Invisible City

menagerie cover
David M Wright

Vagrant Workshop has released Itras By: The Menagerie, a compendium of supplementary materials for the Itras By roleplaying game organised like Dadaesque pamphlets or avant-garde magazines of the 1920s. I’m very happy.

“Between 1900 and 1937 Europe experienced an extraordinary cultural rebirth and interchange of ideas, comparable to the Renaissance and Enlightenment,” says Stephen Bury in his introduction to Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 (2007). The term avant-garde (“vanguard”) had become associated with utopian politics over the course of the nineteenth century.

“We, the artists, will serve as the avant-garde: for amongst all the arms at our disposal, the power of the Arts is the swiftest and most expeditious,” said Henri de Saint-Simon in Literary, Philosophical and Industrial Opinions (1825), a treatise on how artists, scientists and manufacturers might combine to lead humankind out of the alienation caused by industrial society. “When we wish to spread new ideas among people, we use in turn the lyre, ode or song, story or novel… we aim for the heart and imagination, and hence our effect is the most vivid and the most decisive.”

I’d long-hoped for a roleplaying game to address this shared imaginative space: my own efforts to introduce surrealist ideas into games of Vampire: The Masquerade – I was always enamoured of Clan Toreador – or Mage: The Ascension were for the most part paltry and ill-conceived; I wanted the thing without knowing how it should be done. The decision of editor Ole Peder Giæver and publisher Carsten Damm to open the Menagerie up to all-comers was inspired. The book (at almost three hundred pages) was made by Aleksandra Sontowska, Anders Nygaard, Banana Chan, Becky Annison, Caitlynn Belle, Carsten Damm, Cecilie Bannow, Clarissa Baut Stetson, David Cochard, David M Wright, Edward “Sabe” Jones, Emily Care Boss, Evan Torner, February Keeney, Gino Moretto, Henrik Maegaard, Jackson Tegu, Jason Morningstar, Jeremy Duncan, Joshua Fox, Josh Jordan, Judith Clute, Kamil Wegrzynowicz, Karina Graj, Kat Jones, Kathy Schad, Keith Stetson, Li Xin, Lizzie Stark, Magnus Jakobsson, Martin Bull Gudmundsen, Mathew Downward, Matthijs Holter, Mo Holkar, Niels Ladefoged, Ole Peder Giæver, Olivier Vuillamy, Philipp Neitzel, Sanne Stijve, Steve Hickey, Terje Nordin, Thomas Novosel, Tobie Abad, Tor Gustad, Trond Ivar Hansen and Willow Palecek.

There are lots of wonderful things about the Menagerie but it’s the insanity and the sex I like most – that and the way they’re combined with a creative generosity about every conceivable view of the world. Thought and expression are a deadly-serious game that should be treated with the utmost frivolity, and conducted in an atmosphere of outright honesty. People who tell you that life is work want you to work for them: they might ask you to die for them too. This is instead an invitation to express yourself.

A century has passed since Guillaume Apollinaire named surrealism:

This new alliance—I say new, because until now scenery and costumes were linked only by factitious bonds—has given rise, in Parade, to a kind of surrealism, which I consider to be the point of departure for a whole series of manifestations of the New Spirit that is making itself felt today and that will certainly appeal to our best minds. We may expect it to bring about profound changes in our arts and manners through universal joyfulness, for it is only natural, after all, that they keep pace with scientific and industrial progress. (Apollinaire, 1917)

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Little has changed since Apollinaire died; the world’s war machine rumbles on and public discourse seems to ebb further away from scientific data. The surrealists understood that it is by playfulness that we can achieve the arraignment of violent human impulse to spontaneous truth.

“The Moon grew bigger and bigger until it was the only thing in the sky (and presumably, growing ever still, until it is the only thing in the universe) and with each passing night drilled holes of light into the eyes of the people of city until all they knew was the Moon, all they thought of was the Moon, and all they wanted to do was make the Moon happy,” says Caitlynn Belle in Lunacy (pp69-74, with jagged, evocative illustrations by Thomas Novosel: “And the Moon wanted flesh. And the Moon wanted blood.” My kind of game. In The Hyacinth in the Bureaucracy (pp25- 44) by Jackson Tegu, Matthijs Holter and Jeremy Duncan, everybody and everything is having sex: it’s great. (Jone Aareskjold has written a critique of The Hyacinth in the Bureaucracy’s treatment of the sex trade here.) “No such thing as love, only passion!” cries Evan Torner in The Shadow Carnival (pp216-238), a freeform scenario in which the principles of German Expressionism guide the action: “No luck, only the will to gain power! Don’t be afraid of me!” I am afraid. I like that. Henrik Maegaard’s illustrations for Evan’s scenario are luminous. Becky Annison and Josh Fox have (correctly in my view) discerned the suitability of Itras By for GMful play in Sharing Room and Giving Space (pp145-154), an approach which calls upon every player to frame scenes, play supporting characters and drive external events.

These are just a few excerpts from the five parts of the MenagerieDiorama, Laboratory, Dream Resume, Hall of Mirrors and Post Scriptum. Martin Bull Gudmundsen’s essay When Life Does Not Make Sense (pp256-263) was, for me, a masterclass in making sense. It may be that you prefer to purchase games or books in digital format to lessen your impact on the environment or save shelf-space but I must say I didn’t fully appreciate the wonder of Kathy Schad’s visual design until I held the physical artefact in my hands. You can buy it here.

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Kat Jones & Cecilie Bannow
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Terje Nordin & Ole Peder Giæver
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Banana Chan
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Tobie Abad, Aleksandra Sontowska, Ole Peder Giæver, Trond Ivar Hansen & George Barbier
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Clarissa Baut Stetson

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The second issue of RPG fanzine Machineries of Joy is dedicated to games from the Nørwegian Surreal.

The Desiring Machine

I’ve had occasion to consider my politics.

Where did they start and where do they end? I always had opinions, of course, and anyone who uses the internet knows about the impossibility of debating perspectives over platforms designed to sell commodities, but I mean when did they cohere, take shape, begin to mean something persistent in a variety of contexts?

I think it was the first time I read Mille plateaux by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1980; trans 1986 by Brian Massumi as A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia); this turned out to be a sequel to Capitalisme et schizophrénie. L’anti-Œdipe (1972; trans 1977 by Robert Hurley, Helen R Lane and Mark Seem as Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia). I often read things back-to-front or in the wrong order or in a half-arsed and incomplete manner, a product, I think, not only of the internet but of having learnt to read fairly late in childhood.

I barely understood what I was reading – it kept mentioning Hegel, and boy oh boy oh boy did Hegel defeat me – but I had an intensely novelistic reaction (I was a little hypomanic at the time) to its intertextual games and plurality of register and felt very strongly that this was a book that was describing me and the world I experienced much more accurately than the ponderous one-thing-after-another histories of western civilization I’d read before then. I went back and read it more carefully when I had calmed down and found that my thoughts accorded with my feelings.

I picked up Anti-Oedipus yesterday and found that Michel Foucault had summarised the contents of the book very clearly in its preface: I’ve had trouble comprehending Foucault’s writings on sexuality and madness but I love the clarity and intimacy of how he writes about Deleuze. Here is a transliteration of what Foucault calls the “essential principles” of the book:

  • Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
  • Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
  • Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
  • Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
  • Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
  • Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchical individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
  • Do not become enamoured of power.

These are my politics.

The art in the main image is by Marc Ngui.

Le Bateleur

I’d hoped to be able to offer a Trail of Cthulhu game at Concrete Cow on September 16 but I’m not sure my health is going to allow it.

A Gift of Fortune was going to involve bookhounds, dreamhounds and magicians vying for the lost tarot deck of Austin Osman Spare. I may try offering it at some future date.

Concrete Cow is a games convention held in Milton Keynes every six months and you should go if you’re at all interested in roleplaying games. The organisers take care to be kindly and courteous to all that attend.

I’ll probably keep up with the fanzine but I’ve shifted the focus of the next issue from Lamentations of the Flame Princess (never fear, the game is ably served by its own dedicated fanzine called The Undercroft, and you should buy it because it’s great) to… well, I’m not quite sure yet. Next issue may be The Metazine, a pretentious title for a zine about all the other zines out there, or be dedicated to a particular game like Trail of Cthulhu, or to a particular game attached to a particular theme, such as Archipelago, or address a more general theme, such as Live Action Role-Play or the outsider-edge of the Old School Renaissance.

I’d intended to offer an online game of Itra-Troll before the launch of Itras By: The Menagerie but that also looks tricky, in part due to technological issues. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with the punches.

Hang in there, people: it’s another tough year.

Kitty Marshall Playing Cards
Playing cards made by suffragette Kitty Marshall during her incarceration 1910-1913.

 

 

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Electricity

Aztec war machine Thumpermonkey releases its Electricity EP on October 13 and will precede the launch with a show at Our Black Heart in Camden on October 6.

I appear in this flower court.
Pictures blossom: they’re my drums.
My words are songs.
Flowers are the misery I create.

 

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Includes text from “Enjoy!” by Terry Eagleton (a review of The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters by Slavoj Žižek; The Abyss of Freedom / Ages of the World by Slavoj Žižek / F.W.J. von Schelling; The Plague of Fantasies by Slavoj Žižek) in the London Review of Books, 27 November 1997; and images from The Making of King Kong by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner, Ballantine Books, 1976; Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski, Paramount Pictures, 1968, based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin; The Thing by John Carpenter and Bill Lancaster, Universal Pictures, 1982; and Whitechapel Gallery monograph, 2011 (featuring XXXV, 2007) by John Stezaker; music is I Don’t Know If This Is A Matter For Wardrobe Or Hairdressing from We Bake Our Bread Beneath Her Holy Fire by Thumpermonkey (2010).

Reverberation!

Rumours are that the members of PABLO ALTO emerged fully-formed from three enormous eggs washed up on the banks of the River Wye; others insist they were constructed kit-form from the remnants of a schoolgirl production of R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots: Kolektivni Drama by Karel Čapek.

What is certain is that they and other shadowy figures of chaos including STRANGE CAGES, DUSTY MUSH, TABLE SCRAPS, ABJECTS, CAPTAIN SUUN, AS MAMAS and INSOMNICHORD are playing at The Victoria in Dalston, London, on the 23rd September, 3-11pm.

Those in favour of the ongoing planetary depredations of The Man are advised to contact their local MP.

White Knight


In 1539 the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels – but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day –

With
Humphrey BOGART as Dashiell HAMMETT
and/or
Sir Lanzilot on the Bridge of Swords

“He did what he thought was right.”

Also Starring
Mary ASTOR
Peter LORRE
Sydney GREENSTREET
Gladys GEORGE
Elisha COOK, Jr.
&
Space MONKEY as The Demiurge

Screenplay by
Wolfram von ESCHENBACH

From a Story by
Chrétien de TROYES

“World of Shit” is from the album Souljacker by Eels (2001).

A City Unborn

 

“I’m blind to all but a tenth of the universe.”
“What do you see?”
“The city… as if it were unborn. Rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone. Signs hanging without support. Wires dipping and swaying without poles. A city unborn. Flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead.”

Stage One: An image is clearly a substitute or representation of something real.
Stage Two: Distinguishing between image and reality is difficult but possible.
Stage Three: There is no difference reality and representation.

Add your own code at your own pace.

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The song “What is the Light?” comes from the album The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips (1999).

The Call of Cthulhu

 

 

What’s the point of H P Lovecraft?

We’d laugh at him when we were growing up: ape his funny yokel accents, shake our heads at his racism, sneer at his propensity to stack adjectives; it was a way of excusing ourselves our own racism and snobbery, I guess.

