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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Who Reviews the Reviewers? #1 Redacted Tonight

I was originally thinking of starting a new blog that looked at reviewing reviewers, because there had been such an influx of YouTube vloggers who are film critics and as they were (and still are) of such a contrast in styles and quality I thought I'd give an objective view on how each of the reviewers approaches their own review. Meta-reviewing if you like.

However, I never really got around to that, because I doubted whether all the effort would be worthwhile. So, although I might well write about internet film critics one day, this piece is about a different type of reviewer.


I was introduced to this programme by a friend who likes his independent media. However, unlike various YouTube based media reporting (such as The Young Turks), Redacted Tonight - 'satirical news' hosted by Lee Camp - is funded/owned by Russia Today (RT) the 'news' network backed by the Russian Government.

All the broadcasts are freely available online, via the RT site or on YouTube, which helps give a veneer of independence. Even if the cleverly worded title also makes no attempt to hide their backers.

I'm not saying that Redacted Tonight are making 'fake news' themselves, unlike RT who have faced repeated accusations of propagandist fabrication and airing any criticism of the 'West' whether conspiratorial or manufactured, indeed, Redacted Tonight seems like a softening of approach by RT even if they keep to the script of constantly criticising the 'West' without offering the same critical eye upon Russia (obviously).

Redacted Tonight has the appearance of a John-Stewart-esque comedy news show, and is hosted by the diligently sincere activist/comedian Lee Camp. It is strident in its criticism of the main stream media "liars", the US government, politics in general "corrupt", big business, and so on.

I don't deny Lee Camp's genuineness, as he has been a writer, satirist, and vlogger for many years before Redacted Tonight aired. I don't doubt that he has always been a critic of the US government, the over-involvement of corporations in civic life and so on. However, it's a bit galling that he's now doing so on behalf of a government that is more authoritarian, dictatorial, and exploitative than his own. Still, it's a sacrifice to get one's voice heard I suppose you could argue.

Indeed, one could suggest that the British government's involvement with the BBC is similar and there isn't any great example of Russian government interference with Lee Camp's script or the programme as a whole. The problem here is not having enough information to offer a clear criticism, because if there's no example of specific interference then we can't claim that any has taken place.

Why would the Russian government need to interfere anyway? Because unless Lee Camp makes the brave/suicidal move of offering focused criticism on Russian foreign policy, for example, there's nothing they need to stop. The criticism of the constant failings of US and European governments, their corruption and the collusion with big business is being constantly highlighted.

However, why wouldn't this knowledge worry the Russian government? Because with this knowledge an aware citizen would see the failings in their own country, or would become determined to become an activist for progressive change and stand-up against authoritarian leadership... except, that's not what is happening anywhere and this is why Russia is fine with this.

For one, it's only criticising the 'enemy' and although the same criticism could easily be leveled at Putin and his government, it isn't, and for a passive viewer you are left with the feeling that they (Russia) are doing nothing wrong. A feeling that would be increased if one read the biased RT news. The criticism itself is very 'light'. In a 25-30 minute programme, Redacted Tonight covers only a few stories and in a very shallow manner. There isn't a great deal of information, no other sources are cited, and the viewer isn't directed to other avenues where they could learn more themselves (a reading list if you like). This is the problem with the John-Stewart era of entertainment news, especially for the Left, because although there are many John-Stewart-esque shows and comedians now (Colbert, Oliver, Noah, Bee) they're having a relatively soft impact upon people's general opinion. Why? Because people treat this as entertainment primarily, they don't see it as 'real' and therefore aren't compelled into activity.

I'd continue with this line and suggest that the only strong criticism given out in this manner, the Nightly Show show with Larry Wilmore, was cancelled. You could highlight many possible reasons for the programme being cancelled, but I would suggest the most influential reason was the perceived 'didactic' tone of Wilmore, basically, he highlighted specific cultural problems in America and didn't pull any punches. The 'negativity' of this approach was simply too much for an audience that was expecting some light laughs at the Republicans, but when it's pointed out that 'soft liberals' are just as much too blame for the inherent racism and other problems in the country... it's turn off time. I think that's what the Comedy Central CEO meant by "not resonating."

To conclude, Lee Camp might be truthful with his criticism and correct with his choice of targets, but he needs to decide whether he's a comedian or an activist and writer. Political information delivered as entertainment fails to show itself up for proper discussion or rational critique. It's just given as a 'point of view' and this is the death of rational debate. Example: Saying that the Holocaust didn't happen, isn't just an 'opinion' and shouldn't be allowed to be presented as such. Now, I'm not saying that the people at Redacted Tonight are saying anything so revolting, but saying something and getting whoops and cheers and laughs doesn't make it correct (even if I basically agree with the criticism). It's a very basic short-hand, it's another example of an echo-chamber, it isn't showing why it is correct (assuming that it is). Jokes aren't an argument. These programmes mollify an audience, they don't inspire activism, they stop it. This is why Russia and other governments like the John-Stewart-esque approach.

His style of yelled dismay (much like Cenk Ungar, but with jokes) is also a tad wearing and needs toning down. Just because you're shouting doesn't make it true (cf. an academic told me once that the principal failing of first year argumentation is confusing italics for making an actual point in the argument). Much like a parent of a toddler prone to tantrums must feel, eventually you stop listening...

Also, stop scowling in your publicity photos. You're not a hard-hitting journalist. You're a comedian.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Quotes Worth Saving (21): Robert O. Paxton, 'Defining Fascism'


Robert O. Paxton
The Anatomy of Fascism. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

*****

What is Fascism?

This is certainly a pertinent and timely question to be asking, especially when the phase is 'slung' around so easily on various internet forums, news reports etc.

For many it's use is only as a slur, although one would hope they had some idea of it's origin. In this sense it represents any dictatorial group and is conflated with 'Nazi'. The over-use of this word, especially when misapplied, reduces the word to shock comedy (as in, grammar-nazi). Used most regularly in millennial meme culture, which is a style so bored with its own irony that it ceases to be merely ironic and is instead is something like complicity with consumerist authority. "It's only a meme bro."

