A Couple More September Links (Spoiler, the US Still Has Nukes in Europe)

September 18, 2014

Leigh Phillips, “Four European States Host US Nuclear Bombs, WikiLeaks Reveals.”

Gregory Fried, “The King Is Dead: Heidegger’s ‘Black Notebooks.'”

Cory Doctorow, “Stephen Harper Sells Canada: China Can Secretly Sue to Repeal Canadian Laws.”

boundary 2 has made available Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s “The Future of Reading? Memories and Thoughts toward a Genealogical Approach.”

Maya Rhodan, “Nearly 5 Million Google Passwords Leaked to Russian Site.”

Simon Parkin, “Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.”

Podcast: Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey.

And Carolyn Kellogg on Alison Bechdel and Terrance Hayes receiving MacArthur Fellowships.


Many September Links

September 17, 2014

As predicted, I have been quite busy indeed and have not had a chance to post anything over the past couple of weeks. A bunch of fascinating stuff has been happening, a bunch of interesting books are coming out, etc., so I’m sad that I’ve been remiss in my duties. Hopefully this large batch of links will make up for that.

 

Apocalypse and After

George Dvorsky, “Have Humans Already Conquered the Threat of Extinction?”

Or not. Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander, “Limits to Growth Was Right: New Research Shows We’re Nearing Collapse.”

One of the first reviews of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

Jessica Corbett and Ethan Corey, “5 Crucial Lessons for the Left from Naomi Klein’s New Book.”

Eric Holthaus, “New Study Links Polar Vortex to Climate Change.”

Eugene Thacker on Radiolab.

And who knows where to put this one: Alison Flood, “Margaret Atwood’s New Work Will Remain Unseen for a Century.”

 

Hyperarchival

Matt Frassica, “The Revolution Has Been Digitized.” The digitization of the modernist “little magazine.”

Randy Kennedy, “Digitizing Warhol’s Film Trove to Save It.”

Glen Fleishman, “An Algorithm to Figure Out Your Gender.”

Patricia Hernandez, “Meet the Guy Who Spent Seven Months Killing Everyone in Fallout 3.”

Tatiana Danger, “Drone Discovers Abandoned Renaissance Faire Deep in Virginia Woods.” (I’d been wondering where I misplaced my Renaissance faire.)

Nicholas Carr, “The Manipulators: Facebook’s Social Engineering Project.”

History and Economics

Hector Tobar reviews The Half Has Never Been Told.

Tim Cassidey, “Historians Who Look Too Much.”

 

International

Masha Gessen, “The Dying Russians.”

Slavoj Žižek, “ISIS Is a Disgrace to True Fundamentalism.”

Michael Muhammad Knight, “I Understand Why Westerners Are Joining Jihadi Movements Like ISIS. I Was Almost One of Them.”

The Atlantic has a bunch of striking pictures in “Afghanistan: The Long Withdrawal.”

 

Literature and Culture

“Pittsburgh Poet Terrance Hayes Named MacArthur Fellow.”

Jonathan Arac, The American Jeremiad after Thirty-Five Years.”

And indeed, Common-Place 14, no. 4, has a whole roundtable on Sacvan Bercovitch‘s American Jeremiad.

Andrew Culp, “From the Decision to the Digital,” a review of Alexander R. Galloway’s new book, Laruelle: Against the Digital.

Alex Ross, “The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the Critique of Pop Culture.”

James Wood, “Soul Cycle,” a review of David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks.

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews William T. Vollmann.

An interview with Ben Lerner at The Believer.

Alexander Norcia reviews Ben Lerner’s 10:04.

Dwight Garner reviews 10:04 in “With Storms Outside, Inner Conflicts Swirl.”

Another 10:04 review: Christian Lornetzen, “Back to the Present.”

And another. Joe Fassler, “Envision the Novel Like a Museum.”

Tiffany Gibert reviews Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

On the scourge of “creativity”: Joshua Rothman, “Creativity Creep.”

Thomas Pynchon’s edits to his Simpsons script.

Chris Rodley, “Post-structuralism Explained with Hipster Beards.”

Matt Uford, “People vs. the NFL.”

Adam Atkinson and my colleague at Pitt, Dawn Lundy Martin, both have poems in issue 45 of Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics in its “NSFW” special issue, edited by the incomparable Lara Glenum.

My friend Rachel Nagelberg has work in issue 5 of Impossible Voice.

