eligible to participate. The survey, however, was only given at large facilities that held young people who had been “adjudicated”—i.e., found by a court to have committed an offense—for at least ninety days, which is more restrictive than it may sound. In total, according to the most recent data, there are nearly 93,000 kids in juvenile detention on any given day.19 Although we can’t assume that 12.1 percent of the larger number were sexually abused—many kids not covered by the survey are held for short periods of time, or in small facilities where rates of abuse are somewhat lower—we can say confidently that the BJS’s 3,220 figure represents only a small fraction of the children sexually abused in detention every year.
What sort of kids get locked up in the first place? Only 34 percent of those in juvenile detention are there for violent crimes. (More than 200,000 youth are also tried as adults in the US every year, and on any given day approximately 8,500 kids under eighteen are confined in adult prisons and jails. Although probably at greater risk of sexual abuse than any other detained population, they haven’t yet been surveyed by the BJS.) According to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was itself created by PREA, more than 20 percent of those in juvenile detention were confined for technical offenses such as violating probation, or for “status offenses” like missing curfews, truancy, or running away—often from violence and abuse at home. (“These kids have been raped their whole lives,” said a former officer from the TYC’s Brownwood unit.20) Many suffer from mental illness, substance abuse, and learning disabilities.
Fully 80 percent of the sexual abuse reported in the study was committed not by other inmates but by staff. And surprisingly, 95 percent of the youth making such allegations said that they were victimized by female staff. Sixty-four percent of them reported at least one incident of sexual contact with staff in which no force or explicit coercion was used. Staff caught having sex with inmates often claim it’s consensual. But staff have enormous control over inmates’ lives. They can give inmates privileges, such as extra food or clothing or the opportunity to wash, and they can punish them: everything from beatings to solitary confinement to extended detention. The notion of a truly consensual relationship in such circumstances is grotesque even when the inmate is not a child.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
I mean really what I love at this point is the idea of Batman. He's so serious! If you are a bad guy, he will get you. And put you in prison. And then you'll get out like ten minutes later and do it all again. Don't think about that part too much! His worst enemies are a clown, a guy with a messed up face, a dude called The Penguin, and a lady dressed up like a cat. And why does he fight them? To avenge his parents' untimely murder. Also, he is a detective. And but also, he knows kung fu. I mean you have to understand, this is pretty much the guy I would design if I were going to make up a super hero so awesome no one would ever believe him.
And Kate Beaton's got his number. I think the joke here began as a bit of revenge for the absurd contortions lady comic book characters are put through in order to look "sexy," and it still works on that level, but there's also the figure of Batman himself: add one more contradiction to the pile (he's not just ultra-masculine, now he's self-consciously sexy) and the absurdity of it all blows up wonderfully.
The best part, I think, is the clear affection with which Beaton treats poor sexy Batman. He's absolutely a figure of fun and mockery, but you can see the love in not only the humor, but the lines themselves. Her art started out a little rough, though very charming and lively, and has since developed an elegant, controlled goofiness that makes her characters feel very alive.
She started out doing mostly comics about history, but has since branched out to book cover comics and general silliness. I guess she gets a lot of e-mails saying "Wow, you're a girl! That's weird, 'cause you're so funny!" Which is really too bad.
I love the silliness of her jokes. She draws some of the funniest cartoon butts in history. (She drew Sexy Batman's butt in the link provided above, trust me it is hilarious.) A lot of her characters make the goofiest faces -- check out Harley Quinn in Sexy Batman strip 2, with her crazy duck lips and silly eyes. By posting several related strips at once, she can often build a decent gag into a great one -- check out her Gatsby comics to see what I mean. I like that she's not above just doing a gag, going for a larf.
You see a lot of "silly" humor these days, I think, that's really better described as random. Take Family Guy, every comedy fan's worst enemy: they're silly in the sense that stuff happens for no reason, in the sense that the world is usually revealed to be a senseless, cruel, crass place. I much prefer Beaton's good-natured approach: it's not that she hates these characters and it's not that she wants to make them suffer arbitrarily. She'll take an easy laugh, sure -- but not a cruel one.
