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Author Topic: On RPGs and Text [LONG]  (Read 48906 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #60 on: December 10, 2004, 01:59:22 PM »

But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term. In any case, I'd agree with Chris that gamism doesn't attempt to create myth (assuming he agrees with that).

Mike
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clehrich
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« Reply #61 on: December 10, 2004, 05:17:52 PM »

Mike,

You've completely lost me.  I don't get what you're saying.
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Chris, again, it's the point that when put to task that "morally and ethically and emotionally" didn't stand up. It became "that thing that Ron is talking about that he doesn't have a term for." Which I think is Myth per your definitions.
Okay, but I think Ron does think that this moral/ethical/emotional dimension is central to Narrativist play.  Now, are you saying that Narrativism does not have this dimension?  Forget about story for the moment.  Is Nar play focused on this sort of thematic issue?  My understanding is that it is, and Sim isn't.  Since myth isn't either, I'm not seeing the link you're making.

Quote from: TonyLB
I (at least) envision what Ron's talking about as stories that can stand on their own, with individual meaning for the human condition.

Whereas what Chris seems to be talking about are myths that often make no sense on their own, but take on vibrancy and life in the context of the myth-structure as a whole.
I don't know that myths make no sense on their own, but they certainly don't appear to have any clear meaning seen from the outside, which I think is your point.  With a lot of cultural context, they do have meaning, but not at all in the way they might seem to -- for example, they don't commonly have any particular moral or allegorical meaning.

Quote from: Mike
See, when you look at narrativism in terms of decision making, what do you get? Do you get plot automatically? No. Do you get "Story" in any sense? No. You merely get these little bullets of "theme." Points of random meaningfulness.
What ties these together?  Because that I think is the central question at stake here.
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This very much matches my play. Yeah, sometimes the stories come to a good conclusion, but I think that's us putting our own expectations on top of the play. That is narrativism can be pushed into being something more "textual" seeming. But at it's core, it's really something entirely different.
I tend to agree with you, but I'm not sure why this is particular to Narrativism.  It seems like gaming in general to me.
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....I'd put it this way, it's parallel to myth. As we used to say that there were parallels to story creation in narrativism, I'd now say that the parallels are to myth creation. I think that the extra level of self-reference is somehow key in the difference. I mean, what's the act of making a myth? You speak it, no? In RPGs we do the same thing, except we do so according to a set of rules that intend to create myth. Instead of a more reflexive act.
I'm not sure what you mean by "reflexive."  Do you mean self-conscious and self-aware?  Or referential to the medium?  I do think that myth is both of those, probably a good deal more than is gaming as a rule, though certainly there's nothing stopping gaming from being hyper-conscious.
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As another argument, Chris, what's the "use" of Myth, socially (ala the thread from a month ago)? I think that the reasons for having myth will match the reasons for playing Narrativism pretty closely.
To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world.  Something like that, anyway.  I don't see how this is Nar; for Sim, I've argued that this is part of what makes it so supportive of subculture identification.

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But then you're using Myth locally like we used to use story, Ethan. Meaning that it loses a lot of usefulness as a term. In any case, I'd agree with Chris that gamism doesn't attempt to create myth (assuming he agrees with that).
I didn't say that about Gamism; I said that I didn't know how it worked.  I still don't.  My inclination is to say that all gaming plays off of myth-making as a baseline, but that both Gamism and Narrativism then impose higher-level constraints about the product or process.  Sim doesn't in the main bother with this.  Thus Sim is very similar to myth-making, Nar is similar but oriented toward a non-mythic genre or medium, and Gam is similar but oriented toward something I don't get at the moment.

Clearly we're not communicating, because I'm not seeing where you're coming from.  Can you explain why Nar is myth more than is Sim?  Because I think if I could wrap my head around that part, I'd be better able to debate this.
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Chris Lehrich
Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #62 on: December 10, 2004, 05:34:13 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.


Chris,

Mike may or may not be caught up in this.... But I certainly am.  Could you break down what you mean by myth?  

I was sort of expecting the break down in the Myth article you were preparing... but, here we are, on page 5 and the subject is all around us like swamp water.

I have my guess from the posts you've made so far.... But why guess?

Whether or not your definition is the same definition I'm used to thinking of, we'll be spinning our wheels as long as we're using the word in completely different ways.  I'll even give you the word!  But tell me what it means to you.

