Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for April, 2010

To be of use

April 21st, 2010

The dust-up on Roger Ebert’s site about his statement that “video games can never be art” is bizarre - you really wonder why Ebert was driven to go out, blind, on this particular limb. (My favourite riposte so far came from Michael Kupperman on Twitter: ” ‘Art will never be art’ - a caveman.”) This is a topic that’s come up on Zoilus before, less as a “whether” than a “when” (though I managed to betray some of my own ignorance at the time).

But what’s intriguing about it is that Ebert, though he’s not consistent or clear about it, is making his argument, unattributed, via Kant: Anything that has an instrumental purpose - a use-value - isn’t art. It may convey beauty but it lacks the basic character of aesthetic autonomy. So a quilt isn’t art if it’s placed on a bed and a vase isn’t art if it contains anything, etc.

All this of course depends on the proposition that nothing can be at once art and not-art, in different contexts or even simultaneously. (Then again, lots of Kantian aesthetic propositions, as I discuss in my book, rest on taking things for granted that ain’t necessarily so.)

Yet the “use” that Ebert’s claiming disqualifies video games is simply the fact that you can score points and “win,” even though this fact’s largely internal to the video game’s own logic and isn’t exactly a real-world “use.” Easy to imagine an interactive art installation that you could “win” that foregrounded the absurdity of that win to any relevant definition of gain or advantage. But in any case what if you just took the scoring away? That (as some of Ebert’s commentators note) is what some experimental/indie/avant-etc game designers have already done, while others are using the scoring systems as creative elements in themselves.

In that case, though, all you need is a hypothetical: Would you’d play the game whether or not it had a scoring system? Then it’s still art even if it has a scoring system. Thus a scoring system isn’t determinant to being or not being art. (And when you think about it, that’s a lucky thing for galleries, reviewers, collectors, etc!)

Which brings us back to the modern definition of art that comes down to us from Marcel Duchamp on: It’s art if the artist says it is. (Maybe even if anyone else says it is.) It’s the enunciating act that provokes the whole apparatus of art into motion.

Whether it’s good art, the other question that Ebert seems to want to ask - he keeps confusing classification and quality - is up to everybody else. Including, sure, Roger Ebert, even if his calls are less perceptive in this arena than he usually is. Thing is, something’s compelling him to make them. And that may be the best defense of game-as-art of all.

TL;DR? Okay, two-word alternate clincher: Katamari Damacy.

Monday, Apr. 26: A significant footnote!

RIP Guru, RIP Devon Clifford (YSPWSD)

April 20th, 2010

I was planning to get my Pop Conference notes up today, but then left them on the computer at home, so - tomorrow. Meanwhile, what it says up there: tears and sympathies. This Guru story goes deep and gets messy; whichever way you read it, real and tragic complexities about hip-hop culture and culture in general are involved.

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Gone Fishin’…

April 14th, 2010

… for stimulation, sociability and salmon dinners at the 2010 EMP Pop Conference in Seattle, where rock & pop writers, academics, musicians and intellectuals-at-large gather to trade notes and dodge the rain of defunct music publications, this year centering on “The Pop Machine: Music and Technology.” Since I’m not presenting a paper this time around, just chairing a panel, I’m hoping to update quite regularly on what I see & hear over the next four days on Zoilus, as well as on Twitter. (For that super-live version, follow me, @carlzoilus.)

See here for Zoilus coverage of past PopConfs.

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‘The Rush joke is about
middle-class shame,
and it’s funny because
so many of us are in on it’

April 8th, 2010

My essay on Chris McDonald’s new book on Rush, Dreaming in Middletown, is now live at the Literary Review of Canada. As a footnote, I notice that since I wrote the piece, McDonald has (sort of) addressed one of the issues I raise - the humour question, or perhaps, the unbearable lightness of being Rush - on his Middletown blog.

middle-class shame,
and it’s funny because
so many of us are in on it’">1 Comment

Had to happen

April 7th, 2010

Gaga-theory gathering place.

Three Easy Pieces from the Bureau of Good Housekeeping

April 5th, 2010

Thanks for your patience over my March break, everybody. That over, here are a few announcements:

One. Probably the most conspicuous to many local users will be the fact that the Gig Guide page is no longer being updated, and soon will vanish. Zoilus picks for Toronto live shows will continue to appear over in the left margin, hopefully updated at least weekly and looking at least a week or two ahead. (Maybe further in the case of particularly exciting and likely-to-sell-out events.) Please continue to send listings our way!

Two. The Links page, which is massively out-of-date, will disappear too; the “latest links” element in the left margin should get more active.

Three. As both those points suggest, Zoilus.com is shape-shifting: It will still be home to any more Toronto-focused notes I have to make; it will still keep you updated on what I’m publishing, or events I’m doing (that will probably be a larger portion of things, in fact); reflections on criticism and comments on currently raging blogosphere controversies will probably appear here (though they are also likely to pop up in more shorthanded form on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) But broader music-and-culture-related thoughts or comments on particular songs, records, films, etc., will soon begin appearing on a new, as-yet-unnamed group blog to launch sometime in the next month, with collaborators Margaux Williamson and Chris Randle. Much more about that site in the near future. Meanwhile, thank you for reading for however long you’ve been reading, and hope to keep in touch with you as my online life gets a little makeover for the new decade.

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