Made for Critical Distance and Emilie Reed's Bitsy Essay Jam 2020, this is a small, rough thing based on some of Hiroki Azuma's writing from the early 2000s. It's about postmodernity, and how to deal with a world where meaning, truth, life, and death are multiple and divergent.

The areas in brown are my words, the areas in blue are quotes from Azuma's work. Most of the latter is my own very rough translation of Geemu-teki Riarizumu, but there are a few parts that come from Jonathan Abel and Shiono Kono's translation of Otaku: Japan's Database Animals.

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AuthorZoyander Street
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Alright, so firstly I gotta dig into Azuma's work myself...only skimmed Otaku and basically just got the cultural context for that work, although I've gotten a sort of trickling understanding of the "database mentality" and been able to understand what's commonly referred to as "deconstructions" of genre works as critiques/complications of that database mentality.

I do very much agree with the usefulness/necessity of multiple narratives/"industries" of culture vs. a monolithic narrative/cultural production, but I've also come from a wariness of neatly attributing that tension to a mapped dichotomy of modernism vs. postmodernism (modernism seems less like a singular vision and more like a series of competing visions and futureshocks, whereas postmodernism often seems to accept -uncritically- a nihilistic assumption that beneath the paper mache of meaning and the real there is nothing that exists, and through that meaninglessness gets caught up in its own doubts and false equivalences and ends up treading water). Of course, this all is from different uses of modernism and postmodernism than what are being deployed here.

Out of curiosity (and a bit of vanity), I wonder what you'd have to say about my own entry into the essay jam? Do you think there was anything in there that is useful to what you're outlining here? Or do you see them as two separate conversations?

All this to say, I like it, I like how you pulled it off, I like the aesthetics of what you pull off here, and find it a very interesting topic! :)


Thanks so much! Sorry I only just looked at the comments.

I think as you say, postmodernity and modernity are deployed differently here and in a way that can come across as a bit ahistorical (this is largely due to some kind of tricky editorial choices I made here, as Azuma does put some work into explaining how he uses "postmodernity" to refer to a historical cultural moment, vs. "postmodernism" as an intellectual movement). That said, I'm not sure the nihilism point always works out - a lot of postmodern thought to me seems to be better understood broadly along the lines of "there is no underneath; meaning is enacted, not extracted". I see this in your bitsy essay too - the difference you point out between finding meaning and making meaning, the lack of common fluency with the latter, assumption that the former must always be what is at work when writing about media. This is what Azuma is doing with databases - whereas modernity pointed to an inherent shared reality underpinning everything (even if different theories posited competing views on the nature of this shared universal reality), postmodernity enacts a contingent shared reality through discourse production. A lot of postmodern theory in the 1990s seems to be trying to illustrate this shift in thinking about the structure of material and social reality - rather than hollow shells, you get rhizomes, flatness, etc.

One thing I wanted to ask you about in our earlier discussion today was your mention of a hauntological relationship to media. I've been thinking about Elizabeth Freeman's notion of queer hauntology lately, while consuming some "nostalgic" media and also while playing The Witcher 3, which is supposedly contemporary but honestly feels very culturally regressive. Hauntology is interesting to me because I keep coming back to phrases like "I feel like an alien" or "I feel like a ghost". But I'm still learning what the term could mean more broadly, or how it relates in practice to other people's experiences of reading media.

No worries!

That does clear things up, thank you for that. I will admit that a lot of the sorting out of modern(-ity/-ism)/postmodern(-ity/ism) can get a bit confusing for me when the various ideas that get produced from these tensions flow from the academy to popular culture and discourse (both of which often misread or selectively Not Read the other to much annoyance and then keep on trucking with that mis/not-reading). In my own case just now, I will admit to carrying over Mohaghegh's annoyance at (what I understand to be) a Western Academic postmodern reading/philosophical practice that either gets completely detached from the object it reads out of a logic loop of suspicion and paranoia, or it clothes itself in a pseudoscientific guise and asserts a theoretical framework as The One True Theory (in his own words, "masochistic skepticism or sadistic truth"), as well as one of Mark Fisher's frustrations of how -pop culturally- there appears to no longer be a shared space or overlap between the avant-garde and the mainstream that can open up and build new worlds of consciousness (for him, the understanding of modernity as pointing to an inherent, shared reality would be more crucial to the project of building (class) consciousness which he saw as vital both politically and philosophically). Ultimately though, and this is partially thanks to the permissions postmodernity can give, I don't so much view these and many other philosophical, hermeneutic, and theoretical concepts and devices as totalizing frameworks and more as tools in a toolbox. We're working with, to borrow a lovely phrase from twitter, Lego Philosophy, not IKEA Philosophy; if the thing you're building with legos doesn't do or be what you intend it to do or be, then you either reassemble the legos or you bring in new legos until you can build that thing in question, and often in the process the nature of the bricks you're building with can suggest and produce something unexpected as you're going along.

To speak more to hauntology...hauntology is a bit of a weird term, partially because I understand it tends to be memified to mean just about anything with a sort of wistful, melancholic-nostalgic quality (less hauntology like biology and more hauntography like biography; the former being the study of the process of life, the latter being a document of a life as it was lived). My own understanding of hauntology comes from Mark Fisher, which I understand he copped from Derrida (which Freeman's use of it seems to stem more directly from, from what I can pick up on a quick search). If Derrida's concept of hauntology is more a space or phenomenon where history interacts with the present, where the dead "call for a different future" than the one we are able to produce, Fisher's application is more of a study/phenomenon of moments/media where we not only see the ghostly repetition of these lost future possibilities (futures that never got to materialize), but also a critique/commentary on that ghostly repitition of the past's affect upon the present to either open up new (sonic) worlds or make eerie the present worlds we occupy. The two major musical acts that Fisher tends to cite in this are Burial and Leyland Kirby/The Caretaker. With Burial, the hauntology comes from his music which acts as rave music for the memories of a rave long since gone, a sort of "downcast euphoria" as Kode9 put it, a 3 AM wandering through faded graffiti streets and angelic visitations in a McDonalds. With The Caretaker, there is the decaying repetition of memories of home, a crackle of 50's music that repeats on seemingly inconsequential phrase loops, the playing out of homelikeness that skips into sudden absences, the eerieness of suddenly finding yourself in a house alone, not so much wistful nostalgia but the shock of a sudden melancholic tenderness and vulnerability.

(A good book to dig into Fisher's use of hauntology is his own "Ghosts Of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures" if you want to dig into that as a starter. Online, I'm pretty sure you can also find the full transcript of Fisher's interview with Burial, which is a fascinating read in its own right as well as a discussion of this concept both from the theorizing and the doing sides of it.)

At least in my essay, I was putting the articulation of hauntology through music in a group of cases of a weirding of culture through specific readings of media that I've noticed, alongside the mathematical crystallizations of poetry as it relates to Stephen Jonas and the suggestion by Jean Epstein that film/cinema has an intelligence, is "an experimental apparatus that constructs, that is to say, thinks an image of the universe whose reality is predetermined by the structure of its plasmatic mechanism" (from "The Intelligence of a Machine"). When I referenced hauntology, to be honest I had a hard time imagining what or how video games COULD be hauntological...for me, hauntology is deeply tied to space (my listening to Burial's "NYC" on a plane ride at night and feeling a deep, oceanic bliss within that song, or stepping out of my room when no one else was home while The Caretaker's "An Empty Bliss Beyond This World" plays from my laptop, turning isolation into a bridge of ghostly contemplation).

As unfortunate as it is to need to reference it, right now we have the best example of how hauntology fails to manifest in the positive/new-making aspects as it did in Burial and projects like him: Cyberpunk 2077. Not ONLY is it a sort of remastering/remake of an old cyberpunk TTRPG property that does little to update/reinvograte/reweird it (and in fact arguably just makes a duller echo of its source material) and even less to project ANY new horizon of science-fictional futuremaking (cyberpunk has always had multiple strands of weirdness, from the nihilating punk "no-future" Mad Max strain to cyborg transhumanism to Gnostic Cyberspace Transcendentalism), but EVEN AS A GAME it does nothing to make anything new of the same formula that Every AAA Prestige Title Has Ever Done, INCLUDING The Witcher 3 -here's a vast, open world, filled with numerous glitches and lists of tasks and items to fill out across the entirety of this map, a series of disconnected minutiae dumped into a desert and scattered so far that hopefully no one notices how hollow it is- except this time one of the glitches is your avatar's bepis clips through their pants. The Witcher 3 itself feels less to me like a using the Fantasy Genre to interact with cultural forms and project an imagined past that can represent future longings (see Moorcock's Elric saga and how its edgier, 60's psychedelia infused countercultural current is projecting itself into an imagined Past Beyond Our Past, a History Before Written History that we are implied to be the inheritors/descendants of), and more like a "Historically Realistic Fantasy" that has less to do with either "History" or "Realism" and more to do with Prestige TV. In Fisher's sense of the word, I wouldn't say The Witcher 3 is hauntological at all, in fact it and Cyberpunk 2077 are the very thing hauntology is meant to critique, the repetition of an aesthetic signifier of the past evacuated of any of its radical potential and played out on loop with no escape or difference or detournment.

So then, that leaves a really pressing question; what the hell video game IS hauntological? Maybe Disco Elysium? Could something like Shadow Hearts be hauntological, with its urban fantasy epic taking place in an occulted backdrop of the eve of World War I as the immortal philosopher Roger Bacon attempts to summon an Eldritch God to Earth? Is Tabletop Simulator hauntological (or potentially hauntological) as a virtual simulation of board games (or is it too Baudrillardian)? Is hauntology possible in the various god games and factory simulators (SimCity in all its iterations, Factorio, Dwarf Fortress, Creatures)? Are SHMUPS possibly hauntological, and if so is the kind of fantastic mythographical slice-of-life of Touhou more apt of a subject of hauntological study, or the more existentialist and melancholic examples of Radiant Silvergun and R-Type Final as they flirt with the end of all of knowable existence? Is P.T. an example of hauntology in video games, the use of horror game's conventions into the construction of a discomfiting puzzle box, the leaking of Silent Hill into the no-place of the suburban home and the game console not through Pyramid Head knockoffs and rust but through the transformation of the console's various microphones and sensors into an extended network of synapses to put into fight-or-flight duress and paranoiac investigation (sifting through the code you find that the ghost is always behind you from the second you enter the house)? Is the defeat and yearning of the Zenkyoto student riot movements in Japan so thoroughly buried and abstracted out that hauntology becomes either a frantic archaeological excercise or flat out impossible (at least as video games are concerned)? Or are we looking at the wrong place as far as "official" video games are concerned; is hauntology instead in the mass of doujin games and bootlegs and mods (Doom .wads, Tamriel Reborn, the entire apparatus of RPG Maker and its many iterations)?

For now, it's hard for me to say, but these are the thought sketches I would have to offer to answer some of your questions.


Thanks for that, very helpful! I am looking at hauntology to help with a piece on The Witcher 3, but not because I find the content of the game hauntological but because my experience of playing it felt haunted by queer futures that have failed to materialise. It felt haunted by what was not there - the same way that ghosts don't exist, but we can feel the presence of something that is missing? I think reading Fisher will help a lot!

the hand and foot space arrival was a very nice one, your depiction of space really reinforces the talk about realitiES

decentralization woooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!