Do you remember with fond affection that masterpiece of PC gaming, Planescape: Torment? Have you never heard of Planescape: Torment? Do you wish you could dropstop everything right now and replay Planescape: Torment?
Well, you're not alone. But Big Publishing is too rational or terrified to make that sort of game anymore.
Happily, we can acknowledge the waning importance of what Big Publishing thinks about this or anything else, for we now have tubes full of Kickstarter. (What can change the nature of games publishing?)
Not actually a sequel to the previous game's story, which is self-contained (and recursive), Tides of Numenera will offer the same kind of thematically rich content within the framework of Monte Cook's (already funded) Numenera RPG system.
Anyhow, the studio's Kickstarter campaign began this morning and raised its 30-day target of $900,000 in six hours. That should tell you something about how the fans of Planescape: Torment regard this franchise and these developers and this plan.
There's still plenty of time to buy in, and there are plenty of perqs for berks, so if this is the sort of thing you're likely to like, then you know what to do!
In case you were wondering, that poster on the wall in the background at the end of this season's premier when Levitt was talking to Houston was an 1899 production by Strobridge Lithographic featuring the minor magician Zan Zig:
People rarely get killed or jailed in American over art. But it would be wrong to suggest that Muslims outraged over depictions of Mohammed are the only people getting upset about artistic endeavors.
It's also unfair to focus on modern university administrators being censorious, as if they have an active interest in suppressing dissenting speech. Sometimes they're just cowardly and servile.
In Laramie, Wyoming, the University of Wyoming allowed the installation of a piece called “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around, Comes Around,” by British artist Chris Drury, which uses coal and Wyoming wood to make a point about coal mining, or the environment, or man's inhumanity to man, or something.
The piece was removed ahead of schedule. University administrators claimed that it was removed early because of rain damage.
Yes, the University lied. It lied in the face of coal industry indignation, and threats of reduced support:
The sculpture felt like a “stab in the back,” said Wyoming Mining Association President Marion Loomis, in an email that day to Don Richards, then the university’s director for governmental and community affairs.
The energy industry pays millions in taxes, royalties and fees, he noted. Left unsaid: Those millions flow through state coffers to the university.
“Don, what kind of crap is this?” Loomis asked.
Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, fired off an email to oil and gas company officials and major university donors slamming the university for the sculpture.
“The next time the University of Wyoming is asking for donations it might be helpful to remind them of this and other things they have done to the industries that feed them before you donate,” Hinchey wrote. “They always hide behind academic freedom but their policies and actions can change if they so choose.”
The university also lied in the face of elected officials who were eager to attack art to please their donors:
State legislators joined the attack. Legislators, primarily from coal-rich Campbell County, wrote university officials. They threatened to restrict the university’s funding, called for a hunt to find out which university officials knew about the sculpture ahead of time and decried the university for not knowing about the piece.
“It never ceases to amaze me how the UW invites folks in that spit in the face of the very system that writes the checks to pay the bills at the university,” wrote Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, in an email to Buchanan.
Must the coal industry donate to a university system that features a rather mild piece of abstract art that wounds its tender fee-fees? No. It's free to withhold, and threaten to withhold, its donations for whatever damnfool reason it wants. But citizens should judge the industry and its executives (not to mention their legislative lapdogs) based on their actions, and act — and vote — accordingly. Next time the industry attempts to burnish its image with a donation, citizens and the media should ask: what strings come attached to this gift? Does the industry believe that the gift entitles them to ideological compliance from the recipient, and will their backers in the legislature reward that expectation?
Moreover, when a university reacts to pressure about something as mild as this piece of art, it's fair to ask — on what substantive issues is it caving to pressure? What academic classes are being vetted to comply with the demands of industry donors and their governmental supporters?
Michelle Nijhuis at The Last Word on Nothing contrasts this response to braver responses from administrators at other universities, and considers what might have been. She's also got good links to information about the case.
Hat tip: Alex Wild.
Maybe that's so.
His last duchess Goya depicted several times, most memorably in an enigmatic painting in which her defiant stance seems to contradict the connotations of her mourning apparel. She points down toward the dust at her feet, where some finger — his? hers? — has inscribed "solo Goya".
Seems like something's going on there. He kept this painting among his possessions from the time of its creation until his death in 1828.
However that may have gone, Leider was surely right about Velázquez, the greatest Spanish painter of the 17th-century, and maybe the greatest of them all — the painter of whom Ruskin supposedly said that everything he does "may be regarded as absolutely right" and to whom Ruskin ascribed "the highest reach of technical perfection yet attained in art."
Why wouldn't Goya want to be Velázquez redux? The earlier artist had lived a charmed life as court painter to Philip IV, under whose auspices he cranked out not only a seemingly endless supply of stock portraiture, but also some of the most psychologically and intellectually compelling images in western art.