So yeah, basically her comic is a good time, I think you should read it.
Monday, January 24, 2011
As far as Uncanny Valley-related people who will be attending, off the top of my head Robert Alan Wendeborn will be there, as will Roxane Gay, Brian Oliu, and Blake Butler (who may be surprised to hear himself described as "Uncanny Valley-related"). I believe Laura Ellen Scott will also. Am I missing anyone?
Will you, our beloved readers, be there? Do you want a hug? Let us know in the comments.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Final Fantasy VIII taught me that friendship is magnetic, cosmic, genetic. It taught me that working hard might mean forgetting about the people you love. It taught me that you don't have to remember someone to love them--unless you're going to mess around with space and time, in which case, you better have a meeting place picked out.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
When I sat down to my keyboard recently to Google the city of Detroit, the fourth hit was a site titled “the fabulous ruins of Detroit.” The site—itself a bit of a relic, with a design seemingly untouched since the 1990s—showed up in the results above the airport, above the Red Wings or the Pistons, the newspapers, or any other sort of civic utility. Certainly above anything related to the car industry, for which the word Detroit was once practically a synonym. Pictures of ruins are now the city’s most eagerly received manufactured good.We have begun to think of Detroit as a still-life. This became clear to me earlier this week, when the latest set of "stunning" pictures of Detroit in ruins made the rounds, taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre for a book, The Ruins of Detroit. (More such pictures here and here.) They were much tweeted and blogged about (including byTNR’s own Jonathan Chait), as other such “ruin porn” photosets of blighted places have been, and were described variously as wonderful, as beautiful, as stunning, as shocking, as sad. They are all of those things, and so I suppose they are good art. But they are rotten photojournalism.
Friday, January 21, 2011
And now I have to come up with something else to post to scroll the image below off the screen.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
“I made a conscious decision to try to tone down the sexiness... I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You’ve got to have something else to go with that.”
- Nicki Minaj
With a bad bitch that came from Sri Lanka
Yeah I’m in that Tonka, colour of Willy Wonka
You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer
First things first I’ll eat your brains
Then I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs
Casue that’s what a muthafucking monster do
Hairdresser from milan, thats the monster do
Monster Giuseppe heel that’s the monster shoe
Young money is the roster and the monster crew
And I’m all up all up all up in the bank with the funny face
And if I’m fake I aint notice cause my money aint
So let me get this straight wait I’m the rookie
But my features and my shows ten times your pay
50k for a verse no album out!
Yeah my money’s so tall that my barbie’s gotta climb it
Hotter than a middle eastern climate
Find it 20 mataran dutty whine it
While it, nicki on a pit while I sign it
How these niggas so one-track minded
But really really I don’t give a F-U-C-K
Forget barbie fuck nicki she’s fake
She’s on a diet but my pockets eating cheese cake
And I’ll say boy the Chucky is Child’s play
Just killed another career it’s a mild day
Besides ‘Ye they can’t stand besides me
I think me, you and (____) menage friday
Pink wig thick ass give em whip lash
I think big get cash make em blink fast
Now look at what you just saw I think this is what you live for
Aaahhhh, I’m a muthafucking monster!
In Mike’s recent post he included this:
When realism was invented, its writers were being ambitious and wild. They were trying to do something big and crazy. They weren't trying to “master the basics first,” they were writing the most beautiful things they could possibly imagine.
And though, obviously, this statement was being made in relation to creative writing pedagogy, it was in my mind a statement just as applicable to the films—the excessive narrative forms—of director Andrzej Zulawski. And especially his 1981 film Possession. Both the most perfectly realized example of a horror film that I’ve ever seen (i.e. = most literally horrifying) AND one of the most startling, revelatory, resistant versions of what is commonly referred to as the “art-house” film—a real head trip.
