Lament

I’m slowly fading into my memories…

 

I’ve been taking steps back, getting worse.

I’ve been playing League of Legends a lot lately. And I mean, a lot. And I despise myself for every minute of it, I’m even ashamed to say it (and I haven’t admitted it for months)

I guess there are two ways of being “taken in” by something. One would be passion, and the motivation is precisely the thing you’re being taken in by. The other is escapism: you’re here not because you like it here, but because everywhere else is worse. Somehow I always fall short of the former, and end up in the latter.

I was watching the GDC talk #1ReasonToBe, and the final moments of the Laralyn McWilliams made me snap back to reality in a way. Nothing new, nothing I didn’t know or think already; it’s just been the trigger to make me wake up again. Every time it’s a different trigger. And every time I manage to fall asleep again. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month.

I always fall short of passion. I’m not sure why. Everything else seems overwhelming. My dreams will never come true, and I am always tired of struggling without nothing to show for it.

The reason why I’ve been playing LoL so much is that it rewards me for doing well. Putting aside all the toxicity and the stupidity of the community as well as how enjoyable the game is in itself, if you do well you win, and if you win, the game gives you points, and you go up in ranking. In a totally empty, meaningless, illusory way, when I do well I feel praised for it, and I have something to show for my effort.

Meanwhile, time passes, and I wish I could beg it to stop, because I’m 22 and I have nothing to show for it, nothing that I have done, nothing that I’m proud of and no one that believes in me. I wouldn’t even know where to start, because everything seems to be so big and impossible, and I’d just like time to stop.

Please stop.

The Sound of Perdition

Sometimes it feels as if the world is just made to make me lose my way. There’s so much around, too much. There is content everywhere. But content is not the right word: entertainment. Things made with the sole purpose of being addicting, of catching my attention, while they are, in fact, empty of any meaningful content.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

All those books, films, games, music albums, TV shows, videos, Social Network feeds, Sports and ESports, with nothing to say, and yet they make you hold on to them. They’re attractive. They’re so undeniably attractive, and I hate them. Even if you try and refine your taste, even if you specialize in just a small niche of things, they keep trying to suck all your time, all your energies. Actually, the more you specialize, the more time they take.

Most of the times, I believe that, quite apart from my actual taste, I can usually identify when something has a heart and when it is simply a pleasurable, hollow distraction, and yet, I wish I could be more resolute at saying no. I wish I could more readily listen to my soul’s melody rather than the hypnotizing sirens’ tune. All your superficial needs seems satisfied, while your deepest aspirations drown in a sea of wasted time, and your joy, your creativity, your curiosity, your vitality, they all rot and die, forgotten.

The sound of perdition is simply the one that cancels any notes of your own. It seduces you: how exhausted you must be, well, rest your heavy limbs here for a while, shut yourself down and come to sleep in this most comfortable of beds. I can guarantee you’ll never want to get up anymore.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

Shame

I’m going through an abysmal phase as far as my motivation, willpower and energy are concerned. I’m somehow keeping up with some of that unending training that never seems to lead anywhere (Voice exercises, guitar exercises, a bit of studying), but apathy is devouring me, and I find myself from time to time, wondering what I used to do with all the time I have.

Of course, there’s always writing, almost a taboo by now: I keep thinking about it everyday and yet it gets farther and farther from me, and I wonder how I could have ever written anything in my whole life when it seems such an impossibility. I had a sort of glimpse of how it could all be different a few weeks ago (I believe having a vivid vision of what things should be like is a fundamental part of getting there), so maybe I should work on that, make it more real for me. Although the only thing I can do in practice, is actually to make myself sit down in front of some paper and think, make myself write whatever comes to mind, basically just hoping it works out, somehow. I’m afraid the only thing it’s going to achieve is making me feel more like a failure. Still, that’s something, right? Rather than just apathy, just nothing, just watching other people from afar and wishing I could do too…

My psychologist called it “creative depression”. It’s basically the fact that feeling bad pushes me to react, to do stuff, to create, that I can turn that negativity into some kind of energy; and obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and better than being drained of any and all energies. Which I guess is one of the reasons why I hate escapism so much.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I feel like I’m circling around some issue without really getting there, simply repeating myself.

