On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic
By Alex Kierkegaard / July 2, 2010 - March 14, 2011
First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
"Art games will always have a place here on the TIGSource front page, and I will never ever tell people to stop making them."
Thus spoke Mr. Derek Yu of The Independent Gaming Source in response to increasingly hostile reactions against the newly created pseudo-category of pseudo-artistic trash games, thereby obliterating every last trace of respect I had for him. Or, to be more precise, almost all respect, because one cannot fail to be impressed by the shamelessness with which he comes out and hurls his insults — such brazen impudence will always command respect. To come out and trash the labor of entire generations of master game designers with the insidious implication that their work is not and has never been art, all the while keeping a straight face, and even with an air of self-righteousness and indignation about him — that is no mean feat, even for an indie bum — that is to say the meanest of the mean. One must have lost all sense of decency, one must have lost all self-respect, one must have nothing left to lose — in addition to being a great actor, otherwise one cannot do, one cannot even dream of doing such things.
But let us move straightaway to extract the moral from this business, for we have a great deal of ground ahead of us, and I am itching to cover it: When even the best of these people (and Yu is in many ways the best — for example in the fact that his Spelunky is an actual game, and moreover one which makes no claims to hidden meanings, messages or other retardations) proves himself, and in such spectacular fashion no less, to be an unconscionable, impudent lout — what could one say... about the rest? The videogame industry has indeed never before seen such dirty, such conceited, such venal fellows as these — they make even journalists and marketers appear as paragons of integrity in comparison. Whoever finds all this too harsh does not have the faintest idea of what these people have been doing; once one has grasped it, no word, no turn of phrase, no gesture can seem too strong to express one's contempt and disdain for them.
And what exactly, then, have they been doing? It seems I will not be spared the task of spelling it out to them, and, more importantly, to all the gullible morons they've managed to dupe with their deviously-spun web of slander and lies.
Listen to me carefully now, you little abortions of fagots: "art games" has never been and never will be a valid category! It is preposterous to claim otherwise! Even worse: it is indecent! It means to spit in the face of all the grand masters of game design, those of the past as well as the present, when one proceeds to sweep all their hard work under the table so as to praise to heaven one's own little abortions of mini-games and screensavers, and to reserve for them, and for them only, the highly coveted, and rightly coveted, appellation of "art". To say that Civilization, Grand Theft Auto III, Sangokushi Senki, Total Annihilation, Deus Ex, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Merchant Prince, Devil May Cry, Eternal Darkness, Spacewar, Planescape: Torment, Rogue, Battle Garegga, Wing Commander, Street Fighter II, Fallout, Quest for Glory, Bubble Bobble, Privateer, Counter-Strike, Doom, Metal Slug, Jet Set Radio, Halo, Dune, Master of Magic, OutRun 2, Dungeon Master, Quake, The Last Express, Virtua Fighter, Pirates, Tetris, Tekki, Syndicate, Alpha Centauri, Gekka no Kenshi, Nobunaga no Yabou, Metal Gear Solid, Age of Empires, The Secret of Monkey Island, Fire Emblem, Pikmin, Herzog Zwei, Max Payne, Elite, The Super Shinobi, Prince of Persia, Railroad Tycoon, Sim City, Samurai Spirits, Gun Valkyrie, Rainbow Islands, Daimakaimura, R-Type, Super Mario Kart, Ultima V, Ninja Gaiden, Zero Gunner 2, Super Metroid, and countless others — to say that all these games, the very best games we possess — the results of half a century of effort by innumerable extremely dedicated and talented individuals from across the world — are not art — to summarily dismiss the entire history of videogames — to dump it in the trash — and all their designers along with them, in order to raise high above them the piddling, the ludicrous, the contemptible little abortions of platformers and screensavers of a bunch of incorrigibly incompetent lazy bums — is the most vicious, most insolent, most insulting gesture imaginable against our hobby and all those individuals who have poured their souls and lives into it.
There's nothing for it: one must not give these shameless, venal wretches an inch — one must not concede to them anything. No association with them is permissible — no reconciliation possible. Whoever has experienced even a few hours of enjoyment with these games (— not to speak of those of us whose entire lives have been enriched by them —); whoever harbors inside him even the tiniest shred of warmth for this truly wonderful, truly bizarre, this truly uncanny art — should be appalled at the idea of these people's mere existence. Forget about soccer moms, politicians or priests. Nothing they say or do has ever or will ever matter. But just look at what the indie bums have done within a mere five or six years of scheming! It is the enemy from within that always poses the greatest danger! Coming in with no qualifications, no portfolios, no work experience whatever, zero talent, utterly ignorant of the history of the hobby, with the coding skills of high school students, uncooperative, indolent, obnoxious all of them, without any employment prospects whatever — no self-respecting company would hire them, the masters would not so much as spit on them — yet within less than a decade, through a relentless campaign of defamation and slander, have lied themselves up to being considered the only real artists working in the industry! the only real artists to have ever worked in the industry! all the while lowering the status of everyone else to that of "mere" craftsmen! Their lazy abortions of non-games have now become the "art games"! while those of everyone else will from on be known as merely "mainstream"! and the entire past is shrugged off as "immature" and "juvenile"!
Enough: This whole fagotry ends now. They'll get exactly what they are asking for — by the time I am through with them they'll barely even seem human.
To speed things up, and also to underscore the fact that all these are issues which have been effectively resolved for decades, we will be making extensive use of Pauline Kael's essay "Trash, Art, and the Movies". This was written in 1969, at about the time, that is to say, when movies were going through a phase comparable to that which videogames are beginning to enter now, and Kael, roughly speaking, was playing more or less an equivalent role to the one I am playing right now. Many of my initial points, indeed, can be made by copying passages from her work wholesale and simply replacing references to movies and movie-specific terms with games and game-specific ones — and this is what we'll do. The point is that all this stuff has more or less already been explained, and the only reason everyone in the videogame industry remains blissfully unaware of it is because they are ignorant, uneducated dingbats whose idea of education and literature are comics, animu and science fiction novels. So let us then turn to Kael and see what she has to say about this whole business.
Kael: "We generally become interested in movies because we enjoy them and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art. The movies we respond to, even in childhood, don't have the same values as the official culture supported at school and in the middle-class home. At the movies we get low life and high life, while David Susskind and the moralistic reviewers chastise us for not patronizing what they think we should, "realistic" movies that would be good for us — like A Raisin in the Sun, where we could learn the lesson that a Negro family can be as dreary as a white family."
This for us becomes:
Kierkegaard: "We generally become interested in games because we enjoy them and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art. The games we respond to, even in childhood, don't have the same values as the official culture supported at school and in the middle-class home. In videogames we get low life and high life, while Leigh Alexander and the moralistic reviewers chastise us for not patronizing what they think we should, "realistic" games that would be good for us — like The Marriage, where we could learn the lesson that a marriage is about different people working together to balance their needs."
Kael: "Who at some point hasn't set out dutifully for that fine foreign film and then ducked into the nearest piece of American trash? We're not only educated people of taste, we're also common people with common feelings. And our common feelings are not all bad. You hoped for some aliveness in that trash that you were pretty sure you wouldn't get from the respected "art film". You had long since discovered that you wouldn't get it from certain kinds of American movies, either. The industry now is taking a neo-Victorian tone, priding itself on its (few) "good, clean" movies — which are always its worst movies because almost nothing can break through the smug surfaces, and even performers' talents become cute and cloying. The lowest action trash is preferable to wholesome family entertainment. When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable."
This last part for us becomes:
Kierkegaard: "The lowest action trash is preferable to wholesome family entertainment. When you clean them up, when you make videogames respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable."
Another passage, in which she exposes the pseudo-intellectuality of the New Movie Journalists of her time:
Kael: "The Thomas Crown Affair is pretty good trash, but we shouldn't convert what we enjoy it for into false terms derived from our study of the other arts. That's being false to what we enjoy. If it was priggish for an older generation of reviewers to be ashamed of what they enjoyed and to feel they had to be contemptuous of popular entertainment, it's even more priggish for a new movie generation to be so proud of what they enjoy that they use their education to try to place trash within the acceptable academic tradition. What the Cambridge boy is doing is a more devious form of that elevating and falsifying of people who talk about Loren as a great actress instead of as a gorgeous, funny woman. Trash doesn't belong to the academic tradition, and that's part of the fun of trash — that you know (or should know) that you don't have to take it seriously, that it was never meant to be anymore than frivolous and trifling and entertaining."
Simply replace The Thomas Crown Affair with any popular pseudo-artistic game (Rez, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, etc.), and all mention of "movies" with "games", and you have something that is perfectly current and perfectly valid.
Moving on, another arrow aimed straight at the pseudo-intellectuals — of any artform:
Kael: "It's a peculiar form of movie madness crossed with academicism, this lowbrowism masquerading as highbrowism, eating a candy bar and cleaning an "allegorical problem of human faith" out of your teeth."
Kael: "If there's a little art in good trash and sometimes even in poor trash, there may be more trash than is generally recognized in some of the most acclaimed "art" movies. Such movies as "Petulia" and "2001" may be no more than trash in the latest, up-to-the-minute guises, using "artistic techniques" to give trash the look of art. The serious art look may be the latest fashion in expensive trash. All that "art" may be what prevents pictures like these from being enjoyable trash; they're not honestly crummy, they're very fancy and they take their crummy ideas seriously."
The equivalent of the above in the videogame world is, for example, the recent Heavy Rain. Kael's phrasing fits it perfectly: Heavy Rain is "the latest fashion in expensive trash" which "takes its crummy ideas seriously". In the case of the indie bums we simply replace the word "expensive" with "cheap" and get another zinger: Indie games are "the latest fashion in cheap trash" which "take their crummy ideas seriously".
Even part of her magnificent opening paragraph can be easily adapted for our purposes:
Kael: "Movies — a tawdry corrupt art for a tawdry corrupt world — fit the way we feel. The world doesn't work the way the schoolbooks said it did and we are different from what our parents and teachers expected us to be. Movies are our cheap and easy expression, the sullen art of displaced persons. Because we feel low we sink in the boredom, relax in the irresponsibility, and maybe grin for a minute when the gunman lines up three men and kills them with a single bullet, which is no more "real" to us than the nursery-school story of the brave little tailor."
Kierkegaard: "Videogames — a tawdry corrupt art for a tawdry corrupt world — fit the way we feel. The world doesn't work the way the schoolbooks said it did and we are different from what our parents and teachers expected us to be. Videogames are our cheap and easy expression, the sullen art of displaced persons. Because we feel low we sink in the boredom, relax in the irresponsibility, and maybe grin for a minute when we line up three men and kill them with a single bullet, which is no more "real" to us than the nursery-school story of the brave little tailor."
Another passage, and start paying close attention now for this is the point where we overtake Kael and begin moving a great deal further than she went — than she was able to go or would ever have dared to:
Kael: "A nutty Puritanism still flourishes in the arts, not just in the schoolteachers' approach of wanting art to be "worthwhile" but in the higher reaches of the academic life with those ideologues who denounce us for enjoying trash as if this enjoyment took us away from the really disturbing, angry new art of our time and somehow destroyed us. If we had to justify our trivial silly pleasures, we'd have a hard time. How could we possibly justify the fun of getting to know some people in movie after movie, like Joan Blondell, the brassy blonde with the heart of gold, or waiting for the virtuous, tiny, tiny-featured heroine to say her line so we could hear the riposte of her tough, wisecracking girlfriend (Iris Adrian was my favorite). Or, when the picture got too monotonous, there would be the song interlude, introduced "atmospherically" when the cops and crooks were both in the same never-neverland nightclub and everything stopped while a girl sang. Sometimes it would be the most charming thing in the movie, like Dolores Del Rio singing "You Make Me That Way" in "International Settlement"; sometimes it would drip with maudlin meaning, like "Oh Give Me Time for Tenderness" in "Dark Victory" with the dying Bette Davis singing along with the chanteuse. The pleasures of this kind of trash are not intellectually defensible. But why should pleasure need justification?"
Pleasures "of this kind of trash" are indeed "intellectually defensible", dear Pauline: it's just that you, like all journalists and movie critics and people of this kind ever (that is to say all scribblers), are far too uneducated to figure out how — and far too weak to dare to grasp the explanation even if someone laid it down, and all the theory it is based on, and all the books in which this theory is elucidated — under your very nose. But all I am doing here is idly speculating, because the fact is she never got anywhere near these books and this theory, so there's not much point in trying to figure out how she would have reacted if she had. For this is how it is with theory, and with all the uneducated imbeciles who start dabbling in it without a thought for what others may have already achieved before they made their grand entrance on the scene: they condemn themselves to spend their lives struggling with already resolved issues; with old and tired issues; essentially with non-issues; condemn themselves to labor to reinvent the wheel while others are wizzing past them on superbikes and supercars. So the game journalists are still hopelessly frustrated by issues Kael had already overcome by the late '60s, whilst Kael herself was still struggling with problems that Nietzsche had been laughing at already nearly a century before. Neither Kael ever managed to reach the point at which Nietzsche finally dropped out of the race, in early 1889 (due to his health collapsing — he by no means gave up), nor will the journalists ever reach where Kael was at in 1969. Which leaves just me and you, dear readers — and I am determined to overtake not only the game journalists and Kael (both of whom, in fact, I have already overtaken in previous essays, and by a huge margin), but eventually even the great philosopher himself. The question left to ask then is: what about you?
And while I leave you to ponder your answer to this question, I train my sights back onto our friend Pauline. She was pretty damn smart for a woman — certainly smarter than Roger Ebert, who appears to have learned next to nothing from her, despite looking up to her for much of his early career. And this makes sense, since he is far more womanish than she was, and consequently to a far greater degree dominated by morality — and therefore dumber: one has only to read his Fight Club review to see this (— Fight Club is one of those movies that are guaranteed to reveal the mettle and worth of him who attempts to review it; Natural Born Killers, which Ebert also epically misinterpreted, is another). So we see her struggling to stay true to her instincts and desires, despite being incapable of "intellectually justifying" them. "But why should pleasure need justification?", she asks, but provides no answer. And how could she? How could anyone who still remains within good and evil — who is still, that is to say, dominated by morality — justify his desire for pleasure? Pleasure, after all —
"the performance of pleasure — is in essence perfectly immoral." (Baudrillard)
Thus Kael's intellectual journey comes to an end here — at a point, that is to say, an immense distance ahead of our modern pseudo-intellectual videogame artfags. For Kael, at least, had the courage for her instincts (which in every living thing are constantly screaming out for pleasure), despite not being able to dialectically justify them — a courage which the artfags lack to such a degree that they've gone as far as to convince themselves that art does not need to be enjoyable — that it does not have to be "fun". Worse: They are claiming something even more absurd: that art, and even more so great art, is not even supposed to be fun. What they would like with all their might to convince us of, what they expend all their energy, cunning and ingenuity to prove (which is why they have none left to pour into real problems), is that
"we're getting art for our money when we haven't even had a good time". (Kael)
For Kael here simply takes for granted that the purpose of art is to give pleasure. Pleasure, as far she is concerned, is a prerequisite, an absolute minimum requirement for her to consider anything art — and she was far from alone in espousing this quaint notion. Didn't Stendhal, the nineteenth century's greatest connoisseur of art, describe beauty as "a promise of happiness"? Didn't he faint from pleasure at the sight of Florence's artistic treasures, in what later became known as history's first recorded case of Stendhal Syndrome? (One should not, by the way, confound the cause of Stendhal's fainting with that of the American exchange students — relatives of the game journalists and pseudo-intellectuals, no doubt — who every year descend on Florence by the thousands, stumbling drunkenly along and passing out in the city's deserted sidewalks every day between midnight and 6 am.)
The artfags, then, have somehow managed to convince themselves that art is not supposed to give pleasure — or at least not necessarily so; that, at any rate, the question of whether art gives or does not give pleasure, or perhaps even gives displeasure, is an entirely subsidiary one — perhaps even irrelevant. And our question now, as we attempt to psychoanalyze them and descend, as it were, into their souls is: how did they acquire this unfathomably absurd notion?
One has to always keep in mind the kind of people we are discussing. Kael is a genuine intellectual, the real deal — every line she ever wrote betrays it — her reviews and essays sizzle with perspicacity and wit: there's not a single pseudo-intellectual bone in her entire body. She simply refuses to allow anyone to tell her "what is good for her". If she's not enjoying herself she is not enjoying herself, and you can take your "art" and stick it up your ass. There's even a somewhat wicked streak in her, as can be seen, for example, in her comment about grinning when "the gunman lines up", etc. (— wickedness being, of course, a prerequisite for any higher spirituality — wickedness and the courage for this wickedness, i.e. not petty, concealed, subterranean wickedness — not wickedness, that is to say, which doesn't even cross the threshold of consciousness).
Compared to her, then, all game journalists, artfags and videogame-intellectuals ever have been children — not even men-children, properly speaking: little fagots, little physically and mentally stunted child-fagots: this would be a more precise way of describing them. Now what do people like them know about art? What do they know about painting? or sculpture? or literature? or the theatre? or the pseudo-artistic films that Kael makes fun of in her essays — let alone the real art films that she praises? — Suffice it to say that they know absolutely nothing about any of that: all the art they've ever been exposed to on their own initiative — that is to say willingly — has been comics, action movies and, at best, science fiction novels — all the while their parents, relatives and schoolteachers railed at them for throwing away their youth. And they kept hearing this for so long that, dutiful little children that they were, they ended up believing it. All the things that gave them pleasure came at length to be associated with the bad conscience, whereas the good conscience was reserved, and had to be reserved, for those things towards which they felt absolutely nothing whatever, which gave them no pleasure at all, which simply bored them to death. Like that time they were dragged to a gallery at the tender age of eleven and made to stare for hours on end at random paint splotches; or that other time in English class when they were forced to listen to readings of Blake or Byron while their eyes glazed over after the first couple of lines; or that other time when, on pain of forfeiting their next month's entire allowance, they were forced to suffer through a performance of King Lear, a downright physically painful ordeal which they only managed to endure by bringing along their Game Boys and plugging away at them in the dark — I hope that by now the origin of their absurd notion that art is not supposed to give pleasure will have become glaringly obvious? perhaps even to themselves? How else would they have arrived at the tragically anti-natural idea that art is not supposed to be fun? That it is not supposed to be enjoyable? That it is even "farcically bad" to expect art to be fun? Listen, for example, to what Mr. Brendan Lee of insertcredit.com has to say about this matter in yet another "Gaming's Citizen Kane" article, of the kind which it has by now become customary for pseudo-intellectual videogame sites to be filled with:
"This has always been the deciding factor; if a game is fun, it's a good game. If it's not fun, it's bad. This, though, is an almost farcically bad way to judge art. To limit game design to what people find entertaining is to admit defeat before you code your first INCLUDE statement."
Pitiable drivel such as this is what passes for profundity among little nerdy child-fagots. They have been forever ruined by their parents and "society": one simply never gets over such traumatic childhood experiences as these people have lived through (except perhaps by means of the very latest psychiatric methods such as electroshock convulsion therapy — they should perhaps look into those). But let us leave aside for now the poor tormented child-fagots, and indeed even Kael, and see what a real man and philosopher — someone, that is to say, who stands a great deal above even a profoundly aesthetic man like Stendhal — has to say about the phenomenon of art:
Nietzsche: "Artists continually glorify — they do nothing else — all those states and things that are reputed to give man the opportunity to feel good for once, or great, or intoxicated, or cheerful, or well and wise. These select things and states, whose value for human happiness is considered safe and assured, are the artists' objects. Artists always lie in wait to discover such objects and draw them into the realm of art."
And what about ugly, depressing, pessimistic art? Surely no one is supposed to enjoy, to take pleasure in art that depicts ugly and unpleasant situations and circumstances?
Nietzsche: "What is essential in art remains its perfection of existence, its production of perfection and plenitude; art is essentially affirmation, blessing, deification of existence— What does a pessimistic art signify? Is it not a contradictio?— Yes.— Schopenhauer is wrong when he says that certain works of art serve pessimism. Tragedy does not teach "resignation"— To represent terrible and questionable things is in itself an instinct for power and magnificence in an artist: he does not fear them— There is no such thing as pessimistic art— Art affirms. Job affirms.— But Zola? But the Goncourts?— The things they display are ugly: but that they display them comes from pleasure in the ugly— It's no good! If you think otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves."
Affirmation of tragedy? Pleasure in the ugly? What perverse notions!
Nietzsche: "What is tragic? On repeated occasions I have laid my finger on Aristotle's great misunderstanding in believing the tragic affects to be two depressive affects, terror and pity. If he were right, tragedy would be an art dangerous to life; one would have to warn against it as notorious and a public danger... One can refute his theory in the most cold-blooded way: namely, by measuring the effects of a tragic emotion with a dynamometer. And one would discover as a result what ultimately only the absolute mendaciousness of a systematizer could misunderstand — that tragedy is a tonic."
And the reason tragedy is a tonic is because human beings are by their very nature cruel:
Nietzsche: "In late ages which may be proud of their humaneness there remains so much fear, so much superstitious fear of the "savage cruel beast", to have mastered which constitues the very pride of those more humane ages, that even palpable truths as if by general agreement, remain unspoken for centuries, because they seem as though they might help to bring back to life that savage beast which has been finally laid to rest. Perhaps I am risking something when I let one of these truths escape: let others capture it again and give it sufficient of the "milk of pious thoughts" for it to lie still and forgotten in its old corner. — One should open one's eyes and take a new look at cruelty; one should at last grow impatient, so that the kind of immodest fat errors which have, for example, been fostered about tragedy by ancient and modern philosophers should no longer go stalking virtuously and confidently about. Almost everything we call "higher culture" is based on the spiritualization and intensification of cruelty — this is my proposition; the "wild beast" has not been laid to rest at all, it lives, it flourishes, it has merely become — deified. That which constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy is cruelty; that which produces a pleasing effect in so-called tragic pity, indeed fundamentally in everything sublime up to the highest and most refined thrills of metaphysics, derives its sweetness solely from the ingredient of cruelty mixed in with it. What the Roman in the arena, the Christian in the ecstasies of the Cross, the Spaniard watching burnings or bullfights, the Japanese today crowding in to the tragedy, the Parisian suburban workman who has a nostalgia for bloody revolutions, the Wagnerienne who, with will suspended, "experiences" Tristan und Isolde — what all of these enjoy and look with secret ardour to imbibe is the spicy potion of the great Circe "cruelty". Here, to be sure, we must put aside the thick-witted psychology of former times which had to teach of cruelty only that it had its origin in the sight of the suffering of others: there is also an abundant, over-abundant enjoyment of one's own suffering, of making oneself suffer — and wherever man allows himself to be persuaded to self-denial in the religious sense, or to self-mutilation, as among Phoenicians and ascetics, or in general to desensualization, decarnalization, contrition, to Puritanical spasms of repentance, to conscience-vivisection and to a Pascalian sacrifizio dell'intelletto, he is secretly lured and urged onward by his cruelty, by the dangerous thrills of cruelty directed against himself. Consider, finally, how even the man of knowledge, when he compels his spirit to knowledge which is counter to the inclination of his spirit and frequently also to the desires of his heart — by saying No, that is, when he would like to affirm, love, worship — disposes as an artist in and transfigurer of cruelty; in all taking things seriously and thoroughly, indeed, there is already a violation, a desire to hurt the fundamental will of the spirit, which ceaselessly strives for appearance and the superficial — in all desire to know there is already a drop of cruelty."
Which by the way neatly accounts for the fact that I, who desire to know more than anyone else, am also the most cruel. — But let me explain here the one thing Nietzsche never explained. He said that art is affirmation. He said it again and again. But he never got around to explaining exactly why. Why, for example, could art not be negation? Or indifference? Or complete and utter randomness and arbitrariness? Here then is the answer: Art is creation. But to create (— more precisely, to transform something into something else, for the concept "creation" is strictly speaking meaningless, since nothing can be created out of nothing; what actually always occurs is transformation of one or more things into something else, for example of paint and canvas into a painting —) one needs first to select — creation presupposes selection; indifference and arbitrariness are therefore out of the question in the artistic act, for one never selects arbitrarily — "arbitrary selection" is a contradictio in adjecto; that the selection process might be carried on to a great extent unconsciously (as it often is in great art) is no objection to this proposition. Either way, whether selection occurs consciously or unconsciously, criteria and value judgements are, as I have already explained, continuously at play, and in the last resort even the highest consciousness contains in it — is based upon — a certain degree of unconsciousness. Therefore, since art entails selection, and since selection is a form of affirmation — art is affirmation and cannot be conceived of otherwise (— let alone as negation, which finds expression in destruction; as the exact opposite, that is to say, of the necessarily creative artistic act).
