Abilities and Tools Guidebook

Perception (“Close Reading”)

Teachers can sometimes ask for weird things, like that time Ms. Violet asked you, over and over again, to find a deeper meaning in a sentence even though you, like, totally read that sentence—and paragraph!—a billion times. Little did you know, what she asked you to do was not probe the passage for its literal meaning but find how all the elements, connotations, and suggestions of the passage interacted with the text-at-large. Close reading is this, it is finding every nook and cranny of a word, a sentence, and paragraph while understanding that the usage of words and ideas connect to other usages and ideas, that definitions and the literal happening-on-the-page, is merely one aspect of what’s going on.

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

Close Reading: I know from previous classroom experience, that this passage is one of the most famous lines in English literature. What makes it famous? I think it is its density. Even though it is but a single sentence, and not much seems to be happening, there is actually a lot to unpack. Firstly, let’s look at the words “must be”. These two words seem innocuous but they actually are very important as they denote a mental movement—someone is thinking these words; whether it be the narrator or some character we have yet been introduced to, the sentence’s suggestion of male-female relations, is impacted by these two simple words because they are thought by someone, someone who, presumably, has their own unique articulation of the world (as everyone born inevitably does). Secondly, what does it mean to “be in possession of a good fortune”? What defines “good”? Is the speaker referring to monetary wealth or wealth of some other kind? Thirdly, what is the speaker’s idea of “universally”? As in, word wide common sense, the most basic inclination available to us as the human-creature, or is it more culturally maybe even ethnically, specific? Is the speaker’s idea of universal regulated only to White, middle class Englishmen and women or can it be shared by those outside of the British imperium? […]

+Core: non-literal representation of a text’s deeper meaning.

+Game effect: players can make-up some aspect of the encounter.

+Players can use [Perception] no more than four times in a row (each reading must be different).

Deconstruction

Have you ever read something and thought to yourself “but, that doesn’t make sense; it just said something contradictory!”? Deconstruction is the art of revealing that “something”. By closely examining words and looking for grammatical, philosophical, and semiotic uncertainty, you parse how a text subverts itself. Deconstruction is for every student who ever scoffed at the instability of a narrative and cracked wise at its absurdity; deconstruction, in other words, is for those intellectual jokesters who delight in finding the thread which started all the trouble.

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

Deconstruction: “in possession”, what does this even mean? Can a man possess anything, let alone a fortune? Then, if he is married, and his wealth is shared in part with his wife, at least on a superficial basis, then in what sense can we say that he possess anything? But, the text, of course, says “must be in want”, but we still don’t understand why a bachelor would want to settle and share his wealth—love? How can love be the answer if it is universally acknowledged? Do not other cultures posit different values for what a wealthy man desires to do with his wealth, however such an erroneous concept like “wealth” denotes? No, the text is playing with us, divesting us of meaning while the author engages in semantics…

+Core: the inherent contradictions of a text are laid bare by the reader through a close reading that is attentive to how the text conflicts with other parts of the text, especially in how the text operates, corresponds to, the real world.

+Game Effect: players can remove a word from the manifested text and remove/destroy the aspect of the game world which the text has imprinted itself upon.

+Players can only use this tool once before using either “Complex(ity)” or “Meta-Excavation”.

DeFam (“Defamiliarization”)

Remember that time you were reading and came across a description that you couldn’t wrap your head around? It might have been that time an author talked about warfare as a game of chess or sexual assault as ‘weltering innocence subdued’. Sometimes, though, it was as simple as some obtuse or overly ornate description that only later you came to find out was supposed to represent a clock tower or a vagina. This is what defamilirization is, it is the ‘making strange’ of everyday life and turning the redundancies of now into the absurdities of the future.

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

DeFam: A man sits alone in a corner. To his right is a pile of shimmering shit. To his left, is his abject loneliness manifested in the reeking odor of beer. He sighs deeply. Some soiled tissues to his center suggested that he is in need of companionship. Though, to his credit, he does just fine with himself. The world, though, begged to differ.

(Defamiliraization is tough to demonstrate. This is why I am interested more in your ability to re-articulate non-literally, a passage, and try your best at making it unfamiliar, then a one-for-one representation of it like an experienced writer would give.)

+Core: sensuality, emotion, and aesthetics utilized to estrange the normal and every day.

+Game Effect: single word replacement within the textual manifestation (synonym) and a minor alteration to the game world itself which corresponds to the changed word’s placement.

+Cannot be used more than two times in a row.

 

Meta-Excavation (“Marxist Criticism”)

As you may be aware after sitting though yet another boring, uninteresting history class, History is all around us: though it may not be apparent where you live, in other parts of the world it is not uncommon for schoolchildren to walk to school and pass famous monument or ancient temples. But, even where you live, there is history because history is sedimented in the world around us. We are immersed in history. Marxist criticism is concerned with how this history effects cultural, artistic, and economic life. It is the pulling together of disparate threads into a concrete assemblage; understanding how, in other words, things like the “mode of production”, racial and ethnic and sexual and gender identities, and role of the economy matter in a specific moment of time. It is a daunting criticism to engage in but also one of the most rewarding.