Watching it for the first time reminded me what I consider to be the best kinds of experimental lit—I remember thinking that any successful film version of, say, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood couldn’t help but look a lot like this film. And, in my experience, Zulawski’s films share at least one thing with Barnes’ out-and-out weird masterpiece:
Though they tend to be mentioned, referenced, name-checked, they turn out, much less often, to be actually seen or read. (Certainly Zulawski’s public persona does little to encourage new fans; this is a man who is as [mildly] famous for quotes as he is for his films, quotes like: “To please the majority is the requirement of the Planet Cinema. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t make a concession to viewers, these victims of life, who think that a film is made only for their enjoyment, and who know nothing about their own existence.” What does that do but make him sound like a pretentious, self-important prick? An acquaintance recently put it this way over email: “He [Zulawski] strikes me as excitable and excessive, sometimes in a wonderful way, sometimes in a somewhat trying way (I like excess as a rule, but often AZ seems to stretch).” Which is as true a statement about his films as any. Except, in Possession’s case, the film is still the film is still the film—the film, still for me, persists.)
MUBI offers this summary of the plot:
Possession is a 1981 cult movie directed by Andrzej Żuławski. Mark (Sam Neill) returns home to Berlin to find his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is leaving him for unclear reasons. He initially suspects an affair and hires detectives to track her, but gradually discovers clues that something far stranger is afoot. Instead, his wife leaves him and her lover, Heinrich (Heinz Bennent). What follows is a series of horrific, compelling and surreal events. The film was very controversial when first released and heavily edited for distribution in the United States. After an initial limited theatre release in the United Kingdom, Possession was banned as one of the notorious Video Nasties, although released uncut on DVD in 1999. It gradually developed a minor cult following among arthouse aficionados.
I.e., what starts out ostensibly as the story of a dysfunctional (and like liquid-dissolving) marriage between Mark (Neill) and Anna (Adjani) becomes, by about 10 or 12 minutes in, a relentlessly unfolding personal apocalypse. Adjani’s oft-discussed performance exudes, advances on the screen, in orders of magnitude. Her 4-minute single-take transformation in the infamous subway scene is nearly indescribable, both in terms of her performance and in its significance to the plot. (On subsequent viewings it is tempting to say the scene is about a miscarriage, or [and? also?] about another character’s birth, indeed the film’s titular MONSTER.)
Zulawski has commented that the reason so many of his films contain an apocalypse stems from the biographical beginnings of his own life—from being born into, under, Soviet control. His debut feature, The Third Part of the Night, takes up this theme most explicitly—not only adapting its title from the end of days so mysteriously enumerated in the Book of Revelation, but even going so far as to use Revelation’s passages to frame (if not adequately unpack) the film’s beginning and end.
In Possession, the apocalypse unfolding inside the film’s structure is twofold: One, it is the moment-by-moment, off-the-charts, always-exploding (or about to) absolute MANIA of the film—its mounting action, piled-on acting, a phantasmagoria layered frame by frame. I.e., this:
The other form the film’s apocalypse takes is more deeply embedded, lodged and latent in its very running time as DREAD, as a ponderous fear of THE END (it reminds me of that line from “Hey Bulldog”: “Some kind of innocence is/ measured out in years”)
The first kind of apocalypse is typified by the startlingly reckless, insistently depraved acts carried out by the characters in the gross guise of the plot, carried out with cruel, even demoniac flourishes and tics. See Mark’s coercion of a taxi driver into an almost certain death, a kamikaze attack by car on police officers in the hopes of distracting them long enough for Anna—by this point in the film unapologetically, fundamentally deranged—to escape their net.
Or, even better, one of Mark and Anna’s many domestic disturbances, this one in a cafe early in the film, during which they discuss what to do about their son Bob when they split. In short order this tense, unpleasant conversation turns nuclear, on public display much screaming, flailing, flinging of cups and chairs and plates—Mark barreling into one piece of furniture after another in an unchecked fit, stopped only by the entire kitchen staff pouring into the room to tackle him.