Cause here's what I'm stuck on:

Quote from: clehrich
To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world. Something like that, anyway.


How does one know if things are "confirmed"?  How does one test the ideal state of the social world?  Are there examples of people doing things in myths that suppport or break against the social world?  Is there not choice in this?  Is this not Nar?

And if not, are Myths -- as your defining them -- actually not stories at all, but simply models of how the world is supposed to work?  And the purpose of the myth is tell us how we fit in the world and do what the myth says, and that's it?

And if that is what Myth is, what's all the Greek and Viking stuff called?

Thanks.

Christopher

PS I don't know if the Greek and Viking thingees have moral agendas -- though they have moral issues.  That is, they bring up the difficulty of choices in life -- often, as far as I can tell, in no win situations.  But not being moralistic is not the same thing as not addressing moral issues.  This may or may not be something you'd agree with, but really, I'm having trouble teasing out where you're going with your distinctions here, so I thought I'd get it on the table clear and square.
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Michael Brazier
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« Reply #63 on: December 10, 2004, 06:39:19 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Simulationism, it seems to me, is not about stories at all, in any sort of dramatic or ethical or whatever sense.  It's about the manipulation of structure and symbol to construct a sense of order, classification, and totality in the formulated universe it renders.  Thus the focus on causality, rules, and consistency, as well as the potential emphasis on faithfulness to a particular set of source materials.  That description matches myth a great deal better than it does anything else,


This is where I have difficulty.  As you describe it (and, I must suppose, as Levi-Strauss defined it) myth is not an artform, it's a form of inquiry; the purpose of telling a myth is to explain some aspect of the real world.  Myth in this sense is a close kin to philosophy and (in modern times) science -- and bears no resemblance to literature, drama, or any other art.  The act of formulating, or constructing, a universe out of structures and symbols (that is, making a fiction) is no part of myth at all.

But that act is the essence of role-playing -- every group of role-players, during a session of play, is making a fiction together.  Moreover, in Simulationist play the making of the fiction is the focus, the reason why the players are there.  Sim players aren't trying to discover structures in the real world.  They are creating a structure, not attempting inquiry.  It is Narrativist play in which the players are engaged in an inquiry; in Nar play the fiction is a tool, used to expose and examine a difficult question from the real world.  Hence, if Levi-Strauss is right about myths, and mythmaking is an inquiry, then no creative agenda is much like myth; but Narrativism comes closer to it than the others, for only in that agenda are the players inquiring into anything.

The distinction between Sim and Nar play is not, by the way, confined to roleplaying.  There are works of literature and drama, and treasured works at that, that make no attempt at all to "address Premise", and have no deep moral significance.  Examples that come to mind are Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Buster Keaton's The General, and the whole ouevre of the Marx Brothers.  The pleasure in watching these works comes from their internal structure, not from their relevance to difficult moral problems -- the same desire Simulationist play tries to satisfy.  (And do these works resemble myths?  Surely not.)
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clehrich
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« Reply #64 on: December 10, 2004, 08:51:18 PM »

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
Quote from: clehrich
I'm sorry, Mike, but I think you're caught up in a notion of myth that derives from a very narrow range of textually-formulated tales, notably the Greek myths as normally available to us, or to a lesser extent the Norse myths.


Chris,

Mike may or may not be caught up in this.... But I certainly am.  Could you break down what you mean by myth?  

I was sort of expecting the break down in the Myth article you were preparing... but, here we are, on page 5 and the subject is all around us like swamp water.

I have my guess from the posts you've made so far.... But why guess?
Well, I'd go back to the long post on page 2, where I gave an example of a myth from the Bororo.  This thing has no clear moral point or even much of a plot; it appears to be a rambling account of some adventures of a culture-hero who incidentally happens to have raped his mother and murdered his father -- but that doesn't seem to matter very much.

The classical myths with which you're familiar, the Greek myths and such, clearly arise in response to myths of some sort, and there have been any number of attempts to work out what they were, with limited success.  Some archaeological material has revealed a surprising amount, but mostly this oral form of art is just lost to us.

Okay, so there were a number of classic approaches to myth, back in the day.

Euhemerism: Basically the notion is that you had historical events of some sort, then you took the characters and made them into gods and heroes to make it all sort of larger than life.  There are a certain number of cases in which this seems sort of accurate, but not many.