It didn't matter what Goya wanted, though. It was not to be. Living through the French Revolution and the Peninsular War, Goya was surrounded by destruction, corruption, incompetence, and folly. Sure, he became court painter — nominally the same position Velázquez had held. But Goya's monarch was an imbecile surrounded by monsters. Recognizing the sad irony of his plight, Goya pulled no punches when it came time to speak truth to power.
In the 1650s, Velázquez had created an unprecedented and beloved portrait of his king's young daughter surrounded by her ladies in waiting and some courtiers on the entertainment staff: Las Meninas, as it has come to be called. There she stands, head turned charmingly to one side, while the universe plays out in orbit around her. Off to the side, the painter himself stands facing us, brush and palette in hand, and applies his wizardry to an enormous canvas– one identical in size to Las Meninas itself, the only painting of such a size in his oeuvre.
In the background, a silvery mirror reflects the King and Queen, implying that they're standing just about where we stand when we behold this picture. Is Velázquez painting a double-portrait of them? Is he painting Las Meninas? The puzzle, typically Baroque, dissolves into play as the small fellow in the corner kicks the resting dog. His foot has made contact, but the dog has not yet responded; we're trapped in hang time between the moment of order and the predictable chaos about to ensue. The painter waves his laden brush and weighs his options.
How could Goya, a deeply gifted critic of his world and times, not want the liberty to play such games, and in such style? Called upon in 1800 to portray the extended family of Charles IV, he creates this:
In a knowing and telling play on the earlier artist's work, Goya presents a travesty of Las Meninas. In place of that gloriously wonderful child, the Infanta Margarita, Goya installs the doltish King's draconian wife, Maria Luisa; the turn of her head is the same, but hardly charming. The ignoble royals mill about unharmoniously, a senseless cluster. The woman who failed to show up for her sitting? Goya includes her anyhow, but turns her head away toward the darkness! The King, all decked out in regalia, medals, lace, and velvet? Nothing but periwig and prattle. That child nestled between the king and his bride? People say he looks a lot like the Prime Minister, Godoy.
In the shadows off to the side, behind an enormous canvas, stands Goya himself, just like Velázquez. He seems to sigh.
Like Beethoven, Goya went stone deaf; he lived another 40 years or so in silence as he watched the world tear itself apart. In his 70s, he holed up in a little two story house near Madrid, pondered his failures of nerve and will and fate, and nursed his unsurprising depression. For his eyes only, he filled the plaster walls of this house with oil paintings– dark, brooding, sinister paintings. Saturn (Time) Devouring His Children. The Fight With Cudgels. The Fates.
Perhaps they speak of a heart unfulfilled, these paintings. Perhaps of a Goya who only ever wanted two things. Goya was able to project virtual worlds of his own design, to paint anything his imagination might offer. Looking back on a life that didn't go as he had planned and considering a broken world teeming with corruption, why did Goya surround himself with vivid, symbolic depictions of that same chaos, that old night?
It's something to ponder. It's something to pity.
For those inclined to art geekery, I have gathered some Greatest Hits under the tag Terms of Art (so the attorneys will think it's somehow relevant). Enjoy.
In the northwest of Kyoto, in the Temple of the Dragon at Peace (Ryōan-ji), stands a garden where only the viewer grows. It is a rock garden— the greatest rock garden in the world. Since the late 1400s it has been tended daily by Zen monks in the service of those who go there to see what is or is not to be seen.
The monks rake the rocks into straight lines where the large stones are absent, and they rake them into concentric circles where the large stones are present. The net effect is of an ocean's regular waves lapping gently against every shore in a tiny archipelago, except that nothing is moving.
A rock garden such as this is an example of the art of karesansui, which is often translated "dry landscape" but which etymoliterally means "dry mountain water"; the evocation of land and sea is explicit.
There are many ways to interpret this garden and its elements.
Just an update on our recent coverage of Marian Call's Adventure Quest. The indie songstress wanted to perform for her fans in Europe and turned her kickstarter into a Zelda-like game of unlocking countries and novelty songs (e.g., Lehrer's Elements, Muppet stuff), all with the goal of performing abroad and cutting a live album for supporters of the endeavor. (Follow the link for details.)
The kickstarter, which ends in about 12 hours, has garnered over 750 backers and just shy of $55k so far. This makes it possible for Marian to perform in England, Wales, Germany, Be/Ne/Lux, Austria, Ireland, Czech, and Switzerland. Scotland and Norway are on the brink of being unlocked as well, and if she exceeds $55k, Marian will be performing live at CERN (Particle Man by TMBG).
If you participated, thanks! This is art supported the new old fashioned way– by private patronage, individual gumption, and exploration of the new social graph.
