I write things and am nominally in charge here. Below are my most recent posts.

The bulk of my work is in a style I have, in an act of mild narcissism, named psychochronography. Psychochronography, an offshoot of the artistic concept of psychogeography. Psychogeography is a practice originally developed by the Situationist International as part of their efforts to forcibly dismantle the established social order. Psychogeography is the study of how physical spaces impact social, cultural, and personal lives. Its central technique is what is called the derivé, or drift, in which one wanders through an urban area according to some idiosyncratic logic that causes one to cut against the usual lines and paths traced.

Psychochronography applies this notion to our internal landscape. Taking seriously Alan Moore's notion of ideaspace, psychochronography suggests that we can wander through history and ideas just as easily as we can physical spaces, and that by observing the course of such a conceptual exploration we can discover new things about our world. Topics I've applied this approach to include Doctor Who, British comic books, and Super Nintendo games.

The Proverbs of Hell 1/39: Apértif

APERTIF: A pre-dinner drink to whet the appetite. In this case, it is an expansion of the Garret Jacob Hobbs case, which, in Red Dragon, is essentially presented as a precursor to a precursor, the case Will worked before Hannibal.

WILL GRAHAM: I shoot Mr. Marlow twice, severing jugulars and carotids with near surgical precision. He will die watching me take what is his away from him. This is my design.

The idiosyncratic “design” sets up the show’s defining perversity: the idea of murder as something that is aestheticized. Significantly, it is Will who introduces this term, whereas Hannibal’s only murder of the episode is Cassie Boyle, which he commits as a pastiche of Garret Jacob Hobbs’s murders. So the two characters begin as doubly opposed. On one level, Hannibal is the creator in that he commits art murders, whereas Will, as the detective interpreting those murders, is the critic. On the other hand, it is Will who is presented as the imaginative figure, whereas Hannibal is reduced to a responsive role, reinterpreting other people’s murders.

It is also worth highlighting what, precisely, the design of the initial murder was. It is not the precision of the kill shot - the ...

Cultural Marxism 6: Inversions

I've set the Patreon thresholds for reviewing Doctor Who S10 - $300 (currently $9 a week away) for reviews, and $320 for podcasts. So if you're not backing Eruditorum Press on Patreon, now's a great time to change that.

Inversions continues the basic trend that began with The State of the Art whereby Banks writes Culture stories whose premises amount to attempts to break the Culture. Having essentially exhausted the two extremes of premises with the form “what if the Culture met X,” however, Banks moves in a different direction by asking, essentially, “what if you took the Culture out?” This is, obviously, quite the feat, and there are aspects of Inversions that clearly don’t quite work outside of the original publication context. When Excession was first published, it very clearly declared itself a Culture novel on the cover. Inversions, on the other hand, was published with no such description. There were significant clues, including a “note on the text” omitted from subsequent editions that contained a conspicuously capitalized reference to one of the characters being “from a different Culture,” but broadly speaking, other than the fact that it was an Iain M. Banks novel ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

It is damning with faint praise to say that “George Lucas done right” is a task perfectly suited to J.J. Abrams’s abilities, which is of course why it’s such a fun thing to assert. It’s not quite true, for reasons we’ll get to, but there’s more truth to it than not, and for the most part the truth is more revealing. Certainly it’s very obviously the logic Disney applied in hiring Abrams for the job of making Star Wars into a viable property again, and their benign cynicism is on the whole easy to understand. The prequels had made Return of the Jedi a better end to the saga in more ways than one, their famous awfulness drying up the bulk of the cultural goodwill the franchise had while muddying the question of what Star Wars should look like post-1983 with a host of unsatisfying answers that nevertheless needed to be considered.

Abrams, in this context, was an eminently safe pair of hands. He’d already rebooted Star Trek with an aesthetic that could uncharitably be summarized as “wishing it was Star Wars,” and with Super 8 had shown himself a skilled practitioner of 1970s nostalgia. More broadly, he ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

The standard line about the original trilogy is that Return of the Jedi is its weak link. It will surprise nobody to learn that I’m suspicious of this logic, which is at its heart rooted in an aesthetic that says that big reveals like Vader being Luke’s father are good and Ewoks are bad, but it’s nevertheless worth recognizing that Return of the Jedi is the one film in the original trilogy that’s markedly improved by the presence of the prequels. This isn’t a new observation - it’s at the heart of the famous Machete Order, which suggests putting the prequels between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and which basically prompted this entire series with its argument for why you should skip The Phantom Menace while doing this, which was the immediate cause of my remarking that prequel criticism was generally worse than the prequels themselves.