Anna’s speech just before Mark’s full-on freak out—as well as the many, concentric conversations the two engage in—serves not as ironic comment on traditional morality, but instead as a naming of their apocalypse, a putting into words of how barren, fallow, hollow their moral-ethical universe has become. (It is distressing at times, especially in relation to their son Bob, to try and imagine Mark and Anna before this—as wife and husband, as lovers, as one-time intimate friends.)
Or, another example, when Mark’s double—the use of dark twins and doubles is one of the film’s amorphous, unresolved mysteries—employs his palpable ability to corrupt. He malevolently encourages a bystander—wide-eyed, stereotypically “innocent” and plain—to fire indiscriminately at a gang of approaching men. (The fact that she is blond and has one leg in a cast makes her an unacknowledged double of another character in the film, Anna’s best friend Margie [those familiar with Fassbinder will recognize Margrit Carstensen here]. The fact that this unnamed woman’s role was originally much more fleshed out in the script—she was to be the new wife of Anna’s ex-husband—further situates her in a sort of narrative limbo, a leftover from a previous draft, an excised, deleted character somehow appearing here nonetheless.) Mark’s double presses the pistol into her hand, guides her aim with his own, reacts to the startled but darkly thrilled look on her face with a knowing nod, a look, of his own. A look like: “Eh? Wasn’t pulling the trigger just the best? Wouldn’t it be even better to indeed do it again?”
The second apocalypse comes as the film’s physical end. We find Anna’s lighter, brighter double—she is Bob’s elementary school teacher, an inexplicable dead ringer for Mark’s wife that he initially suspects to be some sort of “trick”—we find her babysitting Bob while his parents are away. In her apartment, in the middle of making him a meal, someone knocks. Bob (whose understated performance acts as a kind of inadequate counterweight to rest of the film—he who has quietly tolerated the film’s undercurrent of dread always lapping at him) Bob begs her not to answer the door. When she playfully refuses, he flees the table, flees the scene, up the stairs while doing scales to try to ward off what he senses will happen next. As he runs he keeps repeating his plea up and down in a drone: “Dooonnnt oppppeeeennn! Dooonnnt oppppeeeennn!”
He flees to the bathroom, to an already-full tub (earlier in the film he had taken delight in showing his parents how long he could hold his breath underwater), instinctively preferring to fling himself facedown in the tub—to apparently drown himself—rather than meet his father’s dark double still imploring at the door (through its frosted glass we see his silhouette, his elongate hands and arms poring over the glass’ surface as if looking for a crack). This his father’s dark double whom he’s never met. Some monster he cannot comprehend. Instead, like an animal getting a whiff, he registers, processes, retreats from this preliterate stimulus, him not having the words but still knowing as sure as shit: His parents’ apocalypse has come finally for him:
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say this: The short story is not experiencing a renaissance. Our current and much-discussed market glut of short fiction is not about any real dedication to the form. The situation exists because the many writers we train simply don’t know how to write anything but short stories.
If you are a budding Lydia Davis, you will learn to artificially inflate your story so that no one will think you’re lazy. If you’re a budding Tolstoy, you will learn to artificially deflate your story because don’t you know that more than 15 pages makes people cranky?
Please don’t write a story that is nonrealistic, because genre fiction makes us nervous and uncomfortable. Unless you’re doing a Saunders thing. We like George Saunders. If you want to do a Saunders thing, fine. Otherwise, no. Convey your story in a scene (or two) in the aesthetic mode of realism, preferably minimalism. We really, really like minimalism. “Show, Don’t Tell” is—amazingly—a quite teachable concept in an otherwise subjective discipline. The opposite of “Show, Don’t Tell”—the tell tell tell of artful narration—well, that’s complicated and hard to do well, so perhaps you shouldn’t really try that. As an added bonus, “Show, Don’t Tell” virtually guarantees that your story will be mercifully short. Think Hemingway, not Faulkner. Think Carver, and certainly not Coover.