2007 saw the demise of Ileana Sonnabend, a legendary purveyor of art created after 1945. Among the famous works in her considerable estate was Robert Rauschenberg's Canyon, a canonical, influential mid-century work well known from survey texts and studies of formal and thematic innovation in contemporary art. The work is neither a painting nor a sculpture, though it includes attributes of both. The artist called it a "combine", and it brings together a variety of media, art supplies, scraps, miscellaneous material, and things.
One of these things is a stuffed bald eagle.
Sonnabend's heirs tasked three appraisers, including one from Christie's, to put a value on the work. Since the bald eagle, dead or alive, is under federal protection, it would be a felony to sell the work and a felony to buy it. For this reason, the appraisers reasoned that its fair market value is $0. Price, after all, is not inherent; it is a function of market behavior. In this case, that behavior is prohibited by law.
It is perhaps no surprise that the IRS, tasked with celebrating the deceased by scrupulously taxing her legacy, disagrees with that appraisal. Stephanie Barron of LACMA, an expert adviser to the I.R.S.’s Art Appraisal Services, parses the economic data differently:
The ruling about the eagle is not something the Art Advisory Panel considered…. It’s a stunning work of art and we all just cringed at the idea of saying that this had zero value. It just didn’t make any sense. (NYTimes)
Au contraire, Ms. Barron, it cannot make any cents! Nonetheless, the IRS appraised it at $65M. (This is after having assessed a tax of $471M on the estate, for which Sonnabend's heirs had to sell off much of the collection in the largest private art sale ever.)
The federal government forbids the owner of Canyon to sell it, and forbids anyone to buy it. But the tax for inheriting it? Plus a penalty for daring to declare it worthless? $29,200,000.
In addition to complete strangers suggesting their willingness to boff me even if I were a brain stem in a jar, one of the pleasant benefits of offering pro bono legal help to an online victim of bogus legal threats was a quite breathtaking thank-you present from Compass Rose Design, including simply awesome steampunk cufflinks . . .
. . . as well as a matching tie pin and tie clip, plus a ridiculously cool bracelet for my wife made of reclaimed antique watches.
Thanks to Compass Rose Design for the thoughtful thank-you.
And thanks to the person who sent the handmade award based on the same incident:
This award has proven to be an invaluable management tool. Occasionally a partner or associate argues with me. I point to the statute and say "Do YOU have an award for badassery?" They subside, sadly, and submit. As it should be.
1. Game of Thrones on HBO. We're several episodes behind. I'm savoring them.
2. The Abbado recording of The Magic Flute. I treated myself to buying a few recordings on iTunes before vacation, and chose this based on the Penguin Guide recommendation. On the one hand, I don't love the pacing — it's authentic, but a little jumpy for my taste. However, the voices are simply spectacular.
3. To End All Wars, a book about England in World War One. Two themes were well-portrayed and resonated. The first was how hubris and uncritical devotion to traditional tactics led to disaster. The second was how, in wartime, nominal critics of government will become uncritically pro-war to gain and maintain power.
4. Warlock: Master of the Arcane. I've been looking for a game in this genre as satisfying as 1994's Master of Magic since — well, since 1994. This, as far as I am concerned, is it.
5. The iPad. My precious.
6. Patron tequila.
7. The Bloggess' new book. She's like the result of a genetic experiment involving Dave Barry, Dorothy Parker, Erma Bombeck, David Sedaris, and [think of some writer who says "fuck" a whole lot]. Hilarious, and in consistently surprising ways. She's one of those writers who makes me say "I want to be a writer."
WILL YOU BE EATING THAT CHOP?: Trustees paid off or litigated into oblivion. Incalculably valuable private art collection appropriated by the state for its own use in generating tourism revenue. Spirit and letter of individual, independent collector's will trodden underfoot for the greater good. Mission accomplished.
If they want your stuff, eventually they'll get your stuff. Somebody should write a book about this!
The Roettgen Pietà, a painted wooden sculpture about three feet high, tells us a couple of important things about Christian devotion in 14th-century Germany.
In German, this subject is called a Vesperbild, an image for use during ritual devotions at sundown. More broadly, it's an example of an Andachtsbild, an image intended to stimulate meditation. For this reason, the holy figures are isolated from their narrative context and presented in a pose and a moment that amplify the statue's emotional import.
The body of Jesus has been removed from the cross, and Mary now holds her dead son on her lap and laments his passing. The poignancy of the statue resides in a cluster of double meanings. Just as Mary once held the baby on her lap, she now holds the man. Before, he was brimming with new life; now he is beyond life's end. Once he was beautiful; now he is ugly. Once perfect and intact, now distorted and destroyed.