Moral Allegory: Here the notion is strictly literary.  The idea is that myths tell us how to live our lives, by projecting moral quandaries onto the gods.  Unfortunately, this seems to imply that, for example, we ought to be rather loose about our sexual mores, given the way the gods tend to hop from bed to bed and so on.

Explanation: The idea is that myths tell us where things came from and so on, why things are the way they are.  So long as you throw away most myths, that's sort of fine, but we have to wonder why people are so dim as to think that these myths are sane explanations.  I mean, lightning happens because a man in the sky throws it?  C'mon.

Practical Paradigm: This is basically Malinowski's theory.  The idea is that myths encapsulate, in coded form, a number of practical precepts for social and especially what he called "scientific" life.  For example, myths tell us how to plant crops, which is handy as a way of remembering how to do this.  Fine, but why all the other stuff?  Why make it all so complicated?

Ontological Paradigm: This is Eliade.  Basically he argues that myths construct a way of being, a way of performing, that connects our daily activities to the gods.  This allows our most trivial actions to have deep meaning; instead of just planting rice and breaking our backs, we are both doing what the gods want and also we are ourselves the gods.

Now all of these theories sort of work okay, so long as you take things like Greek myth as primary and you assume that the myths told by nonliterate peoples are aberrant and weird.  So for example, Eliade tells us all about the Achilpa carting around this pole that is the center of their universe, and when it breaks they lie down and die.  Yes, but that's episode 11 or something of about 50, and there's nothing in the myths as recorded that indicates that this is an especially important incident.

What Levi-Strauss argued, and I do agree with him, is that we're going about this all wrong.  We have to start with the myths of nonliterate peoples for whom myth is an ordinary part of life, and assume that the extremely problematic provenance of the Greek and so on myths makes them secondary from an analytical perspective.  So what happens?

Well, we find that American native myths are hideously complicated, and that there doesn't appear to be any surface reason for this.  There doesn't appear to be any consistent sense of story, moral, allegory, event, or anything like that.

Then suddenly it gets worse.

You get two Bororo, let's say, who tell what they swear up and down is "the same myth."  They are insistent that the two tellings are identical, down to the last detail.  But the ethnographer looks at these things and sees little correlation at all.  In one case we have, let's say, rotting lizards.  In another, somebody's grandmother blows up because she's afraid to fart.  In another, a glutton eats all the birds in the world.  What the hell?

So this puts us in a bind.  Either (a) the natives are basically rather stupid, and don't know that there is a difference between a rotting lizard and an exploding grandmother, or (b) they mean something quite different than we think they mean.  And Levi-Strauss asserts that pretty much all the previous methods have assumed (a), though they may not have admitted that this was what they were doing, by blurring away differences and fine details and transmuting the myths into moral fables or whatever.  His method takes (b) as a basic assumption, and goes from there.  So he has to work out some way in which a rotting lizard and an exploding grandmother can be the same thing.

Put it like this.  Suppose we have two very successful gaming sessions in which the PCs went on a dungeon-crawl.  In both cases, everyone has fun and is satisfied.  In one case, half the PCs died during lavish and complicated fights; in the other, all the PCs survived and spent all their time testing traps and not getting into fights they could possibly avoid.  In one case, the PCs were sort of Paladin-style characters with very strong preset behaviors; in the other, they were all neutral-good types with a strong sense of self-preservation and teamwork, but no great moral perspective.  And say both were run with AD&D, applied exactly rigidly according to the rules, with no fudging or whatever.  I'm saying that from one perspective, these sessions are basically the same thing.  And that is roughly the sense in which the farting grandmother and the rotting lizards are the same.
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Quote from: clehrich
To classify and grip intellectually the objects of the contextual world, such that one confirms the social structure in which one lives by demonstrating that everything in the universe proves the certainty and ideal state of the social world. Something like that, anyway.
How does one know if things are "confirmed"?  How does one test the ideal state of the social world?  Are there examples of people doing things in myths that suppport or break against the social world?  Is there not choice in this?  Is this not Nar?
One knows they are "confirmed" because there is a clear way to handle them within the system.  That proves that the system is sufficient.

