CDK

CDK

As a professor of the humanities at a college dedicated to the digital arts, I am interested in topics and content expressed in film, literature, and video games.

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    CDK

    Bridgett, you are absolutely right about Lovecraft’s racism – it is sort of the rhinoceros in the room that nobody wants to say is there (including myself). But there is no doubt that he despised Jews, Blacks, and any other ethnic group that did not derive from Anglo-Saxon stock. Most of the worst is in his letters, but also shows up in several stories, especially “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” In this story, the horror lies in the mixing of the race of the residents of Innsmouth with the creatures that live in the sea, off of Devil’s Reef. It is miscegenation that horrifies Lovecraft – and in the story, these hybrids are described as “…surging inhumanly through the spectral moonlight in a grotesque, malignant saraband of fantastic nightmare…Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed.” Lovecraft had a hysterical fear of miscegenation and the product of his paranoia in his stories are these monstrous beings, half-human, half-fish.

    I think about the best that can be said concerning Lovecraft’s overt racism is what China Miéville wrote in his Introduction to “At the Mountains of Madness”: “Happily, there is no contradiction between despising a writer’s politics and admiring the very art they helped create…The very race-inflected nihilism we vigorously repudiate is simultaneously a central engine for what we admire in Lovecraft’s art.”

    H. P. Lovecraft: The Science of Horror - Part 1
    CDK

    This is a very interesting topic, addressing the notoriously difficult question: what is art. One of the main points in your article is the definition of art and how such a definition is necessary if we are going to compare one art form from another or even compare one “piece” of art against another in the same genre (video games, in your article, but it could just as well be a comparison of works of literature, painting, music, etc.).

    What I find striking is the fact that in the article by Ernest Adams that you cited, he says fairly clearly that video games are not art: “I assert that the vast majority of what the game industry does is not art, but popular culture.” I take I the you disagree with this stance – it is based on a conception of art where the artist creates some work and then the viewer or listener takes in that work, is sort of a passive receptacle for that work of art. This is an ancient view of art and, in my view, either outright wrong or seriously limiting. I think it’s the good fortune of video games, as you say, they are interactive and demand from the “viewer,” in this case the player, active participation.

    I teach at a small college main objective is to teach students the digital arts, whether it be video games, music, film, or animation. From teaching many classes, and discussing this sort of thing with my students, I have no doubt that they believe that they are creating art. It isn’t even a question – they are learning the digital arts and they consider themselves to be artists.

    And what I find refreshing, contra Ernest Adams, is that what they define as art is all of those things Adams states are necessary for art to be art: “Art is purchased in art galleries by art connoisseurs, it is criticized by art critics, it is conserved in art museum. It is not sold in toy shops.” To me, this the kind of notion I mentioned above, where art is some sort of object to be enjoyed only by those in the know (connoisseurs), sold in an art gallery, conserved in a museum.” This is simply outdated at best, wholly incorrect at worst.

    I think of it as akin to Jean Dubuffet’s turn to “Art Brut,” that only in Art Brut “can we find the natural and normal processes of artistic creation in their pure and elementary state.” And for Dubuffet, this meant art created by non-professionals – Indie game developers. Art should not be about who can sell what painting for however much money, should not be created in order to show in a gallery, and not produced to be conserved in a museum. This is actually the antithesis of art.

    That’s why your take on the nature of Indie game developers in important – it shows that we do not have to adhere to some silly or random rule somebody or other made up about what art is. And Indie game developers, as my students would tell you, don’t give a hoot about some pallid definition of art. As for as they are concerned, what they are actually doing is art.

    Indie Game Development: An Art of its Own
    CDK

    Both versions of Invasion are great – thanks for writing an article about both.