I was talking with JJ recently and trying to argue that the right-wing are the only group that can be defined as Fascists. This is obviously incorrect, as was pointed out to me, but it was correct from a purely origin basis. That is, Fascism originated as a right-wing conservative reaction against liberalism and the threat of Marxist sociology. However, I'm starting to think that the old left-right distinction that so determined the 20th century, is no longer of any specific relevance. There is a shift happening in politics along different lines, a reaction to the globalist reach of the conservative neo-liberalism of Thatcher and Reagan. That this reaction is a populist nationalism that is xenophobic and exclusionist isn't a great surprise, but is it a new form of Fascism?

So, let's look at Historian Robert O. Paxton's own definition (below). I can't help but see similarities with various groups and governments currently in the public sphere. Certainly Trump's own MAGA ideology seems to fulfill 7/9, possibly all of them, depending how much further they are allowed to continue (Bannon and the extreme Christian right in American would definitely fulfill all nine if they got their way). Also, Daesh fulfill all nine of Paxton's criteria for Fascism, which is no surprise, as any Theocracy certainly carries an overwhelming thread of Fascism with it. The Brexiteer led fear in the UK, possibly only currently fulfills 4/9, but who knows what the future holds? Norsefire?

*****
  • A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
  • The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies both internal and external;
  • Dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influence;
  • The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • The need for authority by natural chiefs (always male), culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's historical destiny;
  • The superiority of the leader's instinct's over abstract and universal reason;
  • The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
  • The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.
(Paxton, 2004, pp.219-220)


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Game Day: LeCraft - Magick and the Magus

Introduction to Magick

Magick* is a powerful form of power that is seemingly both matter and energy, sometimes one, sometimes neither, and sometimes both. This force can be harnessed and controlled at will by magickally attuned and correctly trained people. Utilising this source, the magus is able to enact change upon other existent matter and energy. It is seemingly also able to transform itself into 'normal' matter or energy under correct conditions. It is considered the radix of all life energies and therefore the source of existence itself. Basically, it is the malleable, although highly dangerous, 'building blocks' of reality and can therefore be used to change existing structures, forms, and reactions.

The 'tides of magick'


Almost all sapient creatures in LeCraft have the capability to utilise magick (all except the Kuôn and, to an extent, the automatons, but most don't consider them sapient anyway). However, this is dependent on the individual being 'attuned' to the flow of magickal power. It is possible for someone non-attuned to become attuned, f.e. being exposed to a large dose of magickal energy and so forth.

It is believed, and is possible, that the level of attunement was much higher years ago (the amount of years is disputed) and that the strength of magickal power is fading in the world. However, this has not been properly measured (although many are working on it) and cannot be confirmed, but it is  still widely believed that in the early days, i.e. during the Untold War, that everyone was a magus!

For the most part, the only place one can go to receive training in magick is in one of the magus schools. Fortunately, there is a magus school prominently within every one of the nine city states. Indeed, it is most likely that the schools are the reason for each of the city states existence, location, and so forth. Although all magus schools cover all the techniques of magick use, still each has a specialisation or has a particular focus of studies. Simply put, I see the magus schools as representing an idealised academia! However, rather than running with a straight analogy of university departments (Terry Pratchett) or school subjects (J.K. Rowling), instead I wish to create with LeCraft something believably 'other'. Recognisable as a method of study and practice, but not created for the needs of satire, something that seems like a 'fourth science' or new art-form.

Few, if any, know of the true origins of magick. Although the speculation upon this forms the basis of what is called 'meta-magicks', which is the theoretical study of magickal power and is typically the beginning point of a magus' career.

Systemising Magick


I'd started creating this depiction of magick in a fairly traditional manner, with a variety of 'schools' of magick each with a specific form or focus, i.e. something like alchemy, a school that focuses upon mind control and trickery, and so forth. I might post this list later on, but as suggested above, I've come to see this system as lending too much of an 'earthly' sensibility about it. So, I started thinking about the basics of how the system might work.

With so many potential 'types' of magick it would have been a ridiculous task (but not unusual) to list all the available spells particular to a form magick that are possible, but with around ten or more schools of magick this would have required mountains of research and writing, not least to make sure nothing is copied from another system, accidental or not.

Instead of that, I intend to keep it more open-ended, adaptable, and with the emphasis on creative engagement. Certainly I will list the sorts of things that can be done; offer outlines for power-level limits, note that these can be broken in certain circumstances, give certain well-known or famous examples of feats of magick and so forth.

So, that's a game mechanics comment. This is more concept. Magick as science is not a new idea, nor do I intend to provide something brand new. In a sense, the idea is to show magick fitting into a realistic (but fantastical) setting. The more I think about technological progress and its influence upon our lives, I can't help but imagine how a source of power as great as magick (in your typical high-magick fantasy setting) would shape the development of humanity in other ways. As technology is so pervasive in our lives, so magick is a component part of these 'others' existence. In this world, magick corrupts and drawing from it too frequently eventually damages and weakens the user, but the promise of immediate power is (as we know) just too tempting for most. I don't want to draw it too close to addiction parallels, but rather highlight the inherent shortsightedness of those in power and the seemingly inability we have to break away from our technological 'crutches'.

The use of Magick


This might give some idea of how I see magick being used 'in game'. It is to be less of the casual throw-away powers of D&D magic users or the unlimited usage of Harry Potter and his Wizarding World. The invocation of magick costs the user and I don't just mean in terms of points of spell allowance or in any game system manner, rather, there is a tremendous personal risk and potential physical and mental price to be paid.



Magick needs study, needs knowledge, but most importantly needs a reason to be used. It is dangerous, fatal even, to throw around magickal 'spells' without proper care. This is a very flimsy metaphorical description for how I envisage 'proper' academic or creative endeavour. That is, I think we go wrong when we rush through something without care. I'm not saying that there aren't 'happy accidents' in art or even science for that matter, but that comes about from constant diligent work. There is no 'fairy dust' magic (without the k!) of creativity.

This, unfortunately, means that the magick of LeCraft is likely to be less 'flashy' than in typical fantasy games, but I hope it can prove to resonate more and be just as thrilling because of its needful focus. Casting a 'spell' in LeCraft can therefore be a very slow, labourious process, potentially taking many hours or days of dedicated research.

How Magick is learned and controlled


I won't go into detailing the differences between the magick schools yet, mainly because this will come about as part of each city states description as well. Also, because despite their focal differences their formation and general running remains fairly similar, this is also because the schools keep in contact with each other (somewhat unwillingly, it must be said). They are important sociopolitical centres, whether they like it or not, and although the banal day-to-day running of society bores them, they are concerned with the overall development of the world that they are all part of. As such, each head of school, the prime, is considered a major player in their local politics. Also, the various heads of schools elected one of themselves to be the supreme magus for certain magick-based decisions concerning the ethics of studies and such like. It should be noted that this arrangement is mostly administrative and the role changes hands every few years. The role of prime magus within a school is dependant on that school's historic arrangements, typically this also changes after a certain time, but some primes have been in charge of their school for decades.

Each magick school is a learned society, with a variety of specialists teaching their own area of expertise and leading research in said area. These subjects are divided into discipline or sections based on the area of study and research and each section has a lead magus, and the school run by a prime magus, whom the section leaders report to. The leaders of their discipline probably do the most to organise the daily schedule of study, research and training throughout their sections, however, as the prime is ultimately responsible they tend to be kept rather busy with constant requests and inquiries. Each specialist represents many years of study and is an expert in their particular field of investigation. Each school's own curriculum is different, being based on the style of the prime magus in charge, with some taking a very linear progression and others being rather more care-free or tailored to the individual. Initially, however, the early study at all schools focus upon meta-magick, as this forms the basis for all magickal understanding.

Structure, Forms, and Focus


The unnatural sciences of the magickal world take various levels of detail, from abstract to practical. Starting with meta-magicks, which attempts to describe the theoretical basis for magickal power, the ethics of its use, and detailing magickal formula.


  • Structure = Channeling (matter, energy, interactions)
  • Forms = Enacting (methods of use; art, linguistics, movements, numerology, will)
  • Focus = Effect (outcome desired, these are manifold and included but are not limited to; artefacts, control, creation, destruction, divination, healing, manipulating physical forces, protection, summoning, transformation, travelling, and etc.


In game terms, meta-magick, structure, forms, and focus would be rated abilities or characteristics, possibly between 0/1-9, indicating levels of knowledge or strength. As a nexus discipline, meta-magick, should always be of equal or higher value than the other disciplines being used, even if meta-magick itself is not part of the required casting, without this the magick becomes 'unbalanced' and adds a greater risk to the attempt. (cf. 'the use of magick')

In terms of organisation at the schools, this means that the different disciplines; theoretical, structural, formal, and focal are part of separate areas of research, but that a specific research project will tend to be multi-disciplinary and incorporate several specialist magi working in collaboration. Although this only comes about once each specialist magus has made extensive advances in their own disciplinary area. Indeed, the idea of a magus been a 'generalist' is traditionally frowned upon, although there is an increasing movement among the young magi towards this approach. This is also motivated by the increasing prominence of the 'intuitives', those who can cast magick without the traditional training or apparent concern about the ramifications.


Trained and Intuitive magick users


Not all those that use magick have been trained at one of the magus schools, in the wilds there are those that are called 'intuitives' who can shape and use magick at will. This type of magickal practice had been made illegal in most city states and, depending on the ruler, can result in the harshest of punishments.

Although considered a new and dangerous (and much feared) phenomenon, intuitives have been around as long as magick has been utilised by sapient species. I'll go into this in greater detail at a later date, but the idea behind how the intuitive 'works' is via a bond with a type of magickal structure (to use the magi term). There are three classes of intuitive related to their respective bonds.


  • Materiality (natural) = fundamental elements of matter, in LeCraft there are considered to be six; earth, air, fire, water, aether, and void. Someone with this bond is called a Wildward or Elemental and has a link to the natural world. They are guardians of wild remote places, despise cities and conventional society, and live in isolated cultish communities. They are rumoured to partake of hideous blood rituals, sapient sacrifice, inbreeding, and cannibalism.
  • Psychical = relating to the totality of sapient minds, conscious and unconscious. There is also a belief, among these intuitives and their supporters, in their connection with an immortal energy field connected to the living being, also known as the soul and the realm of the afterlife. These intuitives are seers and healers, that live among and are popular with country folk, who call them Augurs. City folk call them Witches.
  • Unnatural =  somehow bound to the Down Below, which is a form of hidden or mirror reality to LeCraft's own and a 'shadowy' mirror at that. Occultist is normally the kindest term used to describe these wretches. Those who have willing bonded with unknown dark forces are rightly considered the enemies of all other sapient species, they have traded their dignity for power and have betrayed all that is good in the world. Some, however, find they have this link unwillingly. These unluckiest of beings must struggle to control the literal beast within them.


Mage, Mágos, and other names


*Firstly, why magick and not magic? Well, I've also considered majik... but basically this naming convention is because of real-life Lovecraft character Aleister Crowley, who used the term to distinguish his brand of occultism (i.e. the cult of thelema) from the 'usual' kind. I suppose I'm grabbing some of this cachet.

I've also settled on Magus/Magi rather than the simpler term Mage(s) because it is so familiar and well-used in fantasy fiction and gaming. Magus comes from Persian and Latin and is closer related to the ancient Greek word than the modern Mage (see the title for the Greek term). It adds, I hope, an antiquarian feel to the name and the world.

Next time: Sapient species in LeCraft

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Game Day: LeCraft - World Building

I thought I'd explain some more of yesterday's ideas while they're still rotating around.

