[Film: The Night They Raided Minsky’s, William Friedkin, 1968]
Raiders of the Lost Art:

How The Night They Raided Minsky’s Uses a Disjointed Tone as an Asset Rather Than a Detriment

 

Introduction:

The Night They Raided Minsky's poster - William Friedkin, Ralph Rosenblum - burlesque, editing, toneSurely, most folks who are aware of William Friedkin know him only as the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection. Some may also know him for the controversies surrounding his movie Cruising, but virtually no one still knows him as the director of the subject of this article. The Night They Raided Minsky’s is a comedic (fictionalized) account of the unintentional invention of striptease dancing by a young Amish dancer at a burlesque theater in New York City in 1925—a film apparently saved from mediocrity in the editing room by Ralph Rosenblum.

People vaguely aware of the terms ‘vaudeville’ and ‘burlesque’ might be tempted to think of the former as old-fashioned comedy and the latter as old-fashioned pornography, but neither category is that narrow and there’s lot more overlap than one might think. Both are forms of live variety entertainment (meaning they freely incorporate musical numbers, comedy acts, and dancing in a non-narrative format), but you would only hear strings of lewd jokes and see women removing articles of clothing in burlesque. To put things in the terms of the modern American cinematic-moral paradigm, when it came to theatrical variety shows on late-19th-century and early-20th-century American stages (adapted from French theatrical concepts), vaudeville was like PG or PG-13 entertainment, whereas burlesque was R.

The Night They Raided Minsky’s is a touching tribute to the often-misunderstood practice of American burlesque, including all of its textures: its whimsical joys, its seedy inauthenticities, and its relationships to the morals and economics of its time. And that unique blend of dirt and glamor, lust and love, greed and sincerity—admirably spreads out of the substance of the film and into its style.

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[Film: The Night They Raided Minsky’s, William Friedkin, 1968]
Raiders of the Lost Art:

How The Night They Raided Minsky’s Uses a Disjointed Tone as an Asset Rather Than a Detriment

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

Building the Springbok PC

 

Introduction:

The video above is a walkthrough of building my secondary away-office PC in September of 2019, which is a small form factor (micro ATX) machine. Unlike all other pages on this site, this resource is available as a video only. But for some added value I’ve got supplemental lists of parts and sites below.

I omit mentioning (or at least omit going into detail on) a few things, like the fact that the second case fan was repurposed from the 100R in the Gemsbok PC, why I chose my motherboard, and how I installed the CPU cooler—but otherwise the video gives a pretty clear picture of the PC build process.

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Building the Springbok PC was last modified: January 2nd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

 

Ernest Becker Sketch by M.R.P. - The Denial of Death - critique, criticism, analysis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

One of my more unexpectedly disappointing experiences in recent memory was reading Ernest Becker’s seminal work of psychoanalytic theory and cultural anthropology, The Denial of Death. Humanity’s obsessive self-distraction and self-delusion on the topic of mortality is something in which I am deeply interested, which is why numerous people had recommended the book to me over the years. With the unmitigated praise (and prestigious accolades) the work has received, I was excited to read what I assumed would be a stirring philosophical and cultural analysis of the titular concept.

The Denial of Death does make a very good first impression, as Becker is an erudite scholar and (drawing on the work of Otto Rank) a subtle interpreter of the theories of Sigmund Freud. But concealed behind the parade of theorists and the solid analytical prose (seemingly consciously concealed) is an old-fashioned, moralizing, pessimistic set of theses: that humanity is in denial of mortality because of a ‘necessary’ denial of the human body and reality; that humanity can only exorcise the dread of death by embracing blind faith and rooting out ‘aberrant’ thoughts and behaviors; and that death can only be truly faced by those who approach the study of humanity and society through a (reductive) structuralist lens.

I think all three notions are shockingly misguided and false, to the extent that I almost see the widespread adoration of the work as either a defensive scenario (where folks who are unable to follow the thread of Becker’s argument praise it, for fear of having to admit their ignorance) or an ironic phenomenon of self-assured conservatism (where tradition-biased academics embrace the work because it pats them on the back and insists that only they have already conquered death). While The Denial of Death does certainly have praiseworthy merits, those merits have been stated and overstated across the decades. Thus, in this article I shall explain Becker’s project with special emphasis on its flaws, by addressing each of those three aforementioned theses in turn.

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[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

was last modified: July 5th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

 

Introduction:

The deck-building roguelike Slay the Spire is a well-designed, challenging, engaging game. Each of the game’s characters has a unique set of cards from which options are randomized and dealt to the player during each run, usually as a choice of one from three at a time. Each run begins with a small standard deck, which the player improves, expands, contracts, and (ideally) eventually uses to conquer 50-54 floors of the spire. On succeeding, the player unlocks a slightly harder version of the game for the character that won, up to a maximum of 20 difficulty modifiers (a system called ‘ascension’ in-game).

Deck-building games, like most games with card-based combat, are a subset of the strategy genre. The principal challenge of Slay the Spire—as in its broader strategy siblings—is, as the name of the genre implies, developing and executing an effective strategy. In theory, barring some truly horrendous luck, a person who has robust strategies should be able to beat the game a reasonable proportion of the time, even at high ascension levels. Figuring out which strategies work and which strategies don’t work forms nearly the entire gameplay loop and motivation structure of the game throughout nearly the entire time a player will spend with it.

I feel that these facts must be patently obvious to most players of Slay the Spire, yet I’ve encountered again and again people who give new players some truly objectionable advice which would never come from someone that understood those precepts. The advice in question runs rampant in the forums across the web dedicated to the game, and even feels implied in the words of the developers within the game’s graphics settings when they say that they “recommend Borderless Fullscreen for fast alt-tab.” The relevant advice is to make use of secondary resources—such as watching high-level players in order to “learn the game,” or having a wiki open while playing. I intend to argue here that doing so is tantamount to telling new players to skip the most engaging and valuable content of Slay the Spire.

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[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

was last modified: August 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

 

Introduction:

Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s dark fantasy masterpiece, is a seemingly impenetrable work from an interpretive and thematic standpoint. First, famously, much of its worldbuilding and story can be reached only by careful attention to environmental set pieces, optional character interactions, and item descriptions. Second, and more of an obstacle for our present analytical purpose, Dark Souls is a game which seems to be about death, decay, and annihilation—but which is simultaneously a game starring a prophecy-driven character who survives death, and in which souls are demonstrable realities.

But would-be Souls scholars should not despair. As for the subtlety and density of its worldbuilding, this is no rarity in the wider world of art. While it’s nowhere near as complex as a Modernist novel, I would contend that Dark Souls is similarly rewarding to careful study as are, for instance, the works of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. So, obviously I don’t consider the difficulty of accessing its story to be an insurmountable detriment. And as for the seeming thematic contradictions of the game, these are not intractable.

A reading of Dark Souls as being in conversation with the canon of existentialist philosophical thought yields a relatively straightforward path toward interpretation: Dark Souls, especially through its story and gameplay mechanics, is an allegory for the human condition in an entropic universe with no inherent meaning. That might seem vague and insubstantial, but hereafter I intend to provide support for it (and eventually specificity) through careful attention to both the game and the relevant philosophy.

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[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

was last modified: May 17th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski