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My Holy Nacho?


Just wanting to direct some attention to this. A fabulous project by my good friends Jamie Allen and Bernhard Garnicnig, called My Holy Nacho. Updating László Moholy-Nagy’s Telephone Pictures series (1923) into the realm of networked media. The title is taken from a Chinese whispers confusion over Moholy-Nagy’s name as a productive misunderstanding of communication which constitutes the ecology of online services.

Beginning with one single object, Allen and Garnicnig transform certain fabrication processes via online services and indirect communication through different ecologies of infrastructure. The final sculptural object is then contingently produced after ten processed steps, and forms part of a gallery exhibition alongside the documentation and dialogues with the manufacturers and shipment companies.

To find out more, hit Regine’s interview with Allen and Garnicnig over at We Make Money Not Art:  The way they understand ecology is very close to my own: the unavoidable creative (I dare say, Romantic!) mystifications of unpredictability that take place in-between various modes of control:

“There are inherent contradiction in trying to control any process. The more noise there is, in a sense, the more predictable something is: It will always be noise. And processes you think you have complete control over are always the ones that bite back hardest, generating more “WTF” moments and leaving people wondering how someone could not have understood something the way they do. So the process — this kind of ping-pong of process selection that we have embarked on — is in one sense highly specific, and in another sense entirely outside of our control.

Actual collaboration is in many ways impossible. Collaboration is more about the love of misunderstanding and the impossibility of knowing than most people think. It’s not about feedback, but pushing each others ideas and intuitions forward, developing unique things together. Imagine two people cooking together, for example, discussing each condiment and about whether now is a good moment to stir — that’s not really how it works. Someone nudges ideas and materials this way or that, and then someone else comes along and nudges it some other way. That’s just how bodies, brains and time work.”

It reminds of Cavell’s most cited passage from Emerson: that is “the evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets then slip through out fingers then when we clutch hardest,” – of what is the most unhandsome part of the human condition. It’s true for Emerson as it is today.

Ordinaryism: An Alternative to Accelerationism. Part 1 – Thanks for Nothing


Bit late in the day – but a link to my new Furtherfield article. It’s a two-parter delving into a Cavellian critique of accelerationism. For some reason, there are 1250 odd “reads” so far (discounting spambot reads etc).

If anyone else  is interested in more critiques of accelerationism, Joshua Ramey had a great rejoinder on AUFS last year, coupled with my response.

Heidegger and The Work of Art History


Lovely to see that this is available for purchase now. I’ve read through the whole thing and its all great, and incredibly important (I can’t think of any body of work that has taken Art History as a discipline, and Heidegger this seriously before). You can read Aron and Amanda’s introduction HERE.

Also, I have at my disposal, a 20% discount code should anyone want it.


Derrida-Bergson. Sur l’immédiateté


For those of you whom, are interested in new relationships between Derrida, Bergson and their juxtaposition within speculative realism, Pierre-Alexandre Fradet (ENS de Lyon / Université Laval de Québec) has a new book out HERE.


Four notes towards Propaganda APRJA


Glad to see that the post-digital APRJA newspaper has finally been put online. Here’s my contribution on the post-digital, propaganda and technology. It’ll probably give everyone some idea on what my upcoming book on BioShock will tackle, in relation to games.

Erm. So I have a book coming out.


Yeah I have.

Before I get to that though, the academic videogame Twitto-Blogo-Tumblr-sphere went into overdrive this week in response to Brendan Keogh’s solid essay Across Worlds and Bodies: Criticism in the age of Video Games in the newly christened (and open access!) Journal of Games Criticism.

It’s a fine, clever essay, and its entire strategy is to signify a rhetorical break with the dominant, generalised purist study of games studies thus far, in favour of a phenomenological, interrelated ‘bottom up’ approach to specific videogame artefacts. Granted, such a purist position is a bit of a straw man, Keogh knows that: but I’m guessing that wasn’t the essay’s point, other than it was a solidly constructed overview of  critical videogame contemporaneity right now.

Sure Keogh, might eventually be wrong in grouping up formalism as a single world-view, but to quote Fried, it is better to be wrong than to be irrelevant (yes I am aware of irony considering Fried’s medium specificity, but thats complicated in itself)

And yet bizarrely as this went on, I’ve been finishing off the last pages for an upcoming, small book project that I’ve been working on throughout 2013, which might exemplify what Keogh argues for (as he did with Spec Ops: The Line). Whether it does or not, will be up the academic games community, but its funny how related/unrelated things work out like that.

