"Thought Cabinet" (2019) by Anton Vill    [click]



Every school of thought and government has failed in this city — but I love it nonetheless.

Kim


Blending often incompatible systems of thought, the resulting hodge-podge lacked rigour from the stern standpoint of academics and ideologues alike. But in rock music a little rigour is rather bracing and galvanizing. Too much is plain rigid, but Gang of Four hit just the right balance. In the grand tradition of British art-rock, theory helped them achieve the sort of conceptual breakthroughs that more organically evolving groups never reach.

Simon Reynolds


there’s an entire layer of our perception of reality that has not been simulated [by videogames] at all… there’s an extra layer between your willpower - the controller - and your body: your mind… this extra layer of being is what we want to focus on with Disco Elysium.

Robert Kurvitz



Most games are mindless. But, on launch, Disco Elysium presents you with 24 bizarre skills, half of which you can’t even vaguely understand. These are actually your mind, your subpersonalities. 8 As well as this incredibly loud internal chorus, your character state includes your overall archetype (“Intellectual, Psyche, Motorics, Physique”); your political ideologies (nonexclusive); your identity projects and Idees fixes (“Thought Cabinet”); and crucially your outfit, which drastically alters your personality and capacities.

The script is about 2000 pages long. It took 19 years to make in one sense – but even its 5 years of intensive development is unusual. You could reconstruct its great and vast dialogue tree in a mere novel… if you printed dozens of choose-your-own adventure paper books with thousands of post-its inside. So: it’s excessive.


Now imagine 10,000 screens like this

It is a point and click whodunnit with an amnestic protagonist, for fuck’s sake! 4 Yet another lesson, if you needed one, that there is no genre so overdone, no trope too passé, that a great artist cannot wring more out of. In art, nothing is ruined, nothing is useless, nothing is meaningless. (One reason it can never be realistic.) So, revitalising.

It’s far more politically sophisticated than most books. I call it political fiction because it depicts the emotional and structural detail of several wildly different worldviews so well, better than anything since Red Plenty (2010). They made something smarter than themselves, they satirise their own too. This can happen! 3

TEN BRAINS HYPERTHREADING

It resists compression. I could spend another couple dozen hours noticing things and making up themes. Redemption – isn’t everyone’s first playthrough the redemption arc? – is only the simplest and most obvious route through. Subcultures and archetypes it depicts perfectly: cops, drugs, organic racism, theoretical racism, rave philosophers, locker room nastiness, bureaucrats, petit bourgeois, haute bourgeois, realpolitik operators, depressed leftists, and the various kinds of revolutionary. They don’t do quite as well on neoliberalism or centrism or humanitarianism. But still more accurate and thoughtful than almost any radicals. So, schizoposting.

How did they make the best RPG ever? How did they overcome the curse of collaborative fiction (how many of these books are worth a damn)?

Insane amounts of work! Returning to the opening Reynolds line, I also wanna say that their post-marxism is a long difficult ladder letting them into virgin areas of game narrative and ofc it provided a rich layer of historical tragedy over everything else in the game. The truth or practicality of a theory isn’t the main thing, when you’re making art. This is the latent function of critical theory: making people make interesting art, by removing certain preconceptions and instilling new ones. So, an elevating false framework.


That the game is also actually existentialist and an amazing portrait of multi-agent mind and a Greek tragedy and a work of science fiction which justifies an obtuse synonym and bedecked in Lucian Freud / Jenny Saville actual-art visuals and shimmery post-rock sound is just icing.

It’s melancholy but not self-pitying and not life-denying. 7 It’s cynical but not sneering and not unkind. The grail.


The artists

on this level of collaboration, it just feels wrong to take ownership, because the way the writing process worked - at least back when we started... - is that everyone started out with a character or a scene, wrote it, to a certain extent, then other people whose characters or scenes interact with it came and wrote another layer on top. Then there was an editing layer - maybe sometimes even after that we went back to the drawing board. For example I think I rewrote Cuno like 20 times...

part of why the game feels so textured and lived-in is because there are probably still parts of that [draft] Cuno in there somewhere - part of why it feels so surreal is that it is layered in that way... It taught us all a little bit about how small we really are.
Tuulik


I'm mostly focussing on the script in this, because that's the really astonishing element of the game. Who did this?

If any one person gets named it's Kurvitz, the novelist and designer. Helen Hindpere came in halfway through development but probably deserves nearly as much credit. Kaur Kender is a novelist and was one of the first people to join the project but he's not credited as a writer. Argo Tuulik and Justin Keenan are likely not far behind (Cuno, Evrart). I'll say KHTK for short. (Kurvitz says there were 10 writers.)

I credit Kurvitz with the grandiose bluster and Hindpere with ironically undercutting it. As exophone prose, it's really not far off Conrad and Nabokov.

