“A man chooses. A slave obeys.”

I still have 5 million things to accomplish today, but I thought I’d comment briefly on Bioshock, which I recently finished. I will avoid spoilers for those that are adverse to such.

Bioshock is easily in the top 5 computer games I’ve ever played. It’s not at the top – Fallout or Thief, probably the latter, would take that title – but it’s close, up there with Deus Ex and System Shock 2, perhaps #3 or #4. By itself, it is a compelling argument that games are art. The art is gorgeous, it runs like a top on two-year old hardware, and it’s scary and intense. It’s not Shalebridge Cradle (Thief 3) or Return to the Catheral (Thief 1) scary, or SS2 scary, as your character is too powerful after the first 15 minutes or so to get really scared. Although I’ll admit that taking out that first Big Daddy was a ton and a half, an experience I’ll not soon forget – imagine a one-ton, 10-foot tall faceless armored 19th-century diving suit, every boot-step shaking through the bass spectrum, emitting sounds halfway between a blue whale and a garbage truck, carrying an giant, rusty electric drill approximately two feet in diameter – and with Lawrence Taylor’s time in the 40.

For all the art direction and atmosphere, the centerpiece of the game is the character of Andrew Ryan, who looks and sounds like Welles’s Charles Foster Kane and is fueled by a particularly insane version of Ayn Rand’s objectivism. Ryan is the mind behind Rapture, a objectivist dream-city built on the bottom of the Atlantic hat that has fallen into chaos and insanity via genetic research gone havoc, and in which the player is stranded, but able to use some of the same modifications to survive. These include electrocution, firestarting, telekenesis, hatching hornets from your blood, freezing people solid, etc, in addition to using the leftover homemade weapons from the city’s recent civil war. The climax of Bioshock is meeting face to face with Ryan, up until then a mysterious, unseen figure, about 2/3rds through the game, and it is as effective a piece of storytelling as I’ve ever seen in any film – Ebert never played a game like this. It’s an excellent story of a good idea gone wrong, with more than one effective twist along the way.

Honorable mentions in the character department would go to Sander Cohen, a quite insane poet/playwright/painter/socialite who has transformed Rapture’s former entertainment complex into a grotesque series of sculptures, and the tragic thread that follows Diane McClintock, Ryan’s former lover; there are also the Little Sisters, the identical prepubescent girls that have been turned into creepy harvesters of the genetic material of corpses, and their lumbering protectors, the Big Daddies, who, if you just follow their pairing them around and watch them, have a strange, almost touching partnership. “No one likes a slowpoke, Mr. Bubbles,” followed by an inhuman whale-like blare, never failed to make me chuckle.

Now for 2K games, I only have one request; would you kindly make a sequel?

SPOILERS FOLLOW:

Well, anyone who had played the System Shock games would know that Atlas was not who he seemed, and the only real candidate was Fontaine. The end of the Neptune level raised some doubts, though I was still sure I’d be betrayed. And I figured that Jack had blown up the plane. But I’ll confess that I didn’t link these two things together until Ryan started using the code phrase; that was a brilliant, nuanced reveal, even after the room just before where it was scrawled all over the wall. Fontaine’s confession was an anticlimax after that.

I only felt nervous two times in the game. The first was when Ryan decided to destroy the city, and that was pure psychological manipulation that set me up wonderfully for the delightfully paced climax. The second was when I realized that Fontaine was going to continue to use the kill-phrase until it worked; I started moving a lot faster and being much more reckless. The health bar never got below about halfway before I found the serum; I wonder if it would have gone all the way down had I dawdled.

In comparison, the ending was low-key; I was so heavily armed that Fontaine was a cakewalk. I might have used one first aid kit, if that.

I saved all the Little Sisters I encountered, and killed perhaps 5-6 more Big Daddies. I was disappointed on the labs level that I didn’t get to see the Big Daddies before they are converted, just giant yellow vats.

