DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Laszlo Krasznahorkai The Melancholy of Resistance (1993)

 

‘So-called high literature will disappear. I don’t trust such partial hopes that there will always be islands where literature will be important and survive. … Could it be that people will once again begin to think for themselves? By thinking, I mean original thinking, without someone holding their hand. If I read the works of thinking people, they inspire me to think, but at the same time they give me categories and don’t set me free. Between them and Heraclitus’s riplling stream, they interpose a book. Maybe at some point in the future, there will be nothing between them and the rippling stream. And they’ll get nice and soaked.’ — László Krasznahorkai

‘“Reality examined to the point of madness.” What would this look like, in contemporary writing? It might look like the fiction of László Krasznahorkai, the difficult, peculiar, obsessive, visionary Hungarian author of six novels, only two of which are available in English, The Melancholy of Resistance and War and War, both published by New Directions.

‘Postwar avant-garde fiction has tended to move between augmentation and subtraction. Think of Claude Simon, Thomas Bernhard, José Saramago, W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, and David Foster Wallace. Of all these novelists, Krasznahorkai is perhaps the strangest. His tireless, tiring sentences feel potentially endless, and are presented without paragraph breaks.

‘Krasznahorkai’s brilliant translator, the poet George Szirtes, refers to his prose as a “slow lava-flow of narrative.” It’s often hard to know exactly what Krasznahorkai’s characters are thinking, because his fictional world teeters on the edge of a revelation that never quite comes.

‘László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, in southeast Hungary, in 1954. He is probably best known through the oeuvre of the director Béla Tarr, who has collaborated with him on several movies, including Werckmeister Harmonies which is based on his novel The Melancholy of Resistance.

‘Krasznahorkai is clearly fascinated by apocalypse, by broken revelation, indecipherable messages. His demanding novel The Melancholy of Resistance is a comedy of apocalypse, a book about a God that not only failed but didn’t even turn up for the exam. The pleasure of the book flows from its extraordinary, stretched, self-recoiling sentences, which are marvels of a loosely punctuated stream of consciousness.’ — The New Yorker

‘Laszlo Krasznahorkai is the contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse, and his work is comparable to that of Herman Melville and Nikolai Gogol.’ — Susan Sontag

‘Krasznahorkai’s vision far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.’ — WG Sebald

 

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László Krasznahorkai & Bela Tarr


Extract: Bela Tarr’s ‘Werckmeister Harmonies’ (screenplay by László Krasznahorkai)


Extract: Bela Tarr’s ‘Satantango’ (screenplay by László Krasznahorkai)


Extract: Bela Tarr’s ‘Damnation’ (screenplay by László Krasznahorkai)


Krasznahorkai László és Tarr Béla nyilatkoznak …


László Krasznahorkai at City Lights

 

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Further

* László Krasznahorkai Website
* László Krasznahorkai profiled @ Hungarian Literature Online
* David Auerbach ‘The Mythology of Laszlo Krasznahorkai’
* László Krasznahorkai @ The Private Library
* ‘Bela Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s artful pairing’
* ‘Something Is Burning Outside’ by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
* Podcast: LK’s translator George Szirtes interviewed
* French interview with LK @ Litterature Hongroise
* Andrew Ervin on ‘The Melancholy of Resistance’
* LK’s ‘Satantango’ reviewed @ The Coffin Factory
* Buy ‘The Melancholy of Resistance’ @ Powell’s

 

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Extra

 

‘It is fascinating to watch the work of Laszlo Krasznahorkai as though in action, spurred into sentences by the suggestive images of the German artist Max Neumann. The writer worked first from one of Neumanns images and then Neumann, spurred on in turn by the words, made the rest of the images to which Krasznahorkai, his mind let loose by the captured visuals, responded by writing more texts. What follows are two excerpts from the book, Animalinside (2011), that resulted from their collaboration. — Colm Toibin

 

 

Withdraw into protection and safeguard all that is important to you, take it down to below the earth, all that you have, take down the jewelry, the food, the childrens photographs, the armchair where you like to sit with a book in your hand, the curtain, behind which you feel yourselves to be safe, from the window; gather together all that was dear to you, gather together the identity cards and baptismal certificates, take the money out of the bank and hide it in the cellar behind the wall, but really every piece of jewelry, every scrap of food, every photograph of the child, every armchair and every beloved book, every curtain and every document, and really all! of the money down to the very last cent, and really hide all of these things well, but really well, under the earth, so that at least you will be able to believe until then that there was some sense to it all, until we get there, seek out protection at least until then, while you are still able to believe that we havent got there yet, believe and hope, hope and believe very much that it is rational to prepare for our arrival, just move away and pack up, take the chests stuffed full of pilfered loot, take them one after the other, down below the earth, at least until then do not think about how it is not necessary to wait for us, that it is not necessary to be afraid of us, that we are coming and that there is no need to worry about us, that the day is coming and we are coming, and seeing as its already here, seeing as that day has come, and you didnt notice that it has come, here we are, we see it all, we see what youre doing with your little chests, we see what youre doing with your little possessions, and we see what youre doing with the child, we see everything already from up here, because we are watching you, if you look up you can also see how the light sparkles in our eyes, but you dont look up, and that is how the day ends for you, and that is how life ends for you, because it is impossible to hide away from us, there is no depth within the earth that could be a refuge for you, we are here, above, here, look were watching from up here what youre doing down there, but we dont have to watch everything, because we already know everything about you, because the judgment has been brought upon you, and you do not merit the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have gambled away your luck upon the earth, that is what it says in the judgment, because you have become unworthy of the earth belonging to you, all you lot will clear out of here now and someone else is coming, someone else shall live upon the earth, its the end of you lot, not even a trace of you all shall remain here, that is what! it says in the judgment, so that now you might as well put down that last chest, that too is written in the judgment, and that is why we came here, to execute that judgment upon you.