So, the book is called BioShock: Decision, Forced Choice and Propaganda, it’ll be out on Zero Books this year, and it focuses entirely on the BioShock franchise (specifically Irrational’s games BioShock and BioShock Infinite) and how the series might reveal living in, what Jacques Ellul would call, the technological society.

But the exact nature of ‘how’ BioShock reveals this is the contention of the book: because (and this where I probably differ from Keogh), this is not a specific study of what the BioShock games feel like to play, nor does it seek to discuss video game criticism or culture outright. Neither does it stake a critical claim in what sort of existing allegorical message is present in the text for the player to mull over.

Instead, the book asks how BioShock emerges from a political ecology of systems (what I call decisional ecologies), and moreover how that ecology enacts communication, control and propagation: the very hallmarks of its content. What happens to the BioShock ecology once allegorical interpretations are shown to be less than useless?

Blurb and TOC below.

Published by 2K and developed by Irrational Games, the first person shooter videogame franchise BioShock, (comprised of two titles, BioShock and BioShock Infinite) received positive reviews on release. Moreover the series has attained something of a hallowed status as one of the greatest examples of commercial videogame artistry ever made. Its complex moralistic narrative, level of emergent customisation, immersive dark tone and technical artistry all culminate into a series of videogame experiences, somewhat elevated from the usual “cause and effect” shooter.

The BioShock series is often touted as “making the player think whilst playing.” The combination of narrative, game design, politics and philosophy takes place in failed dystopian futures and alternate universes (Randian Objectivism and American Exceptionalism), whilst the player addresses issues concerning free will and ethical consequence. However, Robert Jackson argues that the BioShock series indirectly reveals deeper, cultural meditations on the nature of decision, choice and propaganda on a wider level, within an ecology of systems and decisions. Instead of understanding BioShock as a ‘lesson’, ‘allegory’, ‘meta-commentary’ or ‘reading’ that applies to videogame culture alone, Jackson analyses how the franchise informally propagates and structures ideals inherent to our technological society. 

Spoilers obviously.

Table of Contents


  1. Decision Ecologies: How can a Choice be ‘Forced’?
  2. Decision and Forced Choice Inherent to Videogames
  3. Forced Choice: BioShock and Retroactive Causation
  4. Forced Choice and the Apparatus: Fate, Allegory and Retroactivity in Psychoanalysis.
  5. Decision: The Split of BioShock Infinite
  6. Decision: Propaganda, Turing, Ellul and the Reality of Automated Ideals

Postscripts: The Future of BioShock: The Future of Propaganda.


Recorded talk at Dublin: SR and Art


Fintan and Paul have kindly posted it HERE - if you want to hear me go on, and say ‘in that sense’ an awful lot.

Whilst I essentially dodged the question of ‘what happens next’ – (although if you’re an art writer, you don’t really ask such things, other than looking backwards) it was a great crowd, Rebecca and Teresa asked some great questions: plus things seeming to flow quite nicely. Especially since I had about a day to expand a 25 minute talk into a 50-55 minute one. The learning curves will never stop.

UPDATE: After a few requests, I’ve uploaded sides and videos from the talk below or HERE in a new tab. Click on the videos to play, I’ve uploaded them as online video.




Speculations 5: SR and Aesthetics – TOC


It’s in the final stages and will be released imminently I’m told. I’m in there with a three part monster of an essay revisiting/updating my previous essay on Harman and Fried, as well some thoughts on inherent aesthetic splits within SR itself.

Part 1: The Art of Theory

Steven Shaviro, “Non-Phenomenological Thought

Theodor Leiber and Kirsten Voigt, “Beauty, the Will to Power, and Life as Artwork: Aesthetico-Speculative Realism in Nietzsche and Whitehead”

Matija Jelača, “Sellars Contra Deleuze on Intuitive Knowledge”

Claire Colebrook, “Not Kant, Not Now: Another Sublime”

N. Katherine Hayles, “Speculative Aesthetics and Object-Oriented Inquiry (OOI)”

Jon Cogburn and Mark Allan Ohm, “Actual Qualities of Imaginative Things: Notes towards an Object-Oriented Literary Theory”

Miguel Penas López, “Speculative Experiments: What if Simondon and Harman Individuate Together?