One other thing – I was amazed at my inability to kill Sander Cohen. I didn’t even try in Fort Folic; I walked away and left him with his painting. He did help me, after all – not considering the three or four attempts to kill me, of course. I didn’t lay a hand on him until I realized it was necessary to enter a part of the Heights level, at which point I set the dancers at the piano there on fire, which brought him out fairly quickly.

Of all the audio logs – still a great way to tell a story, SS2-style – the best two were Diane’s and Fontaine’s, in Atlas’s hideout, and the one of Ryan’s in the Big Daddy labs, where he honestly questions and then reaffirms his philosophy.

Third Exam done

The third part of the comprehensive exam is done. It was a week-long take-home question. I went a little overboard and answered it in 9,400 words with about 30 sources; in other words, I wrote what amounts to a light article draft. Hopefully, some of it can be used as a dissertation proposal.

About the first 2,500 is a translation of Luke 1:1-4, which required a trip to Harding’s library. Let’s just say they have a lot more commentaries on Luke than the UofM’s – so many that I nearly freaked out looking at them. I ended up choosing the seminal one (Cadbury), Anchor’s (Fitzmyer), a recent one (Bovon) and of course I already had Goulder’s cranky one. I would have used more – the format makes for some interesting rambling and discussion of Greek grammar and syntax, but most of the other ones I flipped through were conservative seminary work with very, very different concerns.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I sprang up from the floor to turn and walk back to the copier, to face the commentaries on Matthew, and out of the hundreds there, my eyes immediately fell on Goulder’s MLM, even though it was in a different edition than mine. Libraries are full of happy accidents, and they’re probably why I do this.

Second exam done, various baseball metaphors

Well, that was nerve-wracking. Two two-hour questions this time; I was fortunate on the 2nd to remember an article or two, so I think I got a blooping single off that pitch. But I think I may have misunderstood or mishandled the first question by intepreting it in a historiographical manner rather than in a timeless ‘these are the core questions of composition’ sense. Still, I’m confident that I fouled it off at least.

In retrospect, Wednesday’s four-hour question went much better. That was a line drive. It may be caught, but I smacked it pretty hard.

Getting close

The first exam is only a few days away, and I’m going to stop posting from the backlog of summaries and concentrate on drafting responses to possible questions. Today I’ve written a 3,000 word draft for what I think will be the gist of likely questions in the first area; tomorrow, I’ll write a draft for the 2nd area, and Tuesday I’ll revise both and try to memorize the key points of each, so I will have some structure to fall back on if I freeze up.

On Wednesday morning, I answer questions in the first area in four hours. On Friday, I tackle the second area, and the third is a take-home that is due a week later. Ugh. I will be glad when all of this is over.

Goulder’s Luke: A New Paradigm

This book was loaned to me, as copies are exceedingly rare and expensive, and I have not read all of it, only the first 200 pages or so. But I’d like to make a few notes on it here, as I’m sure it will figure heavily into answering one of my exam questions.

LNP is a sequel of sorts to MLM (Midrash and Lection in Matthew), in that it describes what MLM should have been sufficient to show – Luke knew both Mark and Matthew, and Q is more or less toast.

Goulder makes some very interesting rhetorical moves in the first chapter when he cites Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to show why 1) the Q hypothesis is not a real hypothesis, as it is rendered neither provable or falsifiable, and 2) that it will take one of Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, rather than the usual single black swan, to unshake it.

He then gives a nice, succinct history of Q, lists its strengths and weaknesses, and then offers three chapters for specific arguments dealing with L material, parallels to Paul, and a revised version of his Jewish festival calendar argument, though this time it is focused on Mark and Luke. After this, a 600-page commentary on Luke begins. I’m principally interested in the prologue, so I read that, but I’ll be using the rest as a reference work.