 

 

You are my master, Im inside you, just like that, inside you, you who are standing here, your hands clasped behind your back, you lean forward attentively and look, but really where do you think you are, in the zoo? a blossoming meadow? in an orchard!? Well no, no, not in the zoo and not in the blossoming meadow and not in an orchard but within your own self, you are completely alone, there where between you and me there isnt any distance at all, because Im not out there but Im in here, because I was always inside you, at first just as a kind of cell, or rather something like a mistake in a cell, but then suddenly I grew and now I exist within you with all my force, you carry me everywhere with yourself, your bearing is nice, your clothes are nice, your coat is nice, your shoes are nice, nice and shiny and not even a speck of dust on them, not even a drop of mud, not even a speck of grimy slush, nothing, you are elegant, you went, you strolled, and now something stopped you, or rather you thought oh Ill stop here, Ill clasp my hands behind my back, and Ill look at something, I will look and see what this thing is in front of me, thats what you thought and thats what you did, the only thing is, I am there inside, you carry me within your own self, its of no help at all, not the nice bearing with the head nicely tilted to one side, not the nice clothes, not the nice coat, not the two nice shoes neatly shining, nothing, and now youre still thinking about nice things, thinking for example well lets have a look at whats over there, that looks pretty ghastly lets admit it, you say good-naturedly and unsuspectingly, you clasp your hands behind your back, you put your t! wo nice clean shoes next to each other, and you lean to the left and you look at me, erroneously, because its not me that youre looking at, even if you think you are, because I, that thing that looks so ghastly, is within you, because I am within you, and I am watching all of your nice thoughts, as you think to yourself how pleasant it is here in the orchard, how marvelous it is here in this blossoming meadow, how enchanting it is to stroll a little now here in the zoo, and I look at all of these nice thoughts, and Im watching how nicely you look and you think, but here I am inside, and Im extending outwards, here I am inside, and Im straining more and more, and always forwards, and always in an outward direction, and at one point I will break out, and that will put an end to all the nice thoughts, an end to the nice looks, and an end to the nice clothes and the nice coat and to how nicely you hold your head, and you look, because then you wont be looking anywhere at all, you wont even have any eyes, because I shall begin by corroding both of them, because my coming is violent, just a few moments now, and I shall break out of you, and you will be that which I am, and that which I always have been.

 

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Interview

 

Many people have the impression that your books are hard to read and to understand. That’s a myth, but don’t you think you’ve got some bad PR?

László Krasznahorkai: You know, the problem is that anything that’s the least bit serious gets bad PR. Kafka got bad PR, and so does the Bible. The Old Testament is a pretty hard text to read; anyone who finds my writing difficult must have trouble with the Bible, too. Our consumer culture aims at putting your mind to sleep, and you’re not even aware of it. It costs a lot of money to keep this singular procedure going, and there’s an insane global operation in place for that very purpose. This state of lost awareness creates the illusion of stability in a constantly changing world, suggesting at least a hypothetical security that doesn’t exist. I see the role of the tabloid press somewhat differently. I can’t just shrug it off and say to hell with it. The tabloid press is there for a serious reason, and that reason is both tragic and delicate.

Is it not possible that the best minds of any given age have felt exactly the same way as you feel, since time immemorial? Is it not possible that the milieu is always like this, and it is only in retrospect that certain ages seem more attractive than others?

LK: I am not saying that the past is brilliant – the recent past, for instance, almost killed me. But those people, living under oppression, had that something about them that gave you hope that the democratic ideals we envisaged at the time could build us a country which is more tolerable when measured by the moral and aesthetic expectations we held. But let me repeat – I would in no way like to idealise what we had at the time. How could I? I would much rather say that we have now lost by the wayside even what little we had – all that once prevented people from becoming blinded by their situation. We have lost whatever used to stop people from selling their dignity for a spoonful of gold or a spoonful of free soup – whatever they have in their spoons. And, to return to your question, I am sure it is true. I am sure all independent spirits felt in their own age that the society they had been granted was intolerable and that this could easily lead to the conclusion that all human societies are intolerable unless they exist by the highest moral and aesthetical standards. This seems true not only with regard to Western civilisations. It seems to hold true for Oriental cultures, too. Confucian himself repeatedly refers his readers to the early Zhou period, directly preceding his own, as an ideal age which his contemporaries should set their standards by. And Confucian, who created the poetic vision of the most elevated moral system in the world, lived in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ.

In a situation like this, what do writing and literature give you? What do books mean? Obviously, not the way out. Nor does writing function as a form of personal salvation for you. Then, shall we say it is the gentlest form of rebellion? Or does it play the role of issuing certain signals?

