Game of Thrones as English Eerie

I won’t be joining in with the prevailing criticism of Series 8 of Game of Thrones. It’s not that the criticisms (to do with rushed narrative and unconvincing character motivation) are necessarily wrong, but that for me the series ran out of steam a few years ago. There were really two things that made Game of Thrones stand out as a superior work of TV art. The first was the brilliant portrayal of the power struggles that play out behind the scenes of geopolitical upheavals. The second was the powerfully plausible depiction of the ethos and Weltanschauung of a pre-modern society. The former became weighed down by its own intricacies. The latter continues to impress. So it is the latter element that manages to hold my interest, and that element really boils down to the atmosphere of the show.

This atmosphere strikes me as being completely at one with the world of the Hyborian Age as created by Robert E. Howard in his sequence of Conan stories. Howard was a Texan, but his longing for a mythic European past was absolutely evident in all of his work. There is a Welsh word, hiraeth, that means homesickness, but it also expresses a deeper set of meanings that encompass a deep sense of nostalgia or longing, often for an ancestral home. In this latter sense it can denote a powerful longing for a home that you never had. Howard’s sense of almost metaphysical belonging to this prehistorical world seems to fit that description perfectly. Continue reading “Game of Thrones as English Eerie”


Current 93: The Light is Leaving Us All

This is how the world will end:

Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free matter, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life based in protons and chemistry, and erasing every vestige of sentience – irrespective of its physical basis. Finally, in a state cosmologists call “asymptopia,” the stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the current inexplicable force called “dark energy,” which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness. (Ray Brassier)


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Brief Thoughts on David Lynch

Lynch’s films are often thought of as being dreamlike but he seems to have a very particular way of presenting such dream scenarios in his work. Here, I’m thinking about the LA trilogy, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. In the first two in particular there seems to be a dichotomy between the dream world and the real, diurnal world. But it is important to note that there is no ‘real’ in a film – it is all fiction – and Lynch is very aware of this. In fact, he will play with the audience by exploiting the way in which we invest in the apparent ‘reality’ that is presented in a film. One way in which he does this is by using certain noir elements to hoodwink the viewer into buying in to a narrative structure. In Mulholland Drive, the quest to discover ‘Rita’s’ past; in Lost Highway the mystery of the video tapes; in Inland Empire the question of the curse that fell on the actors in the earlier film. These narrative elements compel the viewer to begin following a linear narrative reading of the film, and of course this always breaks down sooner or later in his films. We expect the director to tie things up but Lynch leaves us feeling confused. But in Lynch’s work, the linear, noir element does not represent the ‘real’ world, with the chaotic, fragmented parts representing the dream. In fact, in Mulholland Drive it seems to be the other way around. Instead, his films suggest that it is all a dream, or rather, it is all pure consciousness. And that is why his films are so deeply affecting. They can be analysed logically, by identifying which parts belong to dreams and which are ‘real’ but that doesn’t catch everything that’s going on in his films.

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Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan’s new novel, Machines Like Me, treats the question of artificial intelligence robots against the background of a reimagined, alternative Britain in 1982. Or perhaps it would be better to turn this brief description on its head and insist that it treats the question of a reimagined 1982 against the backdrop of artificial intelligence robots. At least that would be my preferred way of thinking about it even if the evidence of the text argues against me. But this novel does manage to hack into the early 1980s and rearrange the files found there in somewhat interesting and thought-provoking ways.
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Edge of Darkness

To say that the BBC TV series Edge of Darkness (1985) has not dated in the 34 years since it was first broadcast would be to miss the point. Because, whilst it is true that it has aged remarkably well, it is also the case that the general background constellation of cultural expectation has shifted in significant ways that serve to reveal the intense ideological and artistic power of Edge of Darkness more clearly.

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Spoilers ahead…

Conceptual life begins in a confusing hall of mirrors and ends underground with the immobilisation of the body. In between these two stations there is a prolonged anxiety prompted by lost memories and the uncanny performance of various automatic gestures and tics that seem to come from somewhere unknown. This, at least, is the state of things suggested by Jordan Peele’s latest film, Us.

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“There Are Two in Us”: Human Consciousness, Cave Art and Autism – Part 3

Part 1 Part 2

In the earlier parts of this essay we looked at the remarkable drawings of the young autistic girl, Nadia, and noted their similarity to some of the Paleolithic cave art found in Europe. We also noted the question of whether this similarity provides evidence for the similarity of Paleolithic man’s conceptual apparatus to that of modern man, or evidence for the difference between them. In short, does the significance of Nadia’s autism for her artistic ability render the ancient drawings on cave walls somehow pre-conceptual? Were they painted by people who suffered from a similar lack of social awareness as Nadia?

But we have also considered the portraiture painting of Francis Bacon which bears a certain resemblance to some of Nadia’s pictures, specifically in the rendering of the human face in both artists. It might be said that in both cases, the conventional, socially coherent sense of facial expression that we all know implicitly is disturbed, erased, or simply missing. The crucial difference between them however is that Nadia is unable to read facial expression or understand emotion, while Bacon is seeking to move beyond a representation of such expression. Nadia cannot perceive the meaning of facial expressions whilst Bacon is seeking to overcode them in order to rewrite their semiotic charge. In the former, the semiotic content is absent, in the latter it is overwritten. Continue reading ““There Are Two in Us”: Human Consciousness, Cave Art and Autism – Part 3”