My friend David Letzler has a new essay in Hypermedia Joyce Studies: “Redundancy, Modernism, and Readers’ Expectations: An Experiment in Joyce Prediction.”

 

The Gaming Controversy

TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism.”

Ian Williams, “Death to the Gamer.”

David Auerbach, “Gaming Journalism Is Over.”

Patrick Miller, “Why I’m not a ‘Gamer.'”

Daniel Carlson, “The Insidious Rise of the Blockbuster Videogame.”

Peter Frase, “Gamer’s Revanche.”

And a roundup of the explosive month in videogames.

 

(Digital) Humanities and Higher Education

Brian Lennon, “The Eversion of the Digital Humanities.” A review of The Emergence of Digital Humanities by Steven E. Jones.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, “This Is Not an Essay.”

Malcolm Harris, “Not for Teacher,” a review of Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars.

Debra Leigh Scott, “How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in Five Basic Steps.”

Jeffrey L. Butler, “The Two Cultures of Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century and Their Impact on Academic Freedom.”

Former Pitt teacher Cathy Day, “The Magic Building Where English Majors Work: Making Sense of Creative Writing’s Job Problem.”

Christy Thornton, “Students at the Barricades.”

Amanda Ann Klein, “Understanding Your Academic Friend: Job Market Edition, Part II.”

Mark Follman, “Idaho Professor Accidentally Shoots Himself While Teaching Class.”

And Mallory Ortberg, “Every Type of Email College Students Send to Their Professors.”


“Literally” Two-Thousand Fourteen Links

August 8, 2014

Nuclear and Environment

US War Department’s Archival Footage of the Bombing of Hiroshima.

H. Bruce Franklin, “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, American Militarism,” a review of Paul Ham‘s Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath.

Mark Strauss, “Federal Employee Gets Fired After Writing an Article Criticizing Nukes.”

Lindsay Abrams, “Researchers: Warming Responsible for Siberia’s Mysterious Hole.”

 

Politics

Paul Krugman, “Knowledge Isn’t Power.”

 

International

On the road to World War III. Roger Cohen, “Yes, It Could Happen Again.”

George Packer, “A Friend Flees the Horror of ISIS.”

Aaron Bady, “Is Genocide Right for You?”

Adam Withnall, “Ebola Outbreak: Emirates Becomes First Major International Airline to Suspend All Flights to Virus-Affected Region.”

Lenny Bernstein, “Why You’re Not Going to Get Ebola in the US.”

 

Science and Technology

The new impossible engine. Robbie Gonzalez, “Don’t Get Too Excited About NASA’s New Miracle Engine.” And more on NASA impossible engine.

 

Literature and Culture

The end of civilization as we know it: “literally” now also means “figuratively” according to Merriam-Webster.

On Haruki Murakami’s most recent. Patti Smith, “Deep Chords: Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” and Laura Miller, “Murakami’s Understated Triumph: What Japan’s Most Celebrated Writer Knows that Most American Novelists Don’t.”

n + 1, “The Free and the Anti-Free: On Payment for Writers.”

Nathan Reese, “The Golden Age of Comics Is Now.” I am tempted to agree, man their are some good books out there right now.

Rob Horning, “The Silence of the Masses Could Be Social Media.”

Noah Gittel, “Scarlett Johansson’s Vanishing Act.”

Gerry Canavan, “Guiltpiercer.” (A response to Aaron Bady’s fantastic article that I posted last time.)

Prachi Gupta, “Inside Junot Díaz’s Class at MIT: What the Writer Wants His Students to Read.”

Colin Mcenroe, “Ira Glass ‘Shakespeare Sucks’ Redemption: Fixing TED Talks, Public Radio, and Dystopia for Millennials.”

The archaeology of Atari.

On the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab.

And if you’re in Pittsburgh: A Conversation with Terrance Hayes and Lynn Emanuel.

 

Humanities and Higher Ed

According to Inside Higher Education the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded a job offer to Steven G. Salaita for comments he made on Twitter about Israel. And it is blowing up the academic internet. Corey Robins on Cary Nelson. The Illinois AAUP Committee on Salaita. David Palumbo-Liu, “Return of the Blacklist? Cowardice and Censoship at the University of Illinois.” And a petition demanding corrective action that has received ten-thousand signatures.

Richard Gunderman, “Is the Lecture Dead?”

Abigail Walthausen, “Don’t Give Up on the Lecture.”

Nick Romeo, “Are Great Teachers Born or Made?”

Max Nisen, “What Happens When an Elite American University Kills Grade Inflation?”