LK: Whenever I manage to state my view in its full extent, my partner in conversation, anywhere in the world, invariably reminds me, “If you paint such a gloomy picture of the world, then why write?” This is a subtle way of asking why I don’t shoot myself in the head right there and then, and indeed, why I hadn’t done so a long while ago. My critical remarks do not mean that I think or have ever thought that literature could directly interfere with the workings of the society it criticises or rejects. The impact that a writer can exert over his or her own society is far more subtle, almost indecipherably complex and indirect, working through a number of transformations. I even doubt whether at such a degree of remoteness you can still call this an impact and an influence. In Oriental cultures, this question has found an almost radical solution: art had absolutely nothing to do with the direct, palpable reality of its own age. On the contrary, real artists were not “members” of their own society, in the same way that saints never are. This way, the art they produced did not exist as an integrated, definable, graspable part of society. Instead, it found its place in an emphatically spiritual space which nonetheless was still perceived as a part of reality.

 

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Book

Laszlo Krasznahorkai The Melancholy of Resistance
New Directions

‘A powerful, surreal novel, in the tradition of Gogol, about the chaotic events surrounding the arrival of a circus in a small Hungarian town. The Melancholy of Resistance, László Krasznahorkai’s magisterial, surreal novel, depicts a chain of mysterious events in a small Hungarian town. A circus, promising to display the stuffed body of the largest whale in the world, arrives in the dead of winter, prompting bizarre rumors. Word spreads that the circus folk have a sinister purpose in mind, and the frightened citizens cling to any manifestation of order they can find music, cosmology, fascism. The novel’s characters are unforgettable: the evil Mrs. Eszter, plotting her takeover of the town; her weakling husband; and Valuska, our hapless hero with his head in the clouds, who is the tender center of the book, the only pure and noble soul to be found. Compact, powerful and intense, The Melancholy of Resistance, as its enormously gifted translator George Szirtes puts it, “is a slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type.” And yet, miraculously, the novel, in the words of The Guardian, “lifts the reader along in lunar leaps and bounds.”‘ — New Directions

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Excerpt

Since the passenger train connecting the icebound estates of the southern lowlands, which extend from the banks of the Tisza almost as far as the foot of the Carpathians, had, despite the garbled explanations of a haplessly stumbling guard and the promises of the stationmaster rushing nervously on and off the platform, failed to arrive (‘Well, squire, it seems to have disappeared into thin air again …’ the guard shrugged, pulling a sour face), the only two serviceable old wooden-seated coaches maintained for just such an ’emergency’ were coupled to an obsolete and unreliable 424, used only as a last resort, and put to work, albeit a good hour and a half late, according to a timetable to which they were not bound and which was only an approximation anyway; so that the locals who were waiting in vain for the eastbound service, and had accepted its delay with what appeared to be a combination of indifference and helpless resignation, might eventually arrive at their destination some fifty kilometres further along the branch line. To tell the truth, none of this really surprised anyone any more since rail travel, like everything else, was subject to the prevailing conditions: all normal expectations went by the board and one’s daily habits were disrupted by a sense of ever-spreading all-consuming chaos which rendered the future unpredictable, the past unrecallable and ordinary life so haphazard that people simply assumed that whatever could be imagined might come to pass, that if there were only one door in a building it would no longer open, that wheat would grow head downwards into the earth not out of it, and that, since one could only note the symptoms of disintegration, the reasons for it remaining unfathomable and inconceivable, there was nothing anyone could do except to get a tenacious grip on anything that was still tangible; which is precisely what people at the village station continued to do when, in hope of taking possession of the essentially limited seating to which they were entitled, they stormed the carriage doors, which being frozen up proved very difficult to open. Mrs Plauf, who happened to be on her way home from one of her customary winter visits to relatives, took full part in the pointless struggle (pointless since, as they soon discovered, no one actually remained standing), and by the time she had shoved aside those who stood in her way and used her tiny frame to hold up the crowd pressing behind her in order to assure herself of a rear-facing window seat, she could no longer distinguish between her sense of indignation at the intolerable jostling she had just endured and a different feeling, oscillating between fury and anguish, occasioned by the awareness that she, with her first-class ticket, which was quite worthless in this stench of garlic sausage blended with the aroma of mixed-fruit brandy and cheap pungent tobacco, surrounded as she was by an almost menacing ring of loud-mouthed, belching ‘common peasants’, would be faced by the acute uncertainty faced by all those engaged in what was in any case the risky business of travelling nowadays, in other words not knowing whether she would arrive home at all. Her sisters, who had lived in complete isolation ever since age had rendered them immobile, would never have forgiven her if she had neglected to pay them her regular early-winter visit and it was only on their account that she refused to abandon this dangerous enterprise even though she was as certain as everyone else that something around her had changed so radically that the wisest course under the circumstances would have been to take no risks at all. To be wise, however, soberly to anticipate what might lie in store, was truly no easy task, for it was as if some vital yet undetectable modification had taken place in the eternally stable composition of the air, in the very remoteness of that hitherto faultless mechanism or unnamed principle—which, it is often remarked, makes the world go round and of which the most imposing evidence is the sheer phenomenon of the world’s existence—which had suddenly lost some of its power, and it was because of this that the troubling knowledge of the probability of danger was in fact less unbearable than the common sense of foreboding that soon anything at all might happen and that this ‘anything’—the law governing its likelihood becoming apparent in the process of disintegration—was leading to greater anxiety than the thought of any personal misfortune, thereby increasingly depriving people of the possibility of coolly appraising the facts. To establish one’s bearings among the ever more frightening events of the past months had become impossible, not only because there was little coherence in the mixture of news, gossip, rumour and personal experience (examples of which might include the sharp and much too early cold snap at the beginning of November, the mysterious family disasters, the rapid succession of railway accidents and those terrifying rumours of gangs of criminal children defacing public monuments in the distant capital, between any of which it was hard to find any rational connection), but also because not one of these items of news meant anything in itself, all seeming to be merely omens of what was referred to by a growing number of people as ‘the coming catastrophe’. Mrs Plauf had even heard that some people had started to talk of peculiar changes in the behaviour of animals, and while this—for the time being at least, though who knows what might happen later—could be dismissed as irresponsible and harmful gossip, one thing was certain, that unlike those to whom this signified a state of utter chaos, Mrs Plauf was convinced that, on the contrary, it was perfectly appropriate in its timing since a respectable person hardly dared set foot outside her house any more, and in a place where a train can disappear ‘just like that’ there was, or so her thoughts ran on, ‘no sense left in anything’. And this was how she prepared herself mentally for the ride home, which was bound to be far less smooth than the outward journey, cushioned as she had then been by her nominal status as a first-class passenger, since, as she pondered nervously, ‘anything might happen on these dreadful branch-lines’ and it was best to steel oneself for the worst; so she sat like one who would happily make herself invisible, straight-backed, her knees schoolgirlishly clamped together, wearing a chilly, somewhat contemptuous expression, among the slowly diminishing huddle of people still tussling for seats, and while she kept a suspicious eye on the terrifying gallery of undefined faces reflected in the window, her feelings swung between anxiety and yearning, thinking now of the ominous distances ahead and now of the warmth of the house she had had to leave behind; those pleasant afternoons with Mrs Mádai and Mrs Nuszbeck, those old Sunday walks along the tree-lined avenue of Friars’ Walk, and finally the soft carpets and delicate furniture of home, that radiantly calm order of carefully tended flowers and all her little possessions, which, as she well knew, was not only an island in a wholly unpredictable world where afternoons and Sundays had become merely a memory but the one refuge and consolation of a lonely woman the orderliness of whose life was calculated to produce peace and calm. Uncomprehendingly, and with a certain degree of envious contempt, she realized that her noisy fellow travellers—most likely coarse peasants from the darkest nooks and corners of distant villages—were quickly adapting themselves even to such straitened circumstances: to them it was as if nothing unusual had happened, everywhere there was the rustling of greaseproof paper being unwrapped and food being doled out, corks were popping, beer-can lids were dropping to the greasy floor, and here and there she could already hear that noise ‘so calculated to offend all one’s finer feelings’ but, in her opinion, ‘perfectly common among common people’ of munching and crunching; and what was more, the party of four directly opposite her, who were among the loudest, had already started dealing a deck of cards—till only she was left, solitary; sitting even more stiffly among the increasingly loud human hubbub, silent, her head determinedly turned