It was an art collective before it was a game studio - they learned Blender and Unity and shaders off youtube - "A roaringly unsuccessful group of writers, artists and political thinkers – from Estonia. A dark, tiny, angry... place" - and who could have predicted how well that'd work?

You don’t reforge the tattered remains of your cultural organization into a blood-and-grinding-gears video game company because it’s nice. And natural. You do it because you’re utterly out of options

An important part of ZA/UM studio culture was hosting life-and-gesture drawing events at least once a week. With the help of designer Toon Vugts, we held a public weekly community event where some twenty people, professionals, and hobbyists alike, would regularly come and draw with us. Our studio happened to share the same decrepit building as a small bookstore, and the two youngwomen running it kindly invited us to use their back room for these events. Together we worked towards reestablishing a tradition of figure drawing.


Micro-reactivity is the game reacting to a minor choice you made long ago. For example: you have the gardening gloves from Elizabeth the Gardener, and now, many hours later, in the middle of a completely unrelated quest, you’re considering what hobby to take on. Kim should say: “Why not gardening?” This is cross-quest micro-reactivity and developers who aren’t brain damaged don’t have it in their games

Kurvitz


Nothing ever works out the way you wanted. That’s why people like role-playing games. You can be whoever you want to be. You can try again.

Novelty Dicemaker






(c) Luís Melo



some themes I’ve spotted so far:



The microcosm: man as world

The world’s problems mirror Harry’s personal problems. Revachol used to be great and full of dreams, but was broken. The island has no government. A violent past, first brutalising others and then waging war on itself. The past threatens to consume all of Elysium. Dolores the Innocence / Dora Ingerlund has forsaken us. All of these recur in our rudderless lieutenant.



The political is personal

anytime you conclude that life stinks and the human race mostly amounts to a pile of shit, you’ve got the perfect breeding ground for fascism.

Lester Bangs


Similarly: people often confuse their personal problems for political ones. It’s an easy way to ennoble your specific brand of negativity. So KHTK are roughly correct to imply that fascism comes out of the fascist’s personal grievances, gut feelings about purity, and nostalgia 1. But so too for the communist’s wishful thinking, magical thinking, impulsivity, fatigue, and/or sheer resentment.

You: If communism keeps failing every time we try it… And the rest of the world keep killing us for our beliefs…
Steban: Yes?
Volition: Say it.
You: …What’s the point?
Steban: (he considers your words for a minute)
Composure: You’re witnessing his ironic armour melt before you. This is his true self you’re seeing now.
Empathy: He’s thinking about someone…
You: Wait, who is he thinking about?
Empathy: Hard to say. Someone dear to him.

This isn’t the only example: love stands as a metaphor for communism in several places. Both are the struggle which always fails. Breakups are reactionary, failed revolutions. People have done such terrible things in the name of each:

Real darkness has love for a face.


Hatred as the primary political emotion

The old monarchist Rene and the political commissar Dros are the same in an important sense: desensitized, unmoored from sympathy. The desensitization of one is organic (rooted in bitter nostalgia) and theoretical in the other (rooted in totalising marxism). Both stem in failure.

(This chasm between the organic and the theoretical is another theme I should develop. You have ordinary racists and then Measurehead, Pseudoscientist. You have the neighbourhood-scale gang communitarian Titus Hardie vs the terrifying abstractions of the Deserter.)


An absurd example of hiding your shit behind a facade of noble politics: Harry calls his ex Dora a war criminal and identifies her with a mythical Europa figure (who I can’t quite place. Justice?) Harry’s enormous pain is hysteroid dysphoria from a bad breakup, PTSD from 20 years of hard policing and terrible acts, brain damage from sticking his head into a radioactive singularity, and only fourthly the social pain of an undemocratic life, a humiliated populace, poverty, and a lost utopia. But give him the chance and he will attribute his problems to the Coalition and the war. Give others the chance and they will absurdly just call it alcoholism.

Following the communism = love thread right to the end: Dros is Harry’s future if he never gets over his breakup. A void where a person used to be; a person completely defined by his own failure, cast as the world failing him. Lashing out as his last mode of human interaction.





The personal is not political

You can internalise Marxism-Leninism and spout about it in nearly every conversation – and this doesn’t constrain your behaviour at all. You still wear whatever, lech, shoot people whenever, go work at Wild Pines.

You can max out communism, fascism, neoliberalism, and bureaucrat humanism, at nearly the same time. You can be an actual Nazi feminist.

The game’s revealed stance is: politics is primarily talk. Because politics is about your gang against the other gang, and talk is the way you pledge yourself.