There’s one episode I wanted to write down, because it seemed somewhat significant: I was writing an email to my best friend, telling her how I was embarrassed to do something that required a lot of social interaction with strangers, but the word “embarrassment” didn’t feel right, and then I instinctively fell back to “I’m ashamed”, and it felt accurate. Only a small part of what I was feeling was embarrassment: the prospect of having to interact with strangers was making me feel ashamed of myself. I felt that my soul was ugly and I didn’t want to expose it, I didn’t want to go out and have others see it, I couldn’t. I couldn’t get to know people because I couldn’t let people get to know me.

That line of thought also leads very easily to escapism and apathy. If you’re so ugly on the inside, you’re going to instinctively try to avoid all the mirrors around you, you’re going to just want to forget about it all. And so, I’ve once again got to the point where the system feeds on itself and perpetuates itself, and can only be interrupted by a clean break, something strong to reverse the tendency.

Yeah, I’m definitely repeating myself.

Loneliness, Functioning and Human Warmth

For all the effort I put into escaping escapism, from time to time I suddenly realize how it has made its way back into my life in subtler forms, as a sort of survival instinct that is so hard to eradicate. Augustine was one of the first to realize that, the more you are self-conscious, the more your rationalizations become subtler, evil becomes thinner, hides deeper, but it never really stops.

Apathy still takes me all too easily, instead of letting me suffer like I should. Maybe that is the reason for my inability to act, to express myself.

I feel lonely. I could have said that at any time during the last several years, but these days it strikes me harder than usual. I realized I spend about 6 and a half days alone every week. Which then leads me to wonder how anyone is supposed to feel ok, how anyone is supposed to ‘work’ within circumstances like my own. At this point I turn to my Nietzschean “Higher men vs. the Herd” line of thought, and realize that I should, I should endure it, I should ‘work’ (function) despite it, I should shine through it. Not to mention those thoughts that reflect on how some truly despicable and stupid human beings have friends, which mean that I somehow don’t deserve them, either because I’m more despicable than them or because I’m clearly missing something that lets them have friends and prevents me from the same.

And so I’m left with two, almost opposite feelings: a profound wish, a crave even, to feel loved, to cuddle with someone, to have sex with someone, to share human warmth not just with words but with the body; and on the other side a mix of stoicism and self-deprecation – stuff like “I clearly don’t deserve it, so I have to earn it first”, “Maybe I don’t have it in me”, “I have to endure and make do without it, shine through it” and maybe someday, in that future that never comes and never will. And when I can’t negate either, that turns into profound dissatisfaction and a bleak outlook on the future, and inaction.

Perhaps it will always be a mystery to me, how some people tell me they struggle to understand certain things that seem so clear to me, and yet I fail to understand such a supposedly simple thing as how people get to know other people and make friends. Here’s another not-quite-contradiction: I hate and despise the vast majority of people just as I crave their company, their touch and their warmth – not of everyone, admittedly, just enough, just 2 or 3, to keep the loneliness away.

There’s one thing I know for sure: in these years characterized by failure to reach one’s goals, dissatisfaction, depression, self-hate and “not-enoughness”, my best friend – the owner of that o.5 day per week of my life – is the only thing that keeps me alive, sane, and sometimes happy and thankful. She makes me feel loved, and yes, I still think I don’t deserve it, but somehow she sees through that and she still does make me feel that way. She’s the only one who does.

But the feeling leaves soon, about a day after her, and I go back to normal. Still, those few hours that she gives me, they feel like freedom. They feel like hope. And I wonder whether, if I had a bit more of that, I couldn’t then overcome so many of the difficulties that keep me down, that keep me from going from though to action, that keep me listening to that voice that says “You’re not good enough, you don’t deserve anything”. I wonder…

Disappointments Of Specialized Intelligence

After watching Interstella 555 and enjoying it, despite its many defects, I’ve decided to try and listen to Daft Punk, a band I had always been sceptical about. And I chose to start from Discovery, their most famous album, the same one that backs up the story of Interstella, to see if it would be just as enjoyable without visual accompaniment, or if it would lose its appeal like many soundtracks do.

Possibly because it wasn’t exactly a soundtrack in the first place, I’ve greatly enjoyed the album, maybe more than the film itself, even though the second half tends to be less interesting compared to the first energetic handful of songs. (Let’s be honest: without the film, Veridis Quo becomes boring after about 30 seconds of its almost 6 minutes) But overall, I was just surprised that I had let such a unique band slip past my ears (except for the viral videos of various anatomical interpretations of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger). The melodies are ok, but the sounds with which they are produced are simply unique, and the rhythms on which they are laid are great, (varied, interesting, never banal) in a way that reminded me, despite all their differences, of 65daysofstatic. How can you remain indifferent to the tapping of Aerodynamic? They managed to distract me from my reading material, rather than becoming background noise to the page in front of me: my mind was captivated and positively surprised.

