As the year comes to a close- oh god oh god, stress, fire, oh no kill it, kill it!
Well now that’s over with, I think doing the thing I did last year with this summary is definitely a good structure, splitting it into what I achieved and supported in 2019, then the goals I have for 2020. It’s truncated because I value somebodies time (not my own, evidently) so this won’t be too long, I hope.
2019 – The Year That Was
The book a week commitment is a great idea to start the new year with and a great goal to consistently miss. All told this year I’ve finished 30 books, not bad but not absolutely fantastic.
Down from the last year’s count at 43 but this fails to include the books read as part of my Degree, some of which I’d already read and some of which I haven’t ‘finished’ per-se,
If I had to pick one that that more people should read it would be ‘Who Killed My Father’ by Edouard Louis, a deeply personal and affecting book that highlights the falseness of dividing real life and politics, they are one and the same.
Films, evidently are easier to consume than books! Although the list I drew up for myself at the beginning of the year has evidently had an effect, up from 35 to 46 films. Some of which were outside my usual fare. Although there’s still a lot of big budget films in there.
The two particular standouts are ‘Knock Down the House’ and ‘FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’, both documentaries but with very different tones.
This list system is handy isn’t it! I didn’t have too much time for games this year but in the last few weeks with a few moments I’ve finished a decent chunk. I say finished because there are plenty of games that I’ve started, like ‘Celeste’ or ‘Baba is You’ that I just never got around to completing. ‘Celeste’ I have lots of complicated feelings on and I got to the last section of the game through the year and I may yet go back to finish it.
So, for those keeping track, 30 books, 46 films and 16 games!
The games I wanted to have played in 2019 were ‘Into the Breach’, ‘Tetris Effect’, ‘Gris’ and ‘Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’, of those I’ve only gotten around to Into the Breach, definitely still want to check out the others though.
Music still needs work. Will get back to you on that.
This year I’ve doorknocked, taken photos, been to Welsh Labour Conference in April and then National Conference in September. Elected as Chair of the Llandaff Labour branch in June, launched the Cardiff Left Bookclub in August.
There were other things, successful and unsuccessful election campaigns, nights in the rain and the wind, editing videos, running social media channels.
I also, on a political and on a pure “Oh no what have I done” note, applied and started my Masters in Welsh Government and Politics this year.
2020 – The Year That Might Be
I will be attempting the 52 books reading challenge again, it’s going to be particularly tricky going into the 2020 but we can only try.
The gender balance of the books was better this year but by no means perfect (11 by women, 16 by men) so as before, I can and must do better going forward.
I’ve transferred the ones I didn’t get to in 2019 to a 2020 list but I’ve still got further to go on this front. I’m going to need to take some time and add to the list.
I’m pretty happy with where I’m at on games, the new consoles will be coming out next year and I’m planning a trip to EGX partially based around seeing some of those games in person.
As above so below, need to work on it.
Well my Master’s needs to be done, so that’s going to be it’s own special hell of business.
So this is the conclusion to the first exciting week of 52 week challenge. I wanted an early start to the year so after midnight on New Years’ evening I watched the first film and read another chapter of the first book, Isabell Lorey’s ‘State of Insecurity’. Now both are done and while I can’t promise this through a look at the next film and book, we shall see.
State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious
A critique of virtually all critical texts I have encountered is their pointless and harmful obfuscation. Or to put it in a way they never would, they make the simple, needlessly complicated and eschew the easy ways of clarifying either out of a misguided sense of specificity or because they sincerely believe that their way is the best way of explaining concepts.
The introductory chapter of the State of Insecurity contains a prime example of this, Isabell Lorey at the end of that chapter seeks to differentiate Precariousness, Precarity and Governmental precarization. I understand that definitional work is key in order to avoid misunderstandings, however such definitional work would read far better if done via bulletpoints or indentation to clearly differentiate where areas change.
