I left the experience with a sense that familiarizing and desensitizing ourselves to violence like this can turn us into zombies. Our lack of empathy and unwillingness to engage with those involved in tragedy stems from our comfort with the trauma those people are experiencing.
Ashley Gilbertson, a war photographer for Time, recently was asked to play and document The Last of Us Remastered. Thrust into the role of a violent killer, Gilbertson quickly melted down: a brief session left his “vision blurred” and his stomach in knots; and finally his mind “crashed out.” The protagonists’ zombielike indifference to the butchery around them baffled him. Yet, his own revulsion began similarly to dry up, even after he delegated the combat sequences to his assistant. Gilbertson concluded that his typical war photography is “an antitode to the type of entertainment this game represents”, a way to wake up people accustomed to atrocity.
In 1990, director Alan J. Pakula said, “Movie violence is like eating salt: the more you eat, the more you need to eat to taste it at all.” By then, increasingly callous audiences had “developed an insatiability for raw sensation”; and filmmakers had responded with works of ever worsening savagery. The fatal shotgun blast that heralded The Last of Us at E3 2012—a blast at which journalists cheered like spectators at the Colosseum—told an old story: transgression is normalized by repetition. Even the “Edward Pistolhands" apathy in The Last of Us, which so disturbed Gilbertson, was preceded and enabled by a loss of empathy in society at large. A person is changed by her surroundings—and no witness to brutality is unscathed.
First shoes in the moon’s bamboo garden were illuminated upward with each footfall. Someone to see the cracked mask lady. The wind had stitched patterns into world objects and glowblue animals were hiding in the reeds. Robed in a red robe, rough eternal skin, cutting rocks with a fingernail: she called out:
"First visitor, whose land is this land? and it is not mine, and its owner is unknown: when ripped souls drift by I mend them, and I keep company with the stars; and I am sustained; and you may leave now, having seen me, to tell all that I am real."
The tangerine waitstaff loped table to booth table to booth, customers crowded practically swinging from the rafters. Mr. Turtle and Ms. Marjoram offered compliments to the chef: their food was splendous. Mr. Dog wasn’t pleased with his meal. The waitstaff led him through, over, under twisting dining pathways to the kitchen to lodge complaint.
Back there in the greasy dinge steam chugged from appliances, boiling pots were stacked teetering to the ceiling and fogged figures of cooks scampered, fell with edibles. Only the head cook was clear with his gargantuan hands it was hard to work, he waved to direct cooks but nearly toppled various things, it was difficult. It was very difficult to work.
In the cities in which we live, all of us see hundreds of publicity images every day of our lives. No other kind of image confronts us so frequently. In no other form of society in history has there been such a concentration of images, such a density of visual messages.
These words were written in 1972. Their author, postmodern critic John Berger, hoped to reveal the incredible psychical power that advertising wielded over his age. Yet, read today, Berger’s statement sounds like an indictment of 2014. All modernized societies now swarm with advertisements—and not hyperbolically. Advertising punctuates websites, television and radio stations and print publications. The world beyond media is a confusion of billboards, flyers, noise pollution, bumper stickers and even litter proclaiming some product or brand. In the reader’s Tumblr feed, this very introduction appears amid, and is perhaps sandwiched between, advertisements.
But to suggest only that late modern culture is inseparable from advertising would be grossly to understate the situation. It is more accurate to say, with Berger, that advertising is our culture, that late modernity does not generate but is generated by advertising. Any attempt to pursue a reality beyond the one enclosed by advertising is immediately devoured by advertising—even used as an advertisement. An encounter with advertising comes to seem as natural and obvious as a breath of air. A step back is necessary. In fact, advertising is the sinister process of commodifying the universe, so that all things become products for purchase by insatiable consumers.
There are white dots in the distance, and the white dots shook against the horizon line. Windmill turned out on the periphery, from that goldish outside area the worker girl, enters the mill. Eyes, nose lit up in the light and she had grain. The windmill grinds this. Everyone with their own skill. Staring skitterer in the highest window, seeing through the turning sails, looked down as she went to work.
Thus, it is with special interest that we look at advertisements. The image of the future is pressed into service not simply because of its color, allure, or fantasy, but because we have become accustomed to seeing the future in commodity terms. What we will be in the future, these advertisements say, is what we will buy in the future. The future is going to be better, we believe, not in any abstract or humanitarian sense, but because there will be more to buy in the future. Increase in material abundance is assumed, and assumed to be good.
If the future is inherent in advertising in these broad cultural terms, it also provides the psychological frame of reference for the individual. As a system, advertising basically plays only one note. In the words of critic John Berger, it ‘proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.’ Advertisements ‘speak in the future tense, and yet the achievement of that future is endlessly deferred.’
”—Taken from Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (1984) by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan.
A fillet of cod, formaldehyde, dry paraffin and the frizzling spark of LIFE! “My ichthyoidic friend, be born!” A filthy light emanated from the alchemist’s melting pot. A rumbling jittered dust and books and a sandwich loose and sent them floorward to the limestone. In the pot flopped the impossible: a fish complete and alive. “Why do I live?” asked the fish as dawn peeked through an arrowslit. “I desire a companion in adventure,” said the alchemist.