These are some notes that I made in 2015 about world building:

1. An 'unbroken' world. The game planet has not had the player races all slowly evolve on this world directly. Thus, many/most of the animal species native to the world are undomesticated. Further to this, they should be as un-Earthly as possible. So, we don't have a direct transposition from medieval Europe.
2. As many standard fantasy tropes to be subverted as possible. This will be difficult, but Elves as pragmatic. Dwarves as artistic and so forth.
3. Global community of refugees. Although some sapient species are native to the world (certainly kuon, possibly athexe, and others) most of the standard fantasy stock were brought here many centuries (possibly millennia) ago by some sort of... magical war and/or accident, trans-dimensional conflict/time war and etc.
4. Joined together to fight a common enemy. Although originally mortal foes; humans, elves, orcs, dwarves, goblins, and all the others, had to come together to fight an utterly horrifying aberrant species (Lovecraftian things). Who either were/are native to the world or followed them here. So, rather than the usual 'fantasy ghetto' divisions of continent by race/species (land of the halflings and so on) the cultures are divided more on ideological grounds, within which the different species are working together.
5. Ancient giant architecture. Abandoned colossal standing stones, ziggurat, and temples made by an older race (probably the risar).
6. Technology AND magic. Standard setting would have Earth tech equivalent to the 1700's. Clock-punk gunpowder weapons, clockwork machinery, etc.

***

I'm pleased to see that most of these ideas are still present, although some are becoming more tangential, i.e. the knowledge of the past NOT being made available to the characters of the stories.

One idea I'm certainly less attached to now, is the 'giant architecture', mainly because this isn't particularly surprising or interesting, indeed, it's a bit too common an idea. I quite like the idea of there being some giant-sized architecture, but not to make it a common theme. Indeed, the occasional 'odd' architectural or environmental structure would be more appealing.

The idea of the 'world' being a created space, some post-apocalypse realm, or experimental creation by mad 'gods'. Although the last one plays a little too close to Douglas Adams...

Indeed, that's a problem for me, the influence of too much British comedy! It's hard to think seriously about a medieval setting now without thinking of Holy Grail, science fiction without Hitchhiker's Guide or Red Dwarf, and generally ridiculing the often overly serious American attitude to fantasy stories (Raymond E. Feist is a good example of a fine writer that gets more than a little carried away with himself and don't get me started on George R. R. Martin!).

That point being raised, this leads me to giving a few more influences and one in particular, because he might of only got a cursory mention in yesterday's post, but Terry Pratchett is phenomenally influential. Not least, because he stops me from taking this all too seriously.

However, if you're unfamiliar, don't think that Pratchett is merely a parodist of fantasy novels. He does a great deal more, like Le Guin his stories seem to function as a believable world with a sense of substance, which is some feat considering that the 'Discworld' is a flat earth flying through space on the backs of four giant elephants carried by a giant space turtle, his characters also have a sense of truth about them, with personalities that make you care about their fates. Within the comedy and satire, however, are some of the best sequences of dialogue I've read where every word has obviously been carefully chosen, he also wrote perceptively about the human condition, and could use a literary allusion with precision.

Horror and Humour are dangerous companions though. As comedy easier breaks down the horrific, indeed, you might say that that's it's job! Laughing in the face of death.

The next influence, or groups of influencers, are more on Lovecraft's side (if we're putting Pratchett with Le Guin and I am) as their influence is one that shapes the shadowy mirror-world or the Down Below. I'm describing the art of Hieronymous Bosch and his creative successors (his heirs you might say..) the Surrealists, but not the Surrealists you're thinking of. Those pseudo-Marxist wannabe-Freudian's and the famous mustachioed adman, but the ignored female Surrealists, most of whom were based in Mexico. Particularly the work of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo (whose painting Embroidering the Earth's Mantle is depicted below). Their style is what you could call 'mystical surrealism' or 'psychomagical art' and it certainly has more of a connection with artists like Austin Osman Spare (whose work on 'sigilization' is a key influence for one of the mage schools that will be described later) and medieval illustrations of alchemy and so forth. They help shape the imagery of my world.

Elf mages at work?

I had an idea of there being many (around 9) city states that operate independently but are tied together in a system of rulership or, better, stewardship over the world. The initial thought was to base the majority of my stories or games in one particular city and leave the descriptions of most of the others as loose as possible to allow; (1) the reader's own creative imagination, and (2) players of the game to detail their own games and thus customise the game world.

My city, Cherish Port, is one built around my last influence (to be mentioned here today) and that is film noir (excellent wikipedia page btw). I think the first film noir I saw was 'The Third Man' that just so happened to be on television one afternoon after I'd finished by postal delivery. It was one of those moments, like seeing Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (also by chance), that changed the way I saw film. Obviously, I'd already been exposed to films and media that were imitating the style of Carol Reed's film, but there was something utterly different. Perhaps Orson Wells' terrific performance, perhaps the music, but whatever it was I was immediately hooked and began to search out all manner of film noir classics and forgotten gems. The obvious immediate connection with Lovecraft is the mood of pessimism, nihilism even, of many film noir's and the lingering sense of threat and menace. Indeed, like Lovecraft, the characters in a film noir can often tend towards 'archetypal' and can be merely 'victims in the ongoing narrative' rather than developed in any real manner.

Next time: Magick and the Mage.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Game Day: LeCraft - Influences

Rather than start with the minutiae of this growing imaginative 'world' of mine, for example,  with a description of particular species or of one of the schools of magick or of any other countless small factors... I'll start first of all with the reasons behind my choices of influences as they might seem paradoxical to some and then give you a 'Big Picture' description for the world's setting.