Carlo Rotella, “Adjuncts Should Unionize.”

On the itinerant academic life: Nate Kreuter, “When Friends Leave.”


August Links

August 2, 2014

Its been a couple weeks since I’ve posted any links, so there’s a bunch of stuff here.

 

Disaster, Nuclear, Environment, and Deep Futures

John Oliver on America’s Insecure Nuclear Arsenal.

Willie Osterweil, “The End of the World as We Know It.” On the reactionary politics in ancient apocalypse films.

Josh Marshall, “Disaster Porn, For Once for Real.”

Ross Andersen, “When We Peer Into the Fog of the Deep Future What Do We See–Human Extinction or a Future Among the Stars?”

Radical eco-nihilism. Wen Stephenson, “‘I Withdraw': A Talk with Climate Defeatist Paul Kingsnorth.”

Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist.”

Mark Strauss, “Space Junk Is Becoming a Serious Security Threat.”

Robert T. Gonzalez, “Bad News: Scientists Have Measured 16-Foot Waves in the Arctic Ocean.”

Nadia Prupis, “‘There Will Be No Water’ by 2040? Researchers Urge Global Energy Paradigm Shift.”

 

Politics

Andy Borowitz, “Congress Blocks Obama’s Attempt to Order New Office Supplies.”

Sahil Kapur, “Top Obama Aide: Boehner Has ‘Opened the Door’ to Impeachment.”Alyssa

Eduardo Porter, “Why Voters Aren’t Angrier About Economic Inequality.”

Jeff Shesol, “The Impeachment Vogue.”

Hmm, probably should have seen this coming. Katie McDonough, “Satanists Want Hobby Lobby-Style Religious Exemption from Anti-Choice Counseling Laws.”

 

Economics

David Harvey, “The 17 Contradictions of Capitalism.”

 

International

Graham Allison, “Just How Likely Is Another World War? Assessing the Similarities and Differences Between 1914 and 2014.”

Noura Erakat, “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza Debunked.”

Ken Isaacs, “Why Are We Ignoring a New Ebola Outbreak?”

Susannah Locke, “Ebola Outbreak Worsens: Liberian Doctor Dies, Virus Spreads to Nigeria.”

Ebola reaches Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.

 

Hyperarchival

Cory Arcangel’s Working on My Novel, the Book.

Ian Svevonius, “All Power to the Pack Rats.” In the sleek Apple future, our “outdated” possessions are turned into symbols of poverty.

The New Yorker has opened up its archives. Joshua Rothman and Erin Overbey, “A Summer in the Archive.” Matt Buchanan, “All The New Yorker Story Roundups You Should Read While the Stories Are Still Unlocked, As Well As All The New Yorker Stories They Link To.”

Two interesting hyperarchival podcasts. The first, Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, takes on the herculean task of trying to explain the hyperarchival, meganarrative that are the X-Men comic books.

The second, Go Bayside, discusses every episode of Saved by the Bell (1989-93).

This is also fantastic. “30 Essential Songs from the Golden Era of Emo.” The nostalgia here is about as thick as it can be.

Unpublished photographs from the National Geographic archives.

And the television hyperarchive: Megan Garber, “Woohoo! Simpsons World Will Transform the Show into Delicious, Delicious Data.”

 

Literature and Culture

This is fantastic. Carolyn Silveira, “If You See This Woman and Think She Doesn’t Seem Punk, Wait Till You See Her in Her Underwear.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Lucy: The Eurotrash, 2001 ScarJo Action Sequel You’ve Been Waiting For.”

Christopher Orr, Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. I utterly disagree with Orr’s review, however, as I loved Lucy (2014), thought it was great for many of the reasons Orr thought it poorly made, think it is what Steven Shaviro calls post-cinema (putting it in line with such films as Southland Tales (2006), Gamer (2009), Spring Breakers (2013), etc.), and just wish there were many more movies like this. Such as. . . .

Aaron Bady, “A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Take Too Seriously, but for Very Serious Reasons.”

“Meta: Snowpiercer.”

Unemployed Negativity, “Hijacking a Train: Revolution and Its Limits in Snowpiercer.”

Michael M. Hughes, “How an Obscure 2nd Century Christian Heresy Influenced Snowpiercer.”

Finally, Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. Matthew Jackson, “Comics Legend Grant Morrison Unveils Massive DC Comics Event The Multiversity.”

Andrew Pilsch, “The Banality of Dystopia” and “Object-Oriented Food? Time, Poverty, and Cooking.”