The fish stared. “When my mustache is grown, I will go.” The alchemist raised his hands in exasperation—a mustache?! Already hairs had begun to appear, but a full mustache would take weeks to grow. He would have to wait. The alchemist set himself to righting the fallen books and scrolls and potions and food to the shelves.
Since its foundation in April 2012, this blog has been geared toward entertaining, edifying and confounding its readership. In our estimation, the links gathered below represent our best efforts yet in those regards. See our previous attempts above. And, from everyone at Still Eating Oranges, thank you for reading.
Jazzman Stan Getz made his name in bossa nova during the 1960s, with pop hits like “The Girl from Ipanema”. His smooth, tuneful saxophone playing was far more palatable to the masses than, for example, the jagged (and sometimes hysterical) beauty proffered by his contemporary John Coltrane. But, before he was a star, Getz had quietly released an avant-garde experiment of his own. This is Focus (1961), an exceptional fusion of jazz and modern classical music that he created with composer Eddie Sauter.
Getz shines brilliantly on this album. Sauter contributed deliberately self-contained compositions for a 19-piece orchestra—but he wrote nothing for saxophone, and he left subconscious “space” in the music for Getz to improvise his part. Somehow, Getz dances through and with the orchestra without apparent effort, laying down unpredictable melodies that never compete with Sauter’s work. As Getz said in the liner notes, the album proves that “the legitimacy of the past 300 years and the soul of our modern times can be put together and be beautiful.”
Focus shifts constantly into new territory, as Getz and the orchestra move from mood to mood: jazzy turbulence gives way to mournful balladry, and then to Alice in Wonderland-esque playfulness; and so on. Anchored by the fluid saxophone that made Getz famous, the record is challenging without being inaccessible. For good reason, he believed it to be his best work. Still, the attempt to explain Focus reminds one that beauty can merely be pointed to—never truly captured—by a description. Hear selections from the album after the break instead.
Who keeps leaving sharp objects in the street at the corner of Vine and Fifth? Gray William.
Lives in a blanket, dances on bonethin legs. Gray William breaks into, homes to, break vases, into pieces, who knows it? The bloated hatted thing from the corner of an eye. Known by its disease. Calls to the children, c’mon kids, they slunch off into the night. Bridget thought for sure she saw something over there.
I'm fascinated by the idea of kishōtenketsu: I'd love to write about it and integrate it into my own writing. Do you have any suggestions as to further reading about it? Thanks for the wonderful piece!
Thanks for your interest. Although we receive this question very frequently, our last public response to it was in early 2013. Enough time has passed, and enough additional examples have surfaced, that a new master post is in order.
The links above cite numerous examples of applied kishōtenketsu, but more are available. For instance, the structure is followed by each strip of Totan Kobako’s Sketchbook, and by each episode of the children’s television series Folktales from Japan. The director of the video game Metroid: Other Madmitted to using the structure in that work. Our readers have pointed to the manga series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō and the anime film Wolf Children as further illustrations of kishōtenketsu.
Is anybody really outraged anymore? It’s a different time. I feel like in my parents’ generation there was still room for outrage, there was still room for stigmatization. […] At the end of the day, it’s like “so you used a banjo in a black metal band, that’s novel, but is it good?”
For G. W. F. Hegel, “negative” human freedom—freedom understood as a mere lack of restriction—is socially dangerous. As an indiscriminate revolution against structure, it has no positive ambition, no act other than destruction. This “freedom of the void” manifested itself in history as the giddy nihilism of France’s Reign of Terror. Friedrich Nietzsche, however, considered the void to be a space of infinite possibility. After humanity rebels against order, it finds that “the sea […] lies open again”, that human drive is unlimited. The void is the stage for humanity’s greatest performance: the heroic, tragic and aimless assertion of the will, which creates new values from nothing.
In an interview with Gothamist earlier this year, composer Tyondai Braxton opined that art no longer has any boundaries—structures, stigmas—left to deconstruct. In other words, the long modern project of rebellion has, finally, transformed art into an “open sea” where everything is permitted. But Nietzsche misjudged humanity’s power to create without rules: Hegel was correct that negative freedom is expressed only as destruction and debasement. Today, installations of cellophane-wrapped candy are displayed in museums; and unaccompanied feedback is sold as music. Yet, Braxton suggests that the void is also a gift. In its silence, we may once again hear the primordial question that our structures arose to answer: anything may be made—but what is good?
Whether we realize it or not, each of us is eternally ‘in the red.’ We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. We do not finish breakfast without being dependent on more than half of the world. When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge which is provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are beholden to more than half the world.
