17 Feb 2020
“This is your Great Work, sorcerers!”
Scott Jones’ Shout Kill Revel Repeat is a haunting. By that, I do not simply mean that it sticks with you, but rather that it is drawn out of an almost forgotten yet obviously traumatic history. That of Jones, most certainly, but also ours as a collective. We tend to think of ghosts as singular entities, as individuals who cannot let go, but Jones’ work makes me wonder if an entire species can haunt us.
We certainly haunt him.
There’s some manic about his short stories. There always has been, but it feels particularly acute here, as if the stories themselves are in a rush to be made complete in their telling. The writing here — and by that I mean both the stories, but also their synthesis as a collection — is stronger than most Lovecraft-imitators, because Jones is not trying to imitate anything. This is his unique voice, crafted by travelling with and through those who came before, and he shouts it from on high the mountaintop.
I laugh a lot while reading Jones. Not that there is much in the way of humour here, per se, but still I laugh. I laugh because I don’t know what else to do with my breath while I read. I laugh because there is an intense desire to escape, but I can’t turn away from these stories. Their pull is too strong; Jones’ voice has matured into its own gravity. I laugh because at one point I started crying, having found him to have touched a raw nerve that I didn’t even know was exposed, and couldn’t come to terms with that feeling. I laugh at how little patience Jones has for subtle criticism: Aldo Tusk, the technology mogul who we get glimpses of throughout the collection, is written to be obvious — and yet it never feels a crude caricature.
Weird horror, at least for me, serves as a reminder of the vastness of all things, of the seconds that exist across space and the inches that stretch through time. It is a comfortable, if not comforting, smallness. Amor fati, in a way. H.P. Lovecraft’s stories highlight how ill-prepared we, as individual human beings and as a species, are equipped for grappling with the scope of existence beyond us. Cosmic horror, they say, but I have long found a peacefulness to it. I imagine it is because Lovecraft, for all his charms, feels archaic. A storyteller who I can’t help but judge as naive, who I can’t help but feel better than. Not as a storyteller — gods no — but as a person. As a man, Lovecraft had his flaws. As a human being, even more.
When I read Jones I am struck by the certainty that he knows something that I do not. Shout Kill Revel Repeat is an existential map for the 21st century and one that seems like it will continue to be relevant well into the 22nd — and scrawled across its pages are warnings aplenty: here be dragons (hic sunt Dagon?). It does not feel like naïveté, but rather an omen of something at the edges of what I should know but do not. An omen that I have blinded myself to, because accepting it, even acknowledging it, would push against the boundaries that keep me whole. I would rather be incomplete.
The things that Jones knows scare the shit out of me, because he does not just speak the language of cosmic knowledge, of the weird and existential horror that makes the genre. No, what is so frustrating is the insights he so clearly has on politics and religion, on psychology and technology, on gender and intersectionality, on history and map-/myth-making. He writes with the full scope of Western civilization (such as it is) behind his words and he can make those words do this?! This asshole gets it. I am still grappling with what I mean by a word as simple as it and Jones has already moved the next sentence, the next story, the next fucking saga of human existence.
The problem is that this is camouflage and, as Jones reminds us, “There’s camouflage, and then there’s camouflage, and it is all camouflage”. Sometimes I think he really is a shaman (ahem, forgive the antiquated parlance: sorcerer), whose words are The Word. It is not so much an alteration of consciousness, but rather an outright transformation. There’s no pretense here. That’s part of the trick. He tells you what he is doing and you choose not to believe, because that’s easier than what believing would cost you. Of course, there’s no avoiding that price. We pay it off the top, not knowing that’s the way these kinds of bargains have always worked.
I want to endorse Shout Kill Revel Repeat without reservation, but to do so would be ignoring the fact that I usually lack sufficient hedges against the night to cope with Jones’ writing. Again, his own words are a helpful warning: “Build the bonfire as large as you light, it merely illuminated how much more fucking darkness there is”. He is not an easy author to let into your thoughts. It is not a matter of consuming these stories and moving to the next fancy. If you let him in, he’s in. These stories get their power by consuming you back. It’s less a collection and more an evocation. A method of binding, but of who? Of what? There aren’t answers here as to what comes next. Questions that beget questions that beget questions until you start to accept the darkness will always have more darkness behind it. If Lovecraft’s response to that was that we shouldn’t look, shouldn’t wonder, Jones’ response is that we can’t help but look, can’t help but wonder. It is not prescriptive though, merely descriptive.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, I’m not sure that serves as a helpful indicator of anything. This is less of a review and more of a tone poem, trying to capture how I feel as a result of Shout Kill Revel Repeat. It is, obviously, drawn partially through reading Jones’ stories — stories of parenthood and collective consciousness and fungal spores and techno-cults and R’lyeh and language as a disease and imagined Hollywood directors — but my experiences with it are uniquely mine. I’ve no idea what you will feel reading him, but it is undeniably an expertly crafted set of stories firmly in the tradition of weird horror. Which is perhaps reason enough for me to recommend you check it out.
If nothing else, you’ll have an experience.
27 Dec 2019
But let’s talk about videogames.
Now you don’t need me to tell you that the 4X genre is problematic (the four Xs stand for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate, after all). And I’d hazard to guess that most 4X developers take a systemic approach to game design which treats theme as a largely secondary issue. But games are an artifact produced within a given social context and as such reproduce aspects of their worldview, particularly those aspects that are seen as being natural.