Once this has been grasped much follows — above all, the question once again arises, and this time with redoubled urgency, by what exact mechanism does even tragedy, the most extreme seemingly "pessimistic" artform, give pleasure?
Nietzsche: "The tragic artist. — It is a question of strength (of an individual or of a people), whether and where the judgement "beautiful" is applied. The feeling of plenitude, of dammed-up strength (which permits one to meet with courage and good-humor much that makes the weakling shudder) — the feeling of power applies the judgement "beautiful" even to things and conditions that the instinct of impotence could only find hateful and "ugly". The nose for what we could still barely deal with if it confronted us in the flesh — as danger, problem, temptation — this determines even our aesthetic Yes. ("That is beautiful" is an affirmation.)
From this it appears that, broadly speaking, a preference for questionable and terrifying things is a symptom of strength; while a taste for the pretty and dainty belongs to the weak and delicate. Pleasure in tragedy characterizes strong ages and natures: their non plus ultra is perhaps the divina commedia. It is the heroic spirits who say Yes to themselves in tragic cruelty: they are hard enough to experience suffering as a pleasure.
Supposing, on the other hand, that the weak desire to enjoy an art that is not meant for them; what would they do to make tragedy palatable for themselves? They would interpret their own value feelings into it; e.g., the "triumph of the moral world-order" or the doctrine of the "worthlessness of existence" or the invitation to "resignation" (— or half-medicinal, half-moral discharges of affects à la Aristotle). Finally: the art of the terrifying, in so far as it excites the nerves, can be esteemed by the weak and exhausted as a stimulus: that, for example, is the reason Wagnerian art is esteemed today. It is a sign of one's feeling of power and well-being how far one can acknowledge the terrifying and questionable character of things; and whether one needs some sort of "solution" at the end.
This type of artist's pessimism is precisely the opposite of that religio-moral pessimism that suffers from the "corruption" of man and the riddle of existence — and by all means craves a solution, or at least a hope for a solution. The suffering, the desperate, self-mistrustful, in a word the sick, have at all times had need of entrancing visions to endure life (this is the origin of the concept "blessedness"). A related case: the artists of decadence, who fundamentally have a nihilistic attitude toward life, take refuge in the beauty of form — in those select things in which nature has become perfect, in which she is indifferently great and beautiful — (— "Love of beauty" can therefore be something other than the ability to see the beautiful, create the beautiful; it can be an expression of the very inability to do so.)
Those imposing artists who let a harmony sound forth from every conflict are those who bestow upon things their own power and self-redemption: they express their innermost experience in the symbolism of every work of art they produce — their creativity is gratitude for their existence.
The profundity of the tragic artist lies in this, that his aesthetic instinct surveys the more remote consequences, that he does not halt shortsightedly at what is closest at hand, that he affirms the large-scale economy which justifies the terrifying, the evil, the questionable — and more than merely justifies them."
In summa: The purpose of art is to give pleasure, full stop — and this applies even to the tragedy, the most extreme seemingly "pessimistic" artform. Tragedy gives pleasure, first: to strong and fearless natures (including the tragic artist himself) by challenging them to imagine themselves in situations they could barely deal with (in which all of their "dammed-up strength", as it were, i.e. all of their energy, could be discharged — energy discharge being quite simply the essence of pleasure). Then, it gives pleasure to the lower species, to the weak, the sick and the suffering, by giving them an opportunity to invent for themselves a noble interpretation of their condition, thereby offering them a measure of relief in the form of an invitation to "resignation" (to their fate, as it were, in the manner of the doomed characters in the tragic play). And finally, to the physiologically and/or spiritually exhausted it provides a much-needed stimulus for their frayed and diseased nerves — an artificial path to psychological excitation, to rare and elevated feelings, which, being exhausted, they could not have achieved by natural (i.e. non-artistic) means. — Conclusion: There is, therefore, not the slightest doubt that the purpose of art is to give pleasure, and indeed a videogame can even be defined in such terms as "a machine for giving pleasure" (a definition that should be kept in mind, for we shall be returning to it). Consequently the claims of the artfags and the pseudo-intellectuals that as regards their "artistic games" the issue of pleasure is irrelevant, are naive, idiotic and preposterous — a game that fails to give pleasure is quite simply a bad game.
That takes care of one enormous psychological false-coinage perpetrated by the pseuds — but there are many others. So let us continue with our ruthlessly cruel (I hope that my readers will by now be able to see this as an approbation?) examination of the so-called "artistic" movement in videogames. Let us hold back our disgust at the gross insipidity and intellectual uncleanliness with which the pseuds have spun their mind-bewildering web of absurdities and lies, so as to be able to plunge even further into the perversely twisted workings of their minds.
Having forbidden themselves discussing and evaluating their "art games" in terms of pleasure, they therefore need another criterion in order to be able to discuss them at all. It is vitally important to avoid judging these "art games" according to the criterion of pleasure, since this would immediately expose their complete and utter worthlessness: after all, five minutes of OutRun 2 or Crysis are more fun than all their shitty games put together — and they know it. They must therefore find another criterion according to which some of their "art games" can be considered more "artful" than others. And this is where the meanings (and especially the hidden, all-too-hidden meanings...) and the messages come in. It's already an old and tired story (not that the artfags, being uneducated, would be in any way aware of it...): what occurred previously in painting with the gradual shift toward Abstraction, in poetry with the abandonment of rhythmic structure, in the plastic arts with the introduction of the ready-mades, and so on and so forth in every single artform — the same exact process is currently unfolding itself in the world of videogames before our very eyes. To begin with what occurred in painting, the turning point comes with the appearance of Impressionism. This style, though clearly vastly inferior to previous schools of painting (a fact of course which art critics of the time did not fail to point out, deriding Impressionist works as sloppy, lazy, unfinished sketches), was at least still focused on giving the viewer pleasure. So while Impressionism, on the one hand, clearly represented a vulgarization of painting, a relaxing of the bow of the artform (— every highly evolved artform is a tensed bow), an enormous lowering of the barriers to entry for new painters, to a level far lower than what was required to paint, e.g., in the Romantic, Neoclassic, Rococo, or Baroque styles, and indeed in any previously existing style barring perhaps some very primitive ones such as the Merovingian, Carolingian, Romanesque, etc. — i.e. pre-Renaissance painting — nevertheless, an aspiring Impressionist still had to know how to wield the brush. The barriers to entry might have been lowered, but certainly not so much that any bungler could come in and be on an equal footing with the masters. And, at the same time, this development was directly reflected in the amount of aesthetic enjoyment these new paintings produced in those who viewed them: so that, while a Monet or a Renoir could ultimately never give as much pleasure as a Rubens or a Rembrandt, at least they weren't exactly bad to look at. Nevertheless the decisive step, the step back — to a previous, much lower, standard of complexity — had been taken, but since it wasn't exactly a step back, i.e. not exactly back to a previously existing style, but back and sideways, as it were, diagonally back, i.e. to a style which, though less complex than contemporary standards, at least came in a different, altogether new form — it appeared to the ignorant and the feebleminded as if Impressionism had suddenly opened up a new path forward. The path was indeed new, but it was leading backward not forward — more clearly downward. Now, if the fate of this new style had been up to the art critics and art lovers among the nobility whose patronage had sustained painting (and hence painters) throughout the many centuries it had taken to reach the heights of Baroque and Rococo, things would have certainly turned out differently — but unfortunately it wasn't. For the appearance and spread of Impressionism coincided with (indeed was made possible by) the rise in France and other Western European nations of a burgeoning middle class, from whose ranks painting would henceforth increasingly draw, not only its artists, but also its critics and viewers. For painting previously, i.e. before the French Revolution, was, like the rest of the arts, the exclusive province of the nobility; no one else had the time or the money to concern himself with them. Given, then, such a highly restricted, and therefore highly discerning and demanding public, expectations and standards remained extremely high throughout centuries, ensuring that only the most competent artists were selected and promoted. The result was a vertiginous rise of the art of painting, to such heights indeed from which the masterpieces of the Renaissance finally came to seem like stilted, awkward sketches next to what artists were achieving three centuries later. — All this suddenly disappears once the masses have been unleashed on the art of painting, and any bungler can make a name for himself by playing the virtuoso in front of uneducated half-peasants who were born yesterday and don't know any better. Impressionism therefore was not, as is often said, the cause of the decline of painting but its consequence — the cause was the opening up of the artform to the masses. The decisive moment, therefore, was not, strictly speaking, the appearance of Impressionism, as I said earlier, but the French Revolution which hastened the rise of the middle class and would eventually lead to its dominance — the temporal disparity between the two events being merely the time it took for the ripples of the political catastrophe to arrive and make themselves felt in the domain of painting (as they would eventually be felt in every one of the various areas of culture). — What followed after Impressionism is, of course, history, and indeed such abysmally wretched history that I cannot even be bothered to seriously study it, much less relate it in any detail. Briefly then, with the appearance of the ludicrous, childish, and even grotesque visual abortions, first of the Expressionists and then of the Cubists (the former of which were merely further degenerate Impressionistic works, i.e. made by artists who were not even competent enough to paint in the Impressionist style, while the latter finally regressing to the level of children's and cavemen's stick-figure doodles), the floodgates were at last thrown open, and the random paint splotches of the so-called "Abstract" style which followed shortly after (a style without any rules whatsoever, that is to say a non-style, a free-for-all pseudo-style invented specifically for the benefit of the most lazy, the most talentless, the most incorrigibly incompetent pseudo-artists), signaled the death of painting. Finally some random dude like William Burroughs could come in, with no prior training in painting whatsoever, indeed with a downright contempt and disdain for the artform, place some cans of spray paint in front of blank canvasses and blow them up with a fucking shotgun for christsake, then go on to exhibit in galleries the resulting splattered canvasses as "High Art", indeed as on a par with the glories of a Raphael or a Titian — without anyone spontaneously erupting in side-splitting laughter, then taking the idiot's "paintings" off the wall and smashing them in his face. — So much for painting then. In the realm of music the story is fundamentally the same, differing only in the details. Setting aside classical music (which, rooted in a largely ecclesiastical-liturgical tradition stretching all the way back to the ninth century, finally reached during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the highest stage of richness and complexity of music ever achieved by man), the peasant/folk traditions from which jazz, blues, country, soul, funk, etc. were descended, finally gave rise to rock and roll, and thence to heavy metal — a style of music which, though nowhere near as complex as classical music, was still a relatively demanding art, especially in its "epic" and "power" varieties. But then along came punk rock, a far simpler, far easier (both on the ears and the musicians) form of rock, in short a degenerate form — though still of course to an extent enjoyable (in short, the "Impressionism" of rock and roll music), basically the kind of music perfectly suited for the masses of "rebelling" middle-class baby-boomers who were coming of age at the time, and who, being young and ignorant and stupid, lacked the necessary adequately refined taste faculty to demand more from their musicians. Punk rock would consequently further degenerate to various even simpler subgenres (grunge, etc.), at which point any slightly-stoned unshaved dude in a flannel shirt could pass himself off as a master musician by simply strumming a couple of power chords while jumping up and down and yelling incoherently (and finally committing suicide — this being the distinguishing mark of the successful musician, the cherry on the top of his performance, as it were, the coup de grâce of the virtuoso, with music as clown- and freak-show) — all this being a process which, to make a long story short, occurred also in a similar manner (which is to say in form, not in the details) in every other genre, all these trends finally leading down to and coalescing into various forms of so-called "experimental music" which, once again, had abandoned all pretense at style, thus signaling the final dissolution of music. Once you get to smelly rastafarian dudes standing on their heads and banging pots and pans (it's called "environmental music", a style of "music" which had finally regressed to the stage of half-naked savages with chunks of bone stuck in their hair sitting on trees and banging snake-skin drums), you might as well go home because the whole farce is over. — And again with poetry. The various strict metric styles, invented and laboriously refined in the various traditions over centuries, were eventually abandoned in the first half of the twentieth century as too "restrictive" (in plain terms: too difficult to adhere to), leading to an utterly random, utterly formless and unrestrained "style" (— more accurately, then, once more, a non-style —), the so-called "free verse" (which is basically a euphemism for "prose", for poetry is exactly that style of writing which is not free for christsake, which adheres to certain metrical constraints), of which Robert Frost once remarked that it was "like playing tennis without a net". What remained then was to take the final step in this direction — final because it brought the entire ludicrous process full circle — and this was achieved by the so-called "prose poetry", which is simply a contradictio in adjecto, i.e. nonsense, since prose and poetry are defined as the opposite ends of a spectrum for christsake! — And that was the fate of Homer's art: to degenerate into a contradictio in adjecto. — And finally, to wrap up this mind-bewildering litany of wretchedness and perversion, in the plastic arts there is no longer anyone who has the skill (or who can be bothered to attempt to acquire it —) to painstakingly carve out of blocks of pure marble anything even remotely resembling the statues of the Greeks, the Romans, or the masters of the Renaissance; consequently, what passes itself off as "plastic art" today are the descendants of Picasso's metal monstrosities, Duchamp's urinals and Manzoni's crocks of shit — meaning whatever piece of junk modern "artists" might care to randomly slap together. — In short, while older artists throughout entire millennia created, elevated and refined the arts, giving pleasure to innumerable human beings, indeed practically inventing entire new worlds of pleasure — modern ones seem hell-bent on remaining entangled in a debased, pretentious, hypocritical pseudo-artistic process of "creation" which culminates with
"the non-exhibition of non-works in non-galleries — the apotheosis of art as a non-event. As a corollary, the consumer circulates in all this in order to experience his non-enjoyment of the works." (Baudrillard)
In conclusion: As each art deteriorates and degenerates due to the gradual abandonment of laboriously invented and refined conventions (which, contrary to popular belief, do not restrict an art but on the contrary create, refine, and help it flourish — the reason bunglers find conventions "restrictive" is because they lack the training and discipline required to adhere to them and the talent and creativity to add to (i.e. further complexify) and/or modify them), we find in every field the same movement: a regression to previous, in many cases even primitive critical standards. Moreover, at the same time as standards collapse the number of aspiring artists increases (indeed, as we have seen, it is this very increase that leads to the collapse, the two movements unfolding simultaneously once the masses have been "emancipated" and the means of artistic creation become widely available), whilst the resulting artworks come to increasingly resemble a repulsive junk- and rubbish-soup that no one in their right mind would want to have anything to do with. "In this sense, therefore," says Baudrillard, in his essay "Transaesthetics",
"inasmuch as we have access to neither the beautiful nor the ugly, and are incapable of judging, we are condemned to indifference."
But Baudrillard's love of hyperbole and his aversion to rigorously structured writing (for he thought quite rigorously — he just did not write that way) cause him to commit an error here — in fact two of them. Because our problem is not, as he says, that we "lack access" to the beautiful and the ugly (for the works of the masters obviously haven't gone anywhere: we still "have access" to them) — our problem is solely with the new stuff that's being made, all of which has at last become so abysmally ugly that no one can any longer be bothered to sit down with a microscope and try to figure out which repulsive aesthetic monstrosity is less repulsive than the others. Therefore, we are not "condemned to indifference" because we are "incapable" of judging — we are condemned to indifference because we can't be bothered to judge, because we quite simply do not want to.
This, however, should not be taken to mean that we no longer care about art — only about what passes for modern art. It goes without saying that we still care about classical art, whether that be the statues of antiquity, the frescoes of the Renaissance, the plays of the seventeenth century or the symphonies of the eighteenth. And, at the same time, we care about the popular art which contemporary "artists" and "critics" (i.e. pseudo-artists and pseudo-critics) see as beneath them: we care about photography, the cinema and comic books, as well as the works of modern illustrators (who are the true, if inferior, descendants of the painters...), and all genres of genuinely nuanced contemporary music. Some of us even care about stuff like resin statues of movie or comic book heroes, which — say of them what you will — are a great deal closer to the sculptures of antiquity than the randomly slapped-together garbage that desperately tries to pass itself off today as "plastic art". In short, any form of contemporary popular art, inasmuch as it gives pleasure to anyone, to anyone at all, stands on an immeasurably higher level than "modern art" — which gives pleasure to no one, not even, as we shall soon be seeing, to those who pretend to enjoy it.
This double movement, then, which consists partly in rediscovering antique art, and partly in embracing contemporary popular artforms, is how healthy people react to the phenomenon of "modern art" (i.e. to the complete and utter dissolution of artistic convention in every sphere and the reduction of everything to a garbage soup). But not everyone reacts like this — not everyone, that is to say, is healthy. More specifically, two species of subhuman, the hipster (in my terminology, the "artfag") and the absurdly rich, react in a very different manner, a manner which is worth investigating. Briefly, then, the hipsters are ready to worship as art any object whatsoever, however ugly and worthless, provided it belongs neither to antique art (which they regard as outmoded) nor to popular art (which is, well, popular), whilst the rich make no such distinctions: they'll simply buy the most expensive artworks they can afford, meaning either antique ones or modern (i.e., once more excluding contemporary popular works which, due to their being produced in great numbers, never manage to reach the astronomical prices that are required to get the rich interested in them — prices which only the unique, unreproducible artworks can ever hope to achieve). So even though an illustration by someone like, say, a Brom or a Terada may require immeasurably more skill to create and be immensely more beautiful (in a word, more "artful") than some abstract painting abortion that's "worth" millions, the hipsters will stay away from it because it's popular and the rich because it's cheap. In short, so-called "modern art" is sustained exclusively by the interest of the hipsters and the absurdly rich, while no one else really gives a fuck about it. — And now comes the million-dollar question: What do these people get out of this absurd behavior? For they can't be going to all this trouble for nothing — there's got to be something in it for them. And what's in it for them is social status — they find in this so-called "modern art" a means for advancement in what I call "the slave game" — the game for social distinction. To take each case separately, the hipsters — being generally stupid, lazy, utterly talentless, with no skills whatsoever, usually even extremely ugly — need some sort of trick, some sort of cunning, subterranean stratagem in order to compete with the strong, the intelligent, the beautiful and the talented, and they find this in affecting an air of "higher intellectuality" — in attempting, that is to say, to appear as if they stood on a higher plane compared to everyone else at least in one respect: in the intellectual-artistic sphere — a sphere in which they have observed that uneducated people (i.e. those who lack a solid philosophical background) are extremely easy to dupe. The rich, on the other hand, have the exact opposite problem: they are already sitting at or very near the heights of social status, and are therefore in need of some way of surpassing their peers, of distinguishing themselves even further — some new set of rules, to put it in our language, which will allow them to continue playing the game between them. Their fundamental problem is that, since bank account balances cannot be exhibited, they lack a high-score board to compare their progress between them. Up to a certain point non-artistic acquisitions such as mansions, jets and private islands will do the job — but only up to a point, because the exchange-values (i.e. the price-tags) of all these things is intimately connected with their use-values, and hence are not free to skyrocket out of all proportion. What they therefore need is utterly repulsive, useless knick-knacks that no one could possibly want (i.e. with zero use-value, so that there's no chance of them ever becoming popular), and which they can therefore arbitrarily invest with whatever exchange-value they want as an excuse to throw entire fortunes at them — and to be seen doing so. — In both cases, then, art no longer serves to give pleasure in itself, but is instead used as a chip in the slaves' game of social distinction, as a means to an increase of social status — and it is this increase which provides the pleasure, and for the sake of which the artfags and the rich will stop at nothing to appear to be worshipping little preposterous, repulsive, useless knick-knacks. So we see that even in this case, the most extreme case of ugliness in art (for in the entire history of art nothing has ever been created even remotely as ugly as modern art — Baudrillard: "thus painting currently cultivates, if not ugliness exactly... then the uglier-than-ugly (the "bad", the "worse", "kitsch"), an ugliness raised to the second power") — even in this case the artworks (i.e. the knick-knacks) still manage to give pleasure, but indirectly — not through the effect they have on their owner, but due to their effect on everyone else — on everyone but the owner! A fact which explains why these "artworks" no longer need to be beautiful — quite the opposite in fact, they must necessarily be ugly, otherwise they'd end up becoming popular and would no longer be suitable to serve as the ultimate chips in the slave game. — What is most remarkable about this whole business, and can be discerned only now, once it has been properly analyzed, is how the artfags, who reside at the bottom of the slave game, and the absurdly rich, who stand at the top, end up turning to the same means in their struggle to raise themselves higher, and in a sense collaborate, with the artfags creating repulsive trinkets and the rich buying them up, thus meeting each other at the point of inversion — where the game comes full circle, and reveals itself for what it is.
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
"Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time have been what they were from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art."
Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L'Art (1931)
Thus the reaction to the degeneration of modern art is far more complex than Baudrillard describes it. What is especially important is that individuals belonging to the various class-based demographic groups react to this development in various diverging ways. It is in this respect that Baudrillard's analyses, especially the later ones, are inferior, since for the most part he is content to treat everyone with a blanket "we". Moreover matters become further complicated at this point by the appearance of another factor on the historical scene, a factor distinct from the effects of the social upheavals we have so far considered (i.e. the dissolution of the aristocracy and the gradual transformation of Western societies (and, through the spread of democracy and other decadent Western ideals, eventually the entire world) into a mob hotchpotch of uncultured, uneducated imbeciles). I am of course referring to the various scientific and technological discoveries of the nineteenth and twentienth centuries, and the advanced techniques of mechanical production and reproduction they brought with them — techniques which gradually transformed the old arts and spurred the invention of new ones (see Walter Benjamin's landmark 1936 essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility"). These developments present us with many novel and increasingly complicated problems, and as they do they further complexify our analysis. For though there's no doubt that all these new technology-powered artforms (such as for example electronic music, photography and the cinema) stand immeasurably higher than what today calls itself "modern art" (as does any previous kind of art whatever), they often seem to us, on the other hand, in certain respects at least, to stand much lower than classical art. How are we to explain this phenomenon? What is it about a Rubens or a Rembrandt that seems to us worthier of respect than the work of a contemporary master illustrator? What is it about a Greek tragedy or an Elizabethan drama that seems to us so much more venerable than even the most thrilling, most imaginative, most well-directed and well-acted movie? To put the question in more general terms, what is it about classical art that seems to us worthier of respect and reverence than technology-powered art? And why do we nevertheless enjoy the technological kind so much more? (something which is undeniable since we obviously spend so much more time with it...) Is it not simply a matter of hypocrisy on our part? Are we not merely paying lip service to classical art, in order that we too may gain at least a few "pseudo-intellectual artfag brownie points" — while at bottom not really giving a shit about it? Have we too been somehow infected with the pathetic pretentiousness that reigns supreme in the middle classes — in the bourgeoisie, to use the French term (since it is, after all, largely a French invention...) — with their laughable aspirations to raise themselves out of their abject mediocrity by clumsily aping the manners of the aristocrats they have secretly (and not-so-secretly) always despised? — To an extent, certainly, there has to be some truth in all this — inasmuch, that is to say, as we too belong to the middle classes, were born into and raised by them, and it would therefore be unreasonable to expect us to be entirely free of their stupidities and prejudices, however hard we may be working, by educating ourselves, to one day become completely rid of them. — But there is more to it than that — a great deal more in fact. To figure out what that is we need to ask ourselves and answer the following question: What is it about a work of art that we find worthy of reverence? — Essentially, two things: craftsmanship, and immersion. To begin with craftsmanship, one of the effects of the introduction of technology into the various artforms is to lower the level of craftsmanship required to produce a given work. What diminishes in technology-powered art is our pleasure in craftsmanship, in the idea that what stands before us has been created entirely by human hands. When one looks at such a work one is no longer looking solely at human skill, as previously, but more and more at machine skill (though, to be sure, it was ultimately human skill that created also the machine, but this belongs to the scientists who made the relevant discoveries and the engineers who built it — not to the artist who made the work...) Put simply, the actual talent, training, discipline and dedication required to create one of Rembrandt's paintings is on another plane entirely compared to what is required to create one of Brom's or Terada's illustrations (— let alone to take a photograph, however skilfully shot and aesthetically pleasing this might be), and the same goes for a theatrical acting performance compared to a screen-based one, or for a piece of electronic music compared to a classical one, and so on and so forth. This is why, apart from whatever pretentious tendencies we are still infected with, we accord classical artists a greater degree of respect than we do to modern ones — and rightly so (and by modern artists I mean illustrators, photographers, cinematographers, etc. — i.e. genuine modern artists, not "modern artists" — not, that is to say, pseudo-artists like Duchamp, Picasso, Warhol and their descendants, for whom we have nothing but contempt to all eternity).