J. R. Hennessy, “The Tech Utopia Nobody Wants: Why the World Nerds Are Creating Will Be Awful.”

Patrick Jagoda and Melissa Gilliam, “On Science Fictions and Ludic Realities.” Jessica Kim Cohen, “Program Serves Local, Adventuresome Youth.”

One of my favorite activities: how to read in bars.

Courtesy of The New Yorker‘s archives opening up: Jennifer Egan, “Black Box.” A story told through tweets.

Ulysses virtual reality game. I can’t wait.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar trailer.

Stephen Colbert on The Hobbit.

Jacob Kastrenakes, “Philip K. Dick’s Cult Novel Man in the High Castle Becoming an Amazon TV Pilot.”

Katharine Trendacosta, Ascension: An Alternate History About a Planned Community in Space.”

Ugh, Ira Glass sounds like a teenager because he thinks Shakespeare isn’t “relatable.” Alyssa Rosenberg, “Ira Glass and What We Get Wrong When We Talk About Shakespeare.” And Rebecca Mead wonderfully responds in “The Scourge of ‘Relatability.'”

And my friend Adriana Ramirez has launched a new poetry press, Blue Sketch Press. Check out their two releases so far: Adriana E. Ramirez, The Swallows (2014) and Amy David, No Body Home (2014).

 

Humanities and the Higher Education

Ian Bogost, “The Opposite of Good Fortune Is Bad Fortune: Is ‘Adjunct Activism’ the Only Path to Labor Reform in Higher Ed?”

The financial crisis in higher education.

And yet, Lawrence S. Wittner, “Why Are Campus Administrators Making So Much Money?”

“Our Internal and Public Messaging About Administrative Bloat.”

David Matthews, “Thomas Docherty to Face Insubordination Charge in Tribunal.”

David Masciotra, “Pulling the Plug on English Departments.”

Gamification is not the answer. Blaine Greteman, “Can World of Warcraft Save Higher Education?”

Rachel Applebaum, “The New Glass Ceiling in Academe.”

And student loan forgiveness for adjuncts.


Slavoj Žižek Plagiarizes and Other Links

July 15, 2014

Environment and Disaster

Robin McKie, “Miami, the Great World City, Is Drowning While the Powers That Be Look Away.”

Miami Beach tidal flood

More on Miami: Jeff Goodell, “Goodbye, Miami.” (And there’s definitely a joke to be made about LeBron leaving Miami here. . . .)

And when it rains, it also might pour lava from the sky: Scott Kaufman, “Parts of Yellowstone National Park Close After Massive Supervolcano Beneath It Melts Roads.”

 

Economics

John Oliver on income inequality.

 

Literature and Culture

This is getting a lot of attention. Slavoj Žižek has plagiarized a white supremacist. In “A Plea For a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua),” which appeared in Critical Inquiry 32, no. 2 (Winter 2006), and then again appeared on the Lacanian Ink website, and was collected in 2006’s The Parallax View (pp. 301-303; this book, to me, is still Žižek’s best book), Žižek plagiarized, nearly verbatim, from a review essay by Stanley Horbeck originally published in American Renaissance (a white supremacist publication) in 1999. An anonymous blogger found the mistake and documented it at length. This story has been reported in a variety of ways. One writer emphasizes Žižek’s apology email, where he basically says that he only stole words, not ideas. Rebecca Schuman has weighed in at length. And NPR has a thorough article. Basically, according to the Slovenian philosopher, he got a summary/resume from a friend for what sounds like a fairly reprehensible book by Kevin B. MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (1998). Rather than read the book (an inaction I perhaps understand), he just lifted the summary his friend gave him verbatim. This summary was supposedly written to be used by Žižek in just this way, but sadly, the friend just lifted the summary from Horbeck’s article, an article that obviously has a very different take on MacDonald than Žižek (which I think is why he emphasized that he didn’t steal the ideas . . . a quip that has been taken out of context). Obviously Žižek is at fault for: not reading the book he slams so hard, for getting someone else to read the book for him and trusting their words, and using someone else’s words (both his friend’s and Horbeck’s). His friend is also at fault. As is Critical Inquiry (and Lacanian Ink and the MIT Press) for not doing their editorial due dilligence. (And heck. let’s just throw in Horbeck and MacDonald too, as this whole thing wouldn’t have happened if people like that didn’t exist.)

