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

Issue 2

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“Imagine the perplexity of a man outside time and space, who has lost his watch, his measuring rod and his tuning fork.”

Alfred Jarry
Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustrall Pataphysician



Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy is dedicated to the Nørwegian Surreal and includes contributions from:

Colin Beaver
Elizabeth Lovegrove
Jeanette McCulloch
John Rose
Matthijs Holter
Ole Peder Giæver
Ralph Lovegrove
Steve Dempsey
Tore Nielsen

Here is the PDF:

Nørwegian Surreal

Creative Agenda

Social media has turned into a game of dodge the 200 Word RPG Challenge entry, so I haven’t been online quite as much. Judging begins on April 26th (Wednesday), so I’ll probably release Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy on Monday or Tuesday. It’s on roleplaying games from the Nørwegian Surreal and includes work from the following array of wonderful people:

Colin Beaver
Elizabeth Lovegrove
Jeanette McCulloch
John Rose
Matthijs Holter
Ole Peder Giæver
Ralph Lovegrove
Steve Dempsey
Tore Nielsen

City of Eyes
“City of Eyes” by John Rose

Character Sheet Version 6 Image

Mad, Bad or Dangerous to Know?

Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy, a fanzine on roleplaying games from the Nørwegian Surreal, has doubled in size but I’m now halfway through laying it out. The main image is the character sheet for a hack of Tarot-horror game Psychosis (Charles Ryan, John Fletcher, 1993) called Infernal Desire Machines. I’ve just reread Steve Dempsey’s riotous-but-playful critique of “creative agenda” Tbilisi: it’s inspired by Georgian Dada and is a lot of fun. John Rose has supplied another collage for Steve’s game. It’s beautiful.

Fictoplasm 2/03

Fictoplasm is a podcast about turning fiction into roleplaying games.

Ralph Lovegrove and I chat about Angela Carter’s wonderful novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman in the third episode of its second series:-

http://www.fictoplasm.net/podcast/episode-203-the-infernal-desire-machines-of-doctor-hoffman-by-angela-carter/

There’s also this great episode from the first series in which Ralph chats to Dave Morris and Tim Harford about the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance:-

http://www.fictoplasm.net/podcast/xmas-episode-01-lyonesse-by-jack-vance/



 

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Mother

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Her head, with its handsome and austere mask teetering ponderously on the bull-like pillar of her neck, was as big and as black as Marx’ head in Highgate Cemetery; her face had the stern, democratic beauty of a figure on a pediment in the provincial square of a people’s republic and she wore a false beard of crisp, black curls like the false beard Queen Hatshepsut of the Two Kingdoms had worn. She was fully clothed in obscene nakedness; she was breasted like a sow – she possessed two tiers of nipples, the result (Sophia would tell me, to my squeamish horror) of a strenuous programme of grafting, so that, in theory, she could suckle four babies at one time. And how gigantic her limbs were! Her ponderous feet were heavy enough to serve as illustrations of gravity, her hands, the shape of giant fig leaves, lay at rest on the bolsters of her knees. Her skin, wrinkled like the skin of a black olive, rucked like a Greek peasant’s goatskin bottle, looked as rich as though it might contain within itself the source of a marvellous, dark, revivifying river, as if she herself were the only oasis in this desert and her crack the source of all the life-giving water in the world.

Her statuesque and perfect immobility implied the willed repose of the greatest imaginable physical strength. The sweetness of her regard implied such wisdom that I knew, at first sight, there was no way in which I could show her my virility that would astonish her. Before this overwhelming woman, the instrument that dangled from my belly was useless. It was nothing but a decorative appendage attached there in a spirit of frivolity by the nature whose terrestrial representation she had, of her own free will, become. Since I had no notion how to approach her with it, she rendered it insignificant; I must deal with her on her own terms. Although her arms were the paradigm of mothering, the offered me no refuge; that women are consolation is a man’s dream. Her fringe of breasts allowed me no place where I could lay my head – they were not meant for my comfort, only for nourishment, and was I not a full-grown man?

And in that belly, rich as a thousand harvests, there was no treacherous oblivion for me for, at birth, I’d lost all right of re-entry into the womb. I was exiled from Nirvana forever, and, faced with the concrete essence of woman, I was at my wit’s end how to behave. I could not imagine what giant being might couple with her; she was a piece of pure nature, she was earth, she was fructification.

I had reached journey’s end as a man. I knew, then, that I was among the Mothers; I experienced the pure terror of Faust.

And she had made herself! Yes, made herself! She was her own mythological artefact; she had reconstructed her flesh painfully, with knives and with needles, into a transcendental form as an emblem, as an example, and flung a patchwork quilt stitched from her daughters’ breasts over the cathedral of her interior, the cave within the cave.

I was at a shrine.

She spoke.


Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977)

Dog-Faced Boy


They arrived at Itra-Troll on a tandem bicycle.