As I've stated on previous occasions, this project was initiated by various conversations with Thomas, whose own fantasy world can be found on his blog 'A Basket of Leaves'. Had he lived, we might have collaborated on something related to his own world, as role-playing games were not a thing he was familiar with (oddly considering how steeped in fantasy worlds he was, but living in very rural localities limits one's D&D opportunities I suppose). Anyway, my creation has now become something distinct from his world, but the ideas, or rather, the ideals are still central to my own project. So, I'm still guided by the thought that a game or a story need not have violent conflict as its main motivation and that the thought of making this 'point scoring' i.e. collection of gold and experience as the primary player motivation is something I find incredibly dull and off-putting for a number of reasons, not least, the casualness of killing (fictional or not). D&D players sometimes (jokingly) refer to their Player Characters (PC's) as 'murder hobos' based on their habit of travelling the game world killing and stealing as they go. Now, I'm not turning into of those people that think people who play violent computer games and watch slasher films are more aggressive and are all potential serial-killing maniacs (see Przybylski), however, it's worth focusing on the story primarily and this is what I want to do with this game and story world of mine.

A. Influences

Ursula K. Le Guin and Howard Phillips Lovecraft in combination might seem incongruous as their own styles are quite distinct (to put it mildly). However, I believe this works (obviously) when one is taken as the 'solution' to the other's problems.



Lovecraft's flaws are numerous and not merely contained in his writing, which is something that unavoidably bleeds into his work. Not to beat around the bush, I'll just up and say that his racism is a fact and not something that can be excused by the "man of his time" claim. We might also say that it's irrelevant to his overall mythos. Perhaps. Would Heidegger have written 'Being and Time' without being a Nazi sympathiser? I think for any student of Heidegger's work that would a difficult claim to dispute, as some of the characteristic themes of German fascism are dominant in Being and Time. Should the work therefore be ignored or destroyed and expunged from the cultural memory as 'bad'? I'd say that it should not, (in either case, Heidegger or Lovecraft) as this is not the central claim of their work, but we should still be aware of its influence (Nazism and xenophobic racism) upon their respective works. I believe it is doubtless that Lovecraft's fears were not limited to fantastical cosmic paranoia, his literary supernatural fears having a very real world basis. Indeed, his work (perhaps) fulfilled a sort of katharsis, writing out all his fears of the everyday world into some huge maddening dread that was embodied in the stories in grotesque monstrosities and the nihilism of a cold disdainful cosmos. There's no doubt, also, that Lovecraft is a masterful (if verbose) writer of horror, of unknowable terrors that have sinister 'plans' for us. Indeed, he has become so well known that his 'style', his mythos, is in danger of being a 'cliche' itself. However, whenever that happens and 'Lovecraft' become short-hand for monster-with-tentacles then the fear has probably left, I doubt Lovecraft thought himself a writer of 'B-movie' style schlock, but many seem to have interpreted his style as this. Perhaps partially because he published mainly in pulp magazines, whose covers have a tendency to emphasize things in slightly more 'obvious' manner than Lovecraft did.


Le Guin writes with such a powerful eloquence about the everyday thoughts and activities of characters that seem fully developed and believable, whether they are also an Archmage or the futuristic humans of Tau Ceti. In a sense she is the polar opposite to Lovecraft's place-holder characters, as he desperately races to impart his fears to you. By any stretch Le Guin is the obvious greater influence because her work is so much more developed and, well, mature. Her knowledge of anthropology, philosophy, and history permeate through all her works and result in fully formed and believable cultures. With lands that seem to be functioning, that have always functioned, that are living history being described to you as you read. Now, if I could write half as well as Le Guin, I'd be doing very well, but it's good to have something to aim for. So, like Le Guin's worlds I want to mine to feel like it has a history, that the society and cultures aren't merely paper-thin analogies for real-world cultures, but feel 'solid' themselves, that they are as if something new is being described to you, not just another fantasy trope being put into a different box. In short, I hope to be describing a world that is not another Eurocentric fantasy, but nor do I mean to belittle other cultures by making a game about 'Samurai in Space' or anything of that nature, but create something that feels utterly alien but is also familiar (in that it features humans as our anchor, a tired but useful trick for the fantasy creator!).




So, how do I intend to reconcile the differing influences of two seemingly unrelated authors? Well, in one sense, I want to use one author to fill in the gaps of another and again it seems like I'm having a go at poor old HP, but in my defense, it's not his characterisation or world-building that I turn to his work for. Therefore, I see (or hope to see) my world as primarily Le Guin inspired in its construction. That is, as I've said, believably alien and real with a lived history. Something, I believe, she learned from academic study of human cultures and their philosophy's. In another way, I see my world as existing with two primary layers, one Le Guin and the other Lovecraft, that is they're operating in different zones. The 'real' world, with it's cities and politics, steaming jungles and dangerous seas, all the various interactions and conflicts between the different species of the world, and the other... the old world, the hidden dark mirror-world, wherein lie forgotten and buried secrets, terrible knowledge and vile mysteries!

I'd suggest that this 'rehabilitation' of Lovecraft isn't anything new or original on my part, indeed, there's a rather large contemporary community of authors that identify as the 'New Weird'. One of whom, China Mieville, I've written about before and I believe his own work could be seen as a reconciliation between Le Guin and Lovecraft. However, I don't intend to create my setting with a 'Steampunk' theme similar to Mieville's in Bas-Lag series of books (currently at three).

B. Themes

What of the setting then? Well, let's try a very concise description and then flesh it out some.

Age of enlightenment, 'Clockpunk'.
Magical academicals.
Sprawling city states.
The Wilderness is dangerous.
Strangers in a strange land.
United against the darkness.
Subverting species.
Not on Earth, or any Earth-substitute.
Buried secrets, terrible knowledge and vile mysteries.
Seeds of division.