The problem that Return of the Jedi has on its own merits is Luke’s constant assertion that there’s still good in Darth Vader, a claim that not only lacks justification in the films but is actively unjustified by the sheer degree that Darth Vader is an ostentatious force of pure evil ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Ring theory - essentially the best read on the interrelationships between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy to date - is based around nested correspondences among the films. The fringes of this, which pair Return of the Jedi with The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith with A New Hope, are an inherently tricky business, with its interpretations standing in opposition to the more intuitive approach of reading The Phantom Menace and A New Hope as roughly analogous. But the middle, in which Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back are read as fundamentally related films, is a rock solid bit of interpretation that pays considerable and rewarding dividends.

The most obvious similarity is structural: both films spend their middle sections alternating between two roughly equally weighted storylines, to the point where they very clearly have two protagonists, in this case Luke and Han. This is most interesting in terms of Han, whose upgrade to co-lead serves as confirmation of his moral centrality to whatever the saga is doing in this second trilogy. And in this regard, the most interesting thing about The Empire Strikes Back is its ending, with Han encased in carbonite. Sure, it’s not the ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode IV - A New Hope

Coming at A New Hope off of the prequel trilogy, what jumps out first and foremost is how much smaller and more intimate a story it is. No small part of this is because of the twenty-eight year backwards jump in film technology, which isn’t something that can be erased even by Lucas’s extensive efforts to tinker with the original trilogy. Which I suppose are a digression worth getting into at this point.

Obviously the special editions are easy to get cranky at. Hell, I’m on record making fun of the “redo old special effects for the DVD release” approach when it comes to Doctor Who. And the scholar in me is unsurprisingly appalled by Lucas’s active efforts to suppress the original theatrical versions of his films, to the point of denying film festivals focused on the 1970s permission to screen an original print. But these days there are multiple gorgeous reconstructions of the theatrical version up on BitTorrent for people who care, and while that doesn’t invalidate the understandable frustrations of people who spent decades wanting to watch the movie of their childhoods and not a CGI-ed over mess where Greedo shoots first and there are a bunch of ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

With Revenge of the Sith, our approach runs into trouble. A constant tension in reading both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones was the fact that they were, in pragmatic reality, designed to be watched by people who had already seen the original trilogy. In practice both films were designed - with more intelligence than Lucas usually gets credit for - to still communicate their main ideas to an unspoiled audience. Indeed, in both cases you can plausibly argue that an unspoiled reading produces a clearer account of the films, revealing a more coherent (if still exceedingly unorthodox) logic for both.

That simply does not work for Revenge of the Sith. There’s no way around the fact that once Order 66 is activated, the film by and large stops being concerned with resolving the story that began with The Phantom Menace and turns its attention fully towards setting up A New Hope. The notion that what it’s doing might meaningfully be called storytelling limps along for a bit longer, its closing minutes don’t even pretend anymore. Yoda’s declaration that he will go into exile seems motivated by literally nothing save for lining up with The Empire Strikes Back - “oh, I ...

An Increasingly Inaccurately Named Trilogy: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Middle parts of trilogies are famously hard. Ironically, this fact largely benefits Attack of the Clones. Freed both from the obligation to try to be the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years and the obligation to portray long-mythologized events in a definitive way, it is allowed to simply reflect George Lucas’s vision in a fairly undiluted way. There are countless snarky sentences that follow well from that, but there’s enough that’s at least interesting in that vision to make Attack of the Clones a compelling experience. To praise with faint damnation, it’s a hot mess instead of merely a bad movie.

Where The Phantom Menace was structured around a single protagonist, Attack of the Clones splits its attention between two plots and protagonists. The first of these is relatively expected: The Phantom Menace fairly explicitly set up a progression from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan such that, just on the basic sense of structure and the Jedi/padawan relationship, you’d expect the mantle to pass on to him. What’s less straightforwardly set up is the ascension of Anakin to the role of co-protagonist. Obi-Wan, after all, was firmly a supporting character, and given the estrangement in the way Anakin was presented ...

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