Part 2: The Theory of Art

Graham Harman, “Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next Avant-Garde”

Bettina Funcke, “Not Objects so Much As Images: A Response to Graham Harman’s ‘Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next Avant-Garde’”

Thomas Gokey, “Strategic Invisibility: The Zero Point of Modernism and the Avant-Garde”

Robert Jackson, “The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks 2: (Iso)Morphism, Anti-Literalism and Presentness”

Roberto Simanowski, “The Alien Aesthetic of Speculative Realism, or, How Interpretation Lost the Battle to Materiality and How Comfortable this Is to Humans”

Francis Halsall, “Art and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Graham Harman and Aesthetics as First Philosophy”

Magdalena Wisniowska, “Images I Cannot See”

Sjoerd van Tuinen, “Disegno: A Speculative Constructivist Interpretation”


Michael Bay and the “fear of death” Anxiousness in Presenting


By now, I think everyone has seen the excruitatingly painful video of “blockbuster film director with a porn sensibility” Michael Bay getting stage fright and walking off mid-presentation at CES2014. 

Bay was hired by Samsung to promote their brand new curved super-hi-def tvs, which basically meant reading off an autocue, and selling various visual experiences of ‘the future’ and so on. Problem was, Bay’s autocue broke, leaving him absolutely stranded in front an entire audience, with nothing to say, nothing planned, nothing to ad-lib with; and even the guy trying to get Bay to spout out some of the product’s features, couldn’t rouse a single coherent sentence out of him.

Now, not being an avid lover of Bay’s career thus far, I have to admit of a silent satisfaction at first: for here’s a director, notorious for being a horrible person, whose “blockbusters” read off like an accountant’s sheet consisting of ’things hitting each other’ and has a horrid pornographic sense of depicting even basic cinematic emotions. Here he is finally getting some poetic justice, in the most ironic of settings: a presentation of a corpulant product that no-one needs. 

Yet, I was undoubtedly the one in the wrong. Commerciality aside, something connected in me: a basic urge of empathy involving Bay’s obvious anxiety and the saddningly throat clenching experience of seeing someone just crumble in front of confused, probably bored faces, hidden behind the glow of their LCD platform shields.

You see, the “fear of death”, anxiety so obviously strewn across Bay’s face is something that many academics will be familar with. It’s something that, if i’m being honest I’ve really struggled with, even if the audiences involved have never ultimately picked up on it. 

If the following feelings of anxiety, haven’t penetrated at least a couple of your talks, or papers at least once or twice, there must something wrong with you. That feeling of being pulled up, in the odd silence of your peers, waiting there for the next intellectual pith to form, readymade from your concepts, except that process doesn’t exist of course. And yet there you are, fully disconnected from thinking at all, silent and hesistant, playing the insidious game that fears saying nothing at all versus the fear of saying something incoherent and irrelevent.

In a way, these sorts of pre-presentation panic attacks are something to be apreciated: if you didn’t care about your research, if it didn’t matter that much to you, then you wouldn’t care about the reception of it. Doesn’t lessen its impact though.

What astonishes me year after year is the lack of presentation workshops on this issue, when I know from first hand experience that it affects pretty much everyone, from those with years in the field to those with months. And it’s not as if anyone warns you about it: it’s just “present stuff at workshops” and “present this paper” without any hint of telling you that it might be an unsettling experience. It’s just a casual acknowledgement of, “oh yeah, that”. I’ve been to plenty of workshops that offer tips on how to write good presentations, or construct helpful Powerpoints. I’ve yet to see any that offer introductory tips on how to mediate the body-cripplingly awful anxiousness that accompanies them: which is an issue if you want to actually have a career in it.

This is why I partly understand the ingrained institutional logic of reading from a pre-written paper, although now over the years i’m beginning to detest it (why read out something which everyone else would just privately read anyway? The Humanities are weird). That added security of a determined systematic argument, robotically read out behind a shield of paper, whilst the turmoil of presenting is concealed. But the problem is that it is not presenting, but reading. This isn’t the same for all workshops, conferences and symposiums of course, but we all know the sullenness of watching them, just as much as when we’re elated in witnessing a well delivered presentation. 

I get it. I’ve been there. God knows, I’ve done some of the worst presentations imaginable, but it does ease with practice and time. For me, I don’t think the anxiousness will ever go, but at least it’s no longer as crippling. But for the rest of us, and the future generations, more training and confidence improvement should be provided. We shouldn’t have Michael Bays in academia, in more ways than one. 

Most Uncharitable Dedication of the Month


Oh, and Happy New Year.