Suppose we have a zillion complicated myths that make perfect "sense" in this strange classificatory way.  Now one day you, a white guy, arrive and hand us an exciting new technology.  What are we going to do?  You don't have a place in the system.  Can we take your gift?  What is it worth?  Okay, so we sit down and tell myths, and by the end we have a classification for you, and know how to handle your gifts.

As an example, take the famous Ceramese myth of Hainuwele.  She is born from a coconut in the classic fashion of gods of her general type.  Then she excretes luxury goods, mostly from her butt.  The natives decide to kill her, and then they plant her body.  From the pieces grow yams and other tubers.  (This is a pared-down version.)

Now if you go hunting on line, you'll find all sorts of things that say this is like Prometheus and Pandora: the point is the moral allegory, the question of what to do with dangerous gifts, the agony of free wealth, etc.  But Jonathan Z. Smith has pretty thoroughly demonstrated that this is something of a misreading.  See, those luxury goods are very clearly Dutch trade goods, and this is within the Dutch East Indies region.  So presumably the question for the natives is not dangerous gifts in general, but more specifically, "What the hell do we do about trade goods?"  

You see, the Ceramese, like lots of their neighbors, are very caught up in complicated exchange relations.  Basically if I store up lots of stuff, I'm a miser and nobody likes me; I'm not rich, but an asshole.  So what I do when I do have a lot of stuff is I throw a big party and give it away.  This means that I'm a wonderful person and everyone likes and respects me.  So the way to get wealth and power, in effect, is to give away wealth.  Then everyone owes me.  Kind of like the Godfather, as I like to explain to my students: I give you whatever you want, because I have lots and am very generous, and someday, and this day may never come, I may ask you a favor....  Like that.

Okay, so here come the Dutch with all these trade goods -- Chinese porcelain and so on -- and they hand it over and leave.  Okay, so they have a lot of stuff, clearly, but how are we supposed to reciprocate?  We may respect them and all, but we don't know whether they are over-rich assholes or people to be respected deeply.  And we don't know what these goods are or are worth, because we don't make them here.  So what do we do?

One solution is the cargo-cult, but Hainuwele is another.  Through myth, we think it through, and we come to a solution.  The gifts are shit (thus excreted), and not valuable, so we don't owe the Dutch anything.  And if we use the gifts for other purposes (such as trading with our neighbors), we can make them into yams (thus the planting of the body and its turning into yams) which do have value, therefore getting something for nothing.  The trick is thus to transform shit into food, and in order to do that we have to refuse direct relations with the shit-givers.

This is myth.  Does this have a moral purpose?  Well, sort of, I suppose, but the moral is not what it appears to be at all.  If there is a moral, it's "pay no attention to what the Dutch give you, and use it to buy good stuff from our neighbors; don't hoard it, because it's complete shit, and instead sell it to any neighbors too stupid to recognize that it's shit."  Nice moral!

From a structural perspective, the point of the myth is to classify the Dutch and their goods and their giving.  The Dutch are like a particular kind of god we know all about.  Their goods are like shit, which we also know all about, and their giving is like taking a crap.  Gotcha.  See?  Our system doesn't need to change one whit, because we've just proven that it is entirely sufficient to handle something new -- because suddenly it isn't new at all, but the same old thing.
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And if not, are Myths -- as your defining them -- actually not stories at all, but simply models of how the world is supposed to work?  And the purpose of the myth is tell us how we fit in the world and do what the myth says, and that's it?
Er, what do you mean "that's it"?  Setting aside the "do what the myth says," which has such a loose relevance here that it's dangerous to hang on to, the rest is basically: "The point of myth is to meditate on life, the universe, and everything, and come to intellectually and emotionally satisfying answers that our whole people can feel good about."  That's pretty big.

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And if that is what Myth is, what's all the Greek and Viking stuff called?
Oh, you can call that myth if you like.  Just be careful.  I like to make a rough distinction between "pure" myth and "literary" myth, but don't read anything whatsoever into that, because it's a rough-and-ready distinction that doesn't really work except for explaining this exact problem in general terms.  It's a heuristic division, not a precise one.

See, the thing is that what seems to happen is that you get the rise of a literary culture in these places.  