Well, so that's just some phrases to hopefully give some ideas. First of then, 'Clockpunk', which sadly isn't my phrase. I thought about a setting later than the standard fantasy 'medieval' but earlier then the Victorian Steampunk of New Weird and being a student of Kant and others, the age of enlightenment (or the 18th century to you) seemed an ideal choice. Immediate problem: for something not Eurocentric in aspiration, this is a very European starting point. Well, yes, but there have been plenty of 'ages of enlightenment' whether you are the Tang dynasty of China, the Islamic Golden Age, or the 4th Dynasty of Ancient Eygpt. The point here is; (1) the technological level, (2) the focus on rationality and culture (cf. Tang dynasty and Islamic Goldan Age), and (3) importantly, the hopeful belief that anything is possible. In 'our' case the result was several revolutions against the yokes of tyranny and the establishment of what would come to be called capitalism (a bigger and better yoke!). Not in my world however, money isn't as important as knowledge, because where magick is concerned knowledge is very definitely power.

Although the main protagonists of my game and my stories are most definitely the Mages and focusing on the political conflicts of the various Mage Schools. This is mainly for the following reasons; (1) they are analogous to academia and that is mostly my lived experience, (2) with this focus the game is therefore less about developing a combat system than developing a mystery to be solved by diplomacy, investigation and creativity, (3) also with this focus the stories are liable to be about exploration, interpretation, and running away (with thanks to Rincewind).

Not that this means we have a Magocracy. Although certainly powerful, the mages also have a propensity to be engaged in projects that take their focus away from the everyday (why, indeed, would a mage want to rule?) and into obscure depths of forbidden subject matters.

The appearance of the 'usual' fantasy species, but hopefully portrayed in an 'unusual' manner. I'll write plenty more about this but although I couldn't think of a fantasy world (or is that weird world?) without the typical elf, dwarf, goblin and orc making an appearance. I also wanted to be very sure not to make them 'just the same' as they normaly are. Here's a brief note, "what is the 'trope' of humanity? Generalists, because we can't describe ourselves 'as if' to another (how could we?) then human becomes the opt-out species/race. And then the alien 'others' get what? Historic earth tropes, or simple generic tropes." Why can't the dwarf be as varied as a human? Certainly the different species will have propensities towards certain behaviours and distinct physiologies, that's a given, but other than that I don't want to limit a non-human species to merely being a 'stand-in' for some other description. In a similar vein, nor do I want the world to be filled with our 'earthly' animals, because then the temptation towards 'knights on horses' becomes too great! Seriously however, I want to make this world not merely a simulacrum of a mixed together Earth history and I feel that introducing totally new or significantly different animals and creatures a sufficiently straightfoward way of making this world seem 'alien'. I'll probably not have multiple moons and two suns however...

Strangers in a strange land, another note. One final theme that needs to be highlighted and this is still something I'm working on, but the idea is that everyone (i.e. all species, well, perhaps not all) has come to this 'world' not by choice. That the known species fought together, a long time ago, to defeat some terrible power. Although the truth to that is lost and although many mages have tried there doesn't seem to be a way to find out. That is to say, time magick is locked, they cannot go forwards or backwards in time. There are records that all the species kept, but well, they're fragmentary to put it mildly. This land is not huge (continent sized?) but has also yet to be fully explored, perhaps due to the very real 'here be monsters' possibility and anyway, who has got the time to go exploring? There are plenty of real dangers at home; the city states are arguing about how the three-year cycle for leadership is governed, people worry about the rise of illegal intuitive magicks, and the dangers of the Wild become an increasing problem. Leave that weird stuff to the Mages.

Any questions?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Thoughts on Thursday: BREXIT IS CANCER

I know that I said, I'd do by best to avoid inflammatory political discussions, but this one's pretty major.

So, the inevitable has happened, parliament has voted overwhelmingly to pass article 50 and now we can move on with the talks for the UK's exit from the EU. Brexit will be happening.

The closest analogy I can think of of is someone dying of a long-term illness. We know that they are dying and that they will soon die, but still when they die it is still such a huge and painful shock. Don't get me wrong this isn't the death yet, that will come when Brexit is finalised, but this is certainly the confirmation of the diagnosis. Sorry to have to tell you this, but it is Brexit...

With the inevitability of Brexit, however long it takes, comes the inevitability of a Scottish independence vote and this time it will, I believe, be overwhelmingly FOR independence. Perhaps the one thing that kept prudent Scottish voters against independence the first time, was the desirable status-quo. The union was strong, the UK was a solid member of the EU, it seemed that choosing chaos, even if that meant independence was not as desirable as maintaining something that seemed well-developed and long-lasting. 

That now has completely gone, the only certainty is right-wing Tory rule from London, and ask any Scot if they'd like that! I can see a 80% or higher voting for independence next time.

Labour or any opposition party (outside of the SNP in Scotland and only in Scotland, they are ignored at Westminster and in England generally) have failed to enliven the remain position. Any mention of Labour is liable to be a negative one by the media and it also has an unfortunate tendency of covering over any Tory or Brexiteer nonsense that should have been properly analysed instead, pure coincidence I'm sure! For example, today we hear all about Labour's problems - Corbyn failing to hold his party together - not a strong enough leader (whatever that means) - bloggers posting that they wouldn't vote Labour right now, lots of hand-wringing about what an opposition part should be doing, and on and on. Dozens of stories.

That the Conservatives have hired a Daily Mail journalist as their new chief spokesman, gets only a cursory mention and not one that goes into any detail. Now, the Daily Mail isn't Breitbart you might think, we're not nearly as bad as those terrible Yanks, but this bizarre attitude of "it's not so bad here, compared to X" seems like delusional ignorance. Yet it goes on time after time, Trump is a gift for the Tory government as the British people seem more motivated by his insane ramblings than our own politics. Where are all those young people that marched Monday night, in demonstrations organised that day over Trump's immigration ban executive order, when their own parliament quietly cuts it's own throat and throws their futures away?

However, misdirection is what has got the Tories in power, so they're not going to stop now. Why talk about your own policies when you can simply point at the opposition and the media dutifully follow.