But to be frank, this doesn’t really upset me all that much. Here’s the last line of the plagiarized section that wound up in The Parallax View: “The only thing to bear in mind is that this new barbarism is a strictly postmodern phenomenon, the obverse of the highly reflexive self-ironical attitude–no wonder that, reading authors like MacDonald, one often cannot decide if one is reading satire or a ‘serious’ line of argument.” The recursive postmodern irony here is thick, as is it difficult to tell whether to take even this whole thing satirically or seriously. (It should also be noted that in the note citing MacDonald’s book in The Parallax View, there is an addendum that says “All non-attributed quotes that follow are from this book,” which seems to clearly indicate Žižek did not read or have access to MacDonald’s actual book, and was quoting him from somewhere else. Perhaps if one is looking for more plagiarism, one would do well to start with such notes.) Anyway, this may just be that I’ve read too much Žižek, think he is a great cultural critic, is on the whole quite a bit more enjoyable than a lot of writers of his ilk, he makes movies (!), and has one of the finest senses of philosophical irony I have encountered, but this doesn’t really bother or upset me. It was a mistake, he has acknowledged and explained it, regrets it, et cetera.

In lighter news:

My friend Steph Ceraso, “Snap, Crackle, Pop: The Sonic Pleasures of Food.”

Side-scrolling life.

These photos are just too much.

Chris Pleasance, “Ancient Language Not Heard for 4,000 Years Is Recorded for the First Time as Linguists Work Out How English Came About Using Ancient Texts.”

 

Humanities and Higher Education

Not on higher ed, but still worth attention. Rachel Aviv on institutional cheating, “Wrong Answer.”

Syndi Dunn, “A Brief History of the Humanities Postdoc.”

“Borrowing Against the Future.”

 

LeBron James

Here’s more links on LeBron. And I swear, that will be all.

Scott Cacciola, “LeBron James’s Latest Feat: Bringing a Frenzied League to a Freeze.”

The New York Times sports page.

Nate Silver, “What Cleveland Would Look Like with LeBron James and Kevin Love.”

And Kevin B. Blackstone, “LeBron James Is a Politician Now, and We Need More Activist Athletes Like Him.” Indeed!


Tom Clancy’s The Division Trailer

July 7, 2014

More coming down the pipe in amazing looking post-apocalyptic videogames: this trailer for Tom Clancy’s The Division (forthcoming 2015). (Here’s some gameplay as well.)


Edge of Tomorrow and the Gamification of Being

June 11, 2014

EDGE-OF-TOMORROW-13

As Jon Stewart commented to Tom Cruise on The Daily Show the other night, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) resembles a videogame. Cruise’s character, William Cage, dies over and over.[1] Each time he dies, he is resurrected with the knowledge of what transpired before he died, and so, much like a videogame, he is able to get “further” than he did before with each “play-through.”[2] Also, like videogames (in general), there is something deeply nihilistic and doomy about this kind of ontological state, this state of being “reset” (often intentionally) so that a better outcome can transpire, again and again, for ends that seem largely unobtainable, and, after a while, not even desirable or coherent.[3] This representation of human life as infinitely repeatable, as “gamified,”[4] as a set of conditions and procedures to be mastered, as a teleological striving toward a singular objective, a boss battle at the end of every single life for the survival of humanity . . . I would like to suggest that such a vision of Being signifies a deep and abiding despair with contemporaneity, a hopelessness with life as we know it, an acknowledgment of the finitude of human life (and, indeed, the species), and an insight into the brutal logic of the gamification of the world in the twenty-first century. It also, of course, holds out a weird hope that the gamification of the very things that make us human (our experience of time, our finitude, love, knowledge, et cetera) might allow us to access transcendent, messianic, heroic existence. This hope, however, only reinforces the audacious despair at the heart of the film.

Edge of Tomorrow’s most clear cinematic forerunner is obviously the endearing, (still) funny, and (at this point, for me at least) nostalgic film, Groundhog Day (1993). I’m surprised it has taken Hollywood this long to revisit this concept of serious repetition, for there is something weirdly fascinating about the idea of living the same day (or week, or month, or life! the possibilities are endless . . .) over and over again. There are clear “affective” pleasures this kind of narrative produces. A single human life is littered with regrets, reflections on what could have or should have happened, words that shouldn’t have been spoken, actions taken that cannot be undone, a litany of mistakes, an index of petty tragedies.Groundhog Day takes this regret and funnels it into a single, relatively ordinary day, experienced by a relatively ordinary bourgeois American subject. The despair at the heart of Groundhog Day is normal: everyday life, with all its attendant regrets and failures. We take pleasure in its comedy—in all senses of the word—because the fantasy it depicts is not, as my students like to say, “relatable,” but because it is wholly other. We cannot undo the past, rework our mediocrity into perfectible “goodness,” living for others, being our best selves, et cetera. We like to imagine that we can be perfect bourgeois subjects, interpolated as Bill Murray is by the end of the film, and we take pleasure in perpetuating the illusion that such subjectivity is possible, but we cannot help but be haunted by our own selfishness, pettiness, despair, complacency, and hopelessness, a state of being that characterizes Murray’s character at the beginning of the film. Groundhog Day is an ideological fantasy that briefly covers over our own dumb, inert selfishness, and for that, it is a balm for everyday life. It briefly holds out a hope that we aren’t all the worst, and as such, we enjoy the illusion.

Edge of Tomorrow, though formally almost exactly the same, is quite different. Yes, Cruise’s character is “unlikable” at the beginning of the film, but not in a genuinely “human” fashion (i.e., Bill Murray: he’s a jerk, a misogynist, a drunk, et cetera). Rather, Cruise doesn’t want to go to war. Sure, he is in the military, performing some sort of military-media duty, but his desire to not go to war (I hope after over a decade of US military adventurism) is not unnatural.[5] At this point the alien invasion seems limited to the area Germany occupied during World War II, so why would one want to go into battle, when there are so many places on Earth that one could still live relatively unharmed (e.g., the US)? Are we really, at this late date, to sincerely accuse Cruise’s character of cowardice at this point? I would hope not. (And, as he points out to the general, he’s playing a legitimately important role in global propaganda! Why would you send one of your chief propagandists into battle?) But of course, the general is nonplussed with Cruise’s cowardice, so (I assume, drugs him? and) Cruise finds himself waking up in handcuffs, his paperwork listing him as a private, being sent into battle on the whims of a sadistic general.

Let me stress how different this is from Groundhog Day. First of all, the physical, material reason for Murray’s repetition is never explained. Cruise’s is explained quite quickly: the alien-hive-mind-Mother-Brain-glowing-thing can transcend space and time, resetting the world every time one of its special-time-whatever-units is destroyed, thus insuring its victory . . . or whatever, and Cruise accidentally got some of that magical alien goo in his blood the first time he died on the shores of, I assume, Normandy, so the Mother Brain thinks Cruise is one of its temporal units. Further, Cruise, unlike Murray, has only been characterized as a media maven with little backstory (family, wife, kids for a man clearly in his forties?[6]) and no discernible character traits. (Murray was able to distill an entire life’s failures into the first twenty minutes of Groundhog Day.) So Cruise is just a tabula rasa, a one dimensional man that, because he finds himself in this extraordinary situation, soon becomes a valiant badass, like we all could (if we were playing a videogame). In other words, Groundhog Day’s repetition does not resemble a game. It resembles the fantasies of what all us poor schlubs would do differently if we had the chance. The Edge of Tomorrow, on the other hand, places us in a (now classic) videogame situation: we don’t know who or what we are, nor why we find ourselves in this extraordinary situation, but through repetition and mastery, we will get to the final castle and save the princess![7]

Just think about the first time you played Super Mario Bros. (1985). Why am I here? What am I supposed to do and why? What are these bricks and question marks? What are these little goombas coming toward me? I doubt anyone pauses to ask themselves such questions. No. The player immediately sallies forth, knowing there is a clear teleological direction (right, always right!) and gamic procedure, and through enough repetition, the gameplay will be gradually mastered. After Cruise wakes up for the first time after having died, he is exactly in the same position as the eight-year-old player of Super Mario Bros. who has died for the first time, maybe even on the first goomba, and finds herself back at the starting position. (And, much like with videogames, his situation is only made clear to him with the introduction of another “player,” Rita, played by Emily Blunt, who also had and then lost Cruise’s ability to play the situation over and over again. She effectively becomes “player 2” in Edge of Tomorrow.)

For the logic of The Edge of Tomorrow is its banal teleology. The one scene where Cruise steps off the path, goes into London to watch the war on the television and throw back a couple of beers, results only in the alien destruction of the city. The message is clear. There is only one direction to go in. Either kill the final boss or nothing.[8] Being, with this kind of telos and repetition, then becomes mechanized, enframed, controlled, and reified. The only possibility for subjectivity, for a subject’s ontological experience of the world, is to abide by the strict limitations imposed by this experience of repetitive time. Cruise has no other choice than to abide by the logic imposed upon him (or else isn’t imaginative enough to articulate other ways of being within the logic of his gamified existence. He’s like the player of Grand Theft Auto who never deviates from the main narrative path. . . .)