In Greece, you get writing coming in from the Egyptians and Phoenecians and Minoans and such; the Greeks take some of that and sort of build their own.  And over time, with the rise of Hellenic culture, they develop literary arts.  And so, naturally, they write down a whole bunch of mythic material that's getting lost, because they love it so, and they tell stories with it in the exciting new ways that are possible now that we have writing.  See, writing allows you to be very detailed about stories in a way you can't be orally; you can make actual words matter, and play with double meanings and intricate poetic devices, and all that cool stuff.  Look at the difference between Aeschylus and the Bororo myth, for example.  And with that kind of intricacy, we get the rise of high dramatic forms as well, such as tragedy.  And so it goes from there.  But what we, modern people, now have from the Greeks is a bunch of myths reworked into various kinds of literary forms.  All of which makes for extraordinary tragedy and such, but it's quite far from what the old oral myths must have been.

With the Norse, you've got writing coming in from the Christians.  Now the Norse take to this like a fish to water, in terms of tale-telling anyway, because their myths were already about words: runes and such.  And so the sagas and eddas are weirdly self-conscious of their medium in a way that's very unusual in an early literary form.  So Snorri and others essentially take all that great mythic material they love and whirl it around in this exciting new format, and produce fantastic things.  On the other hand, of course, all we have now are these literary versions, which are fantastic works of art in their own right -- but they're again rather far from what the original myths would have been like.

In case you're thinking, "Well, how do you know what the myths were like?" I don't.  But what I do know is what myth looks like among nonliterate peoples who tell these things on a regular basis as an ordinary part of their lives.  And they don't look much like Greek or Norse myths.  In addition, with a certain amount of North American native myths, we find a process of concretization and formalization going on over the last century or so -- precisely in response, it seems, to writing.

Poor old Plato.  He was right, you see.  Writing isn't memory, but a dangerous poison for it.  (Phaedrus)  And while writing does allow us to do fantastic, amazing artistic things that you can't do orally, it does slowly kill off the oral forms.

Which is why Nar to me is sort of like tragedy and saga.  And Sim is trying to be myth, in the "pure" sense -- but it will never really succeed because we do live in a textual world, and we cannot get out of that now.

That help?
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PS I don't know if the Greek and Viking thingees have moral agendas -- though they have moral issues.  That is, they bring up the difficulty of choices in life -- often, as far as I can tell, in no win situations.  But not being moralistic is not the same thing as not addressing moral issues.  This may or may not be something you'd agree with, but really, I'm having trouble teasing out where you're going with your distinctions here, so I thought I'd get it on the table clear and square.
On this one, I'm with Ron.  This is Narrativism.  Moral premise and all that.  You won't see a whole lot of this in "pure" myth, i.e. myth told among nonliterate people who tell a lot of myths.
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #65 on: December 10, 2004, 08:59:50 PM »

Quote from: Michael Brazier
This is where I have difficulty.  As you describe it (and, I must suppose, as Levi-Strauss defined it) myth is not an artform, it's a form of inquiry; the purpose of telling a myth is to explain some aspect of the real world.  Myth in this sense is a close kin to philosophy and (in modern times) science -- and bears no resemblance to literature, drama, or any other art.  The act of formulating, or constructing, a universe out of structures and symbols (that is, making a fiction) is no part of myth at all.
Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.  I'd say that the division you're talking about is exactly why myth seems so alien to us: we think these things shouldn't be the same.
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But that act is the essence of role-playing -- every group of role-players, during a session of play, is making a fiction together.  Moreover, in Simulationist play the making of the fiction is the focus, the reason why the players are there.  Sim players aren't trying to discover structures in the real world.  They are creating a structure, not attempting inquiry.  It is Narrativist play in which the players are engaged in an inquiry; in Nar play the fiction is a tool, used to expose and examine a difficult question from the real world.  Hence, if Levi-Strauss is right about myths, and mythmaking is an inquiry, then no creative agenda is much like myth; but Narrativism comes closer to it than the others, for only in that agenda are the players inquiring into anything.
See, I don't agree with you.  I think that Sim is precisely about examining and investigating a world -- just not the real world.  It's about confirming, exploring, and evaluating that world, making it all hang together in an aesthetically and intellectually satisfying way.
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The distinction between Sim and Nar play is not, by the way, confined to roleplaying.  There are works of literature and drama, and treasured works at that, that make no attempt at all to "address Premise", and have no deep moral significance.  Examples that come to mind are Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Buster Keaton's The General, and the whole ouevre of the Marx Brothers.  The pleasure in watching these works comes from their internal structure, not from their relevance to difficult moral problems -- the same desire Simulationist play tries to satisfy.  (And do these works resemble myths?  Surely not.)
The absence of premise is not the presence of myth.  The Importance of Being Earnest is an excellent example of a work of art produced by a guy exceedingly conscious of the modern division between art and inquiry: "art for art's sake."  This is very much a modern conception, and it became a rallying cry for the decadents -- such as Wilde.  He's trying to create the extreme opposite of myth, if we put something like tragedy or whatever in between.  Myth is basically inquiry and/as art.  Tragedy is art that inquires in a limited sense, because it inquires about the human moral situation, where myth inquires about everything, such as the structure of the universe.  Wilde's work is about art that's art which is about art and produces art and means art.  It's completely divorced from utility; as he notes at the opening of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless."
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Chris Lehrich
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #66 on: December 10, 2004, 09:16:10 PM »

Chris,

Thanks so much for that amazing reply.

Done and done.

And now, an apology.  That post on page 2 you mentioned.  I somehow MISSSED it.  I really haven no idea how. It's as big as the fucking Pacific Ocean.  Yet, I did.

But, by missing it and being all confused, I got the new big post... and now I'm down with you.

Thanks again.

Christopher
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clehrich
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Posts: 1557


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« Reply #67 on: December 10, 2004, 10:35:12 PM »

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
And now, an apology.  That post on page 2 you mentioned.  I somehow MISSSED it.  I really haven no idea how. It's as big as the fucking Pacific Ocean.  Yet, I did.
Oh -- well that explains it!  :-)
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But, by missing it and being all confused, I got the new big post... and now I'm down with you.
Cool.

Any thoughts on gamism?
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Chris Lehrich
Michael Brazier
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #68 on: December 11, 2004, 01:34:31 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.


If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.

Quote from: clehrich
The Importance of Being Earnest is an excellent example of a work of art produced by a guy exceedingly conscious of the modern division between art and inquiry: "art for art's sake."  This is very much a modern conception, and it became a rallying cry for the decadents -- such as Wilde.  He's trying to create the extreme opposite of myth, if we put something like tragedy or whatever in between.  Myth is basically inquiry and/as art.  Tragedy is art that inquires in a limited sense, because it inquires about the human moral situation, where myth inquires about everything, such as the structure of the universe.  Wilde's work is about art that's art which is about art and produces art and means art.  It's completely divorced from utility; as he notes at the opening of Dorian Gray, "All art is quite useless."


I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.

Quote from: clehrich
And so, naturally, they write down a whole bunch of mythic material that's getting lost, because they love it so, and they tell stories with it in the exciting new ways that are possible now that we have writing. See, writing allows you to be very detailed about stories in a way you can't be orally; you can make actual words matter, and play with double meanings and intricate poetic devices, and all that cool stuff.


Now, that kind of intricate detail is what Wilde, and I, and practically everybody I can think of, mean by art.  And it's that intricacy in the details which is the most obvious feature of Simulationism.  That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.  

(I do wonder whether Levi-Strauss, or anyone of his school, has analyzed the Kalevala -- which was, after all, an epic poem created from the oral tradition of the Finns, in modern times.  Could Levi-Strauss have compared the Kalevala with the Finnish myths out of which it was made?)
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #69 on: December 11, 2004, 07:49:38 AM »

Quote from: Michael Brazier
Quote from: clehrich
Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.


If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.


Michael

Keep in mind two things here:

Chris is writing in English, Levi Strauss was writing in French, the Bororos were speaking in Boe Wadáru.  That assumes a French anthropologist with the Bororos in Brazil.  You might have to add translated from Boe Wadáru into Portuguese, then into French, then into English.  You have to take into account that several people along the translation chain had ethnographical rather than artistic priorities.

[For example, I'm guessing that the bear/wolverine confusion is an artefact of translation]

The second thing is, especially within an anthropological framework, basing an argument on western judgements of indiginous arts may not valid in any case.  If the Bororos like that kind of art...

All the best,
Ian
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Ian Charvill
clehrich
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« Reply #70 on: December 11, 2004, 11:49:32 AM »

Quote from: Michael Brazier
Quote from: clehrich
Levi-Strauss would insist that the division between art and investigation/philosophy/science is a modern one, and it doesn't apply to myth.  Myth is both, simultaneously.  That's why myth-tellers have to evaluate myths on aesthetic terms, not practical ones.
If so, he's flat wrong -- I'm sorry to say it, but I must.  The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  I'm not thinking of the moral defects of the protagonist; the trouble is the formlessness of the narrative, as a narrative.  Judged practically, considered as an inquiry into the structures of the world, it may have merit; but what value it has must be practical, for it has none of any other sort.
If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.