But the plot thickens at this point, for the influence of technology is, of course, not altogether absent even from classical art, since after all brushes, canvases and paints do not exactly grow on trees. Consequently, when we consider the matter a little more carefully, it becomes clear that even classical artists employed technology to a certain extent, and, what's more, were not at all averse to adopting new techniques where possible as a means of increasing the complexity and effectiveness of their work — as can be seen, for example, by considering the bewildering array of musical instruments employed by classical composers, of which the Greeks and the Romans knew nothing, or the evolution of theatrical stage devices from the simple masks and costumes of the Greeks to the monumental "total work of art" extravaganzas of the Wagnerian operas. So the technological transformation of the arts is not something that occurred suddenly, or that began at one point and stopped at another — it is an ongoing process that has been unfolding for countless millennia, and whose end is still nowhere in sight.
What creates difficulties for us, however, is that this process suddenly went into overdrive in the previous century, transforming the arts so radically in such a short time that the idiotic pseudo-theorists tasked with tracking and analyzing these developments, the so-called "cultural critics", assailed as they were on the one side by sweeping political and social changes, and on the other by the seemingly unintelligible shenanigans of the artfags and the rich, finally lost the plot completely. — If only Nietzsche had lived a couple more decades! — But he didn't, and the only genuine philosopher to appear in the next century was Baudrillard, whose analyses of art, however far ahead of everyone else's they might have been (and they were so far ahead it's as if no one else's theories existed...), are still wholly inadequate to solve the problems we are now facing (— quite apart from the fact that on many points they are quite simply wrong). It remains then up to us to figure out what the hell happened between Nietzsche's death and now, and by doing so perhaps get closer to achieving something even more important: predict what's going — more clearly what's bound to happen in the future.
And this, at bottom, is what happened — what has always happened and what will continue to happen until the entire comedy of art finally comes to an end (or, more accurately, comes full circle... and starts over): a gradual increase in the immersion factor of new artforms, accompanied by a corresponding decrease in the percentage of value of each individual artist's contribution of craftsmanship towards each completed work. If you are having trouble visualizing what I mean here by "immersion", try for the time being substituting for it the term "engagement". Put simply, a chicken-scratch on a cave wall is less engaging than a wide variety of colors mixed and painted onto a piece of canvas (i.e. a painting), which is less engaging than a photograph (which is nothing other than a photorealistic painting...), which is less engaging than a movie (which in its classical, analogue form is nothing other than 24 photographs per second plus a sound track...), which is less engaging than a movie which responds to the viewer's reactions (i.e. a videogame), and so on and so forth (actually, that's it — for, reality aside, nothing could ever be more immersive than a videogame, and reality, at least as far as we are concerned, does not count and will never count as art).
And now we can begin to grasp the nature of the trade-off between craftsmanship and immersion, which works in the following way: every technological advance incorporated into the arts transforms them in various more or less subtle ways, on the one hand rendering the current standard of artworks easier to produce, and on the other making possible the creation of higher, more complex and consequently more engaging artworks. But at the same time as the amount of technology injected into an artwork increases, so does the percentage of craftsmanship of the overall work due to a single person diminishes. This explains why, at the same time as we accord the individual modern artist LESS respect than to the classical one, we nevertheless enjoy modern artworks MORE than classical ones — because enjoyment of an artwork is proportional to immersion, whilst respect for the artist who made it depends on the percentage of craftsmanship of the completed work for which he is responsible.
It's a seemingly paradoxical situation, this apparently inverse relationship between enjoyment of a work and respect towards those who made it, and one which demands further elaboration; but before we move on to that we should clarify an essential point, namely, the nature of the relationship between technological level of the means of artistic creation, amount of respect towards the artist concerned, and overall level of complexity of the completed work. This goes as follows: we accord LESS respect to artists who use MORE ADVANCED means of artistic creation to produce a work of THE SAME level of complexity. So Rubens used paint, brush and canvas to create the "Massacre of the Innocents"; if someone uses a $2,000 PC and Maya to create something on the same level, then as an artist he obviously stands on a lower level than Rubens, even if the works are aesthetically equivalent. But when he uses his computer to create, for example, a videogame all of whose art looks like a Rubens painting (basically the Western equivalent to what Clover did with Okami), then we accord the artist, or at least we SHOULD accord him, if we finally manage to rid ourselves of our pathetic middle-class-inherited snobbery and pretentiousness, the same amount of respect we do to the old master. It is the same with any sport. The reason you are given more powerful tools is TO USE THEM — if, e.g. in tennis, you are achieving the same ball speeds with your modern carbon-fiber racket as the pioneers of the sport were getting with their flimsy wooden ones, then in terms of skill you are obviously BELOW them. But if you are getting proportionately higher speeds than them, then, all else being equal, you really are at least on the level of the older champions, and should be accorded at least as much respect as them.
To get back to the case of art, what happens as works become more complex, both in terms of technology and number of artists involved, is that the artwork becomes more of a collective effort. So whereas a painting is the result of the work of its author, as well as the few people who made the brushes, paints, canvas, etc., and the other few who invented the techniques of manufacturing of all these things, a movie is the result of the work of an astonishing number of individuals including a Newton, a Faraday, a Maxwell, an Edison, and so on and so forth — not to speak of a videogame, which includes also a Leibniz, a Boole, a Tesla, a Turing, a von Neumann, and ultimately the entire of line of scientists and inventors leading up to them (and of course also all the manufacturing people, and the software people, and the middleware people, etc. etc.) Works, therefore, become ever more collective as time goes on; with extremely complicated works such as movies and videogames it can become at times even impossible to figure out who "the artist", the so-called "auteur" is supposed to be — i.e. the person who is more than anyone responsible for the overall quality of the completed work (consider, e.g., the movie Fight Club: who is the auteur here, Chuck Palahniuk or David Fincher? Or Killer 7: Shinji Mikami or Goichi Suda?) — an enterprise which at times becomes hopeless and which we are therefore forced to largely abandon. And all this without even taking into account the (far more fundamental) contributions of the scientists and engineers, without whom there would have been quite simply no movies or videogames at all, let alone Fight Clubs or Killer 7s.
Thus with every technological advance injected into an artform the contributions of a particular individual are drowned in those of an ever-increasing number of others, diminishing his apparent worth — but this diminishment is compensated for, and indeed overcompensated, by the increase in pleasure we derive from the enhanced immersiveness of the completed work. What should be taken away from this is that, ultimately, the overall level of craftsmanship, and thus our pleasure in it, never really decreases — on the contrary, it is plainly obvious that it continually increases — what decreases is the percentage of craftsmanship PER PERSON (artist/scientist/engineer) involved. Consequently, our gratitude towards the makers of a work is just as great as ever, if not greater, it's only that, as the arts advance, we are obliged to DIVIDE it between an EVER-INCREASING number of individuals. And this is one of the things that can be found at the bottom of all pseudo-intellectual complaints against advanced artforms: that they thwart our natural (and naturally idiotic) propensity to direct all of our gratitude toward a single artist, to worship a single person like a sort of artistic god or demi-god. The slow, the dense, the thick, the stupid, those lacking discernment and critical ability — but who at the same time wish to seem the opposite of this — in short, the pseudo-intellectuals — simply stand aghast in front of a work of such complexity that it required the combined efforts of three or four hundred individuals to produce — they stand aghast and blink. "These are way too many gods for us!", they cry. "The relationships and connections between them and the various aspects of the work are mind-bewildering!" "Who among them are we to worship?" "And if we don't know who to worship we can't make a big show out of SEEMING to worship!" "And if we can't put on this show then we can't CONVINCE OTHERS that we are INDEED worshipping, and in fact worshipping far more than they are!" "And if we can't do this we can't trick them into according us more respect than they do to genuine art lovers!" "So let's just go back to the primitive arts were things are much less complicated!" "And since we are too thick to figure out how to handle the advanced arts we are just going to have to slander and defame them, and claim that they are not arts!"
The pseudo-intellectuals never manage to get past this laughable conundrum, and by the constant stream of lies, absurdities and stupidities they vomit (all of which of course they take great care, by camouflaging them in obscurantist prose, to pass off to the feebleminded as profundity), they drag the mystified rabble down with them. Meanwhile, the few of us who manage to evolve past hangups of the type "photography/cinema/videogames are not art; only primitive artforms are art", slowly learn to become ever more careful, more discerning and more subtle judges and appraisers of the value of each individual artist's (and also scientist's, engineer's and technician's...) contribution to each advanced work of art. We become, that is to say, more subtle worshippers, more nuanced and more thoughtful in our artist-worshipping. After all, it is a well-established fact that monotheism is for idiots — polytheism is a vastly more demanding form of worship, requiring as it does far greater mental capacities in order to grasp the distinctions between the various gods and their domains, relationships and power structures, the proper rites with which to address and sacrifice to each of them, whom to offer thanks to at which time, and whom to curse. Thus the critical treatment of advanced artforms tests and develops our mental capacities, above all our capacity for DISSECTION, for analysis — while also, and precisely because our analytical skills have grown so much, and because in the course of developing them we have become intensely familiar with the myriad of little factors that go into the production of an advanced artwork, we at the same time become more proficient at regarding works of art in a COLLECTIVE manner, and finally come to realize the simple fact that yes, a film director may in terms of narrative imagination, depth of psychological insight, literary ability, etc. etc. stand immeasurably lower than a Stendhal, but on the other hand he has UNDER HIS COMMAND one or more script-writers who take care of these things (though again, of course, to a lower level than Stendhal — but that's beside the point, because the addition of individual artistic contributions in advanced artforms works synergistically, not algebraically...), and he coordinates these people's efforts to those of an astonishing number of others: actors, musicians, special effects people, camera-men, sound-men, stunt-men, editing people, etc. etc., to create a work which, put simply, would have left Stendhal speechless if someone could go back in time and showed it to him (not to speak of the ancients, who'd have taken artist-worshipping to a whole new, above all literal level, immediately inducting him into their pantheon of gods and bringing him human sacrifices and fourteen-year-old virgins).
But this whole worshipping business is only of secondary importance compared with the fundamental reason why pseudo-intellectuals hate advanced artforms. Because the fact is quite simply that mechanically-reproducible works, because of their ubiquity, are of little to no use as markers of social distinction. The pseuds quite simply have no use for them. For theirs, as La Bruyère has put it,
"is not a taste for the good or the beautiful ... it is not an affection for the perfect ... but for the rare, for what one has and others have not." (De la Mode 2)
A conclusion which is essentially the same as that which Benjamin would reach 250 years later:
"From a photographic negative ... one can make any number of prints; to ask for the "authentic" print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. ... it begins to be based on another practice — politics."
Which brings us right back to the slave game.
The Way of the Artfag
The "politics" referred to here, however, are not the politics that Benjamin had in mind: power politics such as "Communism" or "Fascism" (— all of which are liquidated and indeed become for all intents and purposes impossible with the inauguration of the slave game —), but small-scale politics, mini-politics as it were: the personalized politics of prestige, what Baudrillard called "the political economy of the sign". Now, between these two types of politics there is a fundamental difference, namely, that while power politics are governed by the principle of pleasure, the politics of prestige are governed by that of rarity. And while the advanced arts, thanks to their overwhelming advantage in terms of immersion, were always fated to win the former, their inherently (and infinitely) reproducible nature, on the other hand, was always bound to result in their losing the latter.
And they did indeed lose it, as a cursory glance inside any "art" gallery in the world will prove: nothing goes in such places except the absolute worst examples of the most primitive artforms. In short, the artfags and the rich, who only take an interest in art, not because of its use-value (pleasure), but because of its sign-value (prestige), are condemned to forever look DOWN on all HIGHER forms of art, to view as BENEATH them, precisely the HIGHER arts (in much the same way, and for the same reasons, that they view as below them precisely the popular artists who tower far above them). This is why, even today, all those who would describe themselves as "art critics" only ever concern themselves with painting, the plastic arts, etc. — never with photography or the cinema (let alone with comics or videogames...), since as far as they are concerned all of these arts are quite simply not arts. At most, and only if pressed repeatedly on the matter, they will concede to the latter the derisory designation of "Low Arts", while reserving for their own arts the bombastic, laughably pompous title of "High Arts" — which is yet another absurd conceit since, if these terms are to have any meaning, it is patently obvious that the PRIMITIVE artforms are the "Low" ones and the ADVANCED ones the "High" (with the inversion here occurring according to essentially the same upside-down logic which baptizes the worst games as "art games", the worst films as "art films", the worst comics as "art comics", etc. etc.) The artfag's perspective is basically everywhere and always inverted — it is only by this means that it manages to trick others into granting its abortive creations some respect.
It is a grave mistake therefore to suppose, as most people do, that photography, the cinema and electronic music have today become acceptable as artforms. Because, whatever the man in the street may think (and no one really cares about that, for the simple reason that "men in the street" do not think), the older artfags, the original artfags, let us call them the diehard artfags, still do not consider them arts, and never will. Consequently the vast majority of so-called "art" publications simply refuse to have anything to do with the advanced arts — with for example movies, since as far as diehard artfags are concerned movies are merely a coarse mass "entertainment" medium and nothing more (as if there could ever be anything more than entertainment, lol — notice moreover how diehard artfags achieve the admirable feat of turning "entertainment", i.e. pleasure, into an insult, a practice that videogame artfags will later on inherit and repeat, as we've already seen, with "fun"). They therefore let the "movie critics" deal with movies, with the implication that these people are not art critics — and let Ebert say what he will (just as Ebert in his turn does not consider videogame critics art critics — and let the videogame people say what they will).
One should be forgiven at this point for supposing that that would be the end of artfagotry — that the fagots, having shut themselves up inside their galleries playing artists with their paint splotches, urinals and crocks of shit, would be kind enough to leave the rest of the arts in peace, and that that would be the last we'd hear of them. On the contrary, the paint splotches and the urinals are but the beginning in the long and glorious adventure of artfagotry. For though the diehard artfags do indeed restrict themselves inside the primitive arts and refuse to venture further (— higher), the psychological condition that gave rise to artfagotry in the first place (a mixture of laziness, ignorance and a vehement denial to acknowledge one's complete and utter lack of talent) is still very much active in a small percentage of the artists who devote themselves to the new artforms. The diehard artfags may of course deny that all these new artforms are artforms, but their silly chatter is powerless against the irresistible seductiveness that every new and higher artform exercises. Indeed, as history plainly shows, not only does the public quickly embrace higher artforms, but the attention each of these artforms attracts becomes in due course orders of magnitude greater than that of all previous artforms put together (as can be seen by comparing, for example, the popularity of photography versus that of painting, electronic music's versus classical music's, the cinema's versus the theatre's, etc.)
Thus every new art in due course gives rise to its own subspecies of artfags, mutated artfags which, like all successful mutations, inherits many genetic traits from its ancestors, some of which it manages to beneficially adapt to the changing environmental conditions with which it has to cope (a well-known process in the field of biological evolution called, rather misleadingly, "preadaption"), while also manifesting entirely new qualities. Note that the mutation occurs only once an art is well under way and never in the early days, because it would never occur to the enthusiasts who invent an art and lay down all the groundwork for it to betray it. The pioneers are always without exception extremely passionate, so that even the less talented among them at least possess a powerful drive which rules out laziness and ignorance (and which to a certain extent can even make up for any deficiencies in talent), and though the masterpieces may be beyond them, they are still satisfied with flawed attempts, or even with mediocrity, since those who undertake something out of passion derive most if not all their satisfaction from the process, not from the end result. Indeed even the shovelware makers, who begin appearing once the masses have started taking an interest in the new artform, are above employing the tactics of the artfags; if due to circumstances they are forced to work on shovelware for a time, they do so as perfunctorily as is fitting, and certainly without being proud of it, with many of them afterwards even attempting to hide the fact from future colleagues and employers. It is only the artfag that first stoops to the level of employing the tactic of miraculous inversion, attempting to pass off shovelware (and indeed shovelware that's worse than the worst shovelware), as the epitome of quality of an artform — and, as mentioned, it does so only late. Examine the history of all the artforms: "art paintings" (=paint splotches), "art sculptures" (=ready-made junk), "art poems" (=pretentious prose), "art music" (=pot- and pan-banging), "art theatre" (=boring improv sketches), "art films" (=boring films), "art videogames" (=boring videogames) have all been LATE arrivals. It is only after a certain high point has been reached, and the new artform has finally become so popular that artists are swarming in like flies in summer, with the gulf between masters and bunglers grown to such vast, unbridgeable proportions that the ruthless competition that results forces the worst bunglers to "turn artfag", as the expression goes, in order to survive.
So let's examine closely these mutations and try to discern in what ways they behave similarly to their ancestors and in what ways they diverge. Above all we need to figure out what new form artfagotry takes in the advanced arts, where the principle of authenticity — of, that is to say, rarity — can no longer be applied. How would for example the movie artfags manage to set themselves apart from the genuine movie lovers, when the question of ownership is moot? — Answer: By basing their entire behavior around rarity in the one domain which still belongs to them and to them only and always will, in the one domain in which they can still generate differentiation between themselves and others more or less at will: in their tastes. By having, quite simply (— or, more accurately, by affecting —), rare tastes. But there are two ways to possess rare tastes — tastes, that is to say, which diverge from those of the great majority of the public: either by acquiring and developing, through lengthy and passionate involvement with an artform, a taste for the best things (such as, e.g., for beluga caviar or foie gras) — by being, that is to say, ABOVE the mass — or, quite simply, toward the worst things (such as for example horse shit) — by being, that is to say, BELOW it. And since the former kind of tastes is always already championed by a small but vocal (and usually also quite eloquent) group of advocates — the men of taste — and the things which this taste encompasses are moreover difficult to discern, difficult to appreciate, and above all DIFFICULT TO MAKE, the artfags choose the latter kind, where they can be assured of being completely alone — and hence dominant.
Thus in every advanced artform there slowly develops in due course a decadent counter-movement by the lazy, the ignorant and the talentless which, in order to fend off the inevitably devastating comparisons, proceeds to open up a chasm between itself and its opponents by dubbing itself as "art", thereby implying that everyone else's work is not art — in other words, that not all art is art, that only some art is art, and precisely the kind that they themselves are making. So we see once again the tactic of the diehard artfags, which functions at the level of ENTIRE artforms (by separating some arts from others, and claiming that the more advanced arts are not arts), being employed also WITHIN artforms (by separating some artworks from others, and claiming that the better artworks are not artworks). In both cases the counter-movement latches on to the word "art", i.e. to the little three-letter symbol "a - r - t", which is now elevated to the status of a holy symbol and thereby assumes a new significance, a kind of magical power. It is the strict equivalent of the Christian cross, which the believer displays prominently and at all times in order to ward off the forces of the Devil. And just as the Christian has a set of stock phrases that he is ready to mouth off whenever the need arises (the prayers), many of which can fill up entire pages or even entire books, but all of which, after you peel away all the layers of absurd dogmas and retarded arguments, basically boil down to "Please God do this for me", so too the abortive videogame designer fends off attempts at critique of his bungled efforts with some variation of verbal swill which, once you peel away all its absurdities, obscurantisms and self-contradictions, boils down to "Hands off! — for I am (wait for it)... an artist!" (as if simply being an artist were a kind of distinction, as if it made no difference whether one was a good or a bad artist).
But there's a fundamental difference between the circumstances of the diehard artfags and those of their mutations, this being that the latter have no rich suckers to as it were "ennoble" their trash with millions. The "art paint splotches" and "art ready-mades", the "art urinals" and "art feces", etc. will always find some shmuck with too much money who's desperate for attention, but a movie costs 10 bucks at the box office and 20 on DVD, and everyone can afford that. So the mutated artfags do not really complete the circle (the grand circle of the pseudo-art game that we examined earlier on), because they have no rich suckers to buy up their ugly and boring shit and close it. So what they're forced to do instead is complete the circle BETWEEN them, producing, as it were, a self-sufficient mini-circle (by artfags for artfags), in a kind of short-circuiting of the whole process which ends up almost completely isolating itself from the rest of the social body, with the film artfags watching the "art films" of the other film artfags, the game artfags playing the "art games" of the other game artfags, etc. etc., in the manner of a Friday night "poetry slam" where the audience consists entirely of people who are only absent-mindedly listening (or plain simply pretending to listen) while REALLY being there because they are waiting for their turn to stand up and recite their own "art poem" (all of it "free verse", of course, or, on the rare occasions when there's an actual metric involved, on the level of complexity and aesthetic value of a teenager's love poem), all this being an extensively documented pattern of behavior known in medical terminology as the circlejerk. Thus the artfag movement of each advanced art ends up more or less sealing itself inside its very own little circlejerk; moreover every further mutated circlejerk, since it involves an even more technological, widely-disseminated and hence popular artform, leads to diminishing status (and also, of course, diminishing money; all other artfags make peanuts compared to diehard artfags, with the currently No. 1 wealthiest artfag in the world being the British superfag Damien Hirst), so that in the hierarchy of artfags the mutations always find themselves placed a great deal lower than their ancestors, with painting artfags being held in more esteem than photography artfags, which are held in more esteem than film artfags, which in their turn are held in more esteem than videogame artfags — which scrape the very bottom of the barrel of mutated artfag scum (a fact which also explains why they smell so bad).
There is thus an inverse relationship between the height of an art and the greatness of artfags it produces, with the underlying logic of this relationship being as follows. An artfag, remember, is a species of subhuman which survives on its ability to INVERT the values of things, to call the good bad and the bad good. It is from this inversion that the artfag draws its power. Consequently, the LOWER the artform that an artfag specializes in, the GREATER the power it will derive from this inversion, and therefore the higher the status that the rest of the slaves will accord to it. Thus such low artforms as painting and the plastic arts produce the most esteemed artfags, whereas videogames, the highest art, produces artfags so despicable that at bottom no one really takes them seriously. Even other artfags make fun of videogame artfags.
Death of an Artform
Thus the artfags are ultimately responsible for the wretchedness of each artform — the artfags, not the masses: this is a crucial distinction. The masses are the ones who initiate the decline, but they do not follow it to the end, they rather settle at a medium intensity (at mediocrity) — to follow it to the end, to complete the circle, one must be desperate, one must have nothing left to lose and everything to gain (with the term "everything" here understood in the petty and narrow sense that slaves understand it: as money and/or social distinction) — which is precisely how things stand with both the artfags and the rich. It's not that those in the middle can see through the deception — they are obviously just as stupid and mystified as everyone else (— after all, it is from this mystification that the artfags and the rich draw their enormous amounts of prestige, their precious social status — if the masses had the faintest idea of what is really happening the fags and the rich would be universally derided and reviled for it). So everyone in between is not so desperate, for artists with actual talent, be it ever so slight, can always create beautiful things that give themselves and others pleasure, so to aim deliberately for non-pleasure, for ugliness, for wretchedness, is something they can't bring themselves to do. Moreover all these people, since they are situated in the middle of the slave game, always have a variety of avenues open to them through which to earn a little money or prestige, and thereby keep ascending, acquiring college degrees, cars, houses, little herd-bestowed awards, etc., without having to resort to extreme measures. Nor do they have so much money that they don't know what to do with it and need to figure out a way to throw it away, like the absurdly rich.