to the window, her fur coat protected from the seat by a sheet of newspaper, clutching her clipped handbag to her with such terrified and resolute suspicion that she hardly noticed the engine up ahead, its two red lights probing the frozen darkness, drawing uncertainly out into the winter evening. A discreet sigh was her only contribution to the noises of general relief (grunts of satisfaction, whoops of joy) that after such a long and chilly period of waiting something at last was happening; though this did not last long, since, having travelled barely a hundred metres from the now silent village platform and after a few clumsy jerks—as if the order permitting them to start had been unexpectedly revoked—the train came judderingly to a stop; and though the cries of frustration soon gave way to puzzled and angry laughter, once people realized that this state of affairs was likely to continue and were forced to admit that their journey—possibly because of the extended chaos owing to the employment of an off-timetable train—was sadly destined to vacillate between lurching forward and lurching to a halt, they all relapsed into a jokey indifference, the dull insensibility that ensues when one has been forced to accept certain facts, which simply goes to show how people behave when, having failed, infuriatingly, to understand something, they try to suppress the fear caused by genuine shock to a system which seems to have been overtaken by chaos, the nerve-rackingly repeated instances of which may be met with nothing but withering sarcasm. Although their crude incessant joking (‘I should take so much care when I’m in bed with the missus …!’) naturally outraged her delicate sensibilities, the stream of ever ruder cracks with which each hoped to trump the one before—jokes, in any case, now dying away—had a relaxing effect, even on Mrs Plauf, and, every so often, on hearing one of the better ones—and there was no real escape from the coarse laughter that followed in each case—she herself couldn’t entirely suppress a shy little smile. Slyly and carefully, she even ventured a few momentary glances, not at her immediate neighbours but at those who were sitting further off, and in the peculiar atmosphere of daft good humour—since, while the occupants of the carriage (those men slapping their thighs, those women of nondescript age cackling with their mouths full) remained rather fearsome, they seemed less threatening than they had been—she tried to keep her anxious imagination in check and tell herself that she might not actually have to face the lurking terrors of the ugly and unfriendly mob by which, her instincts told her, she was surrounded, and that it might only be because of her keen susceptibility to omens of ill-fortune and her exaggerated sense of isolation in such a cold and alien environment, that she might arrive home, unharmed it may be, but exhausted by her state of constant vigilance. To tell the truth, there was very little real basis for hope of such a happy resolution but Mrs Plauf simply couldn’t resist the false enticements of optimism: though the train was once again stalled nowhere, waiting minutes on end for a signal, she calmly concluded that they were making ‘some kind of progress’, and she controlled the nervous impatience occasioned by the regular—alas too frequent—squealing of brakes and periods of unavoidable immobility, since the pleasant warmth that had resulted from the heating being switched on when the engine started had encouraged her to divest herself of her coat, so she no longer had to fear that she might catch a cold on stepping out into the icy wind on arrival home. She adjusted the creases in the stole behind her, spread the fake-fur wrap over her legs, locked her fingers round the handbag swollen by the woollen scarf she had stuffed inside it, and, with an unchangingly straight back, was just looking out again through the window when there, in the filthy glass, she suddenly found herself face to face with a ‘peculiarly silent’ unshaven man, swigging from a bottle of stinking brandy, who, now that she was clad only in a blouse and the little jacket of her suit, was staring (‘Lustfully!!’) at her perhaps too prominent, powerful breasts. ‘I knew it!’—quick as lightning, despite a hot flush running right through her, she turned her head away, pretending she hadn’t noticed. For several minutes she didn’t move a muscle, but stared blindly into the darkness outside, and tried, vainly, to recall the man’s appearance (conjuring up only the unshaven face, the ‘somehow so dirty’ broadcloth coat and the uncouth, sly yet shameless gaze which she was to find so disturbing …), then, very slowly, trusting that she ran no risk in doing so, she allowed her eyes to slide across the glass, withdrawing immediately when she discovered not only that ‘the creature in question’ was persisting in his ‘impudence’, but that their eyes had met. Her shoulders, neck and nape were all aching because of the rigid posture of her head, but by now she couldn’t have torn her eyes away even if she had wanted to, because she felt that whichever way she turned beyond the narrow darkness of the window, his terrifyingly steady gaze would easily commandeer every nook of the carriage and ‘snap her up’. ‘How long has he been looking at me?’—the question cut Mrs Plauf like a knife, and the possibility that the man’s dirty raking eye had been ‘on her’ from the very start of the journey made the gaze, whose meaning she had understood in a flash in the very second of contact, appear even more terrifying than before. These two eyes, after all, spoke of sickeningly ‘foul desires’—’worse still!’ she trembled—it was as if some sort of dry contempt burned within them. While she couldn’t think of herself as an old woman, not precisely, she knew she was past the age when this kind of attention—not uncommon when paid to others—was still natural, and so, as well as regarding the, man with a certain horror (what kind of person is it, after all, who is capable of lusting after elderly women?), she was frightened to realize that this fellow stinking of cheap brandy wanted nothing more perhaps than to make her ridiculous, to mock and humiliate her, then laughingly toss her aside ‘like an old rag’. After a few violent jolts the train now began to pick up speed, wheels clattered furiously on rails, and a long-forgotten feeling of confusion and acute embarrassment took hold of her as her full, heavy breasts started to throb and burn under the man’s fixed, uncontrollable and threatening gaze. Her arms, with which she could at least have covered them, simply refused to obey her: it was as if she had been specially selected, helpless to cover the shame of her exposure, and as a consequence she felt ever more vulnerable, ever more naked, ever more conscious of the fact that the more she yearned to conceal her thrusting womanhood the more it drew attention to itself. The card players ended another round with an outburst of crude bickering which broke across the hostile and paralysing hum—cutting, as it were, the bands that tightly bound her and prevented her escaping—and she would almost certainly have succeeded in overcoming her unfortunate torpor had not something even worse suddenly happened, the sole purpose of which, she realized in despair, was to crown her suffering. Driven as she was by her instinctive embarrassment and in an act of unconscious defiance, she was just trying to hide her breasts by tactfully inclining her head, when her back bent awkwardly, her shoulders slumped forward and she realized in a moment of terror that her bra—perhaps due to her unusual physical exertion—had come unclipped behind her. She looked up aghast, and was not at all surprised to see the two male eyes still fixed steadily on her, eyes that winked at her with an air of complicity, as if aware of her ridiculous ill-fortune. Mrs Plauf knew all too well what would happen next, but this almost fatal accident so disturbed her that she only sat stiffer than ever in the accelerating train, helpless once more, her cheeks burning with embarrassment, having to suffer the malicious look of glee in those contemptuously self-confident eyes which were now glued to her breasts, breasts which, freed from the encumbrance of the bra, jogged merrily up and down with the jolting of the carriage.