For a while. That is, before I started paying closer attention to the lyrics.

My disappointment was gradual. The first song that made me turn to the lyrics was, for obvious reasons, “Something about us”. As a ballad, the sung part calls for closer attention. When I’ve heard the part starting with I need you more than anything in my life/I want you more than anything in my life/… I was still ready to give them credit. I thought it was a piece of brutal honesty, more simple and direct than many artists dare do, but poetic just because of its simplicity. Actually, it’s the kind of song it’d probably blush hearing side to side with anyone, whether I’d actually want to say those words or not (Usually it’s the latter case, and then I tend to blush harder… I’ve had the same effect serving at the till of a shop:  James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” in the background, you look at a customer, embarrassment ensues, and the only thing you can do is try to pretend it’s not there, to avoid further awkwardness) But the fact that I was prepared to give them credit didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look for confirmation, that that trust was justified.

In Discovery, only 6 out of 14 songs have something I can reasonably call lyrics. Which is totally fine for me, I enjoy lots of instrumental music that either has nothing to say lyrics-wise, or simply decides to let the music express everything, or whatever reason they have. In other words, it’s ok if you don’t do something and still deliver a work that feels complete. What is not ok, for me, is that you put something in your art work that feels superficial or uncared-for. The perfect piece of art makes me want to say “I wouldn’t change a thing”. Well, Daft Punk’s songs with lyrics, with one notable exception, make me wish either that they were instrumentals or that someone else had written the lyrics. The melody of the voice is fine, the voice itself is technically good. What I have a problem with are just the raw words that are sung, with an interpretation that is frankly appalling, an interpretation that I can only assimilate to the figure of an actor/professional singer, rather than an artist believing in her work; because I can’t possibly think Daft Punk can be proud of that bit of their work.

“Something about Us” as I’ve said, is a simple (or simple-minded?) love song. What are the other songs about? Well, let’s take “One More Time”: a song about partying and dancing. And “Digital Love”: it tells of a dream about seducing someone at a party, while dancing (very simple-minded, definitely masculine, totally not erotic, and romantic only through stereotypes: barely, barely passable). “Face to Face”: guess what? A supposedly romantic encounter on a dance-floor. And it seems that dancing is solving all the pent-up problems this couple has. But I’m not summarizing: this is all there is in these songs.

“Too Long” is a peculiar example: a song about ‘that feeling’. Can you feel it?, the song asks repeteadly. Feel what? It’s never specified, or hinted at, or talked about. It reminds me of this line by Steven Wilson The Curse of There Must Be More in “Anesthetize”. The whole first part of “Anesthetize” is about the common practice of dressing nothingness up as something deep and meaningful.

When I come back to the exception, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, I don’t even know what to think anymore. I’m still talking lyrics-wise: the song seems a masterpiece in many ways, with the sentences broken down and repeated ad infinitum like it’s some kind of compartmentalised work, the musical equivalent of the division of labour in a factory, where each man has to do the same, small piece over and over again without ever seeing the final result. It’s a post-modern interpretation of the opening of Modern Times by Chaplin, in which that way of working has contaminated even what is supposed to be art, creativity, uniqueness; it’s a parody and a critique of it… or is it? I would like to say it is, but all the other songs are telling me that Daft Punk couldn’t possibly have put so much depth into their lyrics. Maybe it really is an exception, the masterpiece of an otherwise bad or careless lyricist. At this point I’d be more inclined to say that the fact that I could read it that way is purely a coincidence, that the merit is mine for seeing those things in it, rather than in the artist for putting them there; maybe, even, that the song is that very thing that I thought it was parodying, because I find it so despicable I wanted it to be a parody rather than the real thing.

Tom Bissell said that art is “comprehensively intelligent”. These 6 songs in discovery have tried to engage me on many levels. Musically, they succeeded. Lyrically, they didn’t. And the result is that the bad half of the album has ruined my enjoyment of the other half, and of the whole, and now I feel ashamed when I listen to it again.

It’s a very common issue, one that I’m also sometimes guilty of in my own works. I guess it’s normal, when one is learning, or finding one’s way, that one focuses more on one thing rather than the other. In literature, it’s often content without style, or, even worse, style without content. (I’ve seen billions of words of fascinating style and little to no content in my days in the tumblr writing community – which is now dead as far as I’m concerned). In films, it’s the same: production value with no plot. In music, it comes about in a number of ways: music without lyrics (I mean, of course, music with lyrics that are stupid and meaningless), technical ability without passion, sounds without rhythm, outstanding mastery of one instrument and banality in the use of another. In videogames, the plague is fine-tuned, addicting gameplay without any plot or other meaningful content to give it substance.

I like to call this the problem of specialized intelligence. It is what we are more and more used to: knowing one small thing in the universe, and being totally ignorant of its place in the world, of its ramifications, of its causes and consequences. It is, again, like Modern Times, and like the Daft Punk song, knowing your small bit without ever seeing the finished product. (One of the things I love about philosophy is that it’s so inherently interdisciplinary and interconnected that it’s almost impossible for it to make this mistake.)

Specialized intelligence is being a rhythmical genius and not knowing how to use that genius, that power that your music has, in order to convey something meaningful, to do something good. Specialized intelligence is studying economy without giving any serious thought to what you think a good life is, for the world as a whole as well as for individuals, so that you end up knowing all those difficult numbers and names, but you let them take you where they taught you they should take you, rather than towards your idea of good. It’s like knowing medicine, but having no idea of your own about what state is “healthy” and what isn’t. (Luckily I haven’t seen that yet) Specialized intelligence is precisely the Orwellian “Smart enough to do the job, dumb enough to not ask questions”.

Possibly the biggest case of specialized intelligence is living without ever seriously thinking about what a good life is. In the most general sense (I really don’t think that “I just want to be happy” refrain would hold under serious questioning for many of those who profess it) as well as in more particular ways. Especially when it comes to computers, tablets, smartphones, internet, consumism as a whole, how many people actually asked themselves “is this good for my life?” before using something, before opening their Facebook account, spending hours hooked to some stupid game? I don’t even think that it makes them happier.

I will not even go into the issue of acting according to what one thinks. That’s a complicated process, and a harder thing to do than it seems at first. But I would like to see more people asking themselves more often: “Is this good? Is it at least good for me, for my life?”

Bokura Wa Minna Ikite Iru (We’re All Alive)

Japanese – Romaji

Bokura Wa Minna Ikite Iru
Ikite Iru Kara Kanashii n’da

Tenohira Wo Taiyou
Ni Sukashite Mireba
Makka Ni Nagareru Boku No Chishio

Mimizu Datte Okera Datte Amenbo Datte
Minna Minna Ikite Iru n’da
Tomodachi Nan Da

Bokura Wa Minna Ikite Iru
Ikite Iru Kara Warau n’da

Bokura Wa Minna Ikite Iru
Ikite Iru Kara Ureshii n’da

Tenohira Wo Taiyou
Ni Sukashite Mireba
Makka Ni Nagareru Boku No Chishio

Donbo Datte Kaeru Datte Mitsubachi Datte
Minna Minna Ikite Iru n’da
Tomodachi Nan Da

English

We’re all alive, every last one of us
and we can feel sad ‘cause we’re alive

When we hold our hands up to the sun
and peek through our fingers
we can see the deep red blood flowing inside!

Even earthworms, even crickets, and even water striders
We’re all alive, every last one of us
and we’re all friends

We’re all alive, every last one of us
and we can laugh ‘cause we’re alive

We’re all alive, every last one of us
and we can feel happy ‘cause we’re alive

When we hold our hands up to the sun
and peek through our fingers
we can see the deep red blood flowing inside!

Even dragonflies, even frogs, and even honey bees!
We’re all alive, every last one of us
and we’re all friends

(Source: Romaji and Translation thanks to OZC – GITS SAC 2nd GIG – EP. 26)

Steven 1: Distractions

I am going to start this study by describing the most eye-catching feature of Steven’s life: the way he spends his time. This will also allow me to mention most of the themes that I will come back to, in time.