In general the nature of academic texts often feel like either slow and deliberate reading must be done or, alternatively, multiple readings of the same text has to be done. But both of these necessities would be much reduced if the sections were simple broken up along the above guidance. Easy and comprehensible reading should not be the enemy of the academic but their friend, a consumable idea is a spreadable one. To complicate it further this book was written originally in German, so I am uncertain where the unhelpful use of words like concomitant (p.36, p.111) is a translators choice or faithful to the original, specific, intent. It was also a little difficult for me to always tell in reading when the writer was summarizing an external argument and where they were making their own.
The traditional boundaries between the social positionings of the normal and the precarized are dissolving: precarization becomes a normality with new inequalities.
[Chapter 4, pp. 67-8]
Chapter 5 is the most theory heavy and also feels like the weakest chapter, it feels like the work is strongest when not attempting a taxonomical analysis and classification of hierarchies, but rather when it looks at the real world and the ways in which traditional critical discourse often ignores the uncounted and potentially uncountable labour cost. Which links, in my mind, to a book I read last year on ‘A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things’, which also confronted the basis of a capitalistic model of the world which ultimately only works if you discount those key elements of labour that are given ‘freely’.
The text’s key notion of the how the normalisation of precarization within a neoliberal structure occurs is insightful, particularly how the aforementioned precarization then is used a way of dominating and subjugating people within a society.
In talking how precaritazation in its creation can be resisted Isabel Lorey writes:
At many moments in the processes of precarization, something unforeseen, contingent, and also in this sense precarious arises. It is this aspect of precarization that harbours the potential of refusal, producing at the same time a re-composition of work and life, of a sociality that is not in this way, not immediately, not so quickly, perhaps even not at all, capitalizable. These kinds of re-compositions can effect interruptions in the process of normalization, in other words, in the continuity of exploitability and governability.
[Chapter 7, p. 104]
Torque exists as direct response to the Fast and the Furious (1 + 2), but in retrospect it is also a complementary film. It directly critiques the other franchise:
Cary Ford: I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Shane: That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!
But it also has a style that Fast & Furious would take at least another two films to fully embrace. The choreography of both the bikes and the guns is exemplary, you could teach classes on how they pick up and swap guns in the desert outside Earl’s Dinner. There are lots of moments throughout the film that are done with enough seeming effortless grace as to have required what I imagine must have been expert precision and direction.
The film also has these really unsubtle moments of humor where it acknowledges the absurdity of the situation, a good example of this is when the two principle FBI agents are about to rush off to follow a lead, only for one of them to point out that they haven’t paid for the gas in their car yet.
One thing I think is always important to acknowledge is that however complementary or fun I have with the film on a personal level, this is not to say there are not issues that require noting and calling out.
Which, I think this film is rife for a complex and critical gender reading, there are some worrying issues in this film that really highlight a very troubled perspective of women. Two of the main female figures of the film are, in rival like terms, set in direct opposition to each other and their defining characteristics fit very much with traditional judgement often applied to female figures. The ‘Good’ woman Shane is someone who has spent her time minding her own business (literally) and when her former partner returns she is initially angry with him but quickly forgives and ends up abandoning her life to join him on his run from the law. In short, she is, and is implied to have always been, faithful. Whereas one of the first ‘jokes’ made about ‘Bad’ woman China is around her supposed promiscuity.
However despite these familiar stereotypical grooves it does feel odd that the film never really questions the competence of the women at a core level and indeed a highlight of the film is the fantastic motorcycle duel between China and Shane. But at times it feels like a very particular sort of sexism that advocates almost a separate but equal status.
That all said, this film feels very much as even though it was created as a send-up of the Fast and the Furious, it would now equally live within that particular canon. The director of Torque said on the podcast /FilmCast:
I wanted to do [with] “Fast & Furious” movies what “Evil Dead II” did with horror films: do a piss-take version of it…These are stupid-ass movies. What if I made one that was really fucking stupid? [https://www.ifc.com/2010/05/torque-y-talk]
Which I think looking back does understates it, Torque became Fast and Furious once the Fast and Furious franchise became Torque. They now exist as a weird ouroboros, where you can no longer tell at what point the Fast and Furious became self aware in it’s stupid-assness and the parts of Torque, like the fetishisation of bikes, that are supposed to be serious.