Tory party spokesman quoted on the BBC on the night of the vote:
Forty seven Labour MP's voting against the article 50 Bill shows Labour can’t speak for themselves, let alone speak for the country. They’re hopelessly divided and can’t even agree whether they should back the Bill to implement the decision taken by the public to leave the EU.
What we do know is that they aren’t interested in controlling our own laws or immigration and are completely out of touch with ordinary working people.

What has this to do with anything? Why is the BBC quoting this? Mentioning Corbyn's failure to unite a Labour party that were split (by his three-line whip) between following the party and serving their constituents (many of them representing areas that voted Remain) is highlighting and normalising the denigration of the opposition, is that what parliamentary democracy is about? You can disagree with your opposition but the attacks aren't meant to be personal or dismissive. Indeed, there's actually nothing here about why this is a bad thing. What, not everyone in the party totally agrees with what they've been told to do? GOOD, that's the point of democracy and now you're meant to all discuss this and come to some sensible conclusion by using logical reason while bearing in mind your electoral responsibilities, i.e. there is a moral obligation to think how what is decided will effect people in general or in specific cases. To merely dismiss your opposition only helps increase the public's disaffectedness with politics (i.e. they're all the same; corrupt and useless, why bother getting involved?), which is obviously not what an incompetent governments wants at all! No sir!

Have no doubt, UK politics is in utter disarray presently, with no general idea of what is wanted or where they are going. The WILL OF THE PEOPLE cretins like David Davis parrot day after day, the will of some of the people during an advisory referendum. As A.C. Grayling says,
[T]he nature of representative democracy, in which MP's are meant not to be simple messenger boys and girls reporting their constituents’ sentiments, but informed and rational agents acting on their behalf in their best interests by getting the facts and examining them carefully, seems to have been forgotten by MP's, and not known by the public.
So, what's so bad? Maybe the end of EU membership, the end of the UK, and the end of parliamentary sovereignty, isn't so bad. It's not like anyone's going to do anything about it anyway. Everyone return to work, pay your taxes, nothing to see here. That's what the people in power want you to do, if you're not looking, not caring, then it's easy for them to line their pockets and walk away from the bonfire they started (like Cameron and Osborne did). It's high time we started holding politicians to account. A lot of people who voted Leave did so to show their dissatisfaction with the current administration and more precisely with the style of politics we have now. It was certainly easier than getting off their arses and doing anything thoughtful about it, but then what are the choices if all you can see are the limitations that the various bureaucratic governments (Tory then New Labour then Tory again) have laid out for you. Basically, it works like, if you're on their side and you play their game, you'll be alright chum. With the added bonus of class and racial social limitations (and gender and sexuality too!) but we're not meant to mention that because it might look like we're complaining and my mate has a big house and he left school with no education, so that's alright isn't it? I mean,  he's got a big telly and a wife and kids, what else do you need in life? It's all fine here, I've changed my mind, Brexit is great because there's nothing else for it anyway. You don't need fairness, you've got a telly.

Capitalism. Ending all hopes and dreams since the industrial revolution.




Bear patiently, my heart; you have suffered through heavier things ...

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Words on Wednesday: ancient wisdom for contemporary fears

So, I have passed through the storm of January as expected. If you are still reading, you have my thanks. The world, as always, has kept on turning and people have kept on being foolish, mean-spirited, kind, and forgiving in equal measure. Such as it is, always in balance, except when the foolish and mean-spirited are the one's in power. In those times we have to think...

1.
This too shall pass

این نیز بگذرد
īn nīz bogzarad

Phrase from a fable of the Sufi poets, Attar of Nishapur or others, which relates to a king who asks for a ring that will make him happy whenever he is sad. After consideration the sages craft a ring with this phrase, which has the unfortunate side effect of depressing him whenever he is happy too...

Or, if you prefer...

גם זה יעבור
gam zeh ya'avor

A Jewish folktale that relates to King Solomon.



2.
Take courage, my heart: you have been through worse than this

τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη: καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ᾽ ἔτλης
Odyssey 20:18


Not so much, all is immaterial and will eventually fade, but rather 'hold on, you'll have your time soon.' In Homer's case it is a time for vengeance against the evil deeds he has suffered.

Full context:
His anger was roused, and he pondered in his mind, whether he should chase them down and kill them, or leave them to sleep with the arrogant Suitors one last time. He growled inside, like a bitch guarding her vulnerable pups, ready to fight on seeing a stranger. He growled inside with anger at their evil ways, but striking his chest he restrained his heart, saying: ‘Patience, my heart. You endured worse than this when the Cyclops, with his huge strength, ate my loyal friends: yet you held firm until your cunning released you from that cave where you faced death.’
Such were his words of self-rebuke, and his heart obediently steeled itself to patience, but he still lay tossing this way and that. Like a paunch filled with fat and blood turning in front of a blazing fire, twisted about by the man who roasts it, eager to see it done, so Odysseus turned from side to side, considering how to tackle the shameless Suitors, one man against many.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

5

I've never written directly about my friend, who died on this day five years ago, but I have mentioned him on several posts, as he has inspired work and thoughts so regularly with me. This is because I am thinking about him and our conversations we shared on a fairly continual basis.

So, this is about Thomas, this is a remembrance of him.

I met Thomas in 2005 in Lampeter. Something that feels so very long ago, but also feels immediate and personal. If our connection with an event; our concerns, our care, our ongoing relationship with a time help keep it present and in a sense contemporary then a great deal about my time at Lampeter and especially time shared with Thomas is still current to me.

Thomas was a disarmingly friendly and honest person.

Now that it comes to it, I'm not sure I want to share everything about the history of my friendship with Thomas in detail. That's not really the point and, indeed, I'll end up only romanticising it. Making it into a story, rather than the truth and this must be about the truth.

So, let's start again. What made me write this?

I still feel sad for those who never met him, I don't mean the majority of the planet earth's population, but for my own friends, many who have known me for a long time, without ever knowing or meeting Thomas.