In Disco Elysium the world is quickly being destroyed by a supernatural substance known as the “pale”: they don’t know how much time they have left, but it’s on the order of a few decades. Everyone goes on with their petty squabbles regardless. The more I think about it, it seems like less of a fantasy and more of a mirror. How long until the last generation?

Alvaro


Sympathy for the devil

I begin to see something systematic in their assignment of virtues to characters.

Kim is a Moralist and a deeply principled man; Joyce is the avatar of the ultraliberal corp and but kind and wise ("Even animals aren’t animals.”); Claire is a socialist and a murderous perfect liar; Dros is the biggest marxist of the bunch and is devoid of human qualities. The police captain is foretold to liberate Revachol.

(But the psychotic death squad have no ideology. The Hardie gang don't have much of one either.) We don't need to go any further than "virtue and correctness are uncorrelated". This kind of irony / even-handedness / tragedy feels like a condition of good political art.



ideologies as parasitic monsters

The furies are at home
in the mirror; it is their address.
Even the clearest water,
if deep enough can drown.

Never think to surprise them.
Your face approaching ever
so friendly is the white flag
they ignore. There is no truce

with the furies. A mirror’s temperature
is always at zero. It is ice
in the veins. Its camera
is an X-ray. It is a chalice

held out to you in
silent communion, where gaspingly
you partake of a shifting
identity never your own.

– RS Thomas


You might think you’ve been to some pretty strange corners of the internet. “Egregore” is a word used in the strange corners beyond the strange corners of the internet, in treating ideologies as as-if demonic adaptive predators who need human hosts and enforcers to live and breed.

This idea comes from bizarre radicals, but it ironically provides one of the few actual arguments for centrism:

all the Tribes are waging the same war the same ways. They all believe they are fated to win, because they are morally correct, which justifies tearing societies apart. Trying even harder to stomp on the Bad Tribe is the fuel for the dynamic… Realistically, your side can never gain enough power to silence them, nor will your propaganda ever convert them. No side can win the culture war. We all lose. It’s better to see the war itself, and the technology that stokes it, as the enemy.

David Chapman


The remarkable thing is that KHTK can depict humanity’s prey relationship to ideology while still enthusiastically submitting to one. (It is one thing to be a young communist in Britain, where the parties were tiny and their evils limited to toadyism and ruining a few dozen lives through sexual abuse. It is quite mad to be a young communist in Estonia, where everyone’s grandparents still remember someone they shot. )

We did not want a commercial paracosm. It was un-Hegelian. We wanted a quasi-sacral object complex. All that is interesting and terrible about history – and only that… As Soviet artists – perhaps the last Soviet artists – it was our duty to add to the relay. To keep history moving. Onward to the outer cosmos and the stars.

(The game allows socialist players to indulge in unreconstructed, untroubled, C19th socialism - which is one reason it is so beloved online, and oddly commercially successful. But even in that playthrough it takes a lot to ignore the tragedy of the students and the deserter.)

Do you believe the status quo is preferable to chaos and bloodshed? > No. Empathy: Then you’ve never experienced real chaos.”

Do you believe the status quo is preferable to chaos and bloodshed? Yes. There you have it. Sometimes holding the line is progress.





Gettier superstitions

We’re big fans of Émile Zola but if there’s one thing he leaves out, it’s the supernatural… we live in a world where, even in the twenty-first century — the age of science — we don’t really understand what’s happening. We don’t understand death or the universe. I think in order to truly represent life realistically, you have to have a complete unknown..

Helen Hindpere


A repeated irony is that the cranks are right, though for the wrong reasons. Plaisance is right about the Presence (the phasmid; the hole in the world; the deserter skulking around the tunnels; the Mega Rich Light-Bending Guy). The cryptozoologist Morrell is right about the phasmid. Harry is constantly right on wild hunches, not least about Victor Méjean. The infra-materialists are right about plasm being a physical force (though completely wrong about it being specific to communism).

Elysium itself is flat earth! (or anyway not an intact sphere):

There are grey flares and prominences, even arcs above entire isolas… The images are blurry, but if there was a sphere in there it certainly looks like it fractured a long time ago… They say there is a rarefied envelope of matter surrounding the darkened disc of our planet. That is, if we are still living on a planet.

You’re not safe just because you’re careful and modest and sceptical: the world is constantly generating the bizarre and showing us up.


What is the Pale?

Beyond the curve of the horizon, where the ocean ends, is an unknowable anti-reality mass called the pale. It has been there for as long as human beings have written down history. And it’s advancing.

Kurvitz


What is it? Well, we know it’s anthropogenic (“It is a nervous shadow cast into the world by you, eating away at reality. A great, unnatural territory. Its advent coincides with the arrival of the human mind.”); that it’s growing; that it has physical effects: it crushed the planet.

Mere chemical pollution would be a stupid metaphor. So what else?

