About Daniel Podgorski

Daniel Podgorski is a Californian author, essayist, researcher, and web developer. On The Gemsbok, he provides art reviews (on books, games, and movies) and philosophy articles. His areas of expertise are literature and philosophy, with most of his academic research (as well as most of his informal research) focusing on intersections between the two. He has had poetry, short stories, and articles published in various academic and literary journals. His short fiction has placed first (and as a finalist) in both competition and conference settings.

[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

 

Introduction:

I think it’s fairly trivial to say that Portal is a significant and influential franchise, and that both titles in the series are excellent experiences well worth the time of any player. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the original Portal is such a cohesive and nearly flawless gaming experience that it should be remembered alongside such other towering encapsulations of solid game design and execution as Shadow of the Colossus, the original Half-Life, and the first entry of the Dark Souls trilogy.

But my praise for Portal 2, while still extensive and enthusiastic, is simply nowhere near as unmitigated or unending as my praise for Portal. In terms of its narrative, Portal 2 opted for a lighter tone, with a heavy emphasis on blatant comedy which marred the established atmosphere of Portal and the established character of GLaDOS. Meanwhile, in terms of gameplay, Portal 2‘s single-player campaign opted for easier puzzles overflowing with a large number of lightly utilized new mechanics.

Portal screenshot with companion cube incinerator - Why Portal is better than Portal 2 - Valve Continue reading

[Game: Portal, Valve, 2007]
Thinking, with Portals:

Why Portal‘s Campaign is Superior to Portal 2‘s Campaign (in Tone and Design)

was last modified: December 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read - A Toccata of Galuppi's - art, time, death, commodity

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas Buchanan Read

Before returning to a consideration of a novel next week, I would like to once more (as I did in the last article’s analysis of two-centuries-old anti-slavery poetry) carefully examine a classic poem. In this case, it will be the poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” from (originally) the 1855 collection Men and Women by Robert Browning, who is known for pieces of poetry with a distinct narrative voice (such that his poems can be read as dramatic monologues). “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” is about art and death and beautiful music, and the analysis below is considerably lengthy, but I hope you will grant me the time.

An attention to artifice suffuses the act of invention whereby Robert Browning’s poems proceed from deeply characterized speakers. This attention to artifice necessarily involves a consideration of the relation between that which is artificial and that which is actual—a relation that can be understood as the more general form of which the relation between art and life is a particular form.

In his poem, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the relationship between art and life becomes a subject of direct address for both the speaker of the poem and the performance represented by the poem itself. The poem expresses a view of art as a permanent representation of impermanent life. For those who consume the art, it becomes a reminder of the ephemerality of pleasure and life even as it discourses on a particular subject or aspect of life, and even as it operates in a tone far afield from melancholy.

Further, the act of consuming art, Browning’s speaker contends, is an economic act wherein time is traded for participation, contributing to life’s aforementioned brevity. Browning’s poem seamlessly blends a dramatic consideration of art as an inadequate-because-eternal approximation of human life with an evaluation of the grim commodification of art as a temporal purchase. Through this combination, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” reflects on the inadequacy of art to quell anxieties about mortality.

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[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, 1950]
Conflated Requiems:

The Flawless, Eery Use of the Protagonist Narrator in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

 

Gloria Swanson Sketch by M.R.P. - Sunest Boulevard - Billy Wilder - narrator

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

This article is essentially a recommendation (without qualifying remarks) of a film that really needs no introduction: Sunset BoulevardSunset Boulevard - Billy Wilder - narrator. But because I’m in the business of writing things that might interest or entertain you, I am going to approach this recommendation from the following angle: Sunset Boulevard represents one of the best uses of a protagonist narrator in the past hundred years of film.

Using the protagonist as a narrator is a tactic that is abundantly present in the noir genre from which Sunset Boulevard derives many of its tropes. But this technique has varying degrees of success. Most people can name at least one use of the protagonist narrator that probably did not turn out quite like the director envisioned it (a reasonably modern example is Harrison Ford’s narration in Blade Runner, which was entirely removed from the director’s cut and final cut of the film).

When its exposition is not overbearing and obvious, the narrator’s voice can be an inoffensive tool to transition from scene to scene. What sets Sunset Boulevard so far ahead, however, is its use of the narrator (Joe Gillis, portrayed by William Holden) to support the thematic content of the film.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Sunset Boulevard, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

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[Film: Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder, 1950]
Conflated Requiems:

The Flawless, Eery Use of the Protagonist Narrator in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

was last modified: May 12th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Transistor, Supergiant Games, 2014]
Red Pen:

On the Interestingly Deep yet Frustratingly Vague Plot of Supergiant Games’ Transistor

 

Introduction:

It would be boring for me to simply say that Supergiant Games’ Transistor is a gorgeous-looking, wonderfully designed, mechanically fun, and brilliantly soundtracked title, even though all of that is true. It would be slightly less boring for me to defend Transistor‘s much-maligned brevity in the same spirit as I have defended other cheap, brief indie campaigns, even though I clearly would be willing to defend it. But the least boring thing for me to do, I feel, is to discuss the one area of the game that I am inclined to critique: Transistor‘s presentation of its plot.

Supergiant Games has an attraction to endings. And not just to the ending of games, but to the ending of worlds. Each of their wildly successful indie titles, Bastion and Transistor, has presented a vividly imagined world right around the moment of its ultimate demise (the world of Pyre had better watch its back). And I’ve loved this aesthetic decision in both cases. But in both cases the series of events leading up to the end of the world (and so leading up to the start of the game) is not easily discerned—which, in the oft-dense RPG genre, is saying something.

Transistor screenshot with ordinary thoroughfare - analysis and criticism of Transistor's plot - story, narrative Continue reading

[Game: Transistor, Supergiant Games, 2014]
Red Pen:

On the Interestingly Deep yet Frustratingly Vague Plot of Supergiant Games’ Transistor

was last modified: May 9th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

 

analysis of sonnet - anti-slavery poems - Robert SoutheyIntroduction:

In the line above each article, you will notice the word ‘work’ before whatever text is being considered for the week. The reason that this is labeled ‘work,’ rather than ‘book’ or ‘novel,’ is that I knew I would eventually want to cover poetry in this series as well. For the series’ first foray into verse (epic poems and early modern plays notwithstanding), I will be taking a close look at Robert Southey’s use of sonnets as a means of opposing slavery in Britain.

By definition, the notion of abolition is antithetical to constriction and conservatism. For this reason, it appears odd that abolitionist poet Robert Southey chose the sonnet, a poetic form both restrictive and traditional, to tell the story which populates roughly half of his 1797 Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade. Yet, this appearance of oddness fades with close attention to Southey’s production, a scathing indictment of both the violent ills of slavery and the apathetic British populace’s tacit support of the system.

What seems initially to be a space for old values becomes a space for reform, as Robert Southey utilizes the abiding self-consciousness of the sonnet form to extol subversion and to underscore the moral perversity of the depicted circumstances. Southey constructs a sequence of sonnets at once in command of the tools presented by the formal structure of prevailing sonnet modes and in rebellion against the expectations held by a reading public toward whom the sonnets’ speaker is outraged.

In these sonnets, Robert Southey achieves a biting synergy of working within the tradition of sonneteering (to subvert accepted virtues) and working outside of that tradition (to establish the necessity of social reform).

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[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski