Bad buildings deserve,
some hold, to ashen in their heap. Now as cinders
descend, leaders will be better.
From “Turner I” by Marsha Pomerantz
The action of desert women’s painting has been described by Jennifer in her research into these women’s paintings as being to ‘make a mark’ on canvas like the traditionaldesigns are made on skin. In doing so, the signs evoke the imprint on country of the ancestors’ actions; the fires, the dancing, the food, the fighting.
For the women, Jennifer has written, there is a specifically ‘breasted’ way to view their attachment to country; the ceremonies that the signs refer to are dances in which breasts are painted up and move in rhythm, conjuring the attachment of all to the land like a suckled child attached to its mother.
This is a very different view of culture and place from the Western model of land ownership. Yet ‘country’ is evoked for the viewer, even the uninformed one, by the vivacity of the painting itself. The spectator can enter country not so much by viewing, as by touching with the eye, its rhythm, colour, texture and contour.
The sacred nature of these canvasses is embedded in the experience of viewing them. Perhaps this is why Emily Kame Kngwarreye, the leading lady of the Desert acrylic style, when pressed to describe what a canvas depicts, would reply: ‘You know’. The Dreaming is communicated directly in the feeling for the work.
Jennifer’s research work has been in the anthropological field, with Warlpiri women artists. Mine has been as a philosopher writing in the field of feminist theory. What we really had in common was the experience of being mothers ourselves at the same time as being academics, giving us – in our own desiccated first-world way – an experience of this ‘sacred’, the experience of ‘life bearing meaning’ as Julia Kristeva has it. Perhaps we imagined that our maternity might engender cultural appreciation.
One of the strengths of BioShock Infinite, acknowledged less often than its expansive and detailed historical-revisionist steampunk setting, is the way its narrative is punctuated. The extended forays down cobblestone streets – and the intermittent murderous rampages – are connective tissue, linking a series of scenes that are genuinely, jarringly emotional. The relationship between Booker, Elizabeth and Zachary Comstock sets the stage for some truly evocative dramatic turns, perhaps more of them – and handled with a more dynamic sensibility – than in any other game in memory, including narrative-heavy games like Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs).
These moments are thematically woven together, and many of them are linked to the original BioShock, albeit loosely. Before I dive into the psychological and existential dimensions of BioShock Infinite, I want to acknowledge some of these scenes, and unpack their significance.
In BioShock Infinite, you play the role of Booker DeWitt, a free-wheeling mercenary assigned the task of extracting a woman named Elizabeth from a city called Columbia. The first gameplay sequence is your initial arrival at the lighthouse, your climb up the stairs and your launch from the tower into the clouds. Aside from setting the tone for the game and introducing some of the motifs that echo through the rest of the narrative, this sequence links Columbia directly to Rapture, the setting of the original BioShock, where you started out at a similar lighthouse, but from there descending deep into the ocean, arriving in Rapture: a fecund, hazy, collapsing city, dim and lurking and claustrophobic. Columbia, by comparison, is high up in the clouds, cerebral, ideological, idealized and held together by Skylines that crackle like synapses through an idle brain. The contrast between Rapture and Columbia is the contrast between a barren womb and a shackled mind.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
— Robert Frost
I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not?
— Hilary Mantel (via)