Joyce speculates, I think correctly:

something whose fundamental property is the suspension of properties: physical, epistemological, linguistic… [it] somehow consists of past information… it’s rarefied past, not rarefied matter.

What threatens all life on Elysium?: The past. 5 Human trauma as a physical force, as entropy. The pale is nostalgia, looking backwards, and nihilism: collapsing under the weight of disappointment, revenge spirals, collective punishment, trauma, accumulated damage and excess exposure.

The pale is the pathetic fallacy on the grandest possible scale: Harry being unable to move on, blotting out his past, and giving up on life is a microcosm of how the world ends.

What hope do we have against it?


art and work, ambivalence towards

The script has some contempt for the rave babblers and the idiot edginess of the Skulls. People who mistake artistic shock for a political statement. (TODO: write about how the idiot ravers are actually the heart of the story, the titular theme, living inside liberalism’s ruins, hedonistic but wise.)

The developers are represented throughout the game. The failure of Fortress Accident is their fear for their own fate.

NOVELTY DICEMAKER: They seemed to believe they were historical individuals on some grand quest.
DRAMA - She sounds almost mocking when she says that.

They lacked the will to get things done. As their financial situation became more desperate, their ideas devolved from realistic to absolute insanity. We lost all of our money. High-art types never deliver.

Yet another depiction portrays them as pathetic workaholics:

YOU: Are there people in there?
SHIVERS – Yes, [ZA/UM] hard at work at their desks. They can barely tell if it’s day or night anymore because the lights in the building are so uniform and bright. Who knows when they’ll come out?
YOU – What keeps them motivated?
SHIVERS – Irony. They’re yuppies masquerading as [Marxists]… Or was it [Marxists] masquerading as yuppies? Even they get confused sometimes…

Quite scary: even marxists as sophisticated as KHTK have still internalised the idea that work is bad, even creative work, and that hard work is stupid. A million miles from Marx. They obviously worked their arses off though. So this negativity about their project is a rare moment of pandering - or an incoherent little piece of antiwork.


It’s a small price to pay, a single human life, a little heart attack to make the greatest CRPG the world has ever seen! We are Eastern Europeans. We need to make best computer RPG made!

Kurvitz


Returning to the Pale and the end of the world: one of the very few sentimental parts of the script is about trying to save the world with art. The art of the club you help the kids start: the titular Disco. Recall that it was built over the hole in the world, the source of the pale. It spills out the most hardcore thing that can exist, “less than less than nothing”. To fight the pale (the past and its nihilism), you need to look forward instead of backwards. You need to make art.

a strict psychological regime imitating the creation process of poetry…

(The initial attempt to contain nihilism - the church, the old sacred canopy that tried to keep us warm - is no longer viable, in the 51st year of the Current Century. It’s not even an option for Harry - Harry, the Channeler of Doomed Ideologies.)


You needanodic music. Art which incorporates the sound of the world dying, ‘the anthem of a future which will never come’. Somehow this music, this game, makes the situation seem better.

The wounds from the war you’ve waged on your body are healing, twist by twist, turn by turn. You must have touched upon an entirely new way of moving the human body!


Allow me a schizo association walk

"Anodic music" (an anode, the opposite of a cathode, opposite of a TV, opposite of passive entertainment)

"Anodic protection": to electrify something, to stop it being corroded

"Anechoic" (sound deadening; cancelling waves; creating a clean slate)

Art, religion, science, and politics

The other thing we know can affect the pale is passion. The church was built to contain the hole in the world, and might have worked somewhat. Art is one way passion comes out. Religion another. Politics another. Science another. Passion looks forward. It is a plasm and crisis.



The Sublime

The death drive, nihilism, self-loathing, anti-humanism, malign supernatural forces, true crime, staring into the eyes of a venomous snake, looking down from the edge of a sheer cliff.

… are all pretty cool. How the fuck does that work?

One large portion of DE’s aesthetic charm involves using the Sublime, the romantic blend of awe and horror. It is horrible that the universe is uncaring. It is also kind of epic, it places us in a natural posture for defiance and narrativising.

(However, recall Nagel:

Such dramatics, even if carried out in private, betray a failure to appreciate the cosmic unimportance of the situation. If sub specie aeternitatis there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that doesn’t matter either… It is often remarked that nothing we do now will matter in a million years. But if that is true, then by the same token, nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now. In particular, it does not matter now that in million years nothing we do now will matter.

“we can therefore approach our absurd lives with irony rather than heroism or despair”)



Chaos as ladder

KHTK are not idiots. They know that monsters usually abuse the revolution, take over the Party - and that even good people get completely poisoned by ideology. Besides the Templar deserter, the Claires represent this process (though they don’t seem to be the fully insincere sort of monster).

To my surprise DE depicts the union as extremely ambiguous. (One of your first interactions with it is to see that a giant giga-racist is their bouncer.) In contrast, they give the Wild Pines corporation the extremely sympathetic and genre-savvy Joyce.

(Bit crazy for a critique of ideology and vanguardism to come from avowed (Euro) communists in a country devastated by actually-existing (imperialist) communism – but they are real artists, they can make things larger than themselves.)



You are not one thing, you have no essence

What if you didn’t lose your memory? What if something in Martinaise came and stored it all away? For you to slowly open one box at a time. So you can choose which parts to keep.

Keep almost none of it. Only the flowers on the windowsill. Only the distant sound of a radio. Lose all the actors, the dark shadows, leave only the still lifes, the blissful distant wash of waves. If everybody knew – you never did. She’ll be coming soon. That is all.


[maybe] this is why, in the “homosexual underground” thought cabinet quest, the desire to make sense of Harry’s orientation is dismissed with the admonishment that it is unhelpful to obsess about sexual identity… this game is geared towards eventually letting go of being a particular sort of person with a specific object of desire, and instead just being the whole of what is there. That’s in some ways a problematic statement to make [because it’s not politically convenient]. But it’s a remarkable statement… Harry DuBois doesn’t know who he is, and ultimately, that’s because such a thing cannot be known.

-- Zoyander Street



The golden hammer

There’s a party in my head and no one is invited

Kevin Parker


The skill archetypes give four totally different ways of playing the game: abstraction vs intuition/emotion vs aggression vs “Motorics” (sensitivity, stream entry, embodiment, integration).

What you’re good at determines your decisions (the game takes actions, rolls checks, without you choosing them). So there is such a thing as having too much skill in something. Excess physique leads to stuff like compulsive drug use as soon as you see drugs. Rhetoric makes you annoying. Volition is too good at shutting down the other voices, losing you ideas and jokes.

At high levels, Hand/Eye Coordination makes you deadly – supposing you’ve a weapon in your hand. But once you do, Hand/Eye Coordination will compel you to take the shot – even if it’s not the best approach.

At high levels, Logic will be able to solve even the most complicated puzzle. You will be very proud and thus susceptible to intellectual flattery; for those blinded by their own brilliance often miss important clues.

At high levels, Visual Calculus makes the world reveal its secrets to you – but you may be so absorbed by your mind-diorama, you don’t notice as crooks steal your pants.

At high levels, you’ll be the very heart of the police force: not only willing and able but obliged to take a bullet for your partner.

To return to ‘the political is personal’: Skills also provide your political impulses. Authority and Endurance are the fascist skills. Endurance often talks about your gut (gut feeling), again with the organic intuitions of hatred. Your Communist thoughts are most often repped by Rhetoric (cheap talk), but really it is just the voice of horseshoe radicalism, anything overstated and exciting. Empathy entails centrism; Savoir Faire implies capitalism. Fascist body, socialist mouth, centrist heart, capitalist confidence.




the unreliable narrator of your own life

VOLITION - I have bad news for you.
YOU - What?
VOLITION - You know these guys?

LOGIC: – Who, me?
DRAMA - Yes, you. He’s talking about you, you boring stiff.
VOLITION - You too.
DRAMA - Me? What did I do? I’m merely a master thespian…

VOLITION - These guys are compromised. She’s got them singing along to her tune. The little bleeps and bloops you trust for info – you can’t trust them anymore…
YOU - Which ones exactly are affected?
VOLITION - There’s no way of knowing. At the moment I’m afraid it’s best to assume …all of them… when it comes to assessments of character and factual accuracy they are not to be trusted. Not with her.



Europe.

Joy, the beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, thy sanctuary!
Thy magic binds again
What custom strictly divided;
All men become brothers
Where thy gentle wing rests.

Be embraced, you millions!
A kiss to all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Are you collapsing, you millions?
Do you sense the creator?
Seek him above the starry canopy!
Above the stars he must dwell.

Euro

Atop all of THAT, it’s maybe the most European game I’ve ever played - the writers steal stereotypes and words from all over the place, but smear them. Not just Europe: Revachol is Paris 1871, Berlin 1946, East Berlin 1975, Haiti forever, the Shanghai International Settlement, Tallinn 1999 9.

(No one is married. It used to be the center of the world. It used to have hope, until the pandemic lifted the radicals that drew the colonisers.)

Once we were an octopus that straddled the world, sucking up natural and human resources from Iilmaraa to South-East Seol. The city state that screwed the whole world.