So the masses are the ones who initiate the decline of an artform, but they do not follow it to the very bottom. The rich and the artfags do — because they have to. The men of taste, meanwhile, are the ones who created the artform and led it to its zenith — they begin to lose interest once the masses have begun vulgarizing it, and lose interest altogether when a higher art is invented. The rich and the fags know nothing about HIGHER artforms, they indeed vehemently deny that any artform can be higher than any other; on the contrary, following the slaves' time-honored theory of the universe, they will insist that all artforms are equal to all others (though at the same time, just as the slaves only TALK about equality, all the while doing everything in their power to gain little advantages over each other, so too the artfags merely PROCLAIM the equality of the arts (or at any rate of the arts below theirs, for as we've seen all of them vehemently deny that higher arts than theirs are arts), while indirectly insinuating that the artform(s) they themselves are involved in are the highest ones — but not so clearly and loudly that the lovers of other artforms will hear them and take offense — what we see here at work once again is cowardice, cowardice being at bottom the primum mobile of all artfags (and subhumans in general)).
Therefore the masses are never the ones who are responsible for the wretchedness of an artform, nor for its destruction; the masses merely vulgarize it — they are as incapable of truly destroying anything as of truly creating anything ("The herd tends towards standstill and survival; there is nothing creative in it" —Nietzsche) — the only thing they can do is conserve an art at a medium level of intensity — the higher level is the province of the men of taste: the experts and connoisseurs, the lower of the men of pseudo-taste: the absurdly rich and the artfagots. What finally kills off an artform is the invention of a higher one, thus what killed classical music was the electronic kind, what killed painting was photography, what killed the theatre was the cinema — and videogames will eventually kill them all (something which in fact they've pretty much already done, notwithstanding recent efforts by the cinema, the previously highest art, to acquire a third dimension — sorry Hollywood, but id Software got there first). Let me qualify here what I mean by "killed" — I do not mean that the moment a higher art is invented, the lower one is immediately wiped off the face of the planet, or that new artworks belonging to lower artforms do not keep getting made. What I mean by "killed" is that, by and large, the most talented and ambitious individuals of every future generation are drawn to and devote themselves to the higher art because they can instinctively feel it has more of a future. Because they find it more exciting and more interesting; because they can sense it has a wider realm of possibilities before it — because, yes, because it is potentially more complex. (All this being an essentially identical process to that of technological obsolescence. What happens, for example, to typewriters once computers have been invented? They do not entirely disappear, but nor are they ever significantly improved.) Once the attention of the most ambitious, most talented creators has been diverted (and, following their example, also eventually that of the less talented ones...), any chance that the artform will ever significantly evolve vanishes, and the art stagnates. This stagnation (which is not an absolute zero-degree stagnation; there can often be fluctuations, but they are usually negligible, imperceptible almost) is what we call "death". (A process, by the way, which can be observed also within genres and subgenres of an artform — within, that is to say, the subspecies of an art: these stagnate and "die" through exactly the same process that an overall art does. The reason for example that 2D brawlers "died" is because the realm of possibilities in 3D brawlers is orders of magnitude greater, and so on and so forth with every other genre. This does not mean that the possibilities of 2D brawlers have been fully explored — that they have been exhausted — any more than the invention of the word processor means that the mechanical typewriter has reached the end of its possible evolution (it is anyway more accurate, as we'll be seeing in a future essay (Videogame Culture: Volume I: "Set Theory"), to say that the latter has transformed itself into the former, that it has flowed into it...) It's just that people are reluctant to devote much, or any, of their time to evolve the lower technology or art once the higher one has arrived).
The death of an artform is then a reality, a real event which, setting aside all pathetic sentimentality and nostalgia, we are called upon to grasp. Thus painting, for example, is for all intents and purposes over — and HAS been over since 1822. I am sorry, but it's over. No flower can bloom for ever. And for this flower to bloom another one had to wither away and die. This is what it means to be immersed inside a universe in flux. "Everything flows", said Heraclitus, and he really did mean everything — including artforms. Things are being continuously created — but at the same time other things continuously die. Our job is not to mourn over this death; we can safely leave that to women and the elderly — but to analyze, and therefore understand, exactly how this death occurs.
This death of an artform, which simultaneously signals (to those who are paying attention) the birth of the higher one, is the point at which all shallow theorists of the arts have hitherto come to grief — and not only the shallow ones: even Baudrillard failed to grasp how the transition works, or even that there was one, as he betrays in countless places, and perhaps most blatantly in the following passage from his last major work:
Baudrillard: "Not to mention the "arts of the Virtual" — as though art remained art while playing with the digital and the numeric."
No, dear Jean, "art" does not "remain art" while "playing with the digital and the numeric" — it is transformed into a higher art, something which you really should have realized considering you were familiar with the following passage from Benjamin's essay on the subject (emphasis is mine):
"The nineteenth-century dispute as to the artistic value of painting versus photography today seems devious and confused. ... Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art. The primary question — whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art — was not raised. Soon the film theoreticians asked the same ill-considered question with regard to the film. But the difficulties which photography caused traditional aesthetics were mere child's play as compared to those raised by the film."
... which in their turn are mere child's play as compared to those raised by videogames — but thankfully for you, dear readers, it just so happens that there's a real philosopher around today to solve them for you!
Artfagotry as Potlatch: A Modern Social Ritual
The evolution of an artform can thus be divided into the following four stages:
1. It is created and taken to its zenith by the men of taste: the experts and connoisseurs.
2. It is led into decline by the masses, a decline that accelerates in proportion to the increasing size of the mass, in accordance with the mechanics of the lowest common denominator.
3. It is taken all the way down to its lowest point, that of absolute wretchedness, by the posers: the absurdly rich and the artfagots (the former of whom become involved only with primitive artforms, the latter in all of them).
4. And it is finally killed off by the scientists and engineers at the same time as they bring into being the tools required for the creation of a higher art, at which point the cycle begins anew.
Note that, as should go without saying, but unfortunately must be said, the order of appearance of some of these stages may vary from art to art; for the above is not a "law" of the universe but simply a model that I have constructed by abstraction from a study of the history of all the arts. So the death of photography, for instance (stage 4), came BEFORE the fagots had time to drag that art through the mud (stage 3), simply because the invention of the cinema occurred a mere 60 years after the invention of photography (i.e. stage 4 in this case simply happened to arrive too early). Or, to take the case of videogames, since they are the highest art that could ever possibly exist, they will obviously never reach stage 4. (Or, to be more precise, they will reach stage 4 but, because they are the highest art, this event will not give rise to a new and higher art, but will complete the grand cycle of art itself (which is made up of all the smaller cycles of the various arts, as well as the mini-cycles of their genres and subgenres...) and bring us back to the beginning, i.e. back to chicken-scratches on cave walls. If you find this statement difficult to understand (as, let's face it, you doubtlessly will...), look forward to my upcoming essay titled "Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions"). Note moreover that (as I've already given away in the previous paranthesis) the above model can also be applied within the various genres and subgenres of an art. To take, e.g., the case of two-dimensional platformers in videogames, this genre finally hit rock-bottom with Rohrer's Passage in 2007, roughly a decade after it had reached its zenith in the mid-'90s in titles such as Super Mario World and Rocket Knight Adventures, quite in accordance with my model. And the same goes for the adventure genre (zenith in the early '90s with Sierra's and LucasArts' games; rock-bottom twenty years later with Tale of Tales' The Path), and so on and so forth. More modern genres, on the other hand, such as FPSes, 3D action games, MMORPGs and the like, have not reached the bottom yet (nor even the zenith for that matter) simply because they are not yet supported by rudimentary game-making programs, so the fagots have not yet had a chance to fuck around with them (— and fuck them up almost beyond recognition). The point is that my model, like all successful scientific models, can be applied to great effect in the majority of cases, but fine-tuning may occasionally be necessary to take into account the peculiar circumstances of some individual cases. And this has nothing to do with a deficiency of my model but is simply a reflection of the fact that, as I've already explained once, and will no doubt be forced to reiterate on many other occasions, it's not the model that dictates the reality, but the other way around, since it's reality from which the model was abstracted in the first place. And since abstraction entails the retainment of similar characteristics across all the individual cases under consideration (i.e. all the different artforms in the case that concerns us here), and the rejection of differences, it's only natural that once the model has been constructed, and the time has come to apply it, the facts that were rejected during its construction must now be taken into account by locally modifying the model during each application. In short, a model is merely a rough guide and not the fucking gospel (much less a "law of the universe", as is our dear scientists' prejudice), and a discrepancy between it and the reality it's meant to describe does not necessarily mean that there's something wrong with it and that we should trash it, but simply that, in order to use it properly, one must not only be extremely careful during its application but also, in the case that concerns us here, deeply experienced with the particular art and its genre(s) and subgenre(s) in which it is to be applied.
But that's enough of Scientific Method 101; whoever requires more can GO BACK TO SCHOOL and PAY ATTENTION this time. So let's leave for now the practical aspects and get back to the level of the model. The question now is to see if there's some kind of relationship between the decline of an artform (stage 2), and its wretchedness (stage 3). We have already established the link between the decline and the emancipation of the masses, i.e. with democracy, but what about the wretchedness? — for this too seems to be somehow connected to it. For a study of the history of art again and again turns up a single fact: artfagotry did not exist before the nineteenth century, and really came into its own in the twentieth. At the same time, large-scale democracy did not exist before the nineteenth century either, and, again, really came into its own in the twentieth (and let no one be childish enough to cite the Greeks here as an earlier example of democracy. It's certainly true that some of their city-states had at times a form of democratic government, but their democracy was a very different affair from our own, above all an extremely limited one, since on the one hand the Greeks owned slaves, and on the other their women were not allowed to vote. The democracy of the Athens of Pericles, for instance, to take the most famous example, consisted in a few thousand slave-owing males making decisions for a population of perhaps ten times as many. We might then call the democracy of the Greeks an extended oligarchy, where the floodgates to mob rule have been slightly opened, and a small quantity of water has seeped in and made a little bit of a mess, but where the great flood is still kept safely at bay (which, incidentally, is why Baudrillard called Athenian democracy "much more advanced than our own", i.e. less democratic — a little joke doubtlessly lost on the majority of his readers)).
So again, what is the relationship between modern democracy (and its inherently capitalistic mechanism — the "slave game") and the phenomenon of artfagotry? For it's extremely difficult to believe that their simultaneous appearance on the stage of world history is some kind of a freak coincidence. Art has been evolving for over a hundred millennia (some cave paintings in Africa date from the Middle Paleolithic), why should artfagotry appear at the exact same point with democracy? Why not a couple of millennia earlier? Why not a couple of millennia later?
The answer comes from Baudrillard's early sociological analyses: The System of Objects (1968), The Consumer Society (1970), et al. What Baudrillard basically said is that in advanced capitalist societies what people increasingly come to exchange is not so much goods, as previously, but signs. Objects such as clothes, cars, homes, furniture, gadgets, and even wives and children (or even more abstract "objects" such as hobbies, holidays, life-styles, etc.) come to be prized not so much for what they ARE but for what they SIGNIFY; not so much for what they mean to the individual, but for what they appear to be in the eyes of others; in more formal language, that the importance of an object's use-value comes to be increasingly upstaged by that of its sign-value (which as we've already seen is precisely the difference between the genuine connoisseur's approach to art and that of the rich and the arfagots). No object is spared this passage into the dimension of sign-value, with for example university degrees being pursued not because one is interested in the subject, but because of the prestige that such a degree confers on him who has earned it, etc. Even the tiniest object can acquire this aura (in fact even non-objects such as ideas, but that's a subject for another essay): take for example glasses. Because it has been observed that intellectuals tend to wear prescription glasses (all the reading they do generally tends to lead to short-sightedness), we now have entire groups of people who, despite having perfect vision, will buy and wear prescription frames with blank lenses in order to APPEAR to others as intellectuals. The use-value of the glasses, which is to enable people with bad eyesight to see, is upstaged by their sign-value: the appearance of intellectualism. Indeed people will go as far as to tolerate NEGATIVE use-value (carrying around and wearing glasses is annoying and tedious, even dangerous if the glass breaks) in order to boost their level of prestige (in the same manner as the mystified rabble goes to "art" galleries and subjects itself to the dreary ugliness on display there in order to appear "cultured", etc.) These are just a few examples of how in a democratic society sign-value comes to overtake in significance use-value, and here's Baudrillard explaining the logic of the theory underlying this transition in his 1983 essay Simulations:
"Counterfeit (and fashion at the same time) is born with the Renaissance, with the destructuring of the feudal order by the bourgeois order and the emergence of open competition on the level of the distinctive signs. There is no such thing as fashion in a society of caste and rank, since one is assigned a place irrevocably, and so class mobility is non-existent. An interdiction protects the signs and assures them a total clarity; each sign then refers unequivocally to a status. Likewise no counterfeit is possible with the ceremony — unless as black magic and sacrilege, and it is thus that any confusion of signs is punished: as grave infraction of the order of things. If we are starting to dream again, today especially, of a world of sure signs, of a strong "symbolic order", make no mistake about it: this order has existed and it was that of a ferocious hierarchy, since transparency and cruelty for signs go together. In caste societies, feudal or archaic, cruel societies, the signs are limited in number, and are not widely diffused, each one functions with its full value as interdiction, each is a reciprocal obligation between castes, clans or persons. The signs therefore are anything but arbitrary. The arbitrary sign begins when, instead of linking two persons in an unbreakable reciprocity, the signifier starts referring back to the disenchanted universe of the signified, common denominator of the real world toward which no one has any obligation.
End of the obliged sign, reign of the emancipated sign, that all classes will partake equally of. Competitive democracy succeeds the endogamy of signs proper to statutory order. At the same time we pass, with the transfer of values/signs of prestige from one class to another, necessarily into counterfeit. For we have passed from a limited order of signs, which prohibits "free production", to a proliferation of signs according to demand. But the sign multiplied no longer resembles in the slightest the obliged sign of limited diffusion: it is its counterfeit, not by corruption of an "original", but by extension of a material whose very clarity depended on the restriction by which it was bound. No longer discriminating (it is no more than competitive), unburdened of all restraint, universally available, the modern sign still simulates necessity in taking itself as tied somehow to the world. The modern sign dreams of the signs of the past and would well appreciate finding again, in its reference to the real, an obligation: but what it finds again is only a reason: this referential reason, this real, this "natural" off which it is going to live. But this bond of designation is only the simulacrum of symbolic obligation: it produces neutral values only, that can be exchanged in an objective world. The sign here suffers the same destiny as work. The "free" worker is free only to produce equivalents — the "free and emancipated" sign is free only to produce the signs of equivalence."
In other words, to render all this Baudrillardspeak into English, the reason there's no fashion in a caste society is that a nobleman remains a nobleman even when wearing rags, and a plebeian remains a plebeian even in the best finery. In caste societies, i.e. noble societies, which strictly maintain what Nietzsche called "the pathos of distance", nobility has nothing to do with OBJECTS or APPEARANCES — it is a BIRTHRIGHT, an exclusive privilege established on the basis of power relations between castes and clans that stretch back through generations. This is true nobility, everywhere and always based on the organizing principle of power, a principle which in a democratic society, whose ultimate aim is the abolition of power — the leveling, once and for all, of the playing field; so that no one can fall below it, and consequently no one can rise above it — is simply rendered impossible. It is at that point that pseudo-nobility takes over (in the language of slaves: "social distinction", in plainer terms: celebrity), based not on power but on prestige, itself governed by the principle of rarity, which is to say by fashion. Expressed in a formula one might say that democracy substitutes prestige for power, rarity for pleasure, and fashion for war. For it is the end of war, war for dominance between castes, clans and persons, that finally sets the fashion game in full swing, with the primeval antagonism of physical domination (which has now once and for all been banned from the physical plane—), having simply moved to another level. Thus fashion can only properly begin in a democratic era, an era where privileges are (in theory) abolished and everyone is from the outset deemed equal to everyone else. It is in order to escape from this enforced, anti-natural equality, which is in any case purely theoretical (i.e. imaginary), that democratic man invents by means of fashion a new governing principle (a new fundamental rule, we might say, in the language of game theory) which is at length extended to encompass everything that exists, including, in the case that concerns us here, even the realm of art. And this is the meaning of artfagotry: the introduction of the work of art into the slave game and its accession to the domain of sign-value; or, expressed more formally, the rise of the sign-value of the sign (for art itself is already a sign, "a sign pointing toward absence" as Baudrillard has called it).
The products of artfagotry are then precisely the site at which the sign-value of art finally overtakes its use-value; the site at which use-value reaches its minimum (which incidentally is the origin of the notion of the "uselessness of art", a notion that could only have been dreamt up in a democratic age—), and sign-value its maximum, in a kind of freakishly twisted modern version of potlatch. Baudrillard again:
"All societies have always wasted, squandered, expended and consumed beyond what is strictly necessary for the simple reason that it is in the consumption of a surplus, of a superfluity that the individual — and society — feel not merely that they exist, but that they are alive. That consumption may go as far as consumation, pure and simple destruction, which then takes on a specific social function. In potlatch, for example, it is the competitive destruction of precious goods which sets the seal on social organization. The Kwakiutl sacrifice blankets, canoes, etched "coppers", which they burn or throw into the sea to "maintain their rank", to assert their value. And, again, it is by "wasteful expenditure" that the aristocratic classes have asserted their pre-eminence down the ages. The notion of utility, which has rationalistic, economistic origins, thus needs to be revised in light of a much more general social logic in which waste, far from being an irrational residue, takes on a positive function, taking over where rational utility leaves off to play its part in a higher social functionality — a social logic in which waste even appears ultimately as the essential function, the extra degree of expenditure, superfluity, the ritual uselessness of "expenditure for nothing" becoming the site of production of values, differences and meanings on both the individual and the social level."
In more concrete terms, and applied to the present case, I set down here the mechanism of how this "production of values" occurs. The artfags, as we've seen, are sitting right at the bottom of the pile of the social hierarchy — as the most worthless members of society. As such, they are only concerned about use-value (i.e., in this case, about money), since without it they'd be forced to spend their entire lives in their parents' basements. The rich, on the other hand, being at the top of the pile, have all the use-value they could ever use, hence are only interested in sign-value. Thus the two classes become, quite naturally, attracted to each other and enter into exchange, an exchange that takes place at the "point of inversion" we examined earlier, which becomes the site of a modern potlatch — a blind, wanton, delirious even destruction of wealth, of all those millions sitting idly in the world's most bloated bank accounts, which the rich sacrifice (no longer by burning them or throwing them in the sea, as the Kwakiutl, but throwing them at the artfags, which amounts to the same thing) in order to "maintain their rank" — or, ideally, in order to increase it, the sacrifice of all this wealth being merely the most spectacular manifestation of a greater truth, a truth which not even the most authoritarian, most totalitarian, most repressive machine ever invented on this earth (the democratic) can escape: that value in this universe, even the pitiable amount of value that's at stake in the slaves' little orgies of pretentiousness, can only be created through destruction:
Baudrillard: "The consumer society needs its objects in order to be. More precisely, it needs to destroy them. The use of objects leads only to their dwindling disappearance. The value created is much more intense in violent loss. This is why destruction remains the fundamental alternative to production: consumption is merely an intermediate term between the two. There is a profound tendency within consumption for it to surpass itself, to transfigure itself in destruction. It is in destruction that it acquires its meaning. Most of the time in daily life today, it remains subordinate — as a managed consumptivity — to the order of productivity. This is why, most of the time, objects are present by their absence and why their very abundance paradoxically signifies penury. Stock is the excessive expression of lack and a mark of anxiety. Only in destruction are objects there in excess and only then, in their disappearance, do they attest to wealth."
And what of the fate of art in the process of this ludicrous little herd-animal ritual? It comes to be increasingly received, appraised, judged and ultimately created with a view to this sign-value, this corrosive, malignant force which comes not from within but from the outside, from others, from everyone but the individual, and consequently, inevitably, unfailingly degenerates — just as health degenerates when physical exercise is undertaken not for the sake of strength but for the appearance of strength (body-building); just as education degenerates when it is undertaken not for the sake of learning but for the appearance of learning (degrees for degrees' sake); just as a love-affair degenerates when it is maintained not out of passion but for the appearance of passion (trophy wives); just as life, the vital life-force, degenerates when it is pursued not in the realm of genuine challenge but in that of the appearance of challenge — when it is reduced to a mere exercise in the hyperrealization of all its possibilities...
Death of Criticism
The given fact, then, is the decline of art, initially as a consequence of the influence of the "emancipated" masses, then taken further through the ludicrous shenanigans of the posers. Yet the decline must somehow be justified, for it eventually becomes so blatant that from time to time even the peasants can see it as decline. Thus, as art declines, art criticism must necessarily follow suit, if it is determined on not recognizing this decline as decline. To this end all sorts of chicanery is attempted, all sorts of pathetic efforts at cooking up spurious arguments and justifications. The absurdity of this farce, the pattern of the absurdity is established by the Impressionists, who, for example, claimed to be painting in order to create "an impression". Following their cue, the Expressionists would later claim to be trying to "express" something. — As if a Michelangelo was not impressing anyone! As if a Botticelli was not expressing anything! And in fact a great deal more than the bunglers! Finally, when the so-called "Abstract" style rolls around (as if all art were not by definition abstraction...), and you get to the stage where the critic has to justify the paint splotchers to be on a level with the masters, if not indeed even higher than them (for this is what's demanded by democratic man, who dreams that "progress" is something that happens continuously; for one cannot accept that entire centuries can pass by in an artform without some kind of progress happening, and so a way must finally be found for a paint splotch to be shown to be a progress compared to a masterpiece), you get art criticism degenerating to gibberish that no one can make any sense of. Who reads "art criticism" today? Not even the "art critics" themselves can understand what the fuck it is they are spouting, let alone anyone else. In the end these so-called "art critics" are as much critics of art as I am a ballerina — the most pedestrian movie or comic book review is on another plane entirely (that is to say a much higher one) compared to the garbled nonsense that passes for "art criticism" today, in precisely the same way that an IGN review is a heaven of refined taste and expertise compared to the mind-bewildering babble of the "New Games Journalists", whose miserable lot it is to try to justify trash.
It is important here to take a step back and survey the process in its entirety, if one is to remain just in the apportioning of blame; above all to not make the mistake of lumping together bad or mediocre artists with the artfags — bad or mediocre artists are a result of LACK OF EFFORT AND/OR TALENT; artfags of CUNNING AND DECEIT. What distinguishes the latter from the former is A LACK OF HONESTY — first and above all with themselves, and by extension of course with everyone else. It would be extremely unfair, for instance, to observe that Impressionism was the beginning of the end for painting, and thereby conclude that Monet had somehow meant to destroy the artform. Monet was a genuine art lover, a passionate collector of Japanese woodblock prints (perhaps the biggest such collector in Europe at the time), and consequently a man of taste, if not of talent (for one's taste and creative powers do not necessarily develop at the same pace, as Nietzsche points out in The Gay Science §369). So there's no question here of Monet being an artfag, or of consciously plotting to destroy painting. The man just wanted to paint, and rough sketches ("impressions") were simply the best he could do. Was it his fault that the neighborhood butcher happened to be in the market for a painting for his hovel (partly for decoration purposes, no doubt (i.e. for its use-value), but also as a means of showing his friends that the butchery was doing well and that he was "moving up" in the world, becoming "cultured", etc. (i.e. for its sign-value)) despite not really knowing anything about painting? Quite apart from the fact that, even if the butcher had known more about painting, he simply would not have been able to afford anything better than a Monet. So the "emancipated" slaves encourage Monet and other bunglers to keep painting — even worse: to quit their day jobs and take up painting full-time. The wider the public the lower its standards, the more and worse bunglers come in. Now what was criticism doing all this time? The older critics resisted (most famous example: Louis Leroy), but they lacked a deeper understanding of the causes of the decline (which, after all, being a new phenomenon, was extremely difficult to grasp in its entirety, let alone properly analyze), hence their objections, such as they were, ended up dying with them. It is at that point that the new generation of critics took over, one and all descendants of the democratic mob; for just as buyers and painters began to increasingly come from the middle classes, so did eventually the critics. And there was no way any of these people would admit that painting was declining exactly because of their influence, or even that painting was declining at all (— on the contrary, it was of course "progressing" at full speed along with everything else in their little democratic fantasy-land of "equal rights", "justice" and "freedom"). The job of the new critics was therefore perfectly clear: damage control — the new generation, and every future generation of critics was tasked with the job of masking the fact of decline; even better, of somehow spinning it to seem as progression. In other words to lie — to put aside all refinement, all good taste, all expertise, all common sense even, and become involved in churning out a kind of shameless, vile propaganda, a kind of free publicity for the degenerate (a state of affairs, incidentally, which suited perfectly the rising class of newspaper scribblers of the day, since this kind of writing did not require the remotest knowledge of the subject on the part of the writer, nor any analytical skill or critical ability or effort whatsoever). At this point the fate of art criticism (as of all literary genres whose aim is to deceive, e.g. political or religious propaganda, etc.) had been sealed; a couple of generations further and it's finished — so finished, indeed, that even an uneducated, shallow moralizer like Orwell could see it:
"In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality", while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness", the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way." (George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language")
The pseudo-critics here have simply no other option: If they are determined to pass off a paint-splotch as on a par with the Mona Lisa — on somehow justifying, that is to say, the unjustifiable — they MUST abuse language, they MUST stretch and twist and bend it beyond any reasonable breaking point, leaving behind the "restrictive" confines of sense and leisurely drifting out over the unexplored infinity of nonsense. This is, after all, the only way to conceal, as much as possible, what's really happening. And the more degenerate the works they set out to defend, the more absurd and meaningless the writings they end up producing. But that's not even the worst of it. The worst is that, as more and more of this vile drivel is shoved down the public's throat, and consequently becomes digested (to whatever extent at any rate it's possible to digest hot air), the greater the confusion that arises over even the most basic issues — stupidity continually rises, and at length reaches such a point that a few generations later no one is any longer sure what this whole "art" business is supposed to be about, or even if it's of any use. "Art" has finally degenerated to a mere word, with no longer the slightest, remotest concept behind it, and has at last assumed its place among the battery of double-(and triple- and quadruple-)speak terms that comprise the stock-in-trade vocabulary of the journalistic and pseudo-academic scribblers of a triumphant democratic age.
Orwell: "The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality."
The intention to deceive, which Orwell emphasizes, is here decisive, and at this point it's all the same if one is being consciously deceitful or unconsciously. In fact, as far as stupid people are concerned, the unconscious kind of deception is preferable, since, as Nietzsche points out (in The Will to Power §377), conscious deception is a much more demanding affair (both spiritually and physically — "exhausting" as he calls it). In Zarathustra he goes even further along these lines when he says that "The stupidity of the good is unfathomably clever" — i.e. ranking the intelligence of the stupid even above that of the clever (something he does once more in Beyond Good and Evil §218, but again without providing any explanation). But what does he mean by that? He is simply pointing out the overwhelming power of "the law of great numbers", which is in fact the same principle that's at work in the so-called "artificial intelligence" of computers, which usually rely on brute force to solve problems, executing an automatic run-through of all possible solutions and leaving the job of the selection of the correct one to outside factors, i.e. to the environment, in other words: to the evolutionary process. For this is the crux of the matter: in the behavior of both subhumans and computers there's no actual thinking involved, no train of thought or reasoning, no analytic or deductive or logicizing procedures of any kind that we humans would designate by the word "thinking". To return, for example, to the case under consideration, and see how the above applies here, the process begins with the Impressionists and goes something like this:
—"Here's my painting, Mr. Critic. What do you make of it?"
—"A painting? But that's barely more than a rough sketch! Absolutely terrible!"
—"Ummmm, but, you see, I wasn't trying to make something that looked good, I was just trying to create an impression."
—"Oh, in that case magnificent, A+, keep up the good work!"
Of course this is only a first attempt that doesn't go very far, because it only works with the stupidest of critics; to overcome the objections of the cleverer ones a more cunning excuse will eventually be needed. But in this way, little by little, an enormous number of excuses is produced, entirely randomly, in the manner of gene mutations ("randomly" in this context meaning "through a procedure whose results we are not yet capable of predicting"; in this case via obscure neurobiological processes inside the subhuman brain), excuses which are then selected for fitness by the environment, with the ones that prove most effective in silencing dissenters being adopted in due course by more and more subhumans. Thousands of excuses are produced in this way, each one of them more absurd than the last: "WE WERE NOT TRYING TO MAKE ANYTHING BEAUTIFUL BUT": "to create an impression" (as if all art did not create an impression), "to express something" (as if all art did not express something), "to experiment" (as if any given masterpiece did not contain more experimentation, and at an immeasurably higher level, than all artfag abortions ever put together), "to convey a message" (as if everything in existence did not convey messages, and in fact an infinity of them; also, as if the most effective way to convey a message was not to actually write it down), "to make art for art's sake" (as if this phrase actually meant anything), and so on and so forth.
The upshot of all this chicanery is that, as the excuses become ever more vague, in order to encompass and justify ever more and worse rubbish, the very notion of art ends up coming under increasing scrutiny. Things like "sculptures" of factory-produced urinals or "paintings" of random geometric figures, which a mere two or three generations before would under no circumstances have been deemed by anyone as art, are not only regarded as art now, but even as the epitomes, the highest points, the crowning achievements of art — the Mona Lisas and Davids of the democratic age. But at the same time the question of what is art becomes increasingly pressing. For if a urinal can "be art", why not also that crock of shit in my back yard? Or the one coming out of my ass right now as I sit in my toilet with my laptop and type this? This kind of question eventually becomes inescapable, and finally the subhumans are called, not only to play critic in order to JUSTIFY their rubbish, but to play also the philosopher by PROVIDING A DEFINITION of art which will also encompass all of their rubbish. And thus the random justification-producing process begins anew, this time at an even higher level, and naturally enough with even more imbecilic, utterly farcical results: "ART IS WHAT HAS MEANING" (as if every object in the universe did not possess meaning for at least some of the creatures contained in it), "ART IS WHAT HAS A MESSAGE" (as if messages depended on the object which "contains" them instead of on the subject which regards it, in which case everything has a message, and in fact an infinity of them), "ART IS SOMETHING SUBJECTIVE" (and therefore, according to subhuman logic, impossible to evaluate, or even to agree on criteria on which to base an evaluation, or even to so much as discuss), "ART IS WHAT HAS AN EMOTIONAL IMPACT" (as if interaction with any kind of object whatever did not have an "emotional impact" of some kind), "ART IS SOMETHING USELESS" (as if any living creature would ever bother with anything that it deemed as truly useless), "ART IS... ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW WHAT, FUCK IT, WE WON'T BOTHER WITH A DEFINITION BECAUSE DEFINITIONS, AND SEMANTICS IN GENERAL, ARE SILLY" (which amounts to saying that "everything I am saying is silly, including what I just said"), and so on and so forth, until they finally simply give up and resort
"to this banal tautology of "art is art", it being possible for everything to find its place in this circular definition." (Jean Baudrillard, "Contemporary Art: Art Contemporary with Itself")
Actually, the farce had been over long before that, for by the time Duchamp and the Dadaists had hit the scene (all of whose "works" basically amounted to an exasperated attempt at rebellion by the few remaining humans who still gave a shit about art...), the subhumans had been forced to give up on all their excuses and settle for "meaninglessness" and "uselessness". But the problem was that, since "progress" is supposed to be something that happens continuously, every new generation of "artists" was required to have some kind of new achievement to show for itself, in order to legitimize itself in the eyes of the other subhumans. So whereas in ancient times artistic styles and movements were things that lasted for centuries, in a democratic age, which abhors tradition and prizes "originality" above all else (as if in a universe of flux there could ever be anything truly "original"...), and in which every last greedy, worthless piece of subhuman scum is out to make a reputation for himself, new "movements" are needed every five or ten years. But where does one go from "Abstraction" and "meaninglessness"? "At the extreme point of a conceptual, minimalist logic, art ought quite simply to disappear", said Baudrillard, "and yet it is the case that there is all the more need to speak about it because there is nothing to say". But for the artfags, who have nothing to SHOW, finding something "to SAY" is a life-and-death matter, even if that something is that they've nothing to say, and so at length they invent "double meaninglessness" — an ironic meaninglessness that looks down on the original kind and knowingly winks at it. But, having produced this excuse just as blindly and randomly as all the others, they'd made a vital mistake again; namely, they'd ignored the simple algebraic fact that a zero squared is still zero — a fact which Baudrillard decided to step in once again and point out to them:
"Of course, all of this mediocrity claims to transcend itself by moving art to a second, ironic level. But it is just as empty and insignificant on the second as on the first level ... it is mediocrity squared. It claims to be null — "I am null! I am null! — and it truly is null." (Jean Baudrillard, "The Conspiracy of Art")
And that's the history of the decline and fall of art criticism — 130 years of some of the most vile, most imbecilic, most ridiculous lies and nonsense to have ever been uttered on the surface of this planet. And all of this monkey business for what? In order to avoid facing the fact that the effect of the masses on an artform is corrosive, destructive, leveling. To avoid confronting the democratic movement with the fact that, as a wise man once put it, "the public is the real Leveling-Master..."
"... leveling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear one's own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless... Each individual can in his little circle participate in this leveling, but it is an abstract process, and leveling is abstraction conquering individuality." (Søren Kierkegaard, "The Present Age")
Towards an Evolutionary Theory of Art
This leveling, however, is not by any means a universal process; to reduce the ambiguity and rich confusion of phenomena to such a crude model would be to err grievously: to oversimplify. The democratic movement is indeed powerful, even extremely so, but nothing is THAT powerful; and in any case a "universal leveling" is something quite impossible, for, if physics has taught us anything, it's that, in this world at least, for every action there's always a re-action, for every movement, a counter-movement — for every "leveling", a corresponding rise. That the masses are leveraging their considerable weight to pull the higher men and their works downward does not therefore mean that ALL higher men and their works SINK DOWNWARD as a result; only the weaker ones do so — the rest actually rise! Indeed, paradoxical as this may sound to people who still think in terms of classical mechanics, it's precisely via means of external forces pulling one IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION that one gains the strength to rise higher, just as it is precisely by piling up more and more weights in the barbell — and then lifting it — that the weight-lifter gains in muscle size. And it's essentially this insight that leads Nietzsche to note down the following observation:
"Innumerable individuals of a higher type now perish: but whoever gets away is strong as the devil."
An observation whose theoretical presuppositions he then goes on to elaborate in The Gay Science §19:
"Evil.— Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubborness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible. The poison of which weaker natures perish strengthens the strong — nor do they call it poison."
And in Beyond Good and Evil §242 he proceeds to apply this theoretical insight to stunning effect in the field of politics, predicting, in the process, the inevitable, involuntary consequences of the rise of the democratic movement:
Nietzsche: "Whether that which now distinguishes the European be called "civilization" or "humanization" or "progress"; whether one calls it simply, without implying any praise or blame, the democratic movement in Europe: behind all the moral and political foregrounds indicated by such formulas a great physiological process is taking place and gathering greater and ever greater impetus — the process of the assimilation of all Europeans, their growing detachment from the conditions under which races dependent on climate and class originate, their increasing independence of any definite milieu which, through making the same demands for centuries, would like to inscribe itself on soul and body — that is to say, the slow emergence of an essentially supra-national and nomadic type of man which, physiologically speaking, possesses as its typical distinction a maximum of the art and power of adaptation. This process of the becoming European, the tempo of which can be retarded by great lapses but which will perhaps precisely through them gain in vehemence and depth — the still-raging storm and stress of "national feeling" belongs here, likewise the anarchism now emerging —: this process will probably lead to results which its naïve propagators and panegyrists, the apostles of "modern ideas", would be least inclined to anticipate. The same novel conditions which will on average create a levelling and mediocritizing of man — a useful, industrious, highly serviceable and able herd-animal man — are adapted in the highest degree to giving rise to exceptional men of the most dangerous and enticing quality. For while that power of adaptation which continually tries out changing conditions and begins a new labour with every new generation, almost with every new decade, cannot make possible the powerfulness of the type; while the total impression produced by such future Europeans will probably be that of multifarious, garrulous, weak-willed and highly employable workers who need a master, a commander, as they need their daily bread; while, therefore, the democratization of Europe will lead to the production of a type prepared for slavery in the subtlest sense: in individual and exceptional cases the strong man will be found to turn out stronger and richer than has perhaps ever happened before — thanks to the unprejudiced nature of his schooling, thanks to the tremendous multiplicity of practice, art and mask. What I mean to say is that the democratization of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the breeding of tyrants — in every sense of that word, including the most spiritual."
The above was written in 1885; by late 1887 he has dispensed even with examples and elaborate explanations and can jot down bluntly in a notebook:
Nietzsche: "Man is beast and superbeast; the higher man is inhuman and superhuman: these belong together. With every increase of greatness and height in man, there is also an increase in depth and terribleness: one ought not to desire the one without the other — or rather: the more radically one desires the one, the more radically one achieves precisely the other."
This last insight explains all — far more, at any rate, than what we are analyzing here — but let's restrict ourselves to the present subject. What the above means for us is that the current situation in the world of videogames (meaning of art in general, since videogames are, as we've seen, the pinnacle of art) is far from hopeless, despite the massive amount of leveling — of casualization, vulgarization, artfagotization (in a word: democratization) — going on. To be sure, all these processes are certainly happening, but whoever sees only them, though a great deal more observant than those WHO DO NOT EVEN SEE THEM, is, when viewed from a higher perspective, extremely short-sighted, myopic even; he needs to take a closer look. For closer and more careful observation reveals that each of these processes of decline and dissolution finds its match, and indeed its master, in an entirely antithetical, opposite process, a process of ascension and strengthening; so that it is precisely when every developer is turning casual that the most unapologetically hardcore developer ever arrives at its peak (to such a level of success indeed that even the casuals are forced to sit up and take notice — naturally enough for the wrong reasons, but still). Precisely when ignorance and stupidity have reached such a height that people have even forgotten how to play that the best players ever arrive on the scene. Precisely at the point of dissolution of the entire specialist press that the greatest specialist publication ever arises — out of their ashes, as it were, like the phoenix. Precisely when even the little bit of honest, expert or semi-expert criticism that once existed has vanished that the highest criticism ever is evolved. Precisely when no one can make head or tails of even the simplest idea, and even such an innocuous, self-evident statement as "old games are not retro; they are just old" is met with indignation, loud cries and disbelief; when utter confusion reigns and the entire internet is covered from top to bottom with pseudo-intellectual babble and pure imbecility, that the deepest and most comprehensive understanding of videogame theory is arrived at. There is nothing paradoxical about any of these events; they only appear paradoxical to those who still think of evolution in early Darwinian terms: as a continuous, linear process that's supposed to have some goal or other in sight — a conception widely ridiculed first by Nietzsche, and then in due course by modern, post-Darwinian evolutionary theorists (who arrived at Nietzsche's conception of evolution not by reading him and taking note of his objections, but by a brute force, trial-and-error process that took several decades of effort by tens of thousands of biologists). In the context, then, of the modern, non-linear and non-teleological conception of evolution any notion of paradox vanishes and all the above-mentioned phenomena are seen for what they are: natural consequences of a continuous and continuously evolving struggle between a multiplicity of inextricably intertwined ascending and descending life-processes.
Nietzche: "This mankind is not a whole: it is an inextricable multiplicity of ascending and descending life-processes — it does not have a youth followed by maturity and finally by old age; the strata are twisted and entwined together — and in a few millennia there may still be even younger types of man than we can show today. Decadence, on the other hand, belongs to all epochs of mankind: refuse and decaying matter are found everywhere; it is one of life's processes to exclude the forms of decline and decay." ("The Will to Power" §339)
Nietzche: "Principle: There is an element of decay in everything that characterizes modern man: but close beside this sickness stand signs of an untested force and powerfulness of the soul. The same reasons that produce the increasing smallness of man drive the stronger and rarer individuals up to greatness." ("The Will to Power" §109)
Nietzsche: "Overall insight.— Actually, every major growth is accompanied by a tremendous crumbling and passing away: suffering, the symptoms of decline belong in the times of tremendous advances; every fruitful and powerful movement of humanity has also created at the same time a nihilistic movement. It could be the sign of a crucial and most essential growth, of the transition to new conditions of existence, that the most extreme form of pessimism, genuine nihilism, would come into the world. This I have comprehended." ("The Will to Power" §112)
Or again (seen from the opposite perspective):
Nietzsche: "Whoever pushes rationality forward also restores new strength to the opposite power, mysticism and folly of all kinds. To distinguish in every movement (1) that it is in part exhaustion from a preceding movement (satiety from it, the malice of weakness toward it, sickness); (2) that it is in part newly-awakened, long slumbering, accumulated energy — joyous, exuberant, violent: health. ("The Will to Power" §1012)
Less intelligent readers, whose weak brains are unable to follow a train of thought for more than a couple of paces, will be convinced by this point that we've strayed off-topic — but we've done no such thing. The idea that I've been driving at with all the above, and which I'll take my time to fully develop before turning around and applying it to game theory, and to a stunning effect ("returning to the topic", in the eyes of the less intelligent), is that the evolution of the type "art" (and therefore also of everything that goes with it: such as criticism, etc.) follows the same fundamental rules as the evolution of the type "man" (and animals in general). The fact that it is "man" (i.e. a living thing) who creates "art" (i.e. a dead thing), makes as little difference to this proposition as the fact that carbon compounds (i.e. dead things) create men (i.e. living things), for the distinction between "living" and "dead" is ultimately just as spurious, just as fictional, as any other duality. No such difference, therefore, actually exists — but many similarities, and it's with these that we are now going to be concerned. What is common to both cases, then, is that in both of them we are dealing with the evolution of parts of the flux which, in a certain sense and from a certain perspective, appear to be relatively firm and enduring complexes. Evolutionary theory, therefore, as some of the sharpest thinkers of the past few centuries have realized, can be exported outside the domain of "living" organisms, and be applied also to the study of the evolution of concepts (see Hegel), or ideas (see Dawkins and "memetic theory"), or desires (see Girard and his "memetic theory of desire"), or feelings (see the second essay of Nietzsche's Genealogy), or actions (see aphorism 237 of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims), or artworks (as Girard has already shown for the novel in "Deceit, Desire and the Novel" (1961), and as I am now in the process of demonstrating for videogames, and, by extension, for art in general), and in point of fact to everything that exists. Beings, concepts, ideas, desires, feelings, actions, and artworks are born, grow older, give birth, mutate, clash and perish, and evolutionary thought can help us make sense of — or, more accurately, impose a measure of sense to — the chaotic flux which all of them are part of. That some of these entities are "alive" and others "dead" is, I repeat, merely our prejudice, and a stupid one at that, for there are no rational grounds on which to sustain it — no one has yet seen a "dead" thing — even the rocks are alive, even corpses, and if one bothers to look closely enough one can see it. So let's turn back to Nietzsche then, to study carefully some of the key passages in which he explains how biological evolution works, all the while drawing, where appropriate, instructive parallels with the artistic kind.
Nietzsche: "My general view.— First proposition: man as a species is not progressing. Higher types are indeed attained, but they do not last. The level of the species is not raised.
Second proposition: man as a species does not represent any progress compared with any other animal. The whole animal and vegetable kingdom does not evolve from the lower to the higher — but all at the same time, in utter disorder, over and against each other. The richest and most complex forms — for the expression "higher type" means no more than this — perish more easily: only the lowest preserve an apparent indestructibility. The former are achieved only rarely and maintain their superiority with difficulty; the latter are favored by a compromising fruitfulness.
Among men, too, the higher types, the lucky strokes of evolution, perish most easily as fortunes change. They are exposed to every kind of decadence: they are extreme, and that almost means decadents.
The brief spell of beauty, of genius, of Ceasar, is sui generis: such things are not inherited. The type is hereditary; a type is nothing extreme, no "lucky stroke"—
This is not due to any special fatality or malevolence of nature, but simply to the concept "higher nature": the higher type represents an incomparably greater complexity — a greater sum of co-ordinating elements: so its disintegration is also incomparably more likely. The "genius" is the sublimest machine there is — consequently the most fragile."
In biological evolution, therefore, the expression "higher type" means "the richest and most complex forms" — and so it does in the evolution of art. The "genius" represents "an incomparably greater complexity — a greater sum of co-ordinating elements" — and so does the artistic masterpiece. And "progress" in both cases, as Nietzsche is about to explain, is the incremental, non-linear approach to these higher, richer and more complicated forms.
Nietzsche: "Progress.— Let us not be deceived! Time marches forward; we'd like to believe that everything that is in it also marches forward — that the development is one that moves forward.
The most level-headed are led astray by this illusion. But the nineteenth century does not represent progress over the sixteenth; and the German spirit of 1888 represents a regress from the German spirit of 1788.
"Mankind" does not advance, it does not even exist. The overall aspect is that of a tremendous experimental laboratory in which a few successes are scored, scattered throughout all ages, while there are untold failures, and all order, logic, union, and obligingness are lacking. How can we fail to recognize that the ascent of Christianity is a movement of decadence?— That the German Reformation is a recrudescence of Christian barbarism?— That the Revolution destroyed the instinct for a grand organization of society?
Man represents no progress over the animal: the civilized tenderfoot is an abortion compared to the Arab and the Corsican; the Chinese is a more successful type, namely more durable, than the European."
The last point he makes is an extremely subtle one and bound to mislead everyone other than me. The proposition that "man represents no progress over the animal" does not mean that an INTELLIGENT man is not a progress over, say, a goat or a chimpanzee; it means that the TYPE "man" — man as a species, as a group — is on the same level as any other species (indeed merges with and becomes indistinguishable from them, since species are ultimately fictitious; hence the comment that "mankind does not even exist"), because many men, in fact the vast majority of them — namely: the dumb, the retarded, the weak, the cowardly, the effeminate, the cripples, the degenerate in any way — stand lower than many animals. You will never see for example a chimp claiming that all chimps are, or should become, "equal" — no chimp would ever be stupid enough for it. Such things require a level of stupidity that the chimp is simply not capable of evolving; that he lacks the potential for — such stupidity simply does not reside within the chimp's relatively narrow realm of possibilities... What changes with the type man, then, is the "width", the "breadth", the "depth" — in a word, the size — of... his realm of possibilities. But this expansion — AT THE LEVEL OF THE SPECIES — occurs not only in a specific place, but simultaneously everywhere: upwards as well as downwards, and in every other direction; with the consequence that, while the clever man is certainly the most clever animal, the stupid man, at the same time, is THE MOST STUPID ANIMAL — which is why Zarathustra says,
"You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now man is more of an ape than any ape."
Which is essentially an expansion on something Lichtenberg had said roughly a century earlier:
"To err is human, also insofar as animals seldom or never err, or at least only the cleverest of them do so".
He could have said "stupidest" there without affecting in any way his meaning, since the animal with THE CAPACITY for the highest intelligence will necessarily also be the one with THE CAPACITY for the lowest intelligence. And once again there's no paradox here; the above is simply a reflection of the fundamentally dual nature of every tool. For nature provides with user manuals neither the organism itself on its inception, nor the tools it randomly evolves; each new tool can therefore be used in a variety of ways, both for better and for worse — these terms understood here in a strictly extra-moral sense: better as that which enhances life, worse as that which diminishes it. Each new tool thus represents at the same time an opportunity as well as a danger for the life-form that evolves it, and in fact until the organism has figured out, through countless trial-and-error efforts and untold failures, how to effectively employ it, the new tool signifies nothing but danger. Like a knife, for example, which can be used to hunt down and prepare your food — or you can cut yourself with it. Or a gun, which can be used to attack your enemies and defend yourself — or you can shoot yourself in the foot with it. And as the potential usefulness of the tool increases, so too does the potential for inhibiting the organism; for causing harm to it and blowing up in its face; this process finally culminating with the brain, the ultimate tool — and therefore also the most dangerous. The human brain is the most complicated structure in the known universe, consequently, POTENTIALLY the most versatile. It is the tool that makes other tools for us: not only knives and guns and countless other gadgets, but above all "special powers", "special skills" such as logic or language, empathy or deductive thinking. Logic is also a tool. Language is a tool as well. Language can be used to form and express astonishing insights, such as "It is sickness that makes health pleasant; evil good; hunger plenty; weariness rest" (Heraclitus); or it can be used to utter mind-bewildering nonsense such as "Its playability hinges squarely and mundanely on just how game-like it is" (Leigh Alexander). Deductive thinking can be used to infer that man is descended from the animals; or it can be used to interpret a stroke of bad luck as "punishment from an all-powerful all-knowing God who is testing me to see if I am a Good Man". Empathy can be used to mimic others' feelings inside ourselves so that we can better understand them, and thus work with them more effectively, react to them more appropriately, or more cunningly manipulate them; or it can be used to choke oneself and suffocate from pity at the sight (and in extreme cases at the mere thought) of the suffering of others — et cetera, et cetera.