What I'm saying, to come back to RPGs, is that if you judge Nar play with reference to narrative conceptions, as in Story Now, you should be able to determine whether what you've generated is artistically worthwhile.  But to judge Sim play by those criteria is a category mistake.  Nevertheless, Sim play can be artistically valuable and worthwhile.  It's just that the criteria are quite different, and I'm suggesting that they are a lot more like the aesthetic criteria that inform myth-making.

If you mean a more absolute statement, that art is necessarily like X and this myth isn't and so it absolutely isn't art, I think that's ethnocentric crap.  So I assume you don't mean this.
Quote
I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.
But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?
Quote
Now, that kind of intricate detail is what Wilde, and I, and practically everybody I can think of, mean by art.  And it's that intricacy in the details which is the most obvious feature of Simulationism.  That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.
I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.
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(I do wonder whether Levi-Strauss, or anyone of his school, has analyzed the Kalevala -- which was, after all, an epic poem created from the oral tradition of the Finns, in modern times.  Could Levi-Strauss have compared the Kalevala with the Finnish myths out of which it was made?)
Probably, yes.  I don't know that Levi-Strauss ever looked at it, but there were at one point a huge number of followers, and someone must surely have looked into Lonnrot's work.  

Eero, got any suggestions for references?
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #71 on: December 11, 2004, 11:56:17 AM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill
Chris is writing in English, Levi Strauss was writing in French, the Bororos were speaking in Boe Wadáru.  That assumes a French anthropologist with the Bororos in Brazil.  You might have to add translated from Boe Wadáru into Portuguese, then into French, then into English.  You have to take into account that several people along the translation chain had ethnographical rather than artistic priorities.
This is true, although it's worth noting that Levi-Strauss does think that myth is fully translatable, because it's not the words and narrative structures that really make the thing work.  But that's a side issue, I think.
Quote
[For example, I'm guessing that the bear/wolverine confusion is an artefact of translation]
Yes and no.  Levi-Strauss's point there is that it's an artefact of nobody taking the exact animal and its identification very seriously.  Everyone just assumes, "Okay, so then they were taught by the magic animals, who cares exactly what they were, and...."  Levi-Strauss's point on that score is that if we were telling a moral allegorical tale or something, it might well not matter exactly what the animal was: it's just a magic animal.  But since that's not what's happening here, since in fact it's a kind of meaningful riff on the nature of the animal itself, precise identification makes a great deal of difference.  He's saying that most ethnographers traditionally pre-determined what was and wasn't important, and they didn't bother recording other stuff because they'd already decided what mattered.  And they had done so by assuming that myths would be sort of like Aeschylus, only done by primitive savages not as intelligent or complicated as the Greeks.  Levi-Strauss is saying that this is something of a category mistake, and so our records are often fragmentary.  Don't know if that helps.
Quote
The second thing is, especially within an anthropological framework, basing an argument on western judgements of indiginous arts may not valid in any case.  If the Bororos like that kind of art...
Yes yes yes.  Absolutely.  We're in no position to make absolute statements about what art "really is" except perhaps in a very abstract theoretical sense (cf. the various philosophies of art that get so hairy -- ask Jonathan Walton about this some time).  And without even knowing what the medium of myth is, or its point, we really cannot assess its aesthetic qualities except by imposing our own categories, which is about the worst methodological mistake one can make in the study of cultures.
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Chris Lehrich
clehrich
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« Reply #72 on: December 11, 2004, 09:39:25 PM »

Hi,

I'd like to recommend that those interested in this subject, of myth and structuralism and whatnot, check out the following book:
    Claude Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning (New York: Shocken, 1995 [1979]).[/list:u]It'll run you about $8 new and about $6 used, not counting shipping; you can probably find it cheaper if you're willing to search a bit.

    The whole text by Levi-Strauss himself is about 50 pages.  It's a series of five semi-lectures delivered on Canadian radio in 1977.  They were given in English, and he says that forces him to say things very simply.  The book is exceedingly readable and approachable, and he explains very clearly what he's all about.  And when I say "readable and approachable," I don't mean "insanely difficult but not as nightmarish as some of his other books."  I genuinely mean that the book is readable.