The anonymous sculptor captures these antinomies in visual and tactile form. Mary is straight and rectangular: her knees and hips bend at ninety degrees so that her lower legs and torso form a visual rectangle that establishes the basic order of the artwork. In contrast to her rigid, vertical, rectilinear form, the body of Jesus spreads in a zig-zagging diagonal from upper left to lower right. He bends at the ankles, the knees, and the hips, while his arms extend limply, one dangling straight down and the other resting on his mother's forearm. His enormous, heavy head falls back, bending his neck at an impossible angle and casting the thorns of his crown in sharp profile against the negative space. In macabre harmony, Mary's oversized head tilts slightly off center, toward his, as she stares blankly at the space before them and contemplates the horror of the moment.
The weight and angle of his head, his gaping mouth, his dangling arm, and his broken pose emphasize that Jesus is dead. Amplifying this point, the artist presents the wounds in his feet, hands, and side as plump blossoms of gushing blood held constant. Red paint describes the course of blood that once dripped down his arms, and rivulets of red make a maze of his forehead where thorns have harmed him. His near nudity and the gore of his wounds stand in contrast to the splendor of his mother's blue garment, once partly gilt. Continue Reading »
Continue Reading »
Since ideologies amount to differing ways of defining the world – different accounts of what counts as a fact, as evidence, and as a sufficient definition — ideologies necessarily come into conflict not only in principle but especially in human behavior and interaction. Where ideologies are in accord, disagreement may be worked out in terms of commonly accepted and acknowledged principles of conflict resolution.
Two people committed, for example, to the guidance of formal logic, to empirical data (confirmed to a high degree of probability), and to a foundational set of axiomatic principles have a prospect of settling any disagreements that may arise between them. All such disagreements would be, by definition, a consequence of the incorrect application of logic, incorrect evaluation of data, or misapprehension of axioms. Likewise, two adherents to a particular subset of a particular religion would have greater chances of successful conflict resolution than members of two mutually exclusive faiths would have.
People whose most fundamental interpretive commitments are defined by conflicting assumptions about the nature of experience cannot, in principle, resolve the differences in a way that comports with the conflicting worldviews in question. Thus, pragmatism inclines people to deviate from consistency with their assumptions at least insofar as doing so makes coexistence and a degree of toleration possible. The negotiation of this compromise we call "politics".
Note that while practical matters force a negotiation of conflicting perspectives in terms of compromise, practical matters are not the only cause of compromise. Thus political compromise is interwoven with compromise that occurs for other reasons. For this reason, political thought and action are not reducible to an algorithm.
Politics always involves not merely negotiation but also discord. The discord provides impetus to the protection of ideological and presuppositional interests so that compromise does not lead to self-obliteration. The self-protective impetus of ideological aggression is captured well in remarks made by the seventeenth-century kensei Miyamoto Musashi:
When we are fighting with the enemy, even when it can be seen that we can win on the surface with the benefit of the Way, if his spirit is not extinguished, he may be beaten superficially yet undefeated in spirit deep inside. With this principle of 'penetrating the depths' we can destroy the enemy's spirit in its depths, demoralising him by quickly changing our spirit. This often occurs.
Musashi here calls attention to the notion that winning the battle and winning the war are two different and not necessarily concomitant things. Redrawing the geographic and political boundaries which define the dominion of ideologically opposed bodies of people is a compromise which is provisional at best. The impetus for self-definition provides also for other-negation, not necessarily in a violent mode, but always in a mode that removes the threat of self-negation. Miyamoto Musashi's comment is directed toward this idea. If one protagonist in a conflict successfully eradicates the ideological underpinnings of the opponent, the impetus for self-definition is sated, and the threat to self is abated.
It is perhaps most characteristic of politics that, although the goal of self-preservation motivates every negotiation, the rhetoric and intercourse of political participants is not necessarily a rhetoric of violence or conflict. Approchement, appeasement, aggiornamento, détente, sympathy, aggression — all of these terms can characterize political interactions which at their core have the goal not of compromise but of dominion. Says Musashi,
When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly, forestalling the enemy. Or you can advance seemingly strongly but with a reserved spirit, forestalling him with the reserve. Alternatively, advance with as strong a spirit as possible, and when you reach the enemy move with your feet a little quicker than normal, unsettling him and overwhelming him sharply. Or, with your spirit calm, attach with a feeling of constantly crushing the enemy, from first to last. The spirit is to win in the depths of the enemy. These are all ken no sen (to set him up).
~ same, p. 71.
For good or ill, commitment to a perception of truth always entails hegemony, and denial of truth is itself a commitment that entails hegemony. So, politics is always Kendo, the way of the sword, and ideology determines whether and in what way that sword is metaphorical.
(Note: this piece is from spring of 1994, when the intarwebs consisted of Usenet and Scott Yanoff's list, which was incredibly useful in tandem with Lynx in a world of gophers and Archie.)