And this, in a nutshell, is how things stand with biological evolution — and that's precisely how things stand with the artistic kind.
Higher versus Lower Tastes Means: Higher versus Lower Men
That is to say, that every new artistic means that is evolved (instrument, technique, mechanic) expands an artform's possibility space, thereby increasing — not only the potential for a higher, more complicated and more aesthetically pleasing work, but at the same time the potential for a more wretched work than has hitherto been possible. This is why going back to a game like, say Pac-Man, after grinding away for a few hours in a J- or MMORPG is such a relief — the same kind of relief we feel on seeing a panther or an eagle on a documentary channel after watching a bunch of subhumans bickering on a talk show over their "equal rights". In both cases, degenerate humans on the one hand and degenerate games on the other, the profound aversion we feel on coming in contact with them is due to our disgust at the sight of so much WASTED POTENTIAL, OF SO MANY MEANS SQUANDERED; and even worse: OF THEIR PERVERSE MISAPPLICATION; for the degenerate man does not simply ABSTAIN from using the incomparable skills of logic, language and inference that his ancestors have bequeathed on him: he downright PERVERTS them by manufacturing and disseminating nothing but ILLOGICAL THINKING, ABSURD STATEMENTS AND BLATANTLY ERRONEOUS INFERENCES, just as the degenerate designer in his turn does not simply REFRAIN from using all the advanced programming and artistic techniques that modern game design has placed at his disposal: he downright PERVERTS them by using them to DUMB-DOWN INTERACTIVITY, TRIVIALIZE CHALLENGE, AND INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF BLOAT INSIDE HIS GAME WORLD, WHILE HIDING ALL THIS DEGENERATION BEHIND AN ELABORATE SMOKE-SCREEN OF PURE AESTHETICS.
But let us try to understand how we arrive at such an unfortunate state of events, and why we must arrive, why we were fated to arrive here. Each new tool that is evolved, whether organic (e.g. hands, feet, logic, inference, etc.), inorganic (e.g. guns, knives, wheels, airplanes, etc.), or artistic (e.g. paints, canvases, cameras, computers, algorithms, etc.) can be used in a variety of ways: some of them beneficial, others harmful. At the time the tool is invented NO ONE YET HAS A CLUE OF WHICH USE IS BENEFICIAL OR HARMFUL, OR EVEN HOW MANY AND WHAT KINDS OF USES THERE ARE. It is up to the creators (i.e. the artists) to experiment with the expanded toolset, and up to the receivers (i.e. the critics) to recognize, and point towards, the more aesthetically correct uses. Now, by drawing the appropriate parallels from our analogy with organic evolution, it is clear that the lower (read: simpler) the artform, the easier it will be to use it to create something good — something aesthetically pleasing. And then again: WITHIN an artform, the lower (read: simpler) the toolset one uses, the easier it will be to succeed. The POTENTIAL for success, and the MAXIMUM HEIGHT of the success (success here measured by the amount of pleasure imparted to the receiver); the POTENTIAL for failure and the MAXIMUM DEPTH of the failure: these things rise and fall together, and the merest glance into the history of art will provide innumerable examples to support this. An instrument such as the flute, for instance, can be picked up by almost anyone, and anyone can almost instantly knock out some pleasing melody or other on a flute — not so on a violin. The violin is a much more complicated instrument than the flute, the range of sounds it can produce a great deal wider; this is why it dominates to such an extent inside an orchestra, compared with the usually secondary, and in many cases insignificant, influence of the flute. For the violin, thanks to its greater complexity, is a MORE EXPRESSIVE instrument, a SUBTLER and MORE NUANCED ONE than the flute: there is therefore nothing accidental or capricious in the fact that the world's greatest classical composers became so overwhelmingly attached to it. The flip side to this coin is that, while a bad flute player (or a bad flute tune) may annoy you or put you in a bad mood, a bad violin player (or a bad violin melody) can DRIVE A MAN TO MURDER OR TO SUICIDE. Thus the more complicated the instrument, the more talent and training it requires to extract from it and materialize its most sublime possibilities, the easier to fail; and at the same time: the more pleasurable will be the realization of its highest possibilities, the more unpleasant that of the lowest. Moreover this entire relationship is replicated at the level of the toolset, which is why the great composers did not simply stop at writing music for a single instrument, but went on to add AS MANY INSTRUMENTS AS THEY COULD; as many, at any rate, as it was PRACTICALLY POSSIBLE for them to add — and whenever it became practical for them to add more they generally did so. The rationale for this development, the need for it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, for unmusical people to grasp, just as bad players seem incapable of grasping the principles of game theory. But to stay with the case of music, what all those composers were striving for in their relentless struggle to outdo each other in the sheer size and scope of their compositions, was not an increase of complexity for complexity's sake, but for the sake of mirroring, or at any rate of approximating — that is to say of simulating and thereby arousing and manipulating — the vast complexity of possible states of the human soul — but of a high soul! a soul of a kindred nature to their own, not of the souls of spiritually stunted child-fagots! There is therefore nothing surprising in the fact that unmusical or spiritually stunted men do not see the point of complex music, just as there's nothing surprising in the fact that bad players do not see the point of complex games — on the contrary! nothing could be more natural than this! The bad player does not need a complicated game — for he wouldn't know what to do with it even if he had it; the unmusical soul does not need complicated music — for it wouldn't be able to appreciate it even if it heard it — and worms or bugs need neither videogames nor music.
Will it be now necessary to go on and state that the above applies equally to all the arts? Will it be necessary to prove it? Take for instance poetry: a haiku is, let us say, poetry's rough equivalent to the flute; the epic poem to the 300-piece orchestra: even a child can, with a little practice, churn out a decent haiku, whilst the very notion of a child attempting to produce an epic poem is farcical. And again: not only is it incomparably easier to achieve something good in haiku form than to create something on the level of the Iliad or the Odyssey; the pleasure that even the most magnificent haiku would impart is negligible compared to that of a Homeric epic (or the Divina Commedia, or Don Juan, or Paradise Lost, or et cetera, et cetera). Or to take the case of painting: the laughable controversy between so-called "Abstraction" against the old schools. Once again, nothing could be easier than to produce a pleasing effect when your subject is a simple geometric shape; nothing harder when it is a human (or inhuman) being, a real (or fictional) landscape. And again: the amount of pleasure that even the best of the best so-called "abstract" paintings can impart is negligible compared to that of a fine example of any of the more elaborate styles.
So finally, to cut the examples short and get back to the point: bottom line is that, contrary to what the talentless parasites which try to live off art BY INVENTING AND PEDDLING ANTI-ART would like to make us think, ARTISTIC MEANS ARE NOT INVENTED FOR THE HELL OF IT, any more than an organism evolves new tools and painstakingly devotes itself to becoming proficient with them because it's got nothing better to do all day. Organically evolved (or scientifically invented) tools are MEANS OF DOMINATION; artistically evolved ones are MEANS OF INCREASING PLEASURE. For this is what all the argumentation tactics of the pseuds finally amount to: when they contend that all artistic means are equal (— and therefore also the artforms, genres and subgenres that they give rise to —) what they are basically saying is that THERE'S NO REASON WHATSOEVER FOR THEIR COMING INTO EXISTENCE; NO CONCEIVABLE REASON AT ALL THAT PEOPLE INVENTED ANY OF THESE THINGS AND DEVOTED THEIR LIVES TO EMPLOYING, COMBINING AND REFINING THEM, OTHER PERHAPS THAN THAT THEY WERE BORED AND COULDN'T FIND ANYTHING BETTER TO DO WITH THEMSELVES. Setting aside for a moment how ludicrous such an "answer" sounds, what good does it do when the question it was meant to answer remains nonetheless unanswered? For if all the arts produce an "equal" amount of enjoyment, and if this enjoyment remains "static" throughout the entire history of art, why do we nevertheless observe mankind unfailingly ABANDONING primitive artforms and JOYOUSLY EMBRACING TIME AND AGAIN EVERY ADVANCED ART THE MOMENT IT APPEARS? How can you explain the downright HYSTERIA THAT GRIPS THE ENTIRE PLANET ON THE ARRIVAL OF EVERY HIGHER ART? The fagots' response here is that each art offers a fundamentally different KIND of enjoyment, enjoyment that is IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPARE against that of all the others, hence must be regarded as somehow being "EQUAL" to them, somehow incomparable. But if that were so, wouldn't these "fundamentally different" types of enjoyment remain equally necessary to mankind throughout the ages, despite the continual invention of newer artforms, and the marginalization, the "destruction" as Emerson puts it, of the older ones? Wouldn't modern man have as much need of sculpture and painting, for example, as Renaissance man? — And yet he doesn't! In fact he COULDN'T POSSIBLY CARE LESS about sculpture and painting — HE DOESN'T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT THEM. Or if the theatre, say, were somehow "equal" to the cinema, how can we explain that no one gives a shit about the theatre anymore, whereas the cinema is flourishing? And the same type of question can (and should!) be posed also within each artform: how do we explain, for instance, that the action genre has become dominant within movies? the first-person perspective is slowly becoming so within videogames? No one who believes in the "equality" of arts, means, tools, genres and subgenres can answer any of these questions, just as no one who believes in "altruism" can get anywhere with psychology. It is not an accident that psychology proper begins with Nietzsche (Freud, Yung and Adler took all their main ideas from him, and wouldn't have gotten anywhere without him—); it is not an accident that game theory proper begins with me. People who believe that everything is equal to everything else, and therefore that comparison and value judgement are impossible, are incapable of theorizing — that is to say of analyzing, of EXPLAINING anything — because without comparison conclusions are impossible and everything that happens appears as purely and utterly ACCIDENTAL. But the concept "accident" EXCLUDES the concept "explanation", since the accident is defined as "that which no one can PREDICT", whilst THE VERY POINT of theorizing is to construct a model VIA MEANS OF WHICH PREDICTIONS CAN BE MADE. The concept of "equality" therefore signifies THE END of theory: to accept it means: TO BECOME UNABLE TO THEORIZE (— ultimately even to so much as think); once someone brings it up there's nothing more to say than "different folks for different strokes" or some such other imbecilic fagotry and call it a fucking day (witness every message board disussion on the subject of art ever).
Bottom line is that the artist who maintains that the "Abstract" style is, if not superior to, say the Baroque, then at least its equal, is simply compensating for his inability to paint in the Baroque style, or in any other style of comparable complexity. The banjo player who maintained that the banjo is in some way "equal" to the violin would be laughed off stage by every serious composer in the entire history of music. The film director who maintained that the silent film is in any way "equal" to the sound film would have a sound boom shoved up his ass and thrown out of the studio — and so on and so forth. There's absolutely nothing "equal" about any of the various artforms, nor about any of the tools and styles they employ; and besides which, the simple fact that people CHOOSE — that they are ABLE to choose, and moreover choose WITH ENTHUSIASM — one means over another, one art over another, one artwork over another, is proof positive that NO ONE CONSIDERS ANYTHING EQUAL TO ANYTHING ELSE, REGARDLESS OF WHATEVER FAGOTISTICAL NONSENSE THEY MAY BE BLEATING. The fact that you choose BETRAYS, regardless of what you SAY, that you value the thing you chose more highly than the things you didn't — all else is self-deception. If everything were truly "equal", YOU WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO CHOOSE, or would be obliged to flip a coin or something whenever you had to make a choice. You certainly would not choose with enthusiasm; in fact you probably wouldn't even be bothered to "choose" at all — choosing would become for you a labor instead of enjoyment. — But choosing has NOT become a labor — in fact nothing gives more pleasure in this world than choosing; the incapacity to take pleasure in choice is even the cardinal symptom of nihilism — which is to say OF A DISEASE. Moreover the fact that, not only we as individuals, but also WE AS MANKIND make choices which display A REMARKABLE AND UNMISTAKABLE CONSISTENCY downright PROVES that, as far as WE AS MANKIND are concerned, SOME THINGS ARE OF HIGHER VALUE THAN OTHERS — and the merest, most fleeting glance into the history of art is all it takes to discover them. The kind of glance, that is to say, that is repeatedly on display throughout the present essays — and to a stunning effect — and which the artfags and pseudo-intellectuals never seem bothered to take.
All of the above can be discerned with extreme clarity (and therefore pursued even further) in the art of videogames — the pinnacle of art. Here too, each new artistic means (whether purely aesthetic, technical or mechanical) is a tool that in the hands of incompetent designers will do more harm to the game than good — which is why a higher genre can POTENTIALLY give rise to higher games, but at the same time to lower games than have ever existed. And that's why a game of the order of Pac-Man can still be a blast to play, and why such games can often be seen gaining ground against the badly-designed, sprawling, bloated three-dimensional simulation monsters. The stupid of course infer from this that there is some merit in simplicity as such, whereas the pleasure in going from a J- or MMORPG back to Pac-Man comes, not from simplicity per se, but from the relief of getting away from what I call "meaningless complexity"; from sham-complexity; from BLOAT — in other words from a game with many interconnecting parts that are however not properly co-ordinated, exactly as with subhumans, to whom are given such powerful tools as logic, language, inference, etc., but who have no idea what to do with them; whereas the simpler but better co-ordinated game, or the simpler but more healthy animal, which is more certain of itself and surer of its instincts, will always be superior. Remember Nietzsche: "the higher type represents an incomparably greater complexity — a greater sum of co-ordinating elements" — so it's not enough to simply possess many elements, they must also be PROPERLY CO-ORDINATED — but co-ordinated to what end? — But I've already answered this! To what end is all progress in art directed? — TOWARDS INCREASING IMMERSION OF COURSE. — And how can immersion be increased in videogames? — In various more or less effective ways, but first and above all by increasing the effectiveness of their prime characteristic, that which sets them off from all the other arts, that which DEFINES them: THEIR LEVEL OF INTERACTIVITY. Which is to say,
1) By giving the player more choices (in other words a more complicated action-set), and
2) By making all the choices MEANINGFUL, and as meaningful as possible
— but not in the way artfags interpret the word "meaningful", as some dumb moralistic message, but in my sense; in the sense, that is to say, that every choice must have an appreciable mechanical (i.e. non-aesthetic) impact in the game world. And this is the most important thing that modern JRPG developers, and contemporary developers in general, get wrong: They go to so much trouble to design hundreds of weapons, spells and abilities, and all the myriad little rules that govern their interrelation, yet wipe all that hard work away in a single stroke by making the enemies so easy to defeat THAT IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHICH ABILITIES, SPELLS OR WEAPONS THE PLAYER CHOOSES (or else they provide such easy means to grinding that everyone takes that option instead of trying to master the remaining ruleset). So we see here how closely related the concepts of "immersion", "meaningful complexity" and "difficulty" are, and sense that the "co-ordination" of which Nietzsche speaks as the prerogative of the higher type must lie in their interrelation; but we must postpone their examination for another essay. For the present it will suffice to note that the complexity of a modern J- or MMORPG, or indeed of most modern 3D genres, is mostly sham-complexity; the choices that they offer mostly illusory and superfluous, if not downright self-contradictory. For the addition of a rule in a game, in any game (and not only a videogame) is, as we've already seen, to increase the game's complexity — otherwise there's absolutely no reason whatsoever to add any more rules. If the addition of a rule results instead in a decrease of complexity, it means that the rules clash; that they don't properly flow. And that is how what I call bloat is created; meaningless complexity is precisely this bloat: it is complexity that has ceased to be mechanically relevant AND HAS EFFECTIVELY PASSED OVER INTO THE REALM OF PURE AESTHETICS...
We can now clearly see the mistake subhumans make, and why they fail to attach to the concept of complexity its due importance: they systematically confuse co-ordination with complexity. When a subhuman asks, "If complexity is so important how come I enjoy Pac-Man more than Everquest?" he is making an error equivalent to that of taking an elderly, diseased, crippled, half-dead lion that can barely even move, and a young, healthy tomcat, and saying: "LOOK: A CAT CAN KILL A LION, CONSEQUENTLY CATS AND LIONS ARE EQUAL"; or even worse: "CATS ARE STRONGER THAN LIONS". Or they say: "a Rubens gives me more pleasure than Mr. Bean: The Movie, CONSEQUENTLY PAINTING AND MOVIES ARE EQUAL". This is how subhumans pervert logic and inference: by having failed to learn that in order to compare two objects in terms of A SINGLE quality (in this case: in terms of complexity), ALL OTHER FACTORS MUST BE EQUAL. I.e. you need to compare a HEALTHY LION, with A HEALTHY CAT; the effect of a GREAT PAINTING, with that of A GREAT MOVIE, and so on and so forth — otherwise your inferences will have as much chance of being on target, OR ANYWHERE NEAR IT, as a blind man's shots in a shooting range. In short, what you must do in order to have any degree of confidence in your inferences, is COLLECT A GREAT DEAL OF DATA, then manage it appropriately in order to ISOLATE a factor, and then — and only then — START LOOKING FOR A TREND. The subhumans are basically still drawing conclusions (when they can be bothered to attempt to draw conclusions at all...) the way primitive peoples used to: someone would dance, for instance, and later that same day it would happen to rain: "THEREFORE", they would conclude, "DANCING CAUSES RAIN". Their mistake was precisely this: in relying exclusively on A SINGLE data point, instead of amassing many and averaging the results, which would have revealed that there's simply no relation between dancing and rainfall patterns. But the primitives knew nothing about any of that. As far as THEY were concerned, DANCING CAUSES RAIN; so they would set up the rain dance, and pass it on from generation to generation, and whevener someone refused to adhere to it THEY WOULD ALL FALL ON HIM AND BURN HIM AT THE STAKE AS A HERETIC. It would take countless millennia for a culture to arise on earth that DID NOT REASON IN THIS CHILDISH MANNER; which is to say until the Greeks arrived and invented science; and out of all the cultures on earth ONLY THEY AND THEIR DESCENDANTS MANAGED TO SLOWLY LIFT THEMSELVES OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF SUPERSTITION AND STUPIDITY, and at length spread the gift of this superior form of thought to all the backwards — yes, to all the RETARDED cultures. But of course this doesn't mean that this process is now over; THAT IT HAS BEEN COMPLETED; for just because there may be some scientists today in, for example, America DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE ENTIRE AMERICAN POPULATION THINKS IN A SCIENTIFIC MANNER (nor the Greek one, for that matter...) And this is where we find ourselves today — in fact, in some respects things are EVEN WORSE than what they were for the primitives, since the subhumans have not simply REMAINED UNTOUCHED by science; they have indeed heard SOMETHING of it, BUT CERTAINLY FAR FROM ALL OF IT, and half-education, as they say, is many respects worse than no education. So they've heard, for example, that there are such things as "rules" and "exceptions", but they've somehow managed to get it in their heads THAT THE EXCEPTION DISPROVES THE RULE; or even worse, that the exception IS the rule — both propositions of which are simply nonsense and run counter to the entire scientific enterprise. But the confusion does not stop even here. For even when, and with an almost superhuman expenditure of patience and goodwill, the humans give them to understand that every rule has exceptions (except the rule that every rule has exceptions), and that strictly-speaking no such thing as a "rule" exists, the subhumans immediately go to the opposite extreme, and just as before they saw rules everywhere and constructed them out of nothing, they now maintain with the same dumb fanaticism that no rules exist, and that everything is "merely" "subjective", "merely" a matter of "opinion" (with the implication that all subjects, and therefore also all opinions, are equal to all others — the opinion of a doctor, for example, to that of a witch-doctor, et cetera, et cetera). Bottom line is that THERE IS SIMPLY NO GETTING ANYWHERE WITH SUBHUMANS, for one way or another THE DUMB, WRETCHED FUCKERS WILL FIND A WAY TO PERVERT EVEN THE SIMPLEST, CLEAREST AND MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD TEACHING. There is therefore only ONE solution when one is dealing with subhumans, and I am afraid it is the FINAL one — for all others have been tried. Put simply, the subhumans have not been touched by the scientific spirit at all, let alone by the philosophical one, and remain content with now and then AWKWARDLY APING THE MANNERS of scientists and philosophers, WITHOUT EVER GRASPING THE REASONING BEHIND THESE MANNERS, AND THEREFORE WITHOUT EVER PROPERLY EMPLOYING THEM. This is why, despite all, they still fundamentally view the philosopher as a kind of madman and the scientist as a kind of wizard. Modern subhumans in no way differ in the essentials from their cave-dwelling ancestors; only in appearance, in dress, bearing, and the like, do they somewhat diverge, but as far as intellectual powers go they are their equals. Remember Nietzsche: "The level of the species is NOT raised"; indeed for the vast majority their level is in fact lowered, since after all the increase of genius in some men has to be compensated for somewhere else by an equal and opposite INCREASE OF STUPIDITY; by what Baudrillard calls "artificial stupidity — deployed everywhere on the screens and in the computer networks"...
To return to our problem, then, no worse mistake can be made in art theory than to infer that lowering complexity could ever be a good thing, and that simplification signifies anything other than regression. Any such inference will ALWAYS be based on a LACK OF ADEQUATE KNOWLEDGE of the subject matter; in other words, on a statistical sample seriously skewed from the very start. So the subhumans for instance may see that Pac-Man is more enjoyable, though less complex, than some bloated 3D grindfest, but what they fail to see is that Pac-Man itself IS THE RESULT OF A GRADUAL AND LABORIOUS INCREASE IN COMPLEXITY OVER COUNTLESS INFERIOR PREDECESSORS — PREDECESSORS THAT NO ONE REMEMBERS TODAY AND NO ONE PLAYS PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY WERE SIMPLER THAN PAC-MAN. Or they fail to see, for example, that however good SFII or KOF might have been, NO ONE PLAYS THEIR SIMPLER, ORIGINAL ITERATIONS ON A COMPETITIVE LEVEL ANY MORE, EXACTLY BECAUSE THEY WERE SIMPLER — AND THEREFORE SHALLOWER AND MORE BORING. Or they see for example that some new shiny SRPG may be fun for a while, but they don't realize that IN THE LONG TERM IT WILL PROVE SHALLOW AND BORING AND NO ONE WILL BOTHER WITH IT, WHEREAS PEOPLE ARE STILL PLAYING CIVILIZATION TWO DECADES AFTER ITS RELEASE AND WILL STILL BE PLAYING IT DECADES IF NOT CENTURIES IN THE FUTURE (nor do they see Civilization's countless predecessors, which are today as forgotten as the shiny SRPG will one day be). Bottom line is that a good complex game will always be superior to a good simple game, just as a clever man will always be cleverer than even the cleverest chimp, just as the fastest car will always be faster than even the fastest skateboard, just as the strongest man will always be stronger than even the strongest woman, and so on and so forth — all of them notions, I repeat, that subhumans are simply physiologically incapable of grasping.
And finally: doesn't the entire history of culture provide IRREFUTABLE PROOF that the more complicated artworks, in the long run (which is the only run that matters), UTTERLY DOMINATE over the simpler ones? Isn't EVERY SINGLE of the artistic masterpieces of the past nothing less than A MARVEL OF COMPLEXITY? Where are the "simple", "easy", "casual", "fun" tragedies then? Where are the simple novels? Isn't everything that has remained, everything that has not been washed away by time, HARD, COMPLICATED and HARDCORE? What was Dostoevsky then if not a hardcore novel writer? — Nietzsche called him "the only psychologist from whom I had anything to learn". What was Shakespeare if not a hardcore playwright? Baudrillard quoted him in the middle of analysing the sociology of a culture that appeared 400 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH, McLuhan said that "a fairly complete handbook for studying modern media could be made up from selections from Shakespeare", and Nietzsche lavished on him some of his most extravagant praise:
"Has Hamlet been understood? It is not doubt, it is certainty that makes mad. But to feel this way one must be profound, abysmal, a philosopher..."
