Sunday, January 29, 2017

Augustine, Pt.1 (Notes:43)

The Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine was perhaps the most important figure of antiquity (the fourth and fifth centuries). We know a lot about him thanks to his Confessions, his autobiography—which some say is maybe the first such Western biography—written when he was forty-three years old. As a text it is problematic, since it was unfinished by the time of Augustine’s death and neglects important bits of information which historians would like to know (such as: the name of his concubine for which he lived with for fifteen years, and his family are largely absent). Even so, it is a remarkable text.

In 428, two years before his death, Augustine writes a list of all of his works to date—the date in which he had written them as well as the order of his writing of them. This is something which actually greatly helps modern historians since with many ancient thinkers—such as Plato, for example—there is considerable argument over the genealogy of their works, how they should be placed in relation o each other in order to trace the evolution of the thinker’s thought. Not so with Augustine, whom removes any such doubt for us by providing such an extensive listing of the works and their dates of writing.

Born in 354, Augustine is an African who was born in Nigeria. He is a citizen of the Roman Empire but is considered a provincial. His family has some local importance but certainly none of imperial importance; Augustine’s father, like many Romans, was a pagan and a member of the local town council. Augustine’s father seems to be a remote figure in his early life. Augustine’s mother (Monica), meanwhile, is a Christian who played a large role in Augustine’s life.

With education being the way to a future better than provincial life, Augustine enters school at Carthage, a North African town, to study the art of rhetoric, or arguing persuasively. To the Romans, rhetoric was the ultimate art which, if mastered, meant that nothing was closed to the master; meaning, it opened up great career opportunities which would, perhaps, allow Augustine to travel to various parts of the empire.

Augustine’s conversation to Christianity was a long route. Originally, he rejected Christianity in favor of Manicheism (a religion which combined aspects of Christianity with Persian and even Indian religion), since he thought the writing of the Hebrew Bible was very lacking; as an aspiring rhetorician, to him style was everything. Adherents to Manichean thought were reviled by the local Christian population. When Augustine’s mother discovered that he has converted, she refused to allow Augustine into the family home, relenting only later in life. 

Eventually, though, Augustine managed to travel to Italy and study abroad. There, he has hopped to find fellow travelers with whom he had common academic interests; unfortunately, he would be disappointed with his discovery that a lot of the Italian students were apathetic to their schoolwork. In short order, Augustine wanted to leave Rome.

Things worked out well for Augustine, though, when his collaboration with an openly pagan Roman official lands him the professorship of rhetoric at a Milan University, one of the most sought after positions in the Western half of the Roman Empire. Though Augustine’s stay at Milan would be brief at just a few years, it would be eventful.

One of the most important contacts that Augustine makes is with the Christian bishop Ambrose. Augustine attended Ambrose’s lecture in the hopes of learning something about Latin rhetoric, since Ambrose was known to be a master rhetorician. Ambrose is one of the few Christian officials who is able to gain independence from the secular legislation and actually impose a kind of will on the emperor himself, something which is highly uncommon for the period.

Thanks to the influence of Ambrose’s lectures, Augustine moves away from Manicheism. However, he does not outright abandon it and embrace Catholicism; instead, he dabbles in a philosophical movement known as Neo-Platonism, an attempt to reconcile the works of Plato and Christian thought.

Augustine’s stay at Milan though is notable for his mother following him there (thus killing any chance for Augustine to wildly party—bazinga!), where she convinces him to dump his concubine and to arrange a marriage between Augustine and a prominent Catholic woman, something which would have advanced his career. Monica also became a follower of Ambrose developing a separate relationship with him and admiring him greatly for leading Augustine away from Manicheism.
In the summer of 386, however, in a garden, a crisis would strike at Augustine’s heart. He was going to abandon his teaching post, ditch the idea of marriage, and quit studying rhetoric; instead, he would devote himself to philosophy and the religious life. He decided to convert to Catholicism and is baptized by Ambrose himself in 387. He returns home to Africa but on the journey there, both his mother and son dies, leaving him relatively alone in the world.

At his home town, Augustine gathers together a group of like-minded friends, and they establish a lay community. He remains a part of this community until 391 where he travels to Hippo. While there, he is forced by the local inhabitants to become a priest. Shortly after, in 395, he is elevated to bishop, a position he would remain at until the city is besieged by Vandals some years later.