That’s the thing: we who are closeted behind the barricades of the western world are not as distant from the attitudes expressed in the stories of H P Lovecraft as we might like. You can say, “I didn’t choose this,” or, “I won’t do this,” but some of those ideas are embedded into the structure of our language, disguised as ‘common sense’ or patriotism. H P Lovecraft reveals what lies beneath the deep-seated and intractable issue of racism: revulsion and a refusal to face the truth.

He’s also one of very few writers to find an original approach to describing the Real; what’s written isn’t always willed by its writer in the absolute sense, and connotation can be as important as denotation to artistic longevity.

Michel Houellebecq – writing before his own talent and notoriety made him famous – makes a good case for H P Lovecraft’s creative importance in H P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (translated into English by Dorna Khazeni in 2005 and republished by Gollancz in 2008): it is fundamentally an existentialist argument – one about how Lovecraft combined lyricism and delirium to reveal a deeper truth about human estrangement:-

“I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was 17. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.”

Colonial powers refuse to face the truth about their impact on the world not because they are old but because they are infantile: that’s my position, at least. Umberto Eco does a great job of summarising the issue in his article on Ur-Fascism: what is presented as rational is in fact deeply irrational. Here’s a quotation from one of Lovecraft’s letters I found in Howard Ingham’s review of the film Jug Face (2013):-

“As for the Nazis – of their crudeness there be no dispute, yet in many ways the impartial analyst cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for some phases of their position. They are fighting, in their naive & narrow way, a certain widespread & insidious mood of recent years which certainly spells potential decadence for the western world – & one can’t help respecting that however ugly & even dangerous some of them may appear to be. Hitler is no Mussolini – but I’m damned if the poor chap isn’t profoundly sincere & patriotic, it is to his credit rather than otherwise that he doesn’t subscribe to the windy flatulence of the idealistic ‘liberals’ whose policies lead only to chaos & collapse.”

The basis of racism is fear; I think we need to get deeper into this fundamental truth rather than turn away from it. Unconscious impulses require creative understanding.

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The song “Whateley” comes from the album We Bake Our Bread Beneath Her Holy Fire by Thumpermonkey.

The VVitch

The VVitch is a curious artefact. The stylization of its title comes from a Jacobean pamphlet on witchcraft, its costumes (designed by Linda Muir) are thoroughly researched from Stuart Peachey’s Clothes of the Common People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (2014) and its cinematography (by Jarin Blaschke) is intended to replicate the formal composition of paintings of the period. That much of the dialogue is lifted from writings and witchcraft trials of the late seventeenth century lends a curiously dislocated tone to the whole affair: one which might connote the unsuitability of the European paradigm to the North American locale if not for the fact that the religious fervour turns out to be correct in every particular. Thus The VVitch‘s connection to the traditions of Fantastika – a body of literature that communicates its themes most resonantly when read literally and which seeks to interrogate the Politics of the Western world by comparison with exotic locales or buried truths – is both disrupted and enlivened by its almost-documentary devotion to historical accuracy: it may well have been at the point that the Western world stopped treating the idea of God as incontrovertible that Western discourse began to distinguish fact from the fantastic. “Hell is empty and all the devils are here,” as a William Shakespeare character says in Act 1, Scene 2 of The Tempest (performed circa 1611; 1623).

As has been mentioned elsewhere [see We Don’t Go Back: A Personal Taxonomy of Folk Horror and Pagan Film #52: The Witch (2015) by Howard Ingham], the Psychology of the way the family reacts to the strain they are under is entirely credible; it is the attachment of a supernatural explanation to realist verisimilitude that makes The VVitch seem conflicted. Three Algonquin tribespeople are glimpsed at the beginning of The VVitch: America’s native population is neither seen nor heard from again. The VVitch, like Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness (1899; rev 1925) is a text about the unconscious vastation of a belief system that reduced entire continents to Slavery and one half of its own population to the status of chattels:

The VVitch entry

The VVitch gif