Compare this to Groundhog Day. Murray’s first reaction, unlike Cruise, is a deep realization of the banality and horror of his situation. The endless repetition of the same day over and over is an utter nightmare. And so he confronts this horror not by gamifying his existence, but by playing with it, without parameters, for fun (even going so far as to kill himself in a number of clever ways). He then uses his situation to master a host of tasks, but few of them are blatantly teleological. Yes, he masters the piano, but there is no need in the diegesis of the film for him to do so. Achieving his love relationship does not get him out of his situation. Only by becoming selfless, a better person, caring, et cetera, can he get off his track. And, as we might (hope we) know, there is no clear, easy direction toward such caritas, no telos for this kind of love. Groundhog Day flirts with the gamification of Being, but it is clear there is something very much more at stake with the cosmic loop that has been imposed upon Murray.

Cruise’s situation is more horrifying than Murray’s, for he has to die to reset the “game,” and he dies over and over and over. The experience of such constant death, I have to imagine, is unpleasant, as are all those moments prior to death (he breaks his back, arms, et cetera, at points in the film, usually before being shot in the head). And it is this repetitive death, rather than resurrection or repetition, which is the clearest site of the horror of Edge of Tomorrow’s gamification of Being. In a slightly different context, communications scholar Lizbeth Klastrup has suggested that in videogames, “the experience of ‘death’ is thus not one of termination, though it may definitely cause a player grief. In most gameworlds, ‘dying’ is an activity similar to a number of other repeatable activities that occur as a part of the everyday life in the world.”[9] Death is just another mechanic, part of the aesthetic form of the game, something that ultimately can be “playful and explorative, fun and entertaining, or merely be considered an unfortunate nuisance that obstructs the flow of playing the game.”[10] Jesper Juul has taken his reflections one step further, noting that “I dislike failing in games, but I dislike not failing even more,” and as such, “failure in games tells us that we are flawed and deficient. As such, video games are the art of failure, the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience and experiment with failure.”[11]

This is all well and good. Failure and death in games are fundamental aspects of the medium’s form, its aesthetics. Death is not an ontological condition in videogames, but a structural one, like a law of physics, a mechanic, a limitation that, by limiting one’s experience, creates meaning and pleasure. If one could not die in, say, Super Mario Bros., it would be drained of whatever (perhaps limited) meaning or pleasure it may have or produce. (This is the same reason that, though cheat codes are initially fun to use because of how they transgress the boundaries of the game mechanics, players quickly get bored with being invincible, or whatever, in games.)

Let me be clear. Death in Edge of Tomorrow is not “playful and explorative, fun and entertaining . . . an unfortunate nuisance.” It is death, clear and simple. Yes, it isn’t really death, because Cruise comes back over and over, but there is nothing playful or fun about it. It hurts. It must take a psychological toll upon him. He sees Emily Blunt die over and over again, which becomes more and more painful as he begins falling in love with her (for reasons that are largely unclear; she is also quite one dimensional). When Bill Murray plays with death in Groundhog Day, it is darkly comic, playful, and, at least for the audience, unsettlingly fun. Like videogames, death in Groundhog Day is aesthetic and formal. But it isn’t, really, in Edge of Tomorrow. By the midpoint of the film, Cruise has ceased trying to save his comrades from often grisly deaths, realizing that only the teleological goal of killing the Mother Brain matters (and if the Mother Brain had been where he thought it was in the first place, we wouldn’t have the redemptive ending we do). Death in Edge of Tomorrow never loses its feel of “reality,” with all its attendant pain, regret, loss, and horror. And gamifying death only makes it more horrifying. If the horizon of Being is death, as Martin Heidegger once suggested, and that Being is Being-toward-death, that Being is constructed on the abgrund (or lack of ground) that is death, Edge of Tomorrow only multiplies the anxieties and horrors of human existence, of Being.[12]

And here is the audacious despair at the heart of the film. Edge of Tomorrow reveals that the horizon of the contemporary fad of gamification, of gamifying increasingly nongamic aspects of life, is the gamification of Being itself. And this is not fun. It is horrific.Indeed, gamification as it is practiced today is not necessarily fun. Who really wants to earn “experience points” rather than grades, or become the mayor of an area because of their savvy shopping? (Well, actually, clearly many people.) But the logic of gamification, extended toward the horizons of human life, of our existence and not just our activities, toward our very Being, our love, knowledge, death, imagination, et cetera, is a threat to ontology itself, a threat to the very Being that is specific to humans. When we gamify human existence, the result is pain, horror, and death. And do not let the ending of Edge of Tomorrow distract us into thinking that it could be redemptive, happy, and fulfilling. It is only by resetting the entire world, by undoing what had been done, by making human activity and life meaningless, that it can achieve anything other than horror.