As co-bishop of Hippo, Augustine abandoned his Neo-Platonism. He was convinced that Neo-Platonism was overly optimistic and therefore misguided. Augustine increasingly found himself rejecting notions of free will in his writings which emphasized notions of humans finding themselves locked into patterns of behavior which they could not break. Augustine became embroiled in several controversies due to his position and outlook; additionally, his difficulty in maintaining a celibate lifestyle added stress to his already overworked schedule of presiding over local courts and theological debate.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Let's Read: The Once and Future King (Ch.18)

Not a whole lot happens in this chapter. Unfortunately. Or, more accurately, it is to say that not a lot interesting happens; stuff does happen, since it is a longer chapter then previously, but length does not equal quality.

So, Wart is finally transformed into an owl; he eats a magical rodent which Archy gave him to transform into his animal self. He eat it while in a dream like stupor, so he was not really conscious of what he eat. This is good, because I think that even the most rambunctious of little boys would balk at eating a dead rat.

Archy takes Wart on an adventure through the night. Though it takes a while to take used to his wings, Wart eventually gets the hang of how this flying thing works.

The Wart, facing into this wind, felt that he was uncreated. Except that for the wet solidarity under his webbed feet, he was living in nothing—a solid nothing, like chaos” (165).

By my count, this is the second time that White has included these trippy pseudo-psychedelic descriptions of living a freer existence as an animal.

I suppose that this makes sense: as an animal one would, of course, be liberated from normal human existence and culture, so it would seem like a drug-trip, especially if you are a child, like Wart, and subject to harsh authoritarian structure. But, on the other hand, when the only time a character can feel free is when they are in the guise of some primordial, non-cultured creature, issues arise.
But Archy takes him to a gathering place of birds—perhaps a parliament? At first Wart does not know how to react to this bird-a-poolza.

Perhaps their family groups, he thought, would resent his intrusion. Yet he wanted not to be lonely. He wanted to join in, and to enjoy the exercise of morning flight, which was evidently a pleasure. They had a comradeship…” (166).

This is actually a sad depiction of what is obviously White’s struggle with Depression (or, since I am unsure of the specifics of his life, a battle with his self-doubt). Here, Wart is struggling to integrate into a whole but could very easily be any human—shy, depressed, Othered and ostracized—as they long to be part of the normally functioning world.

Such a streak continues when Wart tries to integrate himself into the bird community: when acting as a sentry, for instance, he does not know the normal duration for such a shift, and overstays his welcome which earns him a rebuke from another bird.

’You think I am stupid,’ he said shyly, confessing the secret of his real species for the first time to an animal,” (169).

And so we hit the issue I was hinting at earlier: when hanging alongside that odd Other, it is easy to feel free and liberated, like you are on some grand adventure, like a White woman doing charity work in the Congo. But the reality isn’t negated— the fact that it is superbly racist, or in this case, specieist, to go among the dominated groups of the world, live amongst them, and then act all offended when you make mistakes. Wart’s anger here is little different than a White college student acting all offended when a Person of Color confronts him about their exploitation of his culture.

Yes, I went there.

At any rate, after a quick jab at Irish nationalism, White moves on to writing more dysfunction for Wart.

The gist of it is this: Wart is trying to understand why there are sentries posted guarding the community. He probes the bird he was chastised by for more information and asks if the sentries are because the geese community is at war with another community. The bird he talks with is slow on the pick-up and only realizes what Wart means after some consideration; once she does, she is horrified to think of it and berates Wart for having such a mind.

’Will you stop it at once! What a horrible mind you must have! You have no right to say such things. And of course there are sentries. There are the jer-falcons and the peregrines, aren’t there: the foxes and the ermines and the humans with their nets? These are natural enemies. But what creature could be so low as to go about in bands, to murder others of its own blood?’” (170).

On one hand, it is pretty cool to hear Wart get the smack down for his culture’s violence, on the other hand, it is a kind of nihilism on White’s part to do this because to reduce everything to an abstract moralism—that people are violent because… [Reasons]. It negates the reality of violence and capitalism and imperialism’s role in how that violence emerges. It ultimately reduces people to a ‘war is inevitable because people are naturally violent, it’s human nature,’ argument, instead of it being attributed to human behavior, behavior which is specified under certain conditions. Plus, the final clause there, ‘of its own blood,’ though possible being read in a Leftist stance as in ‘we, humanity, are all one people,’ the ‘blood’ inclusion makes it possibly quite reactionary.

But Wart and the bird go on like this for a little while. Wart says that ants fight, then the bird counters with that if Wart’s ants and humanity took to the skies, they too would have to stop fighting due to the nature of said sky.