I was three hours deep into Celeste, one of thosegames, a hard platformer, that appeared on many best of lists but hadn’t really piqued my attention. I had the pattern, wait until it comes down jump across, dash, then a simple wall jump. Remove the prior steps and this was easy, done a hundred times before, but this time I couldn’t make a single mistake and that knowledge was fatal, no jump up, cancel, re-position, try again. Finally I made it, it is nearly Eleven, I think I am nearly at the end of this Chapter, I am wrong.
It is now is quarter past Twelve, an insecure hotelier who craves approval has turned into a vampire and is chasing after me while demonic dust mites watch, we race through a derelict hotel on the side of a mountain. I die, I start back at the beginning of this screen, each screen is it’s own challenge, death taking you back to the beginning.
Some screens are one room, they can be seen in their entirety as soon as you enter. Not this one though, it goes on and on, it’s late, I’m tired and I doubt my ability to coordinate at the best of times. Let alone when I’m in a game where every enemy kills in one touch and I’ve got difficult jumps to navigate, as that aforementioned vampire hotelier swoops towards me.
I started this game because it was on Games with Gold on Xbox and I wanted to at least try it for an hour, that was five hours ago. It reminds me of ‘OliOli2: Welcome to Oliwood’ a game that I completed but never mastered, relying heavily on timing and precision. When everything works, you feel accomplished but it’s so easy to be pushed back, so easy to fail and start again.
Now I have finally escaped the vampire, turned back into a hotelier and he tells me to go away and leave him alone. This Chapter ends, the game tells me I have died 935 times in this part alone, across the whole game, 1,403 times. Celeste is not an easy game, but weirdly, outside of a few moments it hasn’t made me frustrated, it isn’t finished this week but I want to capture my thoughts on it.
As the year comes to a close I’m taking a rare bit of time that I have to look backwards and forward. A core idea that I keep returning to is this idea of imposing and creating structures for myself which then serve not only to support me but also the causes that I care about. With that in mind I’ve split this list into what I achieved and supported in 2018, then the goals I have 2019.
It isn’t comprehensive and I’ll be missing some personal items because I’m not yet ready to commit them to writing. It’s also absent many key events that happened personally this year because while one of my best mates’ getting married and me getting new job was cool + good, it’s not what this particular retrospective is for. As always I hope that what I have done is laudable and what I intend to achieve is plausible.
2018 – The Year That Was
I started 2018 with a commitment to finish 52 books by the end, a book a week, it began strong but fell off regularly writing about finishing books in July, by the Labour Conference in September I had completely stopped. I’ve had moments since then and by the end of year, all told, I have finished 43 books:
I don’t have a solid marker of comparison to 2017 however I know that me pushing this year was a net positive, I’ve not only read more on a sheer numerical level but also experienced different types and styles of books.
It’s hard to recommend a particular book for the year looking through my list, if I had to pick one that that more people should read it would be ‘The BBC: Myth of a Public Service’. An impressive look at the history of the BBC in an extremely readable format and style.
This year I’ve also learned about Honno Press through reading ‘The Rebecca Rioter’ by Amy Dillwyn. Along with finding out more about Verso Publishing where I bought many books that are still waiting for their spines to be cracked.
I’ve seen around 35 films this year which, while I have put together a spreadsheet for, they are mostly the usual cinematic big releases so there’s no point in posting that image, this is something that I definitely could do better on. The two particular standouts are ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’ which was a wonderful trip where the story, visuals and music came together perfectly to give me the most enjoyable cinema experience of the year. The other is ‘Thoroughbreds’ which was the only film this year which compelled me to write my thoughts down, so I could sort them out properly; Some Messy Thoughts on Thoroughbreds.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
This year my best game that I have yet to finish was definitely ‘Dead Cells’, the most interesting was ‘Echo’ and I’d like to encourage everyone to play the short but well written ‘Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist’. ‘Dead Cells’ really is a great game.
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
The album I’ve found myself returning to at moments this year was ‘Run the Jewels 3’, by Run the Jewels. I’ve got a particularly striking memory of hurtling down the motorway with Tim on the way to the airport for the Rome trip, as music blasted out of the speakers. Whenever I’ve needed something to pep me up this year it’s been first on my music queue.