So, how does Steven spend his time? Mainly playing videogames. And this is valid both for the summer vacation and term time (Steven is a university student): Steven spends at least about 30 hours a week (unless something prevents him from doing so) playing videogames. When he is not disturbed by many commitments and chores, or when he finds a game he is particularly interested in, that value can easily reach the 50, even 60 hours a week, with peaks of more than 20 hours of gaming in 2 days. It’s safe to say he plays videogames at least as much as he sleeps, if not more. Besides the other obvious activities, like eating, Steven’s life beside videogames consists of watching tv series and films; he reads at night, before sleeping, but almost never during the day. Sometimes he listens to music, and occasionally he plays the guitar (he has an acoustic and an electric, but doesn’t touch them more than once every 2 weeks). Every day he checks Amazon for free music and kindle books, or cheap CDs. Studying doesn’t come to more than a couple of hours a day even during exam time. In separate, appropriate sections I will focus on the kind of videogames he plays and how he relates to them; the same will be done, in brief, for films and books. An entire section will be devoted in particular to Guitar Hero, and its relationship to the real guitar. In the meantime, I would like to note the absence of any “active” or “productive” activity: no writing of any kind, no diary or journal, no form of art, no volunteer work, in short nothing brought into the world by him, or affected by his existence. He even dropped out of the gaming clan he belonged to, for lack of will to be part of something more than his little world. When this individual will die, what will remain of him will be the save files from his games.

On his desk we find his computer (with which he plays most videogames), a DVD player and a small television. There’s little place to write or read an actual book on his desk. Beside a mug full of pens and a pair of iPod speakers, there are just a lot of knick-knacks: a lava lamp, a small Newton’s cradle, a mug-holder, and other smaller things that clutter the desk, although with a vague sense of order. Sometimes, his Kindle and his Nintendo DS find their place there as well. The posters on the wall are ordinary, and sometimes generic: an optic illusion poster, a Pink Floyd one, a “suicide bunny” one, a poster with funny street signs, one with the Rolling Stone’s mouth and one with some famous rock artists’ guitars. In the kitchen, another television connected to a VHS player, an Xbox 360 (his secondary source of gaming) and a PS2.

Another important thing Steven likes to do is getting reduced stuff at supermarkets. Not only he always looks at the reduced section when he actually goes shopping, but he often goes there for the only purpose of finding items that are reduced for clearance and freezing them. He finds some kind of joy in the very act of getting things for a very low price, for, although not rich, Steven would easily be able to afford shopping normally without great concerns. Moreover, he doesn’t need them: his cupboards and freezers, both in the house we share and at his own house, are always full, but if he finds something cheap, even if he already has it, he will buy more. And, what shocked me the most, he, together with a couple of members of his family, often do the so-called “reduced runs” on Sunday; that is, they go to every supermarket and shop in the area in order of closing time to get reduced items from all of them.

Some observations that I would like to do immediately, before getting in depth in each theme: the life of this individual, it seems to me, is utterly empty. He is, of course, one of the persons that said that he may get a part-time job because he doesn’t have anything to do anyway. (Cf.: This Post) To me, that sounds like an admission that his life is empty, that he has nothing to do with the time he has been given. (Cf.: Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”) He is a “bored” individual in constant, almost physiological need of entertainment, of distractions. (It will be even clearer, further on, that his fruition of books, music, films, videogames etc. is only and purely a source of entertainment, never of art or of personal enrichment) Distractions from what, I cannot be sure. To me they look like distractions from living. From thinking and realizing and feeling the huge lack of value and meaning in his actions.

Frankly, I find it a desolate life, and even, to some extent, offensive to the dignity of human beings (to borrow Kantian terms) insofar as he has a need to anesthetize all that makes him human (his rationality, as well as his emotions) for they find themselves restless, so unused and without purpose. He doesn’t keep up with the news, and doesn’t vote, and I strongly suspect he doesn’t watch television only because, in its passivity, it’s not anesthetizing enough, it’s not as effective a drug as gaming is (or rather can be) through its active engagement of a person’s attention. (Note: Actively engaging a person’s attention is no way related to a meaningful, intelligent task; surely intelligent activities require attention, but crosswords or puzzles do so as well, and they are not meaningful tasks.)

I asked him if he ever asks himself: “After being entertained for hours on end, then what?” He answered no, and by the tone I suspect he may not even have really understood the question. Distraction has developed to the point that it is not a means to forgetting something, but an end in itself. Distraction has succeeded in distracting him from why he wanted to be distracted in the first place. Frankly, hearing him deny any kind of thought about himself, his life, purpose or meaning, scared me, for I felt as if my housemate was something different than human, maybe less than human.

PS.: As for my point of view in judging (so as to answer some possible objections concerning the fact that I may be prejudiced) I myself practice, to some extent, most of those activities as well. I read, I watch films and tv series, I play the guitar, I listen to music and I play videogames. I almost never criticize the activities themselves, but rather how they are carried out, the attitude, the thought (or lack thereof) behind them.