’I like fighting,’ said the Wart. ‘It is knightly.’
Because you are a baby” (170).

Cool beans, ya’ll: this is genuinely a nice sentiment to hear. Mildly Ageist, but it gets the point across: because Wart is a little boy raised in a cis-hetero patriarchal culture, he likes fighting. He is immature and doesn’t understand the reality of carnage.

Deep wisdom, from a bird.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Player Fidelity and Submission of Interpretations: or, how Commenting Works (Enchanted Assemblages)

Fun Fact: I used to work on developing a theory of mathematical hermeneutics.

As readers of these posts will know, fidelity in Enchanted Assemblages is my way to ensure that the player remains faithful to the core idea of the game—that of interpretation, anti-literalism, and honest collaboration. But, that is exactly the thing: in a blog-formatted game, how does collaboration—commenting—actually work?

                Well, as a sort of role-playing, it seems.

                In the real world, there is an abundance of critical theory. Needless to say, there is there forth, an abundance of ways to interpret the game world. But commenting on a blog when you yourself, the player, is supposed to be learning the theory and making some interpretations of the world, is different from writing an academic paper (though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive).

                The way that I am seeing comments is a player assuming the role of Gawain (the role-playing element) and then, if they so desire, infusing their interpretation with either the pre-formed critical theory as encoded by the text (the various ‘spells’ or ‘interpretative performances’), or encodings of their own; the point is that if the player uses critical theory, it should be encoded by a sort of role playing—ideas of theory should not suddenly intrude on the fantasy of the game world.

                (And no, I do not have any plans on offering guidelines on how players should encode the use of outside theory insofar that as long as it displays fidelity to the game world, then I have no ruffled feathers.)

                But, that being said, how do players’ comments affect the game world? What is the idea of commenting itself?

                As I said, commenting is encoded as the player’s participation within the game world, but since the game world is a series of interconnected posts on a blog website, then this demands that the posts themselves be divided into two categories: macro and micro.

                Macro commenting works as this: the player can choose between two sub-sets of macro commenting when they write a comment—‘Node’ and ‘story’.

                Node-commenting is where the player submits an interpretation based solely on the Node experienced, the specific short-story or novella which they encountered. Here, they are concerned with ‘resolving’ the central quandary or problem encountered in the Node. In order to do so they will need to draw on several facets of the Node in order to offer an interpretation which adequately addresses the issue. The moment where they encounter the opportunity to submit such an interpretation is more or less announced directly beforehand.

                Story-commenting is essentially the same idea as Node-commenting only that it is for the actual story of the adaptation, that which is based off of the Pearl-poet’s text. Since the story of the adaptation is sub-divided into four sections—one for each of the poem’s four sections—I feel that it is only appropriate for the player to be able to offer and interpretation on what happened in that part of the poem/story. After all, perhaps the player will be basing a formal essay on their encoded interpretation; only fitting that I give them a chance to work with the material before a formal usage of their theory.

                (Again, yes, I do plan on having a post tucked away somewhere where the player is able to insert the entire game world; I am considering even having a section where players—I’m thinking students—can post their (probably) short (academic) essays on the game world)

                Micro-interpretation is the opposite of macro: just as macro encourages the player to think about the larger issues, micro encourages the player to think about the ‘smaller’ details.

                Since the game world is made up of hundreds of posts, not all of those posts are going to be directly concerned with either the story or Node; some will be about setting the stage, others will be about presenting additional information relevant to the world-building. But, even so, there will be many posts which offer suggestions on what the player sees when they perform a [defamilirization] ‘spell’. So I want micro-interpretations to be the player’s chance to offer both specific as well as alternative interpretations to both my own suggestions as to what the player reads when a ‘spell’ is performed, but also a chance for them to contribute to the world-building themselves and give their fellow-travelers the chance to utilize alternative interpretations of each post (and Node, and story segment) for their own interpretations.

                When players submit an interpretation, so far I have settled on the following guidelines: all players must identify themselves in some fashion and remain faithful to that identification for their time on the game; borrowings from other players must be cited; literalism as well as offering mere summaries is not allowed; it must be an original thesis; anecdotal evidence is not allowed; the player is encouraged to mix the micro with the macro and vice-versa.

                These guidelines will be fleshed out in greater detail, as well as the nuance of the micro and macro, at later points, but for now, I feel that I have a good handle on how I am presenting player participation within the game world.