    I agree with you when you wrote that “…the film is not pro-Communist. Its antagonists are merciless in executing their plan, which ultimately results in their demise.” I would put it in even starker terms: the film shows what happens when a state attempts to re-order itself in accordance with communist principles. Unlike Marx, who thought that in capitalist society individuals are “dependent and have no individuality,” the actual implementation of communist principle leads to an utter degradation of individuality. Distinctions, whether of class, social standing, or political views, are wiped clean. The problem isn’t Marx; it is the implementation of his ideas.

    I don’t see Invasion as a take on McCarthyism. When you wrote that Miles accuses a person of disloyalty, despite a lack of evidence, isn’t Miles right? You say as much further on, when you argue that Miles could not stay silent about the pod people. Isn’t McCarthyism characterized by hasty, intimidating accusations, accusations based on rumor, innuendo, revenge, political maneuvering, and were often simply false. When Miles finishes telling his story at the hospital, the doctors do not believe him until evidence, in the form of a truck containing giant seed pods is found. They then call the Federal authorities. So in this case, Miles is not paranoid, and is not making false accusations. He is correct and he feels duty bound to try and stop the invasion.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers: An American Commentary
    CDK

    Thanks for writing about Boris Karloff – he is one of my all time favorite movie monster actors. I also though he did a great job as the voice and narrator of How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

    It is true, as you say, that Karloff got speaking lines in the Bride of Frankenstein. But he didn’t want them. He felt that the creation should not be able to speak. The director thought differently, so he had lines.

    Boris Karloff: The Heart of a Monster
    CDK

    Many of the comments thus far concern Lovecraft’s style as a writer, and this is something I should have addressed in the article. So thanks for bringing it up. As Bruce and Chun note, Lovecraft writes in a “Victorian” style, or more generally in a 19th century style. His sentences can be long and convoluted, and he never met an adjective he didn’t like.

    With that said, I actually think that the way Lovecraft wrote was a conscious decision, and one tied intimately to the aim of producing in the reader cosmic dread, disorientation, and fear because “fear of the unknown is our deepest and strongest emotion.” If folks want to dismiss Lovecraft because he is a pulp writer, this would entail the condition that all writing about monsters and such is also only pulp. This is a contingent cultural judgment. Within the genre of “weird tales,” there can be good writing and bad writing, just as we find well written tragedies and badly written tragedies.

    I think Lovecraft chose the style that he did because it produced those emotions he was attempting to provoke in the reader, and because the style also let him explore the philosophic ideas at the heart of his stories. Lovecraft wrote several essays on the craft of writing, and the one that is pertinent here is called “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” published in 1937. This is what he has to say about how and why he writes in the way that he does:

    “In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan–fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions.”

    “Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. Never have a wonder taken for granted. Even when the characters are supposed to be accustomed to the wonder I try to weave an air of awe and impressiveness corresponding to what the reader should feel.”

    “Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal.”

    So there it is. Whether Lovecraft fails or succeeds in his attempt to produce in the reader an emotion or feeling is really the question. The question should not be, in my view, is Lovecraft’s style archaic and arcane. Apologies for not addressing this in the essay itself and thanks to all for bringing it up in your comments.

    H. P. Lovecraft: The Science of Horror - Part 1
    CDK

    The relationship between the trailers for a movie, the marketing aspect, and the content of the film itself is interesting. As you noted, many film goers become angry, or feel deceived, if the movie they see does not conform to their expectations as created by the marketing for that movie. I have seen this as well, and am completely stumped as to why this should be the case.

    My stumpedness comes from a general perception about all advertising, not just the advertising done for movies. I am stumped simply, or simply stumped, because I do not understand why anybody would believe in an advertisement or advertising campaign in the first place. As you put it at the end of your article, marketing is designed to sell a product. This is sole and only purpose of advertising. I cannot figure out why people believe that what they see or hear in ads or in marketing campaigns in any way resembles the truth. When I discuss this with friends, their answer is straightforward: people are stupid and will believe most anything you tell them. I am trying not to fall into this explanation, but the more ads I see, and the more times people purchase products, or services, or entertainment on the basis of ads, I despair.
    Why would anyone believe that a trailer for “Lucy” – a couple of minutes of spliced together moments from an 89 minute movie – actually resemble what takes place in the movie entire? Why do people think that they can lose weight by not exercising, by not changing their diet, but by taking a pill? Why do people believe that the guy in the white coat in the commercial is an actual doctor dispensing actually true medical advice. Even if he is in fact a doctor, though this is the exception, he is certainly being paid to be in the ad. Why would anybody trust someone who is being paid to push a position?