Nothing "simple", nothing "casual", nothing "fun" in any of this (— at least not in the way slaves understand the concept "fun": as something easy and frivolous — which is the exact opposite to what the masters regard as fun — which is why they are the masters). Nothing "casual" in Kafka, Joyce or Proust either; nothing "simple" in Hölderlin, Leopardi or Homer. This is why their works have come to DOMINATE; this is why they have outlived those of their innumerable "simple" and "casual" competitors. — Or are things different in the realm of music? Did "simple" music fare any better then? — peasants' music! IT WENT THE WAY OF THE DODO I AM AFRAID. What kind of music is being played today in the music halls? Isn't the entire history of the evolution of classical music, the entire period from the ninth to the eighteenth centuries, anything other than a history of increasing complexity? music compared to which our modern genres (— on which time, by the way, HAS NOT YET PRONOUNCED ITS JUDGEMENT —) seem like random children's harp-jangling, like a mere emotional garrulousness? For who can bear to go back to our little 3- and 5-minute pop pills, our prematurely ejaculated music, when one has become accustomed to the opera? But even the best musicians of the various modern genres can be seen ceaselessly striving for complexity — above all the serious metal bands that have been experimenting with orchestras since the late '80s; or the New Metal bands, which attempt to incorporate not only classical instruments, but also the entire machinery of electronic music; or jazz musicians, and especially fusion jazz, the last great movement in this genre before it merged with rock and electronica, which combined "mixed meters, odd time signatures, syncopation, and complex chords and harmonies"; or even hip-hop artists, the greatest among whom (Eminem) is hailed as the greatest precisely because of his "complex rhyme schemes", "multisyllabic rhymes", and "complex rhythms". — Nor is the situation any different in the cinema: Fellini, Kurosawa, Mann, Cronenberg — all the top directors: none of them has ever had anything to do with simplicity: they leave that to student films and commercials. And what was Citizen Kane then, cinema's sacred cow, if not A QUANTUM LEAP FORWARD IN TERMS OF COMPLEXITY — and not even so much thematical complexity but above all TECHNICAL, since the narrative is almost as much of a secondary aspect in movies as in videogames (see mise-en-scène theory).
Bottom line is that, to fail to see complexity as the deciding factor in the evolution of art means TO NOT HAVE THE SLIGHTEST APPRECIATION FOR ART AND ART HISTORY WHATEVER — which is precisely why pseudo-intellectuals and artfags fail to see it. — But what, after all, does their ignorance and incomprehension matter to us? What are the failings of inferior life-forms, of humanoid worms and bugs, to those that are superior? Our problem is something quite different, something that inferior life-forms are not only incapable of grasping, BUT EVEN SO MUCH AS SEEING. What we are concerned with now is grasping the mechanism of artistic evolution; for we know how biological evolution works, how the higher and more complex organism comes to eventually dominate over the lower and simpler ones; how it shuts them up in zoos and laboratories; how it ruthlessly EXPLOITS and practically EXTERMINATES them; how it WIPES THEM OUT from its entire environment — but how does the higher, more complicated artwork come to dominate over the lower and simpler one, WHEN THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE AUDIENCE CONSISTS OF UNCOUTH, IDIOTIC SIMPLETONS WHO HAVE THE EXACT OPPOSITE TASTE? For this is the crux of the matter: in evolution DOMINATION defines everything; "higher" is merely another way of saying "more powerful", and "more powerful" is that which shapes the future... The SHAPE of the future: this is the decisive factor for all evaluations: for evaluation itself, in other words comparison, cannot be divorced from the temporal dimension to which it is inextricably bound. So if the higher artwork REALLY is higher, then it must, sooner or later, come to dominate; if it doesn't this simply means that it wasn't higher to begin with; it means our judgement had simply been wrong, that we had been mistaken. So again, how does it dominate? How do the tastes of the higher, more complicated men come to eventually prevail over those of the lower ones? How does the higher, more complicated work come to eventually PHASE OUT the lower and simpler ones? By what exact mechanism does it begin marginalizing them, and eventually consigns them to the dustbins of history and quiet oblivion? — Answer: By dominating — which is to say by seducing — the higher men, who then, as Schopenhauer is about to explain for us, calmly and steadily proceed TO SHOVE THEIR TASTES DOWN THE SUBHUMANS' THROATS:
Schopenhauer: "The disastrous thing for intellectual merit is that it must wait to receive its crown at the hands of the critical power of mankind — a quality of which most men possess only the weak and impotent semblance, so that in reality it may be numbered amongst the rarest gifts of nature. Hence La Bruyère's remark is, unhappily, as true as it is neat. Après l'esprit de discernement, he says, ce qu’il y a au monde de plus rare, ce sont les diamans et les perles. The spirit of discernment! the critical faculty! it is these that are lacking. Men do not know how to distinguish the genuine from the false, the corn from the chaff, gold from copper; or to perceive the wide gulf that separates a genius from an ordinary man. Thus we have that bad state of things described in an old-fashioned verse, which gives it as the lot of the great ones here on earth to be recognized only when they are gone:
Es ist nun das Geschick der Grossen hier auf Erden,
Erst wann sie nicht mehr sind; von uns erkannt zu werden.
When any genuine and excellent work makes its appearance, the chief difficulty in its way is the amount of bad work it finds already in possession of the field, and accepted as though it were good. And then if, after a long time, the newcomer really succeeds, by a hard struggle, in vindicating his place for himself and winning reputation, he will soon encounter fresh difficulty from some affected, dull, awkward imitator, whom people drag in, with the object of calmly setting him up on the altar beside the genius; not seeing the difference and really thinking that here they have to do with another great man. This is what Yriarte means by the first lines of his twenty-eighth Fable, where he declares that the ignorant rabble always sets equal value on the good and the bad:
Siempre acostumbra hacer el vulgo necio
De lo bueno y lo malo igual aprecio.
So even Shakespeare's dramas had, immediately after his death, to give place to those of Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, and to yield the supremacy for a hundred years. So Kant's serious philosophy was crowded out by the nonsense of Fichte, Schelling, Jacobi, Hegel. And even in a sphere accessible to all, we have seen unworthy imitators quickly diverting public attention from the incomparable Walter Scott. For, say what you will, the public has no sense for excellence, and therefore no notion how very rare it is to find men really capable of doing anything great in poetry, philosophy, or art, or that their works are alone worthy of exclusive attention. The dabblers, whether in verse or in any other high sphere, should be every day unsparingly reminded that neither gods, nor men, nor booksellers have pardoned their mediocrity:
mediocribus esse poetis
Non homines, non Dî, non concessere columnae.1
1 Horace, Ars Poetica, 372.]
Are they not the weeds that prevent the corn coming up, so that they may cover all the ground themselves? And then there happens that which has been well and freshly described by the lamented Feuchtersleben, who died so young: how people cry out in their haste that nothing is being done, while all the while great work is quietly growing to maturity; and then, when it appears, it is not seen or heard in the clamor, but goes its way silently, in modest grief:
"Ist doch"—rufen sie vermessen—
Nichts im Werke, nichts gethan!”
Und das Grosse, reift indessen
Es ersheint nun: niemand sieht es,
Niemand hört es im Geschrei
Mit bescheid’ner Trauer zieht es
This lamentable dearth of the critical faculty is not less obvious in the case of science, as is shown by the tenacious life of false and disproved theories. If they are once accepted, they may go on bidding defiance to truth for fifty or even a hundred years and more, as stable as an iron pier in the midst of the waves. The Ptolemaic system was still held a century after Copernicus had promulgated his theory. Bacon, Descartes and Locke made their way extremely slowly and only after a long time; as the reader may see by d'Alembert's celebrated Preface to the Encyclopedia. Newton was not more successful; and this is sufficiently proved by the bitterness and contempt with which Leibnitz attacked his theory of gravitation in the controversy with Clarke. Although Newton lived for almost forty years after the appearance of the Principia, his teaching was, when he died, only to some extent accepted in his own country, whilst outside England he counted scarcely twenty adherents; if we may believe the introductory note to Voltaire's exposition of his theory. It was, indeed, chiefly owing to this treatise of Voltaire's that the system became known in France nearly twenty years after Newton's death. Until then a firm, resolute, and patriotic stand was made by the Cartesian Vortices; whilst only forty years previously, this same Cartesian philosophy had been forbidden in the French schools; and now in turn d’Agnesseau, the Chancellor, refused Voltaire the Imprimatur for his treatise on the Newtonian doctrine. On the other hand, in our day Newton's absurd theory of color still completely holds the field, forty years after the publication of Goethe's. Hume, too, was disregarded up to his fiftieth year, though he began very early and wrote in a thoroughly popular style. And Kant, in spite of having written and talked all his life long, did not become a famous man until he was sixty.
Artists and poets have, to be sure, more chance than thinkers, because their public is at least a hundred times as large. Still, what was thought of Beethoven and Mozart during their lives? what of Dante? what even of Shakespeare? If the latter's contemporaries had in any way recognized his worth, at least one good and accredited portrait of him would have come down to us from an age when the art of painting flourished; whereas we possess only some very doubtful pictures, a bad copperplate, and a still worse bust on his tomb. And in like manner, if he had been duly honored, specimens of his handwriting would have been preserved to us by the hundred, instead of being confined, as is the case, to the signatures to a few legal documents. The Portuguese are still proud of their only poet Camoëns. He lived, however, on alms collected every evening in the street by a black slave whom he had brought with him from the Indies. In time, no doubt, justice will be done everyone; tempo è galant uomo; but it is as late and slow in arriving as in a court of law, and the secret condition of it is that the recipient shall be no longer alive. The precept of Jesus the son of Sirach is faithfully followed: Judge none blessed before his death. He, then, who has produced immortal works, must find comfort by applying to them the words of the Indian myth, that the minutes of life amongst the immortals seem like years of earthly existence; and so, too, that years upon earth are only as the minutes of the immortals.
This lack of critical insight is also shown by the fact that, while in every century the excellent work of earlier time is held in honor, that of its own is misunderstood, and the attention which is its due is given to bad work, such as every decade carries with it only to be the sport of the next. That men are slow to recognize genuine merit when it appears in their own age, also proves that they do not understand or enjoy or really value the long-acknowledged works of genius, which they honor only on the score of authority. The crucial test is the fact that bad work — Fichte's philosophy, for example — if it wins any reputation, also maintains it for one or two generations; and only when its public is very large does its fall follow sooner.
Now, just as the sun cannot shed its light but to the eye that sees it, nor music sound but to the hearing ear, so the value of all masterly work in art and science is conditioned by the kinship and capacity of the mind to which it speaks. It is only such a mind as this that possesses the magic word to stir and call forth the spirits that lie hidden in great work. To the ordinary mind a masterpiece is a sealed cabinet of mystery, — an unfamiliar musical instrument from which the player, however much he may flatter himself, can draw none but confused tones. How different a painting looks when seen in a good light, as compared with some dark corner! Just in the same way, the impression made by a masterpiece varies with the capacity of the mind to understand it.
A fine work, then, requires a mind sensitive to its beauty; a thoughtful work, a mind that can really think, if it is to exist and live at all. But alas! it may happen only too often that he who gives a fine work to the world afterwards feels like a maker of fireworks, who displays with enthusiasm the wonders that have taken him so much time and trouble to prepare, and then learns that he has come to the wrong place, and that the fancied spectators were one and all inmates of an asylum for the blind. Still even that is better than if his public had consisted entirely of men who made fireworks themselves; as in this case, if his display had been extraordinarily good, it might possibly have cost him his head.
The source of all pleasure and delight is the feeling of kinship. Even with the sense of beauty it is unquestionably our own species in the animal world, and then again our own race, that appears to us the fairest. So, too, in intercourse with others, every man shows a decided preference for those who resemble him; and a blockhead will find the society of another blockhead incomparably more pleasant than that of any number of great minds put together. Every man must necessarily take his chief pleasure in his own work, because it is the mirror of his own mind, the echo of his own thought; and next in order will come the work of people like him; that is to say, a dull, shallow and perverse man, a dealer in mere words, will give his sincere and hearty applause only to that which is dull, shallow, perverse or merely verbose. On the other hand, he will allow merit to the work of great minds only on the score of authority, in other words, because he is ashamed to speak his opinion; for in reality they give him no pleasure at all. They do not appeal to him; nay, they repel him; and he will not confess this even to himself. The works of genius cannot be fully enjoyed except by those who are themselves of the privileged order. The first recognition of them, however, when they exist without authority to support them, demands considerable superiority of mind.
When the reader takes all this into consideration, he should be surprised, not that great work is so late in winning reputation, but that it wins it at all. And as a matter of fact, fame comes only by a slow and complex process. The stupid person is by degrees forced, and as it were, tamed, into recognizing the superiority of one who stands immediately above him; this one in his turn bows before some one else; and so it goes on until the weight of the votes gradually prevails over their number; and this is just the condition of all genuine, in other words, deserved fame. But until then, the greatest genius, even after he has passed his time of trial, stands like a king amidst a crowd of his own subjects, who do not know him by sight and therefore will not do his behests; unless, indeed, his chief ministers of state are in his train. For no subordinate official can be the direct recipient of the royal commands, as he knows only the signature of his immediate superior; and this is repeated all the way up into the highest ranks, where the under-secretary attests the minister's signature, and the minister that of the king. There are analogous stages to be passed before a genius can attain widespread fame. This is why his reputation most easily comes to a standstill at the very outset; because the highest authorities, of whom there can be but few, are most frequently not to be found; but the further down he goes in the scale the more numerous are those who take the word from above, so that his fame is no more arrested.
We must console ourselves for this state of things by reflecting that it is really fortunate that the greater number of men do not form a judgment on their own responsibility, but merely take it on authority. For what sort of criticism should we have on Plato and Kant, Homer, Shakespeare and Goethe, if every man were to form his opinion by what he really has and enjoys of these writers, instead of being forced by authority to speak of them in a fit and proper way, however little he may really feel what he says. Unless something of this kind took place, it would be impossible for true merit, in any high sphere, to attain fame at all. At the same time it is also fortunate that every man has just so much critical power of his own as is necessary for recognizing the superiority of those who are placed immediately over him, and for following their lead. This means that the many come in the end to submit to the authority of the few; and there results that hierarchy of critical judgments on which is based the possibility of a steady, and eventually wide-reaching, fame." (Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Criticism")
And just so, in the art of videogames, the final and highest art, the many will once more come in the end to submit to the authority of the few: which is to say to my authority, and to the authority of the few others whose expertise and taste in videogames I will eventually endorse.
The Subhumans Strike Back
But the subhumans will not go down without a fight, on the contrary they'll struggle to the very end — nor is this struggle somehow undesirable (let alone reprehensible), since it's solely by means of it that the higher works climb over the lower and at length come to attain their rightful place in the heights amongst their kind. For there is no throne without a battlefield, no pyramid without a base, no higher without a lower, and Schopenhauer's lamentation of the entire process is merely the naivety of a pessimist and characteristic of his whole philosophy. Nor does he make up for it by urging us in the end to "console" ourselves for this state of things by taking also its positive results under consideration — we by no means desire to be "consoled" for anything — on the contrary, we feel a sense of vindication, a sense of triumph at the way things are, and by no means desire them to be different.
Nietzsche: "Absurd and contemptible form of idealism that would not have mediocrity mediocre and, instead of feeling a sense of triumph at a state of exceptionalness, becomes indignant over cowardice, falsity, pettiness, and wretchedness. One should not desire these things to be different! and should make the gulf wider!—"
Herein then lies our present task: not to equalize, not to level, not to waste our efforts trying to make subhumans "see" what they are physiologically incapable of seeing; but to analyze, and therefore comprehend, the workings of the entire process, and by doing so grasp the actions that must be taken to further speed it up. The entire process must ultimately be seen as a form of education, in the way Lichtenberg understands education, as "procreation of another kind" — as the process, that is to say, of how the higher man propagates himself, of how he procreates his kind. The subhumans' role in all this is that of the conducting fluid (with the masterpieces playing the role of the electric charge, and fame that of the voltage) — the medium via means of which the "higher types", the "lucky strokes" of evolution that are "scattered throughout the ages" communicate between themselves — and they need this medium precisely because they are "scattered throughout the ages" and do not succeed each other in a linear fashion. It is perhaps at this point that one can best grasp the non-linearity of evolution and its haphazard and fragmentary nature — for Shakespeare is not succeeded by Shakespeare 2 or Shakespeare squared, the son of Shakespeare who appears immediately on his father's death and continues his legacy as if he were his father incarnate and as if nothing had happened; he is succeeded — that is to say chronologically-historically succeeded — by Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont, Fletcher, et al., all of whose works are so far inferior to Shakespeare's that in the long run they are not even worth discussing. But their subhuman contemporaries — being, after all, subhuman — fail to see the difference and proceed to drag in all these "affected, dull, awkward imitators" with the object of "calmly setting them up on the altar beside the genius; not seeing the difference and really thinking that here they have to do with more great men" — and it's only thanks to entire centuries of superior criticism that Shakespeare and his kind are slowly raised above the sea of mediocrity, the rubbish-sea (or garbage-soup) of the works of inferior artists, so that a Schopenhauer can reach them straight away without being obliged to waste entire decades of his life wading through the innumerable works of their inferior imitators (in the same way that Schopenhauer himself is eventually raised above Fichte, Jacobi, Schelling, Schleiermacher and the rest of them for the sake of someone like Nietzsche, whilst Nietzsche himself is at length raised above Herder, Dühring, Rée, Spencer and the rest of them for the sake of someone like Baudrillard, and so on and so forth — with the exact same process taking place in all the arts and all the sciences. (It is moreover worth noting that, along with the superior criticism — the criticism of superior men — which results in the raising of the masterpieces — there is also produced an abundance, and indeed over-abundance of inferior criticism with the opposite objective — the objective, that is to say, of extolling the works of the awkward imitators over those of the geniuses — but this criticism is from the outset condemned to meet the same fate as that which awaits the mediocrities it champions. For at this point we can barely even be bothered to read, say Fletcher's works themselves, never mind CRITICISM of them, whether positive or negative (though if we were somehow obliged to read it, we'd find the negative more valuable than the positive, since time has proved it to be the more correct; whereas the positive kind eventually ends up retaining merely comedic value), and in fact even the name "Fletcher" itself we are today obliged to look up in order to find out who this person was, or even that he at one point existed, and the same applies to all the rest of them. In the long run, then, everything subhumans say or do (subhuman artists, subhuman viewers, subhuman critics) goes the way of the dodo — a logical result since they themselves are dodos.)
What must ultimately be grasped, then, is how absolutely necessary and natural this process is, and how idiotic and absurd — indeed ultimately nihilistic — any desire for its negation. For the desire for a public that recognizes masterpieces at first sight and enjoys them as fully as the genius (—Schopenhauer's desire) is as absurd as (and indeed effectively amounts to) the desire for a race composed entirely of geniuses or an artform made up entirely of masterpieces — and moreover nihilistic because it negates the entire process WHOSE RESULT the genius and the masterpiece are. There's no question then of regarding the struggle as something reprehensible, something that should at some point be abolished (at the same time, perhaps, as "justice", "peace", "equality" and other amusing herd fantasies are transformed into realities) — on the contrary, since our very existence presupposes it, it should if anything be glorified. The correct viewpoint, then, to adopt towards the struggle for artistic evolution is the same we should adopt towards the biological kind:
Nietzsche: "We must think of the masses as unsentimentally as we think of nature: they preserve the species for the production of higher individuals."
Similarly, we should say:
"We must think of mediocre works as unsentimentally as we think of the masses: they preserve the artform for the production of masterpieces."
And so, with these preliminary remarks out of the way, we arrive at our current task: the widening of the gulf. The formation of the gulf has already been perfectly well analyzed, as we've seen, by Schopenhauer, but what Schopenhauer hasn't done, and what remains to be done, is to also analyze the inevitable counter-movements to this formation, then debunk them and expose them for what they are — namely, nothing but counter-movements, nothing but reactions; in Nietzschean terms, nothing but ressentiment — "the ressentiment of creatures to whom the real action, that of the deed, is denied" (since the inferior artist cannot create superior works nor the inferior critic superior criticism — which, had they been capable of them, would have been the real action) and who therefore "find compensation in an imaginary revenge", a revenge which in the realm of morals took the form of the transvaluation of moral values (with good becoming evil, and bad becoming good), whilst in the realm of art the transvaluation of aesthetic ones (with beautiful/exciting becoming bad, and ugly/boring becoming good). "Artistic art" then is to aesthetics what "moral morality" is to ethics, whilst the subhumans' resistance towards the breeding of a higher race is analogous to the resistance of inferior artists, viewers and critics towards the production of higher works, higher styles and genres, and ultimately higher arts. In short, as Baudrillard once wistfully remarked, but never bothered to follow up properly:
"Perhaps resentment constitutes the ultimate phase of art history, just as, for Nietzsche, it constitutes the ultimate phase in the genealogy of morals."
Indeed, and if you'd bothered pursuing this insight further, instead of endlessly moaning about the "death of art", "transaesthetics" and assorted similar claptrap, you'd have seen why — but that's what you get for being a nihilist, an artistic imbecile, and moreover a man of ressentiment yourself.
And what he would have seen is precisely this: how the subhumans strike back — with their neuroses, by means of which they attempt, on the one hand to defend the naive prejudices on which their entire worldview is dependent; and on the other hand, and in accordance with the maxim "misery loves company", to drag down to their level and make sick even the healthy — those who would not normally require these prejudices but who, through a sufficient amount of carefully-administered bullying and brainwashing, can nevertheless be made to espouse them. And this is where those who wish to widen the gulf still further must take action: by debunking the pseuds' absurdities and lies, and thereby laughing at and ridiculing them, thus diminishing their influence even further. What must occur here between the genuine art lover and the artfags and pseudo-intellectuals is precisely what occurs between the scientist and the Christians and "humanists" when the latter are finally informed that there's really no such thing as a "human being" (nor any plants or animals, for that matter), but only a plethora of life-forms, and that the customary classification scheme is merely a convention for the purpose of easy designation and communication (as an abbreviated means of expression). This means that "humanism" has as much rational basis as, say "cockroachism" or "chickenism" (which is to say none), and is merely an elaborate self-deception by means of which certain life-forms assuage their (Christian-inherited) guilt so as to be able to continue enslaving, torturing and massacring all others with a good conscience — a practice baptized by William Plank as "species chauvinism", by Baudrillard as "superior racism", and by me, perhaps somewhat more strikingly, as "subhuman supremacism".
Baudrillard: "The ferocity of man as a species is reflected in the ferocity of humanism as a way of thinking: his claim to universal transcendence and his intolerance of other types of thought is the very model of a superior racism."
And how, then, do the Christians and "humanists" respond to these simple, and by now indeed rather trite, scientific facts? In a manner essentially identical to that of a madman being challenged on his idée fixe: on the physical plane by undergoing a sudden rise in temperature accompanied by facial redness, trembling hands and frothing and foaming at the mouth, and on the intellectual plane (which is what concerns us here since, unlike the psychiatrist, we are fortunate enough not to have to deal with these people directly): by denial, denial, denial. This is what scientific progress does to those who are unable to keep up with it: it turns them into pitiful, deranged, neurotic apes — and that too, as the reader should have by now surmised, is what artistic progress does. Neurosis and denial here manifest themselves at three levels: at the level of individual works (denial of the existence of higher works), the level of styles/genres (denial of the existence of higher styles and genres), and ultimately the level of entire artforms (denial of the existence of higher artforms). The remarkable consistency, by the way, with which all our principles are equally applicable not only within artforms, but also across them, is a result of the fact that, quite simply, NO ARTFORMS ACTUALLY EXIST but, again in perfect accordance with biological evolution, only a plethora of simulacra. What we call an "artform" is merely the point at which complexity takes a huge step forward — so huge that to the eyes of the short-sighted, who are unable to discern the many and manifold (indeed infinite) connections between the inaugural artwork (of the "new artform") and those that came before, this artwork appears as an altogether brand-new thing, as entirely disconnected from its predecessors as they imagine homo sapiens to be from the "plants" and the "animals". And just as a homo sapiens can be regarded as a hominid with certain peculiar features (such as increased cranial capacity, less hair, etc.), or alternately a hominid as a homo sapiens without these features, whilst fungi can be viewed as part of either the plant or the animal kingdoms, depending on our perspective; so too a photograph can be seen as a silent movie all of whose frames are identical, or a movie as a videogame composed of a single cutscene, or a piece of music as a movie all of whose frames are blank, and so on and so forth (— an insight whose full implications we shall draw out and examine in detail in Videogame Culture: Volume I: "Set Theory"). The point to be taken away from all this for our current purposes is that biological and artistic evolution function similarly not only regarding growth and strengthening, but also the RESISTANCE to this growth and to this strengthening. In both cases the subhumans' reaction is identical: they shut their eyes to scientific evidence, thereby denying the fact of flux, and take all entities as arbitrary, isolated and incomparable facts of nature, an attitude which confers on them the right to arbitrarily privilege random configurations as they see fit, rejecting scientifically-based evaluation and simply privileging those of them that accord best with their own personal failings and shortcomings.