 

 

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p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi! Yeah, I’m pretty much headlong into the new novel now. I like being there. It’s been a while. It’s definitely very different from working on the films or even the gif fiction, super concentrated and absorbing in this way I always liked. Mm, it’s hard to describe. It’s very personal. It seems autobiographical but it isn’t completely. It’s very un-novel-like, it doesn’t have a narrative. It moves around formally a lot. There’s a section about Santa Claus. There’s a fairytale. There’s a lot of talking/digressing. We’ll see. I’m excited by it, but I’m not yet sure it’s going to work. The TV project starts up again in about a week. I’m feeling nothing but dread about it at the moment. Zac is away on vacation. He’s supposed to be finishing the detail work on the translation while he’s gone, and I’m hoping he is so, when he gets back, we can hand it over to our producer and start fundraising. You sound so jazzed up and invigorated by the performance experience! That’s so great to hear! It’s palpable. Obviously, I totally encourage you to develop and use your own ideas in the next performance, not that you need encouragement. Do you think you’ll keep working with your friend as a duo? Would you be interested in doing solo performances or in gathering someone or someones to help you realise your ideas? So great! Really happy for you! And excited to see any evidence if there is any. The Stooges were pretty fucking great, yeah, you bet. I hope you had a really good weekend. I just worked on the novel the entirety of mine  pretty much. And since Paris is devoid of all of my friends right now, that seemed the best time use. Much love back to you! ** David Ehrenstein, Well, LARB should get wise. Do link us up to your piece on Mark Dery’s book. Here’s hoping for the best and soonest berth possible. ** Sypha, Hi, James. I played a little of Looking Glass Studios’ stuff, a bit, and I thought the stuff I played was terrific too. Wow, Kyte Lockett. He … wait, I think he’s they now … they were on Facebook for a while, and I kept up, but I don’t think they’re active on there anymore. Any news on Kyte? ** Steve Erickson, Thanks. I wish someone would do good avant-garde video games list. I had to do a bunch of hunting around to find those in the post. Ah, I’m just putting together a post about Su Friedrich right now. Hope you get the dentist thing over with tomorrow. And that the music video director nails it down. ** Bill, Hey. Man, you travel so much. Welcome home again. Some of those games in the post look pretty curious. I’ve only played a few. How was Mark Dresser’s concert and … dinner? Thanks much for the Hoan Kiem Chess Team hook up. I don’t know that project, and I’ll listen today. Bon Monday. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Welcome back to Leeds from afar. I hope Leeds wins, duh. You’re going too the Lake District. I’ve never been there but it sounds awfully pretty. And one supposes the marriage will be touching and all of that. Cool beans about #3! Ooh, anticipation. Great, Ben. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! Thanks, bud. Oh, yes, definitely and absolutely, I would love this place to host the online premiere of your movie! And thanks a ton for wanting to use this place to do that. So, yeah, 100%, and just send me the materials, and we’ll do it when you want. Take care. ** Misanthrope, Avant-garde games are fun too. Well, some of them. Probably the same ratio of fun to unfun as in usual games. Great about your great weekend! Mucho deserved. George the child sedater. Who’d have thunk? Well, me, if I’d thought about it. ** Right. Laszlo Krasznahorkai is probably best known for having written some of Bela Tarr’s greatest films, but his books are also knockouts, the one featured today being one of the especially great ones, I would say. See you tomorrow.

In search of video gaming’s elusive avant-garde in the company of 15 auteurs

‘Do Avant-Garde video games? exist? If not yet, what will they look like? Will we know what they are when they happen? For those not too familiar, wikipedia sums it up nicely: “The avant-garde (from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”, literally “fore-guard”) are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.”

‘A lot of avant-garde stuff has redefined the question “What is ____?” Such as when the Second Viennese School of Music came up with 12-tone rows and matrices and etc. basically saying “Let’s give every pitch equal importance, we must break the bonds of tonalism and harmony!” so they basically came up with music that looks and sounds like this:

‘And John Cage answered “Music is organized sound” and came up with this. Then Ornette Coleman did something similar in the jazz realm where he asked “What is jazz music?” and his answer was this:

‘And you can point to examples of really thorny, difficult literature as well as film, art, etc. It seems they just don’t care at all whether people will like it or receive it well; all they want to do is push the boundaries of the art form as far as they can be pushed.

‘I wonder if this has happened in video games yet? I imagine there must be some really bizarre, head-scratching games out there that make you question some things but they’re probably buried deep and no one knows where they are. I think that’s an important distinction: These games have to at least be somewhat in the public conscious. Pony Island probably comes closest from what I’ve seen of that game…But it’s still not demanding in the way the above works are demanding.

‘So what would this avant-garde game be? And how mainstream would it be? Everyone who studies music knows Schoenberg and John Cage (similarly Jazz with Ornette Coleman) so I’d say it’s gotta be some hidden talent developer with cult like status (say…Swery or Suda51 or something–that kind of status).

‘Would this game even be a “game”? I mean even now we’re having trouble defining “games”. Lots of people think walking simulators aren’t games, for instance. Would we define game as “interactive medium”?’ — GiantBomb

 

Biggt
Davey Wreden
Jonatan Söderström
Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn
Richard Hofmeier
Merritt Kopas
Porpentine
Tetsuya Mizuguchi
Keita Takahashi
Jonathan Mak
Anna Anthropy
Phil Fish
Masaya Matsuura
Alexander “Demruth” Bruce

 

________________


This is a series of five Game Maker games, all released in 2006, by Matt Aldrige, who also goes by the names TheAnemic or biggt. All games are short, abstract surreal tales, almost randomly thrown together, but offer very surprising gameplay and thoughts for an open-minded player. In an GM Inside interview Aldrige said to have created the games during a period where he was working on a major games project, and was afraid he would not be able to finish it. The La La Land series became a byproduct of that. A sixth game was hinted at, but eventually not released.

La La Land 2 (2006)


gameplay

La La Land 1 (2006)


gameplay

________________


Davey Wreden isn’t done making you sad. He co-designed The Stanley Parable and directed The Beginner’s Guide, and now he’s heading up a new team with the aim of producing games “that are beautiful, meditative, thoughtful, and sad”. So like the games he’s already worked on, but with fewer jokes.

The Stanley Parable (2013)


gameplay

 

________________


Jonatan “cactus” Söderström is a Swedish game developer with over 50 games made with Game Maker. He is known for completing games very quickly, and for promoting the idea that games don’t have to be fun. His games can be identified by a characteristic “cactus” style, which all of his creations seem to share.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015)


Trailer

Clean Asia! (2007)


gameplay

 

________________


Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn are designers and directors of all Tale of Tales projects. They are also the co-foundesr and co-owners of Tale of Tales BVBA. From the Tale of Tales site: “The purpose of Tale of Tales is to create elegant and emotionally rich interactive entertainment. We explicitly want to cater to people who are not enchanted by most contemporary computer games, or who wouldn’t mind more variety in their gameplay experiences. For this purpose, all of our products feature innovative forms of interaction, engaging poetic narratives and simple controls.”