Dog-faced boy Rex Barker drew Mysterious Data, which manifested as a large bullfrog narrating a string of words concerning secret assignations with cat-people. Bowler-hatted accountant Algernon McGinty, meanwhile, drew Dead Lover, whereupon ex-wife Dolores appeared complete with imprecations at the gloom. The pair electrocuted Prokor Lem, fought The Archaeomancer, Pamela and fled from wooden robot Varvara-6 before drawing Bisociation for the collective dream of the Scientific Order of Itra-Troll, followed by Pseudoscience (4: Psychosexuality) and Ferrous Brocade, thereby discovering that the scientists were fuelling the research station’s dreaming machines by furious orgiastic confabulation. Algernon made good his escape by revealing (from under his hat) the only remaining piece of ingenuity left to him by the Machine God’s creativity-sapping lamp-posts. Rex remained on the station to help Varvara-6 with her efforts. He does not regret his choice.


 

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Infernal Desire Machines: Playbook

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Advice from last month’s Playstorm – thanks Ed, David & Anita – has been applied. I shall canvass fresh freaks at a future Indiemeet; a game in which you choose your own madness may prove an acquired taste. All feedback gratefully ignored.

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Infernal Desire Machines Playbook 2

Infernal Desire Machines: The Real

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What is desire? Something in the unconscious that leads you toward (or away from) a coded version of your family? According to Jacques Lacan, its structure determines your sexuality; or, as Madan Sarup puts it: “Need is satisfiable, desire is insatiable.” Hence fantasy, fetish, image. It’s just a game we play.

The Real invites you to decide what’s been driving your character all this time – and what, if anything, you intend to do about it.

Choose one of two special moves:-

Inrupt allows you to retell one of the scenes already covered from the point of view of your character; you can import systems from other games to facilitate this – initiative systems, wizardry, wild romance, whatever – or just choose a genre or narrative style. There’s one proviso: stick to your own character. If other players want to join you in this, great – but allow them hegemony over their own characters.

Rewrite lets you in on the Epilogue – the part of the game that follows The Real. You get final cut. If more than one player wants a rewrite, they each draw from the larger part of the Tarot deck to decide who rewrites when. Try to identify an over-arching theme, or at least include everyone. We’re in your hands: enjoy it.

In this, the introductory version of Infernal Desire Machines, The Symbolic, The Imaginary and The Real have been segmented into beginning / middle / end. This is to facilitate picking up the principles of the game.

In fact, there will be a lot of flipping around between these states of play. One player will be challenging another symbolically and her opponent will want to respond imaginatively by introducing a narrative element. Or two players will be merrily escalating one another’s imaginary scenes only to find they need to ‘get real’ for a moment in order to discuss the implications for the story.

For the most part, this will happen informally; how much you notice the machinery of the game while playing is a matter of play-style and personal preference. It’s one of the reasons the game has three parts: ‘play through’ and find what suits you.

Where it gets interesting is when different play-styles cross-over or ‘clash’ during play: one person will want to stay ‘in the flow’ of a character arc between symbolic and imaginary while another will want to step back to the threshold between imaginary and real in order to shape the story. Players can fall back on a simple paper-scissors-stone mechanic if they want a quick resolution to any such discussion:-

Imaginary trumps Symbolic trumps Real trumps Imaginary

If you’re running a version of the game led by one person (GMed), call this as needed; you might have one eye on the clock, or think a certain scene has gone on long enough. In an ‘all for one, one for all’ version of the game (GMless), any player can call this when they’ve had enough ‘blah’. Reach an agreement or move on. If the cut-cut-cutting gathers pace, it’s an indication you need to frame a new scene in a new context.


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The Symbolic
Challenge / Phantasm
Conduct numerical challenges
Threshold: Imply deeper meanings

Is superseded by:-

The Imaginary
Augment / Evoke
Frame scenes from the pictures on the cards.
Threshold: Take the story in a new direction

Is superseded by:-

The Real
Inrupt / Rewrite
Import systems or flavour from other games
Threshold: Negotiate outcomes with other players

Is superseded by:-

Epilogue

You’ll have ‘felt’ something during the game. Some foreshadowed possibility, perhaps, or an intimation that the character you’re playing might do something to surprise you or someone else. The epilogue is your chance to express that – or to put it into some sort of context. Maybe – gasp! – you were a bit bored. The story might have gone off at a tangent that didn’t interest you much. This is your chance to fix that – or at least to underline a point you wanted to make.

An idea is a brick – build with it or hurl it through a window.


I was the only man alive who knew time had begun again.

Angela Carter


The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

Recap

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The Tarot deck is divided into two piles: one containing major arcana, the other containing the suits and minor arcana. Challenges proceed according to the resolution mechanic of Psychosis: Ship of Fools by Charles Ryan and John Fletcher. These are covered in The Symbolic section of the game. Cards are dispensed during play according to a) the preference of a GM, b) the agency of the Ambassador, or c) the general approbation of other players. Anyone who draws an Ace during play may choose to swap it for a draw from the major arcana.

Players narrate scenes using the imagery of the Tarot deck, rules for which are covered in The Imaginary section of the game first playtested at the London Indie RPG Meetup Group.

Players apportion input into the outcome of the game through rules covered here, in The Real.