Monday, January 17, 2011
In music, just intonation (sometimes abbreviated as JI) is any musical tuning in which the frequencies of notes are related by ratios of smallwhole numbers. Any interval tuned in this way is called a just interval. The two notes in any just interval are members of the same harmonic series. Arbitrary frequency ratios such as 1024:927 are not generally said to be justly tuned.Just intonation can be contrasted and compared with equal temperament, which dominates Western orchestras and default MIDI tuning. In equal temperament, all notes are defined as multiples of the same basic interval. Two notes separated by the same number of steps always have exactly the same frequency ratio. However, except for doubled frequencies (octaves), no other intervals are exact ratios of integers. Each just interval deviates a different amount from its nearest equally tempered interval.
Some composers deliberately use these wolf intervals and other dissonant intervals as a way to expand the tone color palette of a piece of music. For example, the extended piano pieces "The Well-Tuned Piano" by LaMonte Young, and "The Harp Of New Albion" by Terry Riley use a combination of very consonant and dissonant intervals for musical effect.
As a result of Riley’s just intonation tuning, three “fifths” are identifiable as so-called “wolf fifths” - 40/27 (D#-A# and E-B) and 1024/675 (B#-G). It was the “out of tune” quality of these intervals that led to certain keys historically being considered unsuitable for modulation. (Figures 3 and 4 show how strikingly different such intervals are from the “pure” just-intonation ratio of 3/2.) Of these “wolf fifths,” the most complex (therefore “out of tune”) ratio is 1024/675, heard in this tuning only between the pitch classes B# (C) and G. As a result, B-sharp - the tonal center of “Circle of Wolves” - is the key “most distant” from the C-sharp tuning center. The B-sharp/G dyad (or C-G) makes up the tonic and “fifth” scale degree of the pitch collection that characterizes “Circle of Wolves”; the other pitches in the collection are the two 40/27 fifths. The resulting sonority is as “out of tune” as possible within the tuning system, and Riley explores its unusual quality deliberately by making it the main sonority of his improvisation (Example 1). The title is a punning reference not only to the “wolf” quality of these fifths but to the classical “circle of fifths” that results from equal temperament.
Then Riley returned to the piano. As he related in an interview, “Around 1980 I bought an old upright and started to play and develop music on piano again. Of course, I’d been aware of La Monte [Young]’s Well-Tuned Piano since ’64, but I’d also been playing both Indian music and electronic keyboards in just intonation. So I decided to tune the piano that way rather than in equal temperament.” Because of the way that the overtones of piano strings resonate sympathetically with other strings, working in just intonation turned out to be a powerful expressive tool for Riley: “I was able to give the music a different shape. The piano has a much greater scope of expressive possibilities than electronic instruments.”
Another aspect of Indian classical music, all the more striking in Riley’s case because it is found in Indian vocal (rather than instrumental) style, is a technique of ornamentation called gamak. Peter Manuel describes gamak as “a technique in which every note in a passage is approached from its lower neighbor,” and notes that the practice has “crossed over” from Indian classical music to popular genres such as film music. Riley’s improvised passages in “Magic Knot Waltz,” especially the long rhapsodic lines that come at cadential points, employ the same “lower neighbor” ascending-step contour cited by Manuel as essential to gamak. One example of this technique in Riley’s improvisational style is found in Example 5.
The goal of tightly structured improvisation is evident throughout The Harp of New Albion. Much of the work is improvised, but improvised passages are found side-by-side with composed ideas. A performance of a movement from The Harp of New Albion can perhaps be compared to a jazz improvisation, in which the theme or “head” is followed by solos over the chord structure before concluding with a return to the “head.” The interchange between “composed” and “improvised,” however, is much more fluid in Riley’s music; John Schaefer describes the piece as having a “spiral form.” As Riley explains it, “Something spins off a little motif and gets larger and more arpeggiated, more embroidered. It cycles back to a certain note, but it’s very irregular; it takes a circuitous route.”