In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
”—Taken from “The Man Who Was a Fool” (1963) by Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the night of animals mama and papa and me would all hold hands in the middle of the house. The animals came from the wild to check on us, so they looked right in to the windows for a very long time. I could see the shape of animal faces right outside and I saw the black eyes of an antelope once because of the moon. There was always the sound like a drum beating out in the dust. We stood very still holding hands when the animals came. We had to put out all the lights inside that could hurt their eyes. Mama and papa held my hands tight always. They said that the animals just wanted to check on us, just like they did great-great grandpapa, just like they had always checked on our community.
Controversy has for decades surrounded the issue of violence in video games. Much of this controversy, needless to say, has derived from ignorance and political opportunism. But a valid observation lies at the hubbub’s root. In video games, violence increasingly has been used as an organizing principle—even the organizing principle—behind gameplay. Too often violence is neither incidental nor contextually appropriate. Rather, it is an incongruous medium for all of one’s interactions. The player becomes, in the words of game designer and theorist Marc LeBlanc, Edward Pistolhands.
In 1955, a Colombian Navy destroyer lost eight of its crew in the Caribbean Sea. All were declared dead. Beyond hope, crewman Luis Alejandro Velasco was found alive in Colombia ten days later. He had survived on a raft without supplies of food or water. The country’s dictatorship raised up Velasco as a national hero, and his tale was circulated widely in the state-controlled media. After a few weeks, Velasco offered to sell the rebellious paper El Espectador his complete and uncensored story. A young journalist named Gabriel Garcia Marquez took the assignment.
The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor is a splendid little work. Written by Marquez from Velasco’s perspective, it tells a story so human, so psychologically gripping, that it must be read to be believed. Marquez’s rare talent is made obvious as he relates Velasco’s experience: the vivid hallucinations, the unfathomable blackness of night at sea, the agony of starvation. Life of Pi rings false by comparison. At the end, we learn of Velasco’s fame. Immediately his friends became “friendlier than before”; and companies paid him to advertise their products, such as the brand of watch that he had worn aboard the raft.
Yet, the moment was to be fleeting. Through Marquez’s piece, Velasco revealed that the destroyer had been carrying overweight contraband, such as washing machines and televisions. This had, in part, caused the accident. Colombia’s government was scandalized; Velasco’s star fell; El Espectador was shuttered. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor was not published as a book until 1970—and then only as a way to capitalize on Marquez’s own rise to fame. The story, however, remains excellent. Velasco’s is truly an eternal tale, of interest to anyone with a stake in the human condition. It may be acquired from Powell’s Books, Amazon or one’s bookseller of choice.
Little old Billy was playing and he fell down a hole, a big hole, deeper than anyone knew. He fell for a long time into a strange place, where houses were inside-out and animals were purple. It was hard to live there. Billy, Billy fell into the garden of a man who could speak forwards, backwards and diagonally. He had rainbow petunias that Billy ran through, and Ms. Clock kept ringing, ringing but no one understood. Billy got out of the confusion, no one could believe it, the people all looked like stardust…
An imitation is different from that which it imitates. This trivial truth was easier to remember when the world was chronicled with words, paint, marble and music. Who would suggest that the subjects of the Arnolfini Portrait have been stored literally within that painting? The work wears its artificiality on its sleeve. Yet, with the invention of modern sound and image recording, the distinction between imitation and imitatee has become blurry. Consider the photograph of the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. We seem really to have captured this man eternally, inside what Susan Sontag once called a “miniature of reality”. People see his photograph and claim to see him.
We have discussed before that realism, strictly speaking, is impossible. Through imitation, certain aspects of the actual world are isolated and exaggerated; and, if this is done well, a truth about those aspects is revealed. Photographs and audio recordings, no less than paintings and concertos, are performances—products of artifice. But their artificiality is easy to forget. In videos and images, things that we have not encountered can seem present to us. Our photographer once noted that visitors to the Museum of Modern Art were not stopping to view the displays: they were snapping pictures and leaving. An imitation of an imitation—a shadow of a shadow—was good enough. What happens when a society loses interest in that which casts the shadows?
In the hazed evening air with insects, my associate and I trundled in coats up a long drive, entunneled by trees. We entered deeper and darker into the green. Gradually a cottage and yard came into our view, and we noticed dogs playing with dogs behind an old fence. They noticed us and began saying, “Bark!” My associate tapped on the cottage door, and I wondered as the dogs barked. After a moment the door opened to an extremely average man, memorable only for one reason. Spoke my associate: “We apologize for bothering you, sir, but our vehicle appears to have broken down at the end of your drive.” And the man jollily beckoned us in, his hands red like roses.
Inside the cottage were plants of every variety, curled about the furniture and through the walls. No roof blocked us from the sky. We took tea with our host and watched the sunset above us. My associate ventured: “May we use your telephone?” The man replied: “No telephone exists here.” He stood up to water the plants and a petal fell from his hand, and I decided that it was time to leave. The man showed us out.
As we walked away the cottage seemed to loom behind us. I noticed that the dogs were gone. The sun was almost gone. Uncannily large fireflies were our only light down the drive, which was now growling with forest sounds. We found the car miraculously fixed upon our return, and we left in a hurry out of the dark. The entrance to the drive had vanished. There was a pawprint on the window glass.