    Your article hits a note that has been a source of never-ending frustration for me, in that I cannot figure out why advertising works. You noted that people were angry or felt cheated because “Lucy” did not resemble the advertising they had seen about the movie. Did anyone ever ask them why they thought it should?

    Film Marketing: A Lesson in Deception
    CDK

    This is an interesting problem and your thoughts on the relationship between the author and the audience certainly made me think about this topic in ways in which I hadn’t yet considered (Hey, maybe that’s art!). I think that anyone who produces something that is, inherently, created to be read, or seen, or listened to, has to take into account the audience, although it can be in a very general way, as in an ideal reader or ideal viewer or ideal listener. Most artists will say that they are doing what they do to please themselves, and while I don’t doubt this, it seems to me a bit disingenuous to claim that they have no regard for the audience, however they conceive of it. Is a book still a book if it isn’t read? What would the meaning of a book be if not a collection of words to be read by another? This doesn’t mean that the author or artist is thinking of the audience only, or primarily, of maybe even consciously. But it does mean that what the artist is creating is designed to have an effect on whoever reads the book. How could it not? Just as eating is not eating without the food, or walking not walking without the surface, writing a book is not writing a book without the reader. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines a book as “a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.” Inherent in this definition if the notion that a book is meant to be read – why else define it as something printed, as an object constructed in a specific way? It must be a for-someone, even if that someone is an idealized and therefore not real, non-existent – reader.

    Even in the case of outsider art, or brut art, where the creator has no intention of ever allowing his work to be seen or read, I would think that the products of such a creation would be of a different kind than the books which are written that are meant to be read.

    As for the Kickstarter and such rewards, I haven’t seen the ones where the content is determined by the amount somebody donates to the project. I’m in the midst of publishing an article on the writer H. P. Lovecraft, and there are many Kickstarter projects associated with him. The rewards given for contributions are free copies of the book, or dvd, and sometimes mention of the contributors. But I have not seen the case where the actual content of the book or project is determined by the contributor. My experience is limited, so it certainly might be true that such is the case, though I would be surprised.

    The Dying Magic of Writing: The New Age of Crowd-funding
    CDK

    “The Tempest” is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays mainly because of its exploration of the European encounter with the New World – and especially the character of Caliban, who represents a sort of primal man, or in an oft abused phrase, a “noble savage.”

    I take it that you agree with the critics who think that one should not read the play as autobiographical. This is a position I wholeheartedly agree with. After all, the play was written four hundred years ago – what does it matter to me if something in the play pertains to Shakespeare’s actual life? It has to stand on its own, even if it is a dramatic exploration of our historical encounter with the New World. If we were required to know facts about Shakespeare’s life, which are probably as mundane and profound as any reader’s, the play would have little meaning for us in the 21st century.

    There is a nitpicky error in the description of the plot: Prospero does not intend to return to Milan, where he is the rightful Duke. Instead, he is going to Naples, in order to witness the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. “And in the morn/I’ll bring you to your ship, and so to Naples,/Where I have hope to see the nuptial…” (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 307-9). And in the Epilogue, Prospero says “Now, ’tis true/I must be here confined by you,/or sent to Naples” (Act 5, Epilogue, lines 3-5).

    Thanks for writing about a play which in my estimation deserves much more attention that it usually receives.

    The Tempest: Shakespeare's Final Stage Magic