Run the Jewels 3 (2016)
This year I’ve been the Cardiff West delegate for Labour’s Welsh Conference and the National Conference. To accompany the latter, I produced a series of daily update videos that I’m very happy with, although on a self-care level they definitely were a little much with daily filming and editing.
Welsh Labour Night at National Conference
My support of any organisation should never be taken as uncritical endorsement, that being said, those listed below do good work.
Supported on Patreon
Noclip – Until Danny O’Dwyer launched his Noclip project in 2016 one of the best documentaries on the videogame industry was the one produced by the multi-million dollar corporation Valve, ‘Free to Play: The Movie’, on one of the videogames they created and how popular it is as an eSport. Since 2016 Danny has consistently produced high quality, watchable documentaries on a variety of games at all levels of the industry.
Desolation Radio – They produce, if not to a consistent schedule, the best podcast on Welsh issues. The themes and history that they tackle is one rarely covered elsewhere and occasionally you even learn something.
Simone Giertz – Of Shitty Robots fame, Simone’s videos are hardly the most frequent in the world, around one a month, yet whenever they pop up they are usually (health problems aside) a bright light of fun in what is frequently a darkening world. The recent video where Simone eats cake on a conveyor belt is particularly joyful.
2019 – The Year That Might Be
I will be doing the 52 books reading challenge again, the sheer attempt in 2018 was undoubtedly positive in forcing me to read more broadly and consistently than in previous years. To improve over last year I will also obtain at very least a gender balance with authors as from my last list only 13 of the 43 books were written by women. I can and must do better on that front.
To counter this year’s film record I’ve compiled a list of 70 films I’d like to see in 2019, I will attempt to be doing one of those a week. Having ‘Das Boot’ on the list at 4 Hours 53 Mins might be a little harder to fit in than the ‘Battleship Potemkin’ at 1 Hour 20 Mins, but the hope behind the long list is that in the worst case I’ll still be able to see something even if it’s a lot shorter than one of the other options. The full list can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13k0vM_vpEY1tAoFo1W0STPO72deWmf7Iah1zv9FnXqA/edit?usp=sharing
There are four games I either didn’t get around to or weren’t released on platforms that I owned in 2018, these are ‘Into the Breach’, ‘Tetris Effect’, ‘Gris’ and ‘Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’. I want to get around to them by the end of next year.
I have no current plans to expand my repertoire and I’m not sure what I should do about this, perhaps it’s a project for end of next year. That way I can create a yearly syllabus of books, films and music for me to work through.
I will be looking to support creators and authors on an individual level, some of this is difficult due to financial resources and signposting but I will be trying to get (for instance) books from the publisher rather than through Amazon.
There are a few other projects I’m working on, but not prepared to put down in writing yet and hopefully some of these will successfully be completed and go out this year.
Thoroughbreds (2017) questions class, privilege and the foundations on which we build relationships with each other. This brief discussional contains spoilers throughout and should be read with that in mind.
The film opens with Amanda, eye to eye with a horse and then it cuts to black just after she picks up a short, sharp knife. The next scene is Amanda entering Lily’s residence where her reaction is observational, unfamiliar with the surroundings that are then keenly studied.
This is where we get the first topic that I want to explore, class. This environment is full of an invisible servant grouping, they appear as needed and then vanish. Later in the film Lily puts down an unfinished pack of crisps and goes to seal it up, Amanda tells her not to bother and Lily places it back on the counter and moves away, then a maid pops into existence to seal up the bag and, task complete, vanishes from the narrative. Later in the film, when Amanda is discussing the best time to murder her father she lists points when certain people will be around the house, in that planning the servants are never considered or mentioned.
That causal privileged expectation of wealth, where someone appears to pick up the remnants of our lives, sorts them out and then they just disappear, is a foreign concept for Amanda but her own unfamiliarity is minor compared that experienced in the later appearance of drug dealer and registered sex offender Tim. His entry to Lily/Mark’s residence is positively religious, he fawns over the luxury car, gazes in wonder at the gilded cherub surrounded clocks and the first shot we have of him outside of the house is in fisheye, exaggerating its size alongside his smallness in comparison.
