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David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

from Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy

In the place of an art of disengagement, which rejoiced in its separation from ordinary life, we are now to have an art which completely involves us in real life – what in France is called art engagé. If I am sceptical about this doctrine, it is because it seems to me to make essentially the same mistake as the theory which it opposes. Both try to escape, in opposite directions, from the plain and fundamental fact that art is an exercise of the imagination, engaging and detaching us at the same time: it makes us participate in what it presents, and yet presents it as an aesthetic fiction. From that twofold root – participation and fiction – art draws its power to enlarge our vision by carrying us beyond the actual, and to deepen our experience by compassion; but it brings with it a pertinent oscillation between actual and vicarious experience. Art lives in this realm of ambiguity and suspense, and it is art only as long as the ambiguity is sustained. However, suspense is an awkward condition to live in, and we are persistently tempted to exchange it for some narrow but positive certainties; and yet we know very well that, as soon as the artistic imagination begins to work on us, we leave the safe shore for the open sea.

Edgar Wind, art and anarchy (1967)

Pathologic 2 and Ostranenie

Pathologic 2 is a tight-knit confluence of many strange ideas–about bodies and disease, about acting and theater, about community and society, about individual and state, about children and grown-ups, about utopia and transcendence, and (of course) about life and death. Separating the strands is difficult and probably useless; the resulting game is something you accept as a whole, flaws and all, or reject.

And it’s easy to reject. Responses to the game have already divided into those who appreciate the game’s sheer uncanniness but find it hostile and difficult to the point of unplayability, and those who defend those decisions to the hilt as being the very essence of the game.

This dispute isn’t resolvable. A simple description of the game is likely to put off most people, while those who are entranced by it (including myself) can only shrug when presented with its faults, because those faults are what you put up with to get something you can’t get elsewhere—assuming you want that something. I can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot more than Nier: Automata, but I can’t convince you that you will. If it’s something that will appeal to you, you’ll probably know within the next few paragraphs. If it is, I think it’s worth the effort.

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The Fable of Captain Scorpion and Frog Cruises

a contemporary retelling

Frog Cruises offered the fanciest and most comfortable accommodations for a journey across the river. Eager travelers signed up to secure a room on the beautiful vessel.

Once on board, however, the passengers were shocked to read on the ship manifest that the notorious Captain Scorpion would be the commander of the ship.

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Trump Diary: Trump Alone

Political media coverage over the last few months seems to have become more superficial than ever. I think this owes to the collective sigh of relief after the Democrats took back the House of Representatives, which took some of the pressure off of the tension between the tones of Apocalyptic Proclamation and Traditional Horse-race. So the coverage of Trump’s Game-of-Chicken government shutdown focused primarily on the latter, with a vague smidge of the former.

Which is to say that the most important stories are receiving far less coverage than facile ones. We hear much about Gillette advertising campaigns and McDonald’s lunches. We hear a lot less about John Bolton’s plans for war with Iran. This is very much the usual order of things, but as Trump supposedly represented a break with the usual order of things, the increasingly inessential nature of most media either shows how little we’ve learned or how little control we have over the doings of our own institutions.

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David Auerbach’s Books of the Year 2018

To be a true reader or writer today is to exist primarily in a state of longing and loneliness (sehnsucht, in the German term), because the vast majority of one’s closest associates are dead. Over the course of the 20th century the world of letters separated rather violently from the world of consequence, and so loving writing as writing requires either myopic self-delusion or an absurd appreciation for the spiritual residue of artistic impact. I don’t have the former in me, so it is the latter that drives me.

A remarkable amount of excellent archival issues came out this year, particularly in fiction and literature. The two placed in the pole position are not necessarily more deserving than many others. Rather, I chose them because they seemed to be most resonant with this year, despite being written decades ago. Both are very unorthodox Cold War retrospectives, both vaguely “documentary”-like, and yet animated by almost opposite sensibilities.

Ironically, I found Anniversaries to be a gloomier tale than Kolyma Stories, in the same way that gray is a gloomier color than black, or Faith is more enervating than Closer. Likewise, Johnson’s self-appearance in Anniversaries is more despairing than Shalamov’s varied appearances in Kolyma, because there is a certain abdication of moral authority Johnson took on in writing Anniversaries that is either disingenuous or terrifying. I think it’s the latter.

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