    Myself, I find the text not terribly satisfying in the end, because he doesn't really explain the intricate theorizing that lies behind all this, but I think it cannot be superseded as an introduction to his thinking.  And the fact that each lecture is a little under 10 pages makes the whole thing readable right there: you can read a lecture, think about it, re-read it, and then go on to the next.  The whole book can be read in about an hour or so, but it'll take a little longer to really understand.

    From my perspective, having read Myth and Meaning, you should probably go on to Tristes Tropiques (get the Weightman translation) and The Savage Mind.  But if you're really mostly interested in art and the like, you should first read Look, Listen, Read, then the other two.  When you have read The Savage Mind and feel fairly confident about it, go on to The Raw and the Cooked, and take it from there.

    But assuming most folks won't want to do this, and I can't say as I blame you, you should definitely read Myth and Meaning.  I don't entirely agree with Wendy Doniger's introductory statements, but if you find them useful I don't think they're particularly inaccurate -- I just always disagree with a number of things Wendy does, stemming back to my grad school days in her classes.  But in any event, the book is wonderful, approachable, short, and cheap.  How can you miss?
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    Chris Lehrich
    Michael Brazier
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    Posts: 40


    « Reply #73 on: December 12, 2004, 12:44:19 AM »

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Michael Brazier
    The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  
    If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.


    I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Michael Brazier
    I agree that Wilde tried to create pure art, and that The Importance of Being Earnest is at the diametric opposite of myth -- that's why I brought it up.  I don't agree that myth is "inquiry and/as art".  Your account of myth is inquiry and/as narrative: an attempt to make sense of the world, in the medium of a recounted sequence of events.
    But what makes that not art?  Is it impossible for an art form to be inquiry in a narrative form?


    If there is no invention, no work of construction, involved in an endeavor, its result cannot, I think, be called "art".  And in an inquiry, no matter what medium or form one uses, one wants as little invention as possible.  Any structure in the final product that is not an image of the thing one was examining, is a mistake.  So, if myth is an inquiry in narrative, it isn't art, because inquiry in general should not be art; it's a category error to judge inquiry as if it were art.  (And isn't that part of Levi-Strauss' point?  That ethnographers before him treated the myths they recorded as stories, that is as artworks, and thus misjudged them completely?)

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Michael Brazier
    That's why I equated Sim play to Wilde's drama: "art for art's sake" is Sim's basic principle.  The agenda of Sim (the integrity and elaboration of an imaginary world) is as far removed from the agenda of myth as any endeavor can be.
    I don't agree about the nature of detail in Sim, in the sense that I don't see Sim mechanics and game-world design as equivalent to an intricate poetics and so forth.  I do agree that much of Sim would like to claim that it does what it does for no reason other than the activity itself, but I also think this is not actually true.  It's part of the ideology of Simulationist play.


    That's a highly debatable proposition -- it means, after all, that Sim players are basically mistaken about what they think they're doing.  So why do you think this?

    Also, in what way -- other than the difference of medium -- does Sim differ from a play of Oscar Wilde?  Or a Marx Brothers film, another of my examples?
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    Ian Charvill
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    Posts: 377


    « Reply #74 on: December 12, 2004, 01:12:12 AM »

    Quote from: Michael Brazier
    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Michael Brazier
    The myth of the Bororos you quoted is certainly a narrative (in the sense that it describes a sequence of events) but considered as art, judged aesthetically, it's a total failure.  
    If your aesthetic standards are about narrative, yes, it's a failure.  But that's precisely the point: the aesthetic criteria of myth have nothing to do with narrative.  They have to do with the adequation of form to content to exterior constraints.


    I suspect we are now in violent agreement.  Would you accept this as a paraphrase of your point: a myth is judged, in the society from which it came, not as an invention of the teller, but as a hypothesis about the real world; its value is its significance as a discovery, not its structure as an artifact?


    Hmmm.  I'm kind of curious about Chris's response at this point, because if that's true I've been significantly misunderstanding things.  I thought the  whole point was that the value was derived from the structure -- that the value was in recognising, confirming and reinforcing the structural relationships between things.
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    Ian Charvill
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