Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Introduction of Ian Bogost

Emboldened by a kind message, I paste here my intro of Ian. I actually find them harder to write and speak than talks themselves: 

It's my pleasure to introduce to you Ian Bogost, a professor in the school of Literature Communication and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Director of the graduate program of Digital Media.

It would be churlish of me to pass over Professor Bogost's extraordinary popularity. Indeed it's intricately related with the fact that Ian is both a professor, and a very gifted game designer.

It would, for instance, be awkward of me not to note the fact that his recent video, Seeing Things, which he sent to a conference on Object-Oriented Ontology at the New School last month, has since about three weeks ago received over 47 000 viewings. This in a situation where it's gratifying for me to see my name in the phone book.

Like a neurotic Wittgenstein, I just can't pass over in silence the fact that while I'm happy when a blog post of mine gets a few hits, Ian recently wrote a blog post on a tech website that got 300 000 hits. In two days.

I find myself unable fully to speak to, yet compelled nevertheless to speak, the tale of his Ancient-Mariner-like wandering across the Pacific Ocean, most recently to Beijing where he was a guest speaker at the World Economic Forum, where golden silk clad humans burst out of tables that double as gigantic skirts, with the sole purpose of witnessing your taking a glass of drink.

What can we conclude from this? We can draw the inference, I'm pretty sure, that They, you know, Them, really like Ian Bogost's writing, movies and videogames.

But what else can we draw from the mass of Bogostian data before us? Isn't it the case that there must be some reason why They like Ian's stuff so much? Isn't it also the case that Ian is, heaven help him, doing his job, namely, being a public intellectual, in a media climate that is not all that friendly to scholars, but also—and we must note this with a slightly sad face and a sense of due caution—in a scholarly climate that's not all that friendly to media?

Could it be something to do with the way he says things, the way he writes things, the way he makes things? Ian's sentences are silky smooth yet charged with complexity. His avatars are chocolatey and generous lipped, like a jar tilting towards you just so in a Cezanne painting. His first book, Unit Operations, is a brilliant analysis of videogames, gaming, and the devices that we use to play videogames. Yet it was also a beautiful reading of Baudelaire, an incandescent yet limpidly clear account of philosophy, and just a great object to hold in your hand.

Since then Ian has written several more books, including How to Do Things with Videogames, his most recent, and Newsgames, a less recent one—and when I say “less recent,” I mean “a little bit earlier this year.” Yes, Ian Bogost is a very gifted writer, and a very prolific writer, but this is because he really cares about his subject—and when I say subject, I mean object, or better, objects. Ian is attentive not the scintillating surface of new media, but always to the ways in which media is made of things: motherboards, joysticks; software code, players; tools, screens, colors and sounds; photographs and the hands that hold photographs, words and the devices that deliver words, the words that deliver devices.

Could it also be to do with the fact that Ian thinks things and makes things, and that sometimes these activities are indistinguishable? Take, for instance, his company Persuasive Games. Ian makes games that make you think, and he makes thinking into something that you don't just do in your head. Persuasive Games have won awards for their games about social and political issues. A Persuasive Game could be about airport security, disaffected copy store workers, the global petroleum market, tort reform, suburban errands, pandemic flu, consumer debt, the politics of nutrition, or wind energy. Persuasive Games created the first ever official games for US presidential candidates, and the first videogames published by the New York Times. The games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally at venues on five continents. There I go again with those numbers.

And then there are games like A Slow Year, a very long and beautiful look at the notion of speed and temporality in gaming. And various iPhone apps that you may be familiar with. And then there's Cow Clicker. This became a phenomenon last year as people began to see the humor (and not see it) in Facebook clicking games such as Farmville, by playing Ian's game, which is now the stuff of legend, since the cows were all recently raptured in a Cowpocalypse. From the flyer for this talk you will see that Ian is a very gifted graphic artist who can draw a cow with one nostril turned just so, and big eyes placed just so, that you really, really want to click.

Ian and I are part of a small group of scholars trying to forge ahead in the newly discovered coral reef known as object-oriented ontology, a coral reef that lies below the submarine, or is it U-Boat, of Heideggerian philosophy, whose strange colors and textures involve and invite a massive reworking of philosophy from Aristotle to Derrida, from Deleuze to Al-Ghazali, from Leibniz to Levi Bryant. Ian is a passionate scholar who cares about things—things, that is, the way an Atari screen has its own weird experiences of color; the garden lawn beside the grieving daughter in the photograph, the precise way a software routine encapsulates another set of code—the ways in which we can indeed talk about what he calls an alien phenomenology, which is the title of a book he's just finished for Minnesota.

That's pretty much it. Ladies and gentlemen, Ian Bogost, with a talk entitled “Words, Images, Computation, and Other Materials.”

1 comment:

bobbyjgeorge said...

This is one of the best introductions, to any thinker, any where. Well done!