Monday, May 31, 2010


Now here's something that really deserves reading, and which, as far as I'm aware, is no less than the greatest essay ever written on the subject of video games.

That such a treasure should have been at last unlocked will not strike the conscientious reader as too too surprising — will not, that is, once he or she detects its artificer's mark: B. Kite.

"State of Play" — which figures as something around 10,000 words in length, and arrives halved into installments published successively over the last couple weeks by Moving Image Source — is the essay that the world has required: to be sure, a contextualization of video games within the larger dimension of present (and ancient) culture and social activity — but more significantly, a lucid articulation of the interrelationship between aesthetics and experientiality. In his essay, Kite eradicates all the dire angoisse around whether or not the one concept subsumes the other, and it would sure be a snappy tack to cast plague upon the houses of both "games are too art!" partisans on the one hand and "games have given us neither 'their' Middlemarch nor 'their' Citizen Kane" brahmins on the other — but Kite is too good for facile 'too-good-for-you' provocation. It is enough, then, to say that even though his tone in "State of Play" never calls attention to such, he is operating intellectually on a level far above the prejudice of the vested entrenched — and above dispassionate dilettantes who might only pursue the whole matter as editorial assignment... or anthropological conquest.

This essay is a deeply serious piece of work: deeply poetic, deeply cerebral, and, what's more, deeply readable, i.e., not at all 'academic' in the sense of that overreaching and embarrassing idiom; an exploration that in the process of its own discoveries — and self-realization, even — and never deigning to cater to cultics — beautifully resolves dilemmas both self-introduced and extant in the wider sphere of the world. In the process, "State of Play" permits that the circuits of its conclusions should remain decidedly "open" — no small feat. In fact it's a gargantuan task, given that the Frogger-esque intellectual leaps played by the article come at an astonishing, albeit perfectly paced, clip — even while the broader scopes-of-focus exhibit in turn an adventurous, elastic quality, their rates of acceleration varying as needed.

Unlike with, say, Roger Ebert's or Harold Bloom's, 'I am made happy when I read Kite's work.' I might not be able to elaborate well why this should be without betraying a compulsion to champion his oeuvre to date, but so be it. Put simply, there's great satisfaction to be had following Kite's multiple trajectories of thought, both bounded within the discrete work and pitched across the entire array he's developed over time. B. Kite for Initiates would include his Criterion essay on Bigger Than Life (the best piece ever written in English on Nicholas Ray); his two-part, 20,000-word blood-on-the-walls forensic of Rivette (the best piece ever written in English on the director); his two-part, Believer-published rumination on Jerry Lewis (the best piece ever written in English on that director too, aside, of course, from Jerry's own words about himself); either of his two looks at Kiyoshi Kurosawa (by now you've no doubt detected a pattern; read them in Exile Cinema and the booklet for the MoC Blu-ray/DVD of Tokyo Sonata, respectively); and his two-episode (to date) video-essay American (the best — and most aesthetically advanced — examination of Orson Welles likely not only to ever be directed but also likely to be outright ever conceived).

So what can one expect addressed in the new essay on vid-games?

-- The anxiety of gaming and play as time-wasting activity, examined through the lens of Johan Huizinga and his remark: "This ‘only pretending’ quality of play betrays a consciousness of the inferiority of play compared to ‘seriousness,’ a feeling that seems to be something as primary as play itself.”

-- "[T]he perpetual hype-cycle of an enthusiast press."

-- Will Wright's body of work ("beautifully designed") and its implicit worldview (the exertion of his "pet set['s] ... subtly coercive influence": "a capitalistic land value ecology" in SimCity, etc.).

-- Games as "a medium of displaced tactility" that elicits a "physical empathy" which has a correlative in the movie-watching experience (cf. Astaire / Bresson's models / Laurel).

-- "[T]he threat of inexpressive or even awkward juncture" / the uncanny / "the unalive face."

-- Gus Van Sant's Elephant — "an anti-shooter that keeps restarting itself, as if to delay the arrival of guns and slaughter."

-- Grand Theft Auto IV, "an intense nostalgia for the world outside your window," Phil Solomon, Still Raining, Still Dreaming.

-- Jacques Rivette, Out 1, Le Pont du Nord.

-- Hollis Frampton's Zorn's Lemma and Raúl Ruiz's Poetics of Cinema.

-- Joyce / Nabokov.

-- The recently reignited Roger Ebert kerfuffle-non-kerfuffle, variant texts, Shakespeare, a consideration that "[p]art of the reason games are so often thought of [as either a fundamentally narrative medium, or as wanting to become one] is undoubtedly due to a hype contingent among both developers and the press that takes any opportunity to tout some coming together of film and games — 'interactive movies' — as the inevitable future of both media," a double thought-experiment in which Roger Ebert is transported back in time one hundred years and then at the dawn of the photographic mechanism.

-- Finnegans Wake as "a possibility space," and Foreman / Warhol / Tati.

-- Keita Takahashi, Katamari Damacy, We Love Katamari, and the recent Noby Noby Boy.

The above comprises only an arbitrary selection of "topics covered." The integral exploration resides at the following two links:

State of Play, Pt 1

State of Play, Pt 2


The photographs by Marco Anelli for Marina Ambramović's The Artist Is Present are incredible. MoMA's full Flickr photoset containing the Anelli portraits of every sitter (along with multiple images of Ambramović) can be accessed here.


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