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

Meta-Excavation: Austen’s universal truth is of course a sham. Her sensibilities were determined by her early 19th-century upbringing as part of a then affluent English “middle class”. Aside from the fact that we know nothing about what she considers a “good fortune”, aside from scholarship which places the male love-interest as an inordinacy rich improbability (as one scholar notes, Darcy would have to have been one of the richest people in English history!), we see how this passage replicates patriarchal attitudes. The idea that such a wealthy individual must want a wife—and note here the possessive quality of “want”—we see how Austen has overdetermined not only the gender bias of her own day and subjectivation, but the heteronormativity of imperial English life.

+ Core: an attention to detail on how historical materiality structures society and art.

+Game Play: Adds a surplus-meaning to the text; the player can add an additional word to several, or all, words in the passage: use a “vertical slash” ( / ) to denote the added word. Example: “It is a truth” becomes “ it/a is/possible truth/objectivity”. The added word should always come after the already manifested text and relate to the manifested text in some manner.

In the game world itself, the player may “de-condition” the environment, revealing, making up, some aspect about the history of the place. This de-conditioning should be related metaphorically as freedom from some kind of slavery (whether abstract or concrete).

 

Complex(ity) (Psychoanalytic Criticism)

Remember Freud? Maybe? Well, he is the guy whose theories have influenced pop culture to such a degree, that if you know anything about psychology, but have never taken any formal psychology courses, than it is probably thanks to this dude. In short, Freud was the guy who talked about family relations, specifically, that clichéd and weird thing called the “Oedipus Complex”; you know, where everyone is supposedly lusting after their mother and design to remove their father. That stuff. Thankfully, though, psychoanalytic criticism has come a long way since Freud: today, we have thinkers like Lacan, Badiou, and Deleuze who all intervene in one way or another in the debate. Many different theories abound as to the state of the mind. Because there is so many, I will not attempt to extrapolate them all. Instead, I will simply say this: read some contemporary psychoanalytic theory and rejoice in the manifold options before your eyes! (For the example, though, I will give a base Freudian interpretation using everyone’s favorite familial dynamic.)

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

Complex(ity): To me, it seems that this passage is overcompensating. The emphasis on “must” in relation to “wife”, that is to say, of a normally heterosexual union, seems intent on banishing the specter of oedipal relations. This unnamed man has a vast fortune; sufficient to say, he likely inherited this wealth. What happened to his father? Is it too much idle speculation to presume that his father has done away with so that he may inherit his wealth and control the mother all for himself? Undoubtedly, this is too far a reach. But, there is something odd in this universalizing which seems too keen to normalize a hidden Other, some repressed desire stealthily stashed away in the shadows of the upper-class.

+Core: pinpoints the psychological instabilities of a text and what remains oppressed, unsaid, or hidden.

+Game Play: A random word is added to the passage, somewhere in said passage, which stresses the psychological Othering of the passage; as something reflected in the game world, then, the player is allowed to create what they imagine the psychological reality of a foe or environment actually constitutes. This imagined reality is then reflected in the game (is up to the player on how to best reflect this reality).

+Should not be used more than three times in a row.

 

Persecution (“Queer Criticism”)

Closely related to Gay and Lesbian studies, Queer criticism takes aim at the larger heterosexist establishment; this kind of criticism takes into account more than homosexuality and includes Gender Criticism (which include, in turn, Transgender studies), and the criticism of people who live outside of the heteronormative norm: bisexuals, asexuality, genderfluid, and many more. As such, Queer criticism deconstructs how masculinity, heterosexuality, and patriarchy intersect and how behind the heteronormative there is a deeper specter lurking—the specter of the Queer.

EXAMPLE:

Text: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Austen, Pride and Prejudice 5)”.

Persecution: Austen takes possession of the heteronormative clime in which she lived to replicate heterosexist assumptions; the vulgar idea here is that both parties—leaving aside the patriarchal, almost Meninist quality of male ownership over the female body—are presumed to be heterosexual: the text does not explore if the “wife” could be a Lesbian, or if this “single man” could be Gay or perhaps an aromatic Bisexual. Instead, Austen falls prey to her own middle-class bourgeois upbringing and takes for granted her sexuality, as can be seen in the gratuitous superimposition she projects onto her characters.

+Core: critical engagement with how the heteronormative and non-heteronormative intersect in society and what this means in relation to the text and author.

+Game Play: scrambles passage (one line only) within the manifested texts, and disintegrates that part of the world which the passage corresponds toward (how this disintegration effects the world I will leave up to the player, for now).

+Limit one usage per text challenge level. Alternate usage: the player may inverse the passage with the masculine/feminine alternatives of each word thus revealing the contrary gendered qualities of a passage; the in-game effect of this inverse should be up to the player to decide, but be limited in that it shifts only the external aesthetic of the game world.

 

 

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