More: Elysium is a European world without America. European power dominates because the big lad is missing / because KHTK bring (some) modern technology and spirit back in time, to the 1930s. Before the American century, when Europe was the centre. They have cars and techno but no computers. The airships should have given us a clue. It’s a 1930s political economy, tragic and extreme. But mixed in with neoliberal pomo and the EU

Sunday Friend is one long indictment of the EU. Which leads us to “Moralism”, the ruling ideology.





The system of the world

The Weiss-Wiesemann coefficient is a ratio designed to reflect the difference in net worth between individuals. When the coefficient is close to 1 (or 100%) it means one person possesses all the net worth among that group of individuals. It’s been observed that when the Weiss-Wiesemann coefficient reaches about .96 or so, the laws of physics begin to bend around the high-net-worth individual.


If our world can be said to have a system, it is humanism (bourgeois morality and rights) plus neoliberalism (international capital) plus nationalism (which in DE is pretty positive, the post-commune Revacholian demi-pride of Kim and other characters) 2.

But what is the relationship between ultraliberalism (capitalism) and Moralism (humanism)? On the face of it they seem unrelated, answering different questions, enlisting different people with very different temperaments. How do they share power? Are they the same thing, is one a mask for the other to operate more freely with a good conscience?

I don’t think the game has the answers. Centrism gets a weak treatment: the authors fail to note any common ground between centrism and leftism - the fucking labour movement being the obvious one, or human rights, antiwar, and for most of history, the prioritisation of growth. Even a cartoon punk band of 20 year olds can do better than that (“We marched together for the eight-hour day / and held hands in the streets of Seattle.”)

Business loves silence, the second loudest sound in the world, eclipsed only by the collective screams of market crash victims. So let me whisper… Are the better days gone, are we entering bankruptcy? Is the company gonna go down and leave you in the gutter with the rest of the dredges, delivering parcels for soup money? You need to crisis-manage your way out of this.

You just need to move on – like a plague of locusts. Failure is a core tenet of liberalism. When life closes a door, it opens a window. And if the fall is too steep, use the fire exit. Run to the roof – you always have that airship on the dock. The most important thing is to keep moving. Keep dreaming. The auditors cannot get to you if you keep running – very, very fast, from one fuck-up to the next.

Against this general othering of liberals, we have to note KHTK’s loving portrait of Kim, the sincere, decent Moralist - whose portrait, on your screen for most of the game, wears an actual halo. He’s the icon of self-control and the good side of the professions and institutions. If commie cop is in some ways the natural path for you to make Harry walk – if Harry is an incoherent soul who could turn into something else at any moment – every playthrough will have the same Kim, a fulcrum of normie virtue, to anchor him. 6

But (leaving Kim aside) I smell vice in the broader geopolitics of Elysium: the Chomskyan vice of assuming that every event and every ill has a designer. Obviously a Western designer or a Westerner’s puppet.

The main valid jab at institutional humanism is not murder or exploitation (which it usually does less than the alternatives) but hypocrisy, political cover, and denial of its own power. We killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, or got them killed, in the name of freedom, democracy, human rights, education, etc. We tortured many others. This was not long ago and is not the most recent case.

The First World War was, like the abattoir in Vietnam, quite describable as a liberals’ war. Any medium-run view of history will show that it did more damage to ‘Western civilisation’ than any form of ideology, not least in clearing the very path, through the ruins and cadavers, along which totalitarians could later instate and militarise themselves… Yet I think it’s clear… that it was the disturbance to the natural order that made the young Isaiah tremble and flinch… it would have been more precise to say: [horror] only for certain sorts of physical violence and political experiment. Policemen are supposed to control crowds, not crowds policemen. Vietnam… was a laboratory experiment run by technician-intellectuals and academic consultants, who furnished us with terms like ‘interdict’, ‘relocate’, ‘body count’ and ‘strategic hamlet’. To cope with the ensuing calamity, the Bundys and McNamaras later evolved the view that, while the war might have been a blunder, the error could, for reasons of state and for reasons of face, not be admitted. In this, too, they were seconded by Berlin.

Hitchens


All we can say is that it murders less. We mustn’t say this very proudly.





Depressive leftism

Instead of building Communism, he now builds a precise model of this grotesque, duplicitous world.


“The Gottwald School believe that intellectuals as a class are incapable of sparking revolutionary change, so all they can do is critique capitalism from inside itself.”
LOGIC - In other words, they have lost faith in their own relevance.


You: If communism keeps failing every time we try it…
Steban: (he waits patiently for you to finish)
You: …And the rest of the world keep killing us for our beliefs…
Steban: Yes?
Volition: Say it.
You: …What’s the point?
Steban: (he considers your words for a minute)
Composure: You’re witnessing his ironic armour melt before you. This is his true self you’re seeing now.
Empathy: He’s thinking about someone…
You: Wait, who is he thinking about?
Empathy: Hard to say. Someone dear to him.