I think my original thought in writing this, was for them, to describe why this person, this stranger to them, has had such a huge impact upon my life. In many ways, his life and subsequent death has utterly altered me, but perhaps they cannot see this. After a while we see our friends in a perpetual image that we have shaped for them and it would take something drastic to change our minds about this perspective.

I mean, I'm not totally different, I still identify in much the same manner I did before. I'm still mostly sad, often angry, and always flippant. (You might think I'm a calm person, but if you do, you don't really know me very well.)

Perhaps I'd hoped people would be able to tell that I carried this trauma automatically and treat me with all the appropriate solemnity and respect, but that's never the case, I've experienced this more times than I care to remember.

We cannot read each other's minds, even those we care so much about. It's perhaps because we're all such good liars, and I'm a tremendous liar. It isn't a boast, indeed, I'm ashamed about it. This is why Thomas was so important to me. He was hopeless at concealing his emotions, mainly because he didn't really try to and I don't want you to think he was saintly in his behaviour. He had plenty to feel angry and depressed about and although he coped with that better than anyone I've ever met, still he got sad and angry about things. Mainly other people's inability to see reason.

Also, I cannot describe Thomas himself, only my impressions of what he meant to me, but then that's my point here and I think Thomas would laugh at me for describing him so, and one should laugh (you cannot curse the darkness away), but this is my melodrama and I can cry if I want to.

You would cry too if it happened to you... (with thanks to Leslie Gore)

Anyway, what else could I or should I tell? Ah, yes.

Perhaps it's unsurprising to hear that my first reaction to Thomas' death was anger.

Anger at the world, for being a world wherein this can happen, where the good do indeed die young and the corrupt live long ignorant lives, where the whole thing keeps on moving, when what I wanted was for everything to just stop, because for me, everything did stop at that moment when his wife, now widow, told me that he had died.

Then anger at myself for being overcome by paralyzing emotion, for not being able to help those that needed help... more than me. This has become something too, guilt at my continuing grief, guilt that I still feel this so strongly five years later, because I'm not the widow, I'm not the parent, I'm not the life-long friend. I'm just someone who knew him for a while and I know this self-destructive thought is just that. That, in actuality, I knew Thomas at a pivotal period in his life and that I helped play a part in that, but that doesn't stop my feelings of guilt, of being a fraud, because I've never managed to live as openly as he did. Although I try.

I've been told, by philosophers no less, that I take things too seriously. Although admittedly they were analytic philosophers. Obviously I consider this to be incorrect, but I have deliberated upon it and thought about what I would be like if I were less affected emotionally by things. Not me, is a simple enough answer, which is appealing in a sense.

Life, after all, goes on. For a time. It has a habit of doing so. There are plenty of minor things to occupy one's mind so that you'd never need think about this ever again, so why do you you persist in doing so? Is it just a love of suffering?

It is because, although it does sometimes make me deeply upset, it is also something that gives me hope, makes me feel human, and quite often makes me feel incredibly happy and lucky to have known such people as Thomas.

So, I think I've said everything I can say presently and I'm aware I still really haven't said that much, perhaps there's nothing I can really say to fully convey what it meant to me to lose someone like Thomas. It seems to get harder as time passes because memories fade and isn't that really all I've got left of him now? In a sense perhaps, but I also feel the time we spent as friends influenced and changed me and I feel that I carry part of that with me, for as long as I remain me. That's the part that's hard to say, I can show it, because it's me, but the stories I could tell you are only that. They can't capture the 'what it was', they are only giving my romanticised perspective of events. So, I persevere carrying this frozen fragment of a friend, when what is always wanted is the existence that is no more. The time that has passed and can never be again.




Tuesday, 10 January 2017

21

Dear Dad,

You died twenty one years ago today, at about this time, although I wasn't there, I was on a bus coming to see you.

I was 17 then and not nearly a man. Perhaps that is why you withheld so much from me, you thought I wasn't old enough to have those talks with, but when were you going to do it? It's well past too fucking late now, isn't it?

So, yeah, I'm angry. I'm still fucking angry, 21 years later. Not that you died, but with you. I'm angry with you dad.

I never knew you. I'll never know you. I'll never know why you didn't talk to me. Not when I was a child, but when it mattered, when I was a teenager, when I was a young man.

It's that you didn't try that really bothers me, or perhaps you did but some internal conflict or doubt stopped you. For me, all I'm left with is; wasn't I good enough or worthwhile enough, wasn't I considered articulate or intelligent enough?

You've left an imprint of your personality upon me; the miserableness, the sarcasm, the love of solitude, respect for nature, but most of all, the short temper and the boiling pit of anger.

You were an angry man too, weren't you dad?

I remember you smashing things, or storming away and denying with delight the possibility of a calm resolution to whatever small thing had upset you.

What made you angry dad? Was it your father? The fact that he never fucking spoke to you? Imagine that. Imagine just being left, with no help, no advice, no kind words, fucking nothing. No wonder you were angry.

I was sick of being you. Trying to do the things I think you'd want for me. Indeed, I did stop. I stopped years ago, when I was 25. I remember realising that I had nothing to prove and no way to fucking prove it to you anyway. I started thinking for myself properly. I often think that you're the reason I decided to study philosophy. To consider the 'good death'.

You didn't die well did you? If we're given the time to 'put our house in order' before we die, and many people don't get that chance, you should take it. I don't think you did, but perhaps I just wasn't included. Were you protecting me? Or were you just protecting yourself from having to actually talk about your own death to a young man? Or was it talking about your life that was the problem?

Will I do any better, could I be a different father? Hopefully, I'll get to answer those questions, but the potential of failure fills me with fear. Is that what stopped you, dad? Fear?


Dear reader,
Perhaps this all sounds unfair to you. After all he was there; he wasn't earlier deceased, or in prison, or runaway, or on drugs, or abusive, or violent. He did teach me to respect nature and naturalness, to appreciate art and music, to regard working hard at something you value, and probably many other things too. Perhaps it is unfair, perhaps this is just based in my anger, perhaps someday soon I'll learn to live with it or work past it.