Sunset (2015)


Trailer

Bientôt l’été (2012)


gameplay

 

________________


Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life was originally released in May 2011, and for a good while it drifted along without all that much attention. This was a huge shame, because the retail simulation title is as brilliant as it is deep. You play as an entrepreneur who is looking to start a business, while also making sure other areas of his or her life are kept in order. After sprucing certain areas of the title up and gaining a little more player traction, Hofmeier decided to fire it IGF-ward in 2012 — with incredible results. Not only has the game been nominated for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, but it’s also up for the Narrative and Nuovo awards.

Cart Life (2013)


Trailer

 

________________


I first became aware of the multimedia artist & game designer Merritt Kopas through her shrewd skewering of games on the website Nightmare Mode, for which I was also writing at the time. The website has since passed away into cyberspace heaven, the archives of which are here, but Merritt has grown as a designer and game theorist in an inspiring way since we went down our separate paths, making games such as Lim, Consensual Torture Simulator, and Positive Space.

Lim (2012)


gameplay & review

 

________________


It’s almost impossible to separate the “Twine revolution”—the proliferation of small-scale interactive fiction created by nontraditional game designers—from Porpentine. The Oakland, California-based creator’s alien, poetic work has been a fixture of the Twine scene for years while also serving as a microcosm of all the best parts of it. Porpentine’s work is compelling because its attention to language and detail builds small spaces that feel simultaneously uncanny and warm. Even at their most wildly creative, Porpentine’s games have a core of lived experience to them. Stories of troubled, alienated people, communicated in vibrant and inscrutable aesthetics. It’s a powerful combination.

Bellular Hexatosis (2015)


Trailer

Eczema Angel Orifice (2015)


Trailer

 

_________________


Not long ago, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the legendary game designer behind musical classics Rez and Lumines, was on vacation with his family in Hawaii. When he looked out the window of his Airbnb, his view was dominated by a lush, green golf course. As he stared outside, he couldn’t help but see very specific shapes in the grass. “I found a tetromino in the golf course,” he says. What Mizuguchi experienced is something known as “the Tetris effect,” a condition where people spend so much time doing a particular activity that it begins to invade their thoughts. It’s named after the classic puzzle game, where falling blocks have been to known to enter players’ dreams if they play too much. Tetris Effect also happens to be the name of Mizuguchi’s next game.

Tetris Effect (2018)


gameplay

Lumines (2005)


gameplay

 

________________


To understand why Keita Takahashi makes the kinds of games he does, you have to go back to the time he made a goat. While studying fine art and sculpture at Musashino Art University, Takahashi wanted to create things that served a purpose beyond just being looked at. One day, when at a loss for ideas, he decided to sculpt a goat-shaped vase. Flowers and soil went in the goat’s back and excess water drained from its udders. “Then I did a presentation of my goat to the other students and the professor, and they laughed, because it was so stupid,” Takahashi said at an interview during BitSummit, the annual independent games festival held this year in Kyoto, from June 1-2. “That’s the moment I knew what I should do: Make something that makes people smile.”

Hohokum (2014)


Trailer

Noby Noby Boy (2009)


gameplay

 

_________________


Any discussion of interactive music scores for games would be incomplete without Jonathan Mak. His self-produced title Everyday Shooter used classic top-down space combat as a musical experience: not only do sound effects in the game act as musical elements, but even the flow of the game itself fits into a generated song structure. Mak even imagined the title as an album. Playing through it, once you get into the groove of the action, the roles of gamer and listener merge into a single flow. (See video, at end.) Another nice feature – breaking from cliche, it’s a music game that employs guitar lacks in place of, say, a pounding trance soundtrack.

Sound Shapes (2012)


gameplay

Everyday Shooter (2008)


Trailer

 

_________________


Anna Anthropy is a game developer, critic and author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, described as “equal parts auto-biography, video game history and, call to arms and manifesto for the do-it-yourself video game scene”.

ohmygod are you alright? (2015)


Trailer

dys4ia (2012)


gameplay

 

________________


A stand-out feature of Jonathan Blow’s recent game design past, that he has not devoted a lot of time to focussing on in his talks, is how both Braid’s and The Witness’ core game content were in place years before the games came out, such that it was possible to play through the entire game at a very early stage in development. In both cases puzzles have still been added, tweaked and cut from the games right up to release but it has allowed Blow to spend years of development time just on the finer honing and polishing of the games rather than mainly focussing on the creation of content in the first place and having a shorter beta phase, which is what many game development teams are more used to.

The Witness (2016)


gameplay

Braid (2008)


gameplay

 

_________________


Phil Fish, the creator of celebrated indie video game Fez, is notorious for voicing angry, controversial opinions about the state of video games and their development. Today, however, he seems to have ragequit on the entire video gaming community, and has taken the sequel to Fez down with him. On his Twitter account and on developer Polytron’s website, Fish has announced that Fez II has been canceled. Polygon and Joystiq both independently confirmed with Fish that it’s not a joke: the game is no more. Developer Polytron also confirmed the cancellation in a tweet to its followers, writing “we apologize for the disappointment.”