Nietzsche: "To generalize: feelings about values are always behind the times; they express conditions of preservation and growth that belong to times long gone by; they resist new conditions of existence with which they cannot cope and which they necessarily misunderstand: thus they inhibit and arouse suspicion against what is new.—"
But careful attention must be paid here to understand new in the sense of higher; for the subhumans of course have no problem with lower new; with new, that is to say, understood in a purely temporal sense. A new novel, therefore, will not give them any trouble unless it's a masterpiece, and neither will a new artform unless it's more complex than currently existing ones (which is why, for example, there was not much of a reaction against computer-aided illustration, which appeared in the age when the cinema already reigned supreme — whilst the cinema itself was fiercely resisted for decades before being finally accepted). — Remember that, every step of the way, the subhumans will attempt to pervert our arguments for their own contemptible and nefarious ends: so, for example, they will intepret the above comments as providing an UNCONDITIONAL condemnation of resistance to the new. But it is not resistance to the new AS SUCH that we rail against; it is resistance to the new INSOFAR AS THIS IS ALSO HIGHER; if it is lower not only do we not protest this resistance, BUT WE ALSO AID IT, in accordance with Zarathustra's admonition that that which is falling "should also be pushed". So, for example, the "indie" scammers will claim that we are fighting their "indie" abortions only because they are new — but there is, after all, nothing new about a botched platformer — only perhaps insofar as it's more botched than older ones; an especially botched platformer, perhaps. But the newness of a botched thing, and its extra degree of botchedness, the higher botchedness, by no means constitutes an argument in its favor, but on the contrary suggests decadence and degeneration, therefore urging us to exercise caution, and to adopt a hostile attitude against it — which is precisely what we've been doing. And the same goes for urinals in galleries, crocks of shit on pedestals, "paintings" of random geometric figures, and the like — all of which were certainly "new", in a sense, when they appeared, but by no means less wretched because of it. I mean, god forbid we were obliged to accept every new thing simply because it's new! let alone automatically praise it! — but that's precisely what inferior artists and pseudo-artists would have us do. So one should always exercise extreme caution when dealing with their "arguments", and never forget what kind of people we are dealing with.
Nietzsche: "People of the basest origin, in part rabble, outcasts not only from good but also from respectable society, raised away from even the smell of culture, without discipline, without knowledge, without the remotest suspicion that there is such a thing as a conscience for spiritual matters; with an instinctive ability to create an advantage, a means of seduction out of every superstitious supposition, out of ignorance itself."
So, to get back on track with our analysis, subhuman reaction to artistic evolution manifests itself, as we've seen, at three levels: at the level of individual works, the level of styles and genres, and ultimately the level of entire artforms; whilst the consequences of these reactions are as follows: At the level of individual works reaction leads to bad criticism, i.e. to the devaluation of higher works (as generally seen in "art criticism", or, in the realm of videogames, in "New", corporate, and casual game criticism — as opposed to the expert kind); at the level of styles and genres to the devaluation of superior styles and genres (e.g. Impressionism over the Baroque, grunge over heavy metal, JRPGs over dungeon crawlers, etc. etc.); and at the level of artforms to the devaluation and disparagement of higher artforms (with the most famous and currently relevant example being videogames). Let us then take some time to carefully examine each of these neuroses one by one, as well as the shenanigans of some of their most prominent advocates, all the while debunking and ridiculing the various absurd and spurious arguments these people have been spouting.
The Three Neuroses
You shall above all see with your own eyes where injustice is always at its greatest: where life has developed at its smallest, narrowest, neediest, most incipient and yet cannot avoid taking itself as the goal and measure of things and for the sake of its own preservation secretly and meanly and ceaselessly crumbling away and calling into question the higher, greater, richer —
We'll begin by approaching the problem with reference to videogames, and make the appropriate connections with primitive artforms at various points as the analysis unfolds.1. At the level of individual artworks
Neurosis here appears and develops in various forms and disguises, all of which, at first, appear unrelated. Closer examination, however, reveals not only that they are in fact related, but that they form part of a gradual and increasingly audacious and diabolic scheme whose objective is to discredit the traditional values of complexity and difficulty of cutting-edge game design, replacing them by the "innovation" (read: gimmickry) and the "meaning" (read: banal moralistic aesthetics) of retrogressive and degenerate groups of games known collectively as "casual", "indie" and "art" games in the following manner:
Cutting-edge game design: maximum complexity, elaborate mechanics, maximum difficulty; no gimmickry, no "meaning"
"Casual" game design: lower complexity, simpler mechanics, lower difficulty; some gimmickry, some "meaning"
"Indie" game design: lowest complexity, simplest mechanics, lowest difficulty; a lot of gimmickry, a lot of "meaning"
"Art" game design: practically non-existent complexity, practically non-existent mechanics, practically no difficulty; maximum gimmickry, maximum "meaning"
Note that gimmickry reaches its peak in "art" games because, even though in reality these games are nothing but extremely dumbed-down and degenerate examples of old and venerable genres, they nevertheless manage, by employing various cunning aesthetic tricks that pander to the sensibilities of women and effeminate males (as, e.g., in Flower, Flow, Passage, The Path, and the like), to persuade the player that he is playing A BRAND-NEW, and indeed UNIQUE and INIMITABLE genre — which is precisely the apotheosis of gimmickry (just as, for example, Derek Yu managed to trick Spelunky's players into thinking they were playing an omg brand-new type of platformer, whereas in fact they were simply playing a platformer with crappy level design — a masterful deception, to be sure, but nowhere near as dazzling as those pulled off by the "art" crowd). Note moreover that it's not only mechanical complexity that deteriorates here, but also the aesthetic kind, since cutting-edge game design is also at the forefront of visual and aural innovation, whereas, on the opposite end of the scale, "art" games have always featured by far the simplest, ugliest and most repugnant graphics, sound and music (with "casual" and "indie" games falling somewhere in between them, and "casual" games on average faring better than "indie" ones). — In other words the categories of "casual", "indie" and "art" games are, to put it simply, merely subcategories of what were formerly known as "bad games", subcategories defined according to the lie that is employed to justify and rationalize the failure: 1. the lie of casualness (as if a so-called "casual gamer" were not simply a beginner, and as if a cutting-edge game were not a million times more pleasurable even to beginners than a fifth-rate imitation of an old masterpiece — or even the old masterpiece itself); 2. the lie of independence (as if a master game designer with a multi-million dollar budget and hundreds of expert programmers, artists and musicians at his disposal were not a million times more independent to pursue his vision than a destitute, talentless amateur forced to cobble together his vastly inferior and gimmicky takes of old masterpieces entirely on his own using nothing but borrowed code and fifth-rate middleware); and finally, 3. the lie of lies: the exclusive claim to artistry (as if everyone else's games were not art — as if only the talentless, destitute amateur's games were art).
Note moreover that our approach of incorporating these three spurious categories under the supercategory of "bad games" is essentially identical to that adopted by Brian Yoder of the Art Renewal Center (a pioneering organisation which is attempting to do for the plastic arts what I and this website are currently doing for videogames) when he lumps together all degenerate twentieth century artistic movements under the label "modernism":
"I generally do (unless I am talking about narrow sectarian disputes) talk about "modernism" as a very broad general category that encompasses a number of different fashions and sects that have developed over the past 100 years or so. The reason I do so is because I don't consider the differences between the various movements to be significantly relevant to their opposition to good art. Whether a given movement opposes good art on the grounds that tradition is bad, or that clarity of meaning is bad, or that skill is bad, or that flat canvas is bad, or that white males are bad, or that the old masters were bad, or what have you, the "sides" are still the same... genuinely good art on one side and an endless parade of arguments against it on the other. It is natural that such an irrational and unfounded attack on art would have to be constantly shifting positions and following fashions as one after another failed argument falls. That is exactly what we have seen over the course of the modernist era... each particular kind of charlatanry arises, has its day in the sun, and fades into obscurity as it fails to accomplish its expressive goal.
Look at it this way, if one was to explain what is wrong with quack medicines and why people are taken in by them, would one carefully distinguish between sellers of snake oil, magnetic bracelets, and homeopathy? Or would one generalize about them all together? Of course this would be almost certain to raise the ire of practitioners of one or the other of these "cures", but that doesn't mean that the broader issues aren't basically the same for all of the subcategories. I'm doing the same thing when I talk about abstract expressionism, pop art, post-modernism, and all the rest by a single name rather than enumerating each individual subcategory one at a time."
The error he commits, however — a fatal error — is to concede to the charlatans control of the naming of the different movements, allowing them to keep the "modernist" label for their side (as if there's anything modern about paint splotches that even cavemen would have regarded with contempt), while retaining the derogatory "realist" label the charlatans have plastered on the masters (as if there's anything realistic about depictions of gods, angels, mythological monsters, and the like) — an error that I am far too clever to commit, which is why I am taking back the "independent" and "art" labels from the charlatans, returning the former to whoever chooses to work on a game of his own free will (i.e. without being forced to work on it due to, for example, someone holding a gun to his head or whatever), and the latter to all games and game developers, and using quotation marks for the charlatans' versions of these labels to designate the deception, on top of collectively baptizing them as "bad games" — or, to distinguish them from games which at least have the courage to ATTEMPT to aim for the cutting edge, even if they end up failing at it, as "shovelware". Thus shovelware is defined as:
Definition of shovelware: A subcategory of bad games whose designers are not only failing at achieving excellence, but not even aiming for it (— which is why they fail so much more utterly than regular bad games).
But in the interests of "the preservation of the smallest, narrowest, neediest and most incipient" game designers and critics, these bad games — this shovelware — must be shown to be, at first at least "equal" to cutting-edge games (otherwise known as "good games"), and at length even superior to them — with the first goal being pursued by inferior designers and pseudo-designers, and the second one by inferior critics and pseudo-critics, as the neurosis at length develops and intensifies to finally reach almost psychosis levels.
At the earliest stage the neurosis revolves around, and latches on to, the absurd (or absurdly abused) concepts of "equality", "subjectivity" and "pluralism" — all of which, in the way inferior designers and pseudo-designers employ them, amount to the same thing. For "pluralism" in art is merely the slogan that, to use Schopenhauer's metaphor, the "weeds" employ in their efforts to "choke the corn so that they may cover all the ground themselves". It is not a question here of weeds and corn being allocated an equal amount land, since, at least from the perspective of the farmer, the weeds are of no value — it's all about the corn, otherwise why bother cultivating the field at all? The analogy between farmer and critic here is total: the farmer works to eliminate, or at any rate minimize the influence of the weeds (which, by the way, presupposes that he can tell the difference between them), while directing all resources to the corn — a policy which finds the corn in complete agreement. It is only the weeds here that have a different perspective — not an entirely antithetical one, since they realize how absurd it would sound if they demanded all the attention for themselves — so they meet half-way in "equality", or at least in the impossibility of an "objective" separation of corn from weeds (as if the farmer had need of "objectivity" to get his work done, lol), which amounts to the same thing, and the cynical abuse of the concept of subjectivity to forestall and prevent value judgements, from which experience has taught them they always get the worst of it. "We are all equal" here simply means "Leave us alone! It's not enough we were born wretched, stunted, and inferior, you have to bash us down as well?" — at bottom nothing more than a pitiable cry for mercy which, by serving as the slogan by which weeds of all ages have recognized each other, it gathers them together to wage their own side of the war. — But we cannot be merciful, let alone polite, lest we fail in our duty to perform for future generations the same service that our ancestors have performed for us.
Schopenhauer: "It is quite wrong to try to introduce into literature the same toleration as must necessarily prevail in society towards those stupid, brainless people who everywhere swarm in it. In literature such people are impudent intruders; and to disparage the bad is here duty towards the good; for he who thinks nothing bad will think nothing good either. Politeness, which has its source in social relations, is in literature an alien, and often injurious, element; because it exacts that bad work shall be called good. In this way the very aim of science and art is directly frustrated."
But the neurosis consists in precisely this: in DENYING that there is such a thing as a "good" and a "bad" work, and maintaining that, either all works are equal (an absurd claim, since only identical things can be equal), or that any work can be evaluated in any number of ways — even entirely antithetical ones; in other words that, as Derek Yu shamelessly boasts, you can "spin" anything any way you want — this is how he and his ilk conceive of the critical enterprise: as a kind of "spinning", with the critic as spin-master — spin, for example, that your little brother's stick-figure doodles are equal, or, why not, even superior to Rembrandt; that his school play is equal, or even superior to Hamlet, and so on and so forth — a mindset which reveals nothing less than a deadly hatred against art, and which ultimately manifests itself in the vicious devaluation and disparagement of some of mankind's greatest achievements. — "Equality" for all works is a piece of gross vulgarity, gentlemen! If a Rembrandt or a Shakespeare, or any other genius, had at any time believed in your precious "equality", they'd never have managed to become anything — let alone immortal! — But even you yourselves do not believe in it — your every word and glance betrays you! For if you did you'd have no occasion to become so skillful at employing it to silence praise for your opponents' works. But this is an old and tired story: "equality" in art is no more about equality than in any other field of human endeavor; but only a base hypocrisy, a cunning trick, a superficial disguise masking the operations of an omnipresent and immanent will to power.
Nietzsche: "The three metamorphoses of the will to power.
On the first stage one demands "justice" [i.e. revenge on one's enemies] from those who are in power.
On the second stage, one speaks of "freedom" — that is, one wants to get away from those in power.
On the third stage, one speaks of "equal rights" — that is, as long as one has not yet gained superiority one wants to prevent one's competitors from growing in power."
This, then, is how far the inferior designer and pseudo-designer manages to get: establishing "equality" between the works of genius and his own pathetic and instantly forgettable abortions — at which point he passes the neurosis on to the inferior critic and pseudo-critic, who picks it up and runs with it as far as he can get: to the opposite extreme. Try to understand why he must do that. "Equality" for the pseudo-critic could never be enough — for he needs to make value judgements, to praise and to condemn, apotheosize and disparage, since that's what critics are supposed to do. For what use could a critic ever be who regarded everything as equal? — as much use as a god who loved everyone — which is why no one would pay attention to such a critic (just as no one would believe in such a god; hence the need for Hell, etc.) Equality, then, is merely the first step in the diabolic process; the attainment of the vantage point from which the proper attack can finally commence: the INVERSION of the fundamental values on which the artform has been built: formlessness in place of representation for the plastic arts; lack of structure in place of rhythm and melody for poetry and music; passivity in place of interactivity for videogames, and so on and so forth. For if the plastic arts had not been built around the notion of representing things, there would never have been any plastic arts to begin with, and neither would any music or poetry exist without the invention of, and strict adherence to, elaborate melodies and rhyme schemes, nor any videogames without the addition of mechanical complexity and challenge to the traditional cutscene form. The fundamentally nihilistic character of pseudo-criticism, then, reveals itself in this: that the values by which it judges, taken to their logical conclusions, deny the very foundations of the artform that they pretend to champion (just as the values of nihilistic religions and ideologies, followed to the end, deny the very foundations of life itself as a cosmic phenomenon). And just as game design progressively degenerates, by gradually relaxing its focus on its fundamental values and finally altogether repudiating them, to go from cutting-edge design, to "casual", to "indie" and finally to "art" design; so too game criticism progressively degenerates from expert, to corporate, to casual criticism (as seen, e.g., in large circulation publications such as newspapers and magazines), to finally hit rock bottom with the "new games artfag" pseudo-criticism of Tim Rogers and his ilk, whose wildly neurotic scribblings read like a terrifying manifesto of unrestrained hatred towards the artform:
"Canabalt is "Super Mario Tetris". ... [It] revels in its decision to cut out even the hassle of having to keep your finger on a control pad. ... It's art, because, every once in a while, he jumps onto a rooftop, and dozens of white birds take frightened flight, freer than our hero will ever be." (Tim Rogers, Canabalt review)
All elements of successful pseudo-criticism can be discerned here: a piss-poor abortion of a work (Canabalt) is passed off as the synthesis of masterpieces (Super Mario Bros. and Tetris); keeping "your finger on a control pad" (i.e. interacting with the game), has become a "hassle"; excellence ("art") is defined, not as the result of superior, immersive interaction, but in purely aesthetic terms, regressing back to the lower artform from which videogames evolved — et cetera, et cetera. Every traditional value of the artform is systematically negated, and the whole merciless and vicious demolition is clothed in reams of throwaway, garbage prose to hide, as much as possible, what's really going on. And finally, the coup de grâce: the wretched little work is placed on a lofty pedestal (as 31st best game of all time, in a preposterous list that doesn't even include GTA III, Civilization, Deus Ex, Devil May Cry, or any other genuinely great game), from which to look down derisively on the works of every master without whose ingenuity and passion the artform would have never even begun.
It goes without saying, at this point, that videogame pseudo-criticism (being, after all, barely even a decade old) lags far behind the standard achieved in the other arts — which is why debunking Rogers' drivel is so easy. But he's certainly on the right track, and with a bit more effort could probably one day catch up with what in primitive artforms passes today for "art criticism" — such as, for instance, this typical little passage from artcritical.com:
"As a repository and sum of former posteriors that have dented its cushions, of previous elbows that have grazed the armrests, the chair offers not a weedy patina of desuetude but an apotheosis of its former occupant." (James Scarborough, artcritical.com)
Who could deduce from this that the object referred to has nothing to do with art but is merely a dilapidated armchair? The idea, then, is to make one's scribblings extremely difficult, and ideally impossible to decipher, so that the underlying vapidity and nihilism will not be immediately apparent. It is in this context that artfagspeak develops (more commonly known as artspeak — or fagotspeak, as I prefer to call it), a language that studies have shown is vastly more complicated than even Chinese, which is why there are no dictionaries for it and it is not supported by automatic translation tools. After all, if entire books are required to decode a single word of it ("art"), imagine what an entire essay would do to your computer; suffice it to say experts are dubious whether even quantum computing will provide sufficient processing power to get the job done. The only thing certain is that this isn't strictly speaking a language, but an anti-language, since the purpose of a language is to communicate ideas, whereas fagotspeak's purpose is to hide their non-existence. Yet how did this happen to language? Fagotspeak, after all, derives from proper language (English fagotspeak from English, French fagotspeak from French, etc. etc.), so how did the inversion occur? In the exact same way that the quest for power on earth was reversed by the slave game into its opposite — into the quest for money and fame (in other words for weakness): by the introduction of a scoring mechanism which gradually marginalized the original purpose of language and ultimately supplanted it with the frantic collection of pseudo-intellectual artfag brownie points. This is why it's pointless at this stage to try to bring any of these people back to their senses — literally pointless; as in, "you will not get any points for it"; for in this game points are awarded according to how far away from sense one manages to get while at the same time avoiding entry into full-blown comedy. But it's a very fine line between self-satisfied pompous nonsense and comedy, an extremely difficult one to maintain, which is why the players are so utterly immersed inside their little game, to the complete exclusion of the rest of the universe. This is why cries of "Dude, it's just a fucking dilapidated armchair" directed at Mr. Scarborough will have as much effect as cries of "Dude, it's just a fucking dumbed-down platformer" directed at Tim Rogers — i.e. none — for the collection of these points has totally consumed them — they are playing for score, dude, and you better believe it — nothing else matters as far as they are concerned — criticism, enjoyment, analysis, expertise: all these things could not possibly be further from their minds, for everything has at last become for them merely a means for acquiring points, points, points and more points — they'd even go as far as to sell out their Jewish grandmother to the Nazis for a handful of these goddamn points — and they will stop at nothing to collect them: even going as far as to viciously slander every single decent artwork, even as far as to aid in the degeneration and destruction of the artform they expend so much energy to pretend to love, in a kind of real-life version of Under Defeat, where, past a certain point, in order to improve your score you have to commit suicide (— metaphorical suicide in the game, intellectual suicide in the fagots' case).
But it's time to understand what lies at the bottom of this perverse behaviour: weakness, baseness, and cowardice — in a single (Nietzschean) word ressentiment: in plain English resentment — and this applies equally to Yu and to Rogers, and to every single one of these humanoid worms who have for so long infested and debased all of our artforms. But what is the meaning of the concept of ressentiment as introduced into philosophy by Nietzsche? And what of the concept of reaction to which it appears to be somehow linked? No further progress can be made before we've fully explained and grasped all of these concepts.
Ressentiment is, essentially, a kind of reaction (in fact nothing other than its most extreme manifestation), so in order to understand it we must first understand the difference between action and reaction. These concepts have two very different sets of meanings: the lower, everyday meaning, and the higher, philosophical one (just as, in another context, we will eventually encounter two very different sets of meanings for the aesthetic/mechanical distinction...) In the everyday sense the distinction between action and reaction is a purely temporal one: reaction is simply the action that comes later in time than a previous action. But since idealized, linear time is an illusion, and since the universe is eternal, EVERY action that has ever or will ever occur can be viewed as a reaction in this sense to some other, prior action — so for any discussion higher than smalltalk this distinction becomes meaningless. In smalltalk it can be useful as an abbreviated means of expression, as e.g. in the phrase "Sheila reacted to the news in a rather outraged fashion", which implies that, in the locally limited spacetime context in which the conversation takes place, the news occurred before Sheila's angry outburst. It is in this sense that I used the word reaction earlier on, when describing, for example, Cave's success as a reaction to the casualization of the industry, or Insomnia as a reaction to the implosion of the specialist press, or my superior kind of criticism as a reaction to the domination of inferior criticism and pseudo-criticism, etc. etc. What makes all these events reactions in the lower sense is that they come at a later point in time than the events which preceded them. This, however, by no means renders them inferior to them (nor superior for that matter — the concept of value is not even remotely touched upon by this conception of action and reaction); for the lower sense of the distinction, being defined solely in a temporal sense, carries no implication of praise or blame with it — and it is only in this limited sense that it can be correctly applied; any application of it beyond this limited scope renders it instantly meaningless and misleading. To attempt to understand Nietzschean positivity as temporally conditioned is therefore to reach the brick wall of an infinitely regressive process — which is what Anglo-Saxon pseudo-philosophers have been doing for decades, with predictably hilarious results.
The higher conception of the action/reaction distinction, on the other hand, which is what concerns us here, has nothing to do with time but with values — in other words with health and sickness, with power and weakness — in short, with ascension and decline. Active is he who derives his values (and therefore his comportment) from himself; reactive he who adapts to the valuations of others — because in a universe in flux, whose only rule is bellum omnium contra omnes, power can only ever come from within, whilst weakness comes from others — and this is the meaning of Nietzsche's seemingly cryptic proclamation that "The only thing that matters is the quantum of power you are — the rest is cowardice". It is a fatal error therefore to suppose that power can be somehow gained, can in any way be derived from others, whether in the form of fame or money, or in any other form. For power is not, as the people suppose, something that can be taken but something that must be given — power is suicidal — it freely expends and gives itself, it flows and overflows and molds its surroundings according to its tastes — whilst weakness continually accommodates itself as best it can to pressures from without. And this is why hypocrisy, being the disguising and molding of oneself according to the expectations and preconceptions of others, is a profoundly reactive process — except when consciously employed as means, as temporary deception to reach a greater objective; but if it ends up being habitual, to the point where it becomes unconscious, it is fatal. Conscious hypocrisy is therefore a sign of strength, or at least of cunning, which is a form of strength, an attempt to find a way forward even when all the more direct paths appear blocked, by manipulating the brain structures of the life-forms that stand in one's way — a form of psychic aggression, a kind of mental violence — whilst unconscious deception is above all self-deception, since it ultimately deceives the deceiver to a far greater extent than the deceived, thereby, in the long run, contributing to rendering him far more stupid...
To be continued...