30 Nov 2019
The Duck Test means that what you do in the real world, and how you describe yourself there, trumps any clever words you put down on paper. What you do matters more than what you say. And having placed themselves in a position to be subject to the Duck Test, Uber were now failing it. Hard.
File this under the absurd poetry of the common law.
31 Jul 2019
The threat of polio has lessened over time, but Candy Land’s value persists because of what it teaches. This is not to rehash the usual litany of early-childhood skills some Candy Land proponents tout. Yes, the game strengthens pattern recognition. Sure, it can teach children to read and follow instructions. In theory, it shows children how to play together—how to win humbly or lose graciously. But any game can teach these skills.
Candy Land’s lessons are not to be found in the game, but in its results. Now that polio is a distant fear and mobility a power taken for granted, most games of Candy Land disappoint. The rules today are the same as they were in 1949, but something about the proceedings simply does not add up. Eventually, children recognize that they don’t have a hand in winning or losing. The deck chooses for them. An ordained victory is an empty one, without the satisfaction of triumph through skills or smarts.
When children want a more challenging experience, they leave Candy Land behind. And that, in the end, is what makes Candy Land priceless: It is designed to be outgrown. Abbott’s game originally taught children, immobilized and separated from family, to envision a world beyond the polio ward, where opportunities for growth and adventure could still materialize. Today that lesson persists more broadly. The game teaches children that all arrangements have their alternatives. It’s the start of learning how to imagine a better world than the one they inherited. As it has done for generations, Candy Land continues to send young children on the first steps of that journey.
06 Mar 2019
While I will not pretend to be an expert on Homer’s works, they have long been at the margins of my academic pursuits. I have been meaning to get around to Emily Wilson’s Odyssey translation for quite a while.
Aristotle said that the “Iliad” was a poem in which things happened to people, while the “Odyssey” was a poem of character. And with formulaic language stripped away, it is the characters and their interactions that take center stage. The frustrations of the teenage Telemachus come through clearly. So do the breezy complacency of Menelaus, the innocence of Nausicaa, the gruff decency of the swineherd Eumaeus. Wilson is good too with the poem’s undertones and double meanings.
In her new translation of the “Odyssey,” Emily Wilson allows herself some creative freedom with Homer’s formulaic phrases. “I have used the opportunity offered by the repetitions,” she writes in her introduction, “to explore the multiple different connotations of each epithet.”
Translations too are works of recollection. In her recent rendition of The Odyssey, Emily Wilson attempts to make the archaic contemporary … Remembering, we realize, must be distinguished from misremembering, from nostalgia. Precision generates the conditions for surprise to flourish.
But being such an ancient work, in an ancient version of the Greek language, it is inherently difficult to bring to new generations of students a fresh vision of what the “Odyssey” is to them, and what it was to its original audience. Each translator brings his – and now, with Professor Emily Wilson’s translation, her – own attitudes and interests: how much is the translation to be a reflection of the original text – filled with the rhetorical styles that were fresh and effective to the original audience, but impenetrable to us – and how much is it to respond to the writing and speaking styles of the translator’s times? Do we want the experience to be vivid and personal, or to be a kind of time-machine, carrying us back to the ancient times?
Professor Emily Wilson has decided to make her translation a vivid personal experience for readers today.
06 Mar 2019
There is an old Italian saying: “Traduttore, traditore.” It’s a cynical remark; it assumes that the task of translation is hopeless, that you can’t ever properly transmit a work from one culture to another. It may, in the end, be true; but if there must be treason, it does not have to be committed in the first degree, with malice aforethought.
30 Jan 2019
Coming up with insults that do not invoke gender or race or disability is good. The point of an insult is to hurt the person so insulted, not to deride an entire class. For this reason, though, the insult must describe or otherwise connect to its target. The signature feature of the new swears is that they do not carry any target-specific content.
The world may be on fire, but at least we’ve got ourselves some funky new swears to fiddle away at while it burns.
17 Jan 2019
I am probably the only New Yorker to have ever been arrested for possessing nunchucks ironically (this Washington Post editorial writer doesn’t count, because he was a genuine nunchaku enthusiast, whereas I was just a dumbass), and frankly, it’s all Donald Trump’s fault.
07 Jan 2019
We all know what we see on Facebook or Instagram isn’t “real,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t judge ourselves against it. I find that millennials are far less jealous of objects or belongings on social media than the holistic experiences represented there, the sort of thing that prompts people to comment, I want your life.
29 Dec 2018
While Rockstar’s histories capture an accurate sensibility of American history regarding capitalism, intellectualism, and violence, there’s nevertheless a gaping hole in that narrative regarding race and gender. Red Dead Redemption, again, stands out in the worst way in this instance, with women appearing primarily as prostitutes or damsels, Indigenous Americans depicted as violent drunks, Mexicans shown as backstabbing sex-crazed lunatics, and African Americans not appearing at all. I’ve often read that these problems relate more to the source material Rockstar drew from for Red Dead Redemption - namely Spaghetti and Peckinpah Westerns - rather than any innate desire to replicate racism and sexism on the part of Rockstar itself. This excuse didn’t work in 2010 and certainly doesn’t work now.