It creates a clear hierarchy on action but only condemns it implicitly, the wealth isn’t seen as aspirational or admirable rather factual. This is the society in which Thoroughbreds operates, corrupt, nepotistic and cruel, success is achieved through selfishness. This is why Amanda is doomed to fail, she, despite her insistence that she is emotionless she expresses care for Lily, she seeks out her company and correspondence. For these reasons, even if they are only acted reasons, she seems more compassionate than Lily.
Amanda acts and functions as Lily’s protector, when Lily in a destructive act stays underwater long enough to drown Amanda sweeps in and pulls her up, when Lily and Mark are confronting each other the aftermath has Amanda asserting that because she was there, Lily was safe. This protection is contingent on truth, the times that Amanda pushes back is when she knows she is being lied to. Therefore, at Lily’s murder of Mark at the end of the film Lily needs to be able to do more than just blame an unconscious Amanda, she needs complicity. In confessing to Amanda that she has roofied her drink she brings Amanda into the lie, Amanda accepts that her friend has told her the truth and acts seemingly independently to consume the knowingly roofied drink. Protecting Lily, her friend, by giving her a willing person to pin the murder on.
It is a cynical position to take, assuming that the confession is calculated but it is one that is borne out again and again, Lily uses people, but at each point before now, when she has tried to use Amanda it has been through lies, which all fail, so her path forward can only be located in truth of a sort. The film ends with both Lily and Amanda exactly where they want to be, in positions of safety and security, but Amanda has clearly abandoned her friend to live the life she wants.
Lily functions exactly as the servants in Amanda’s world, she appears to clear up the mess of her step-father, then having served her function she just disappears. She is no longer relevant.
A brief digression to observe the presentation of violence. In this film there is a constant allusion to violence but it is always implied rather than enacted visually, witnessed instead with its after effects, the blood on the floor, on peoples hands, in a bathtub. The messy act of committing is limited to the sound and the absence of sound. In one notable scene Lily asks for and gets the pictures of the horse that Amanda had mutilated and messily killed, in her amateurishly executed mercy killing, this part is shot from a fixed position, with only the back of the laptop shown, the sounds of Skype messages being received and the expressions on Amanda’s face the only evidence of the presence of the gory photos. The denouement, where Lily, resolved, goes upstairs to murder her step-father is heard while the camera lingers on the roofied figure of Amanda.
What is a fail state in video games? Is it when the screen fades to black and you have to press a button to continue or to reload at the last checkpoint? Is that point of death in Braid where the screen goes grey after jumping into spikes and you have to rewind time, is that too a fail state? It certainly is much more of a soft one than the others and quite literally sends you back to the moment before you jumped. I’ve recently been going through the excellent episodic series Life is Strange, a game too that is light on fail states and uses it’s time manipulation mechanic to undo them. But it also uses failure of that mechanic, the ability of the character Max, to emphasise key story beats where failure is an unfortunate, potential, consequence. Ultimately that is what fail states and their various incarnations are used as signifiers for, consequence, you didn’t kill the dragon, try again from back here, the way in which they are implemented and their punishing nature can very much change the entire dynamics of the game.
Do then all video games need fail states? Does the nature of choice inherent in a game, even a relativity linear one like the Uncharted series, require failure as a sort of test of engagement? There are certainly games, like the Mario series, that have a larger overarching sort of failure counter that seems to only hang around for legacy reasons as running out of lives in such a game is a non-trivial task. Failure ultimately is one of the near consistent aspects of video games, whether it’s baked into the design itself or whether the player quits before the end (assuming it has an end) there are rare counterexamples but the removal of a failure state requires also removing far more choice from the player than should be expected for an heavily interactive medium like games.