…The only promise it offers is that the future can be better than the past, if we’re willing to work and fight and die for it.
You: But what if humanity keeps letting us down?
Steban: Nobody said fulfilling the proletariat’s historic role would be easy. (he smiles a tight smile) It demands great faith with no promise of tangible reward. But that doesn’t mean we can simply give up. You: Even when they ignore us?
Steban: Even then.
Ulixes: Mazov says it’s the arrogance of capital that will be its ultimate undoing. It does not believe it can fail, which is why it must fail.
Volition: So young. So unbearably young…
Half Light: Why do you see the two of them with their backs against a bullet-pocked wall, all of a sudden?
Inland Empire: Their faces, blurred yet frozen as though in ambrotype. You were never that young, were you?
Steban: I guess you could say we believe it because it’s impossible. (he looks at the scattered matchboxes on the ground) It’s our way of saying we refuse to accept that the world has to remain… like this…


You’d never guess these days, but I come from the hard left (protested the Iraq war, called my college microeconomics class “capitalist missiology”, rejected careerism as a racket, etc). It is common to mock the hard left for talking big and being totally ineffectual.

Protest songs in response to military aggression!
Protest songs trying to stop soldiers’ guns!

But this is wisdom in a modern radical! No one with any awareness of history, human motivations, economics, or current affairs can think that the state of things is ok. But no one with any awareness of history, human motivations, economics, or current affairs can think that solving things would be easy, that you violently wresting the reins of power would end well. So you stand to the side and shout.


Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will!

- Gramsci


I chose something else though:

Anonymous asked: 'you have the most hilariously naive politics i've ever seen, it's milquetoast pacifist liberalism meets autistic rationalism. grow a fucking backbone you fuck.'

Unitofcaring: certain subbubbles of the Left have constructed this environment in which it is inherently pathetic, inherently contemptible, to say “mass murder is a really awful thing and if we can achieve our goals without it that’s worth striving for” or even “no matter what, I won’t endorse or participate in mass murder”.

I can imagine how I’d be a Marxist. 30,000 kids die preventable deaths every day and that makes me angrier and sadder than you can possibly imagine and if I’d gotten ensnared in an ideology that claimed the only way for that to end was to kill all of the rich people, I’d probably also go around saying “kill all the rich people!” But I hope I’d never, ever equate “willingness to call for murder” with “moral strength” or “strength of character”.

Valuing life is moral strength. Protecting people is strength of character. Calling for mass murder from your keyboard is cowardice. And the communities that deny those things, that circle the wagons around their conviction that willingness to kill people is equivalent to having a backbone, that claiming “the rich all deserve to die” is moral strength, that caring about human life is hilariously naive -

- well, first of all, you’ll never get anything done. My friends and I will end those deaths, eradicate malaria, fix global inequality, hunt down every source of human suffering and watch it take its last breath while you’ll sit there going “milquetoast pacifists! hilariously naive! the rich are not innocent!”. But second of all, you’ll spend your not-accomplishing-anything time in a bubble where caring about all human life is a weakness, where not wanting to murder people is disgusting and contemptible, and I know people are different psychologically but I can’t imagine anything worse than that.

...come join us, we milquetoast autistic rationalist liberals, because you don’t have to rant on the internet about killing people to earn our esteem, you just have to fix stuff.
unit of caring



The tribunal as Fanonian violence.

What legitimates the RCM in Martinaise again, after decades of brutality and vigilantism?: Standing together against the outsider, and killing him.





Life imitates art

Capital has the ability to subsume all critiques into itself. Even those who would critique capital end up reinforcing it instead…”


The game is enhanced further by the extremely on-the-nose drama that befell the studio: they suffered something like a hostile takeover and possible embezzlement after its initial success made the sharks close ranks. Ganked. The details are hazy, behind the standard totally opaque walls of commerce.

The PMG analysis of the situation has its merits, but leans far too far into false balance, naively swallowing filtered evidence, and sanctimony. The vid is a paradigm of journalism’s strengths and weaknesses: it is good to let people speak, but it is absurd to take them at face value and to give all evidence equal weight. I am more sympathetic to KHR after seeing this tape: long absences, lying to avoid some work, and going to a meeting he was not invited to is the worst mud that the suits could find, from years of operation, with years of prep.

That black comedy is ready to birth another: the new owners sold the film rights. Capitalist realism, brought to you by the creators of “Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie” (2020).




Cynical as they are, realistic as they are, idealistic as they are, they don’t go far enough along any of these axes. Cynicism: Revolution is a youth politics for a reason: it’s a great signal and offers the young and psychotic resources they can’t get otherwise. Realistic: the world is not actually broken. It’s unfair and contains many terrible things, and no we cannot actually solve collective action problems by saying nice words and hoping hard – but that’s different from being hopeless, valueless, in pieces. Idealistic: The world is getting better in many ways, in spite of rent-seekers and bastards. Individuals are surprisingly powerful and the system still has millions of holes in it.