The ending of the film, and the film’s clear historical references to the Second World War and the invasion of Normandy, point toward a deeper despair than simply the gamification of Cruise’s Being. The film effectively gamifies the existence of the species. It seems to suggest that World War II is a repeatable, recursive activity that humans get involved in, that they will always be fighting evil, landing on Normandy, dying in the thousands (and of course the film cannot help to obliquely point toward the Shoah, another site of the horrific reification of the human). The only way to confront the present alien invasion is to reimagine the site of so much twentieth century trauma. So it is here, with this repetition of the past, the gamification of history, of war, of trauma, of suffering, of militaristic ideology, of American exceptionalism, that the film’s real despair shines through. In short, the film suggest that humanity, unless it figures out a way of gamifying the species, is doomed. Doomed toward a single end. The aliens in this film do not necessarily stand in for climate change, but they might as well. There is no reset button on the glaciers sliding into the ocean, for the disastrous effects of climate change, for the seemingly endless wars of the twenty-first century, for the increasingly nonhuman forces of capitalist exploitation.[13] And the film acknowledges that there is no other way to prevent human extinction other than resetting history. The despair at the heart of the film is this. We are already past the point of resetting anything, and we literally cannot imagine anything else except the fantasy of going back in time to make it right. And we cannot. The gamification of Being covers over this brute reality to suggest that things are alright, we can just try again. By gamifying death, the film obscures the most basic facts of human existence: that we are doomed and repetition cannot save us. And we clearly need something else.

 

[1] See Jesper Juul, The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013).

[2] Indeed, there are multiple points in the movie where Cruise says something along the lines of “I haven’t gotten this far before.”

[3] For anyone who has played games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, this frequent resetting of the game, often quite soon after one has started the game, should feel familiar. Cruise’s character is often intentionally shot in the head, or “reset,” throughout the film.

[4] For an outstanding essay on gamification, see Patrick Jagoda, “Gamification and Other Forms of Play,” boundary 2 40, no. 2 (Summer 2013): 113-144. Jagoda says that “gamification,a term that derives from behavioral economics, refers to the use of game mechanics in traditionally nongame activities” (114). So, for example, rather than give out grades in a classroom, students might “level up” and earn experience points. (A quick search of “gamifying the classroom” yields many results.) Gamification is happening all over, from corporate offices, to exercise (see that recent iPhone commercial), to shopping (e.g., Foursquare), to other social media.

[5] In fact, the beginning of the film, with its clear imperative to be “patriotic” in some sort of extra-national sense (i.e., when patriotism is applied to the species), is deeply disturbing. It’s as if the last decade and more didn’t happen. That anything less than “fighting for one’s country” (or something) against a clear “evil” (and it is no mistake the film blatantly recalls D-Day right around its seventy-fifth anniversary) is morally questionable . . . is morally questionable.

[6] Though Cruise is fifty-one now?

[7] So often games begin in media res, the player having little idea of who are what their character is, that this has become a trope of videogames. Think of all the Elder Scrolls games, which all feature characters waking up imprisoned with little or no backstory.

[8] The film implies that Cruise repeated this day many, many times. I couldn’t help but wonder how many “days off” he took. Did he structure his repetitions like a work week? Fighting Monday through Friday, but then doing something different two other days? The banality of dying over and over, I have to imagine, would require a bit of rest and recreation after a while.

[9] Lisbeth Klastrup, “What Makes World of Warcraft a World? A Note on Death and Dying,” in Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, ed. Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008), 145.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Juul, 2, 30.

[12] This is a radically condensed and oversimplified account of Heidegger. See Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit (1927), trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996). SUNY has recently issued a revised edition of this book. Obviously this is not the place to get into a discussion of Heidegger’s forthcoming notebooks. . . .

[13] And it is perhaps telling that immediately after seeing this film, I wandered into a bookstore and picked up Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 2014).


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