There is no right way to make tea
There is no correct temperature for the water
There is no specific time for leaving it to brew
There is no definitive type of cup form which to enjoy it in
There is no proper order to adding the sugar and dash of milk
(there bloody well is)
Reading a book has always been somewhat of an issue, not the consumption itself but the act of starting. Long books can seem daunting, especially those once started and then put down, to pick up again is arduous and once finished, starting another is hardly in the front of my mind. So I’ve been reading The New Yorker and the London Review of Books in an effort to stymie the intellectual pit that is the break between books.
It seems, on the face of it, to have been a successful endeavour, the things I know seem to be growing and I no longer feel that guilty feeling that I should read more or that sinking stagnation in that dank recess that is my mind. This blog too has been long rotting in my absence and I think it is time to resume that grand experiment and use it to make my writing better (read, not sucky).
To start, a monthly writing something here. To continue, that thing should be good. Finally, that thing should be interesting.
‘We may have differences of opinion as to the value of reaching the Pole. If we apply the utilitarian test, it is all small moment, but so is a poem. And what is polar exploration but an epic endeavour in which all sordidness is left behind, and in which a man, knowing the risks and challenges of failure, ventures his life and his all in a combat against the forces of ignorance? For I deem it beneath dignity of man, having once set out to reach that mathematical point which marks the northern termination of the axis of earth, which stands as a sign of his failure to dominate those millions of square miles of unknown country, to give it up because the night is dark and the road is long. He will not give it up. The polar explorer typifies the outdoor spirit of the race which has lead conquering man across all seas and through all lands, of that thirst for knowing all there is to be known, which has led him to the depths of the ocean, to the tops of the mountains, to dig in musty caves, to analyse the rays of light from distant worlds, to delve into the geologic records of past times. It will carry him to the North Pole, too, and that before many years have past. Any one who supposes anything else of man doesnt know man. His acquaintance with human nature— with the nature of the adventurous races of our zones and times— is limited.’
– Walter Wellman, National Geographic, December 1899. Found in The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery
To attract readers, Grosvenor would have to change the public’s attitude towards geography, which he knew was regarded “one of the dullest of all subjects, something to inflict upon schoolboys and avoid in later life.” The Society’s key to success, a popular approach to geography, was missing.
He began by studying other geographic journals then being published by geographic societies throughout the world. He next turned to those books in which geography played an important part, books that have endured like Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast, Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, and Herodotus’s travels, written 2000 years before. What was there in Herodotus’s History, Grosvenor wrote, “that gave the book such life that it had survived 20 centuries and was still going strong?” What did those geographic books to which readers had returned again and again have in common?
The answer, Grosvenor became convinced, was that “each with an accurate, eyewitness, first hand account. Each contained simple, straightforward writing – writing that sought to make pictures in the readers mind.”
– The National Geographic Society: 100 Years of Adventure and Discovery pg. 42
The notion of adapting a work, conceptually, is something that has always intrigued me. So much of our culture consists of reworking of previous material which the internet in particular has thrown into overdrive. This new prominence of alteration, attempts at improvement and straight up copies brings the question of making an adaptation that is interesting. The remake of Star Wars: A New Hope years ago with ASCII or the other remake constituting stitched together of people recreating scenes in 15 second chunks are both interesting from a production standpoint but utterly unengaging as something to watch. So how do you make an adaptation that exists as it’s own enjoyable thing to watch?
There are, in my thinking, two principles that make adaptations work. The first is originality, a faithful adaptation is a bad adaptation, it either exists simply to bring the work into a different medium or to recapture the glory of the past work while putting a token stamp of creativity with different names in the credits. The second principle is surprise, even if your adaptation is faithful as possible having that one element of surprise, casting a previously male character as a female one can alter your interpretation of the whole work which, even if it seems small, can improve the whole product as a result.
For two examples we only have to look at two recent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock is a bad adaptation, it has actors turning out good performances but the scripts are reminiscent of a drunk recalling a story, getting all the plot beats right but forgetting that A. They’ve told you this story before and B. You’re too sober to enjoy their crap. Whereas Elementary while suffering a little from over long series’s enjoys the privilege of being written by a drunk who while telling a story you’ve both heard before A. Knows this and plays with it B. Introduces elements alter the original story in unexpected ways.