But playing it I am reminded what is great about the left – the cussed rejection of compromise for a third option which might never arrive – the joy of deviance in the teeth of moralists and authoritarians – getting up after being punched again, betrayed again, dumped again – the white-hot rage inside compassion. I am not as I was before. I am open to other experiments, weirder art, weirder people, ready to be disappointed again, chambered and aimed.



unexpected, beautiful things are still possible… brief glimmers of genuine solidarity… The dice-rolling nature of the game asserts that, while we have very little control over our lives, there is always possibility.

caebl


You are a violent and irrepressible miracle. The vacuum of cosmos and the stars burning in it are afraid of you.

— The Insulindian Phasmid





See also

bad air guitar

* https://sciendo.com/issue/BSMR/9/1 * https://haywiremag.com/features/the-miracle-animal-and-the-pale-inside-existential-thought-in-disco-elysium/
* http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/i-learn-through-paradise-or-disco-inferno/
* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zo4sHDGiDC0
* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_7ngJDbUQE
* https://bulletpointsmonthly.com/2019/11/06/the-world-is-a-tough-place-but-we-all-live-in-it/
* https://unwinnable.com/2019/11/06/disco-elysium-and-finding-the-beauty-in-a-cynical-world/
* https://uppercutcrit.com/on-bad-endings-resistance-and-meaning-making-in-the-apocalypse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-bad-endings-resistance-and-meaning-making-in-the-apocalypse
* https://bulletpointsmonthly.com/2019/11/06/chaos-as-canon/
* https://alastairhadden.medium.com/a-storm-is-blowing-from-paradise-disco-elysium-on-the-past-and-present-e2fff5d629be
* https://noescapevg.com/disco-elysium-and-copaganda/ </div>

an allusive history of doomed utopian politics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravachol
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martinique
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Caledonia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulinde_(political_party)

Quotes

  • "Disco is dead - but even dead dreams can be beautiful." - Rolling.cz
  • On the coast of the Martinaise Inlet, in a small weather-beaten stave church built 380 years ago by settlers from the Occident, most likely to guard against an anomaly at its centre, an officer of the RCM is contorting his body into idiotically rigid shapes, as he invents the future of dance music... It's the hardest anyone has ever danced.
  • And when you fall we will come to raise you up, bud from you, banner-like, blossom from you and carry you apart in a sky funeral.
  • Sometimes a kebab is just a kebab.
  • The people who built this world intended it to be better for you, but they failed. It is easier to live in their failure with [your tape recorder] by your side. It is not a childish fantasy. It can be a real weapon against what’s coming for you now
  • In dark times, should the stars also go out?
</div>
  1. People like to say that misogyny is a necessary condition but I'm not sure: there can be more than one bad thing in the world.
  2. Some people argue that the really essential component of the world-system is a sense of inevitability for these three ideologies ("capitalist realism").

    Note also that Revachol used to be the exploiter.

    Note also that small postcolonial countries like Estonia detach nationalism from the fashy feel it usually has in postcolonising countries.
  3. It is memeable, and ripe for the dirtbag left (see the [dubious Chapo](https://www.vg247.com/how-the-last-living-soviet-video-game-developers-recruited-chapo-trap-house-for-disco-elysium) voiceovers in the original cut). But it is less simple than that, you have to work to make it that simple, ignore 90% of the game.
  4. His blanket amnesia means that Harry has to learn literally everything about Elysium from his own name up to the political superstructure.

    "discō” is Latin for "I learn" (as in discovery). Detectives do disco. Harry rediscovers Elysium with us.
  5. A trivial gloss of this would read as "causality" instead, path dependence. But this robs the pale of its weird psychological ("dialectical materialist") features. Psychology and history causes the pale, which causes nothingness.
  6. You actually can't do many evil or illegal things when he's with you. You don't want to let him down.
  7. When life closes a door, it opens a window.
  8. Actually 30 subpersonalities if we include your Ancient Reptilian Brain (self-preservation), Limbic System (emotional immune system), Spinal Cord (love of movement), Horrific Necktie (love of fun), the Bloated Corpse of a Drunk (death drive), and the Hanged Man you ventriloquise.

    (I'm not counting the hallucinated Dora. The Mysterious Pair of Eyes might also be you.)
    Note that when Harry sings karaoke, the voice which comes out is the ancient reptilian brain (and the performance is credited to it). We never hear Harry's voice otherwise, so I feel good about saying this is his normal voice.
  9. Paris today too - the seething esprit banlieue: wallowing, but also completely willing to punch an authority in the face.

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