Fez (2012)


gameplay

 

________________


Masaya Matsuura, born June 16, 1961 is a video game designer and musician based in Tokyo, Japan. Matsuura been credited with popularizing the modern rhythm-based music video game at his studio NanaOn-Sha. Matsuura is not happy with the state of game audio today, complaining that music in many games is simply background filler, and while the quality has improved its role “is still like it is in movies.” He mentioned that he had previously been quite negative about the cinematic aspirations of some modern games, but that now he feels that like everything, it can have a place.

Vib Ribbon (1999)


gameplay

Rib-Ripple (2004)


gameplay

 

_________________


Alexander “Demruth” Bruce is the developer behind the critically acclaimed game Anti-Chamber. Currently it is not know whether he plans return to game development. He has stated only that he is taking a break to concentrate on health and fitness.

Antichamber (2013)


gameplay

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Quinn R, Hi, Quinn. Nice to see you. Ah, then you know the basic LA drill. You still thinking of moving there? Okay, thank you about the Korine. You’ve pretty much gotten through my defences. Defensiveness re: art is never the correct attitude, let’s face it. Okay, I’ll check it out. I think a friend has a download. Blake Butler’s a pal, and he always speaks really highly of Clegg as an agent. And his client list speaks for itself, as they say. I hope he takes you when the time comes. Ah, you weighed in on Dale’s outburst. I’m curious to read that. Everyone, Excellent writer Quinn R(oberts) recently wrote a thing about Dale Peck’s notorious take-down of Pete Buttigieg over at LA Review of Books if you’re curious to read his take. Here. Also obviously looking forward to your Lana Del Rey piece too. Great you’re writing for LARoB. It’s a terrific site. I try to read pretty much everything they post. Give a heads up, if you remember, when your Foglifter Journal work goes up or out or whatever it does too. Oh, man, that’s rough: the caregiving and the stuff with your parents. If it’s relevant at all, I had the same thing with my parents. They were absolutely against my intention from a very young age to be a writer. I would say, over and over, ‘Look, I know myself, and this is my special talent, if I have one, and this what will give me a happy life, and people seem to like my writing so far, and I can do this, trust me,’ etc., and they just couldn’t embrace it. They, their friends, etc. weren’t artists or interested in the arts whatsoever. Even when I started getting success, they still didn’t get it or show any interest. That was rough, but you trust your friends and yourself and the fact that total strangers are supporting and liking your writing, and that’s your guide. Or that’s my two-cents as someone at least vaguely experienced with parental prejudices and lack of knowledge-based overconfidence. From what I’ve read, your talent is inarguable. Don’t lose confidence and you’ll be just fine, more than fine. Fall/winter plans? I would love to finish a novel I started about six years ago and only recently returned to. Some traveling for PGL screenings in Europe. The next film is written, so now it’ll be all about fundraising, writing grant proposals, and lots of tedious stuff. I want to go to Japan. I need to figure that out. And your fall/winter? Thanks for the offer to do something re: our new film. It’ll be a while until we shoot it. I would say next summer at the earliest, but, yeah, we might just take you up on that kind offer. Would be cool. You have a great weekend yourself! ** David Ehrenstein, I could probably count the great writers who weren’t/aren’t real pieces of work on my left hand, ha ha. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh! I agree on both fronts. You good? What’s up? ** Steve Erickson, Yours is definitely the most positive response I’ve read to the new Sleater Kinney so far. ** Armando, Hi. Well, well, well, awesome that GbV pulled you in. ‘Clown Prince Of The Menthol Trailer’ is killer, yes. That was my second GbV purchase after the same-time EP ‘Fast Japanese Spin Cycle’ which is still one of my favorites. You’re not the first to say I look like Pollard a little. I think it’s the hair. I don’t know him personally, no. I met him once, made a total awestruck fool of myself, and that’s it so far. Sure, I remember when the Zodiac guy was doing his thing. There were a bunch of those guys doing their things at the same back then. It was like mass shootings are now. Take care. ** Polter, Polter! Oh my goodness, it has been forever! I was thinking about you the other day and wondering how you are. How wild and great to see you! Are you still in Oslo? One reason I was thinking about you is because I’m coming to Oslo in early October, exact date still to be determined, to host a screening of Zac Farley’s and my film ‘Permanent Green Light’. If you’re there, it would be so great to see you for real. Hm, obviously great and pretty unanswerable questions about the getting older condemnation. I haven’t found lies to be any less obviously lies and less odious as the years pass, maybe the opposite. I guess you do incorporate the world or others into knowing who you are and how to interface with life more. But it doesn’t feel wrong. To me. But it also doesn’t feel like ‘wisdom’, which is how most people seem to tag themselves as they age as a way to gain superiority over those still young. That’s heinous and, well, a lie. There you go. I think it does sort itself out. I can only use myself as a guinea pig, but, yeah, excitement and weirdness and the high of the unexpected is still around and in play. I’ve been stuck in Paris all summer like you. And unlike everyone I know. And it is creating this loneliness problem, but everything is supposedly interesting, I guess. So, wow, really so, so nice to get to talk with you again! So, might you still be in Oslo in early October? Love, me. ** Misanthrope, Done deal. London. Whoop! It looks like I’ll get there in November. A little too late to bump into you. Sounds like a fun weekend you’ve got going on there. Luxuriate, buddy. ** Okay. This weekend’s post is for gamers who want to know about some further out games, non-gamers who are interested in what the form is capable of, anti-gamers who mistakenly think gaming is dumbass, people who don’t have an opinion about video games but are interested in experimentation, none of the above people with a natural curiosity, in other words theoretically all of you. See you on Monday.

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