I think I’ve talked about Goulder’s arguments here before when I made an entry on MLM, but I’d note that LNP has a different tone to it. Goulder seems rather disappointed that MLM did not deal as much damage to Q as he would have liked, and thus his rhetoric is considerably heightened (not that he wasn’t sarcastic in MLM). This may be due to the shift in subject. Instead of his primary focus being the authorship of Matthew, here he is focused on Luke, and in the strange, befuddled logic of Q, claims to Luke being creative are more serious and direct than claims that Matthew was creative. Goulder does everything but accuse other critics of defending Q to defend their careers, and talks of the ‘clouds of epicycles’ they form to defend the hypothesis; Ptolemy, look out!

I find it difficult to summarize Goulder’s case as I find it so utterly commonsensical. But I’ll try. It’s unlikely Luke would have not known of or not had Matthew’s gospel; the prologue says he knew of ‘many’ that had attempted orderly accounts, and he is clearly trying to remedy what he sees as a major problem of order, something serious enough to have confused a friend/community important to him. And as he is so respectful of Mark’s order, what order would he be referring to?

There are the Minor Agreements, of course, and Goulder’s exhaustive attempt to show that the theology of Q and that of Matthew is virtually identical; there are also Luke’s habits of arrangement, where his handling of Markian passages mirrors his handling of Matthew’s, and his recurring emphasis on the poor, which explains much of his editorial decisions.

The most important point here for me, though, is that Goulder is making rhetorical claims about the authorship of these texts. He is not engaged, as I’ve seen a review claim, in the same old usual source and redaction criticism, as I would argue that the core of his argument is not based on textual variations (though he’s covered himself quite well in that area) but on a view of Luke as an creative author. And I further think that his view stems from his reading of the formal prologue. I don’t think he uses the word ‘rhetoric’ in his entire work, though the spirit of it infuses every paragraph; Luke’s purpose, his functional outlook, is always being considered, and as any good rhetorical critic, Goulder allows him free will, barring later editing and transmission issue. This is in direct opposition to a conservative view of authorial passivity that seems to reign when the gospels are concerned. Rhetorical criticism of Paul does not have this problem, as he is assumed to have control over his letters, barring the same post-composition concerns, plus perhaps a scribe; the gospel authors are not allowed nearly as much agency, as it is assumed by 70-100 that the traditions of Jesus are solid enough that the authors could not have fiddled with them too much. This assumption is extraordinarily dangerous and frankly indefensible; it seems to be in severe denial that there are FOUR gospels, and the early church traditions did not have the ability to pare them down into one or even 2 or 3. We can assume quite easily, I think, that there is serious free composition going on in the composition of the gospels, and furthermore that the true function of Q is not to explain the parallels in the Greek, but to defend an editorial, rather than authorial, worldview of Matthew and Luke that is comfortable and easy to accept by the faithful. And it has served in that function quite well.

I don’t buy all his arguments automatically, of course. Jumping around in the commentary, I found Goulder’s explanation of the Ascension in Luke 24, as a ‘temporary departure,’ and not the real Ascension, which supposedly happens in Acts, to be a cop-out that avoids a serious problem with Luke-Acts authorship (which I hope to write on someday).

Quintilian Books 6-8

The march through Quintilian continues.

Book 6 begins with a moving account of how Q’s 10-year-old son died while he was composing these works, not terribly long after his 19-year-old wife and their first 5-year-old son. As he was writing his work on rhetoric for his apparently gifted sons to read after he was gone, he expresses doubt as to why he should continue, but he resolves to do so anyway. I am pressed for time, but I’d like to come back to this mini-speech and see how many commentators believe, as Russell does, that its placement just before Q’s discussion of emotional appeals is no accident.

Q’s arrangement can be rambling in these three books, so I think I’ll just hit some highlights. In his discussion of the Peroration (Conclusion) he enters into emotional appeals (pathos), as the closing in judicial rhetoric is where a truly gifted orator, appealing to pity and other emotions, will make his mark. Q doesn’t have a problem using emotion, as long as “truth, justice, and the common good cannot be secured by other means.” A huge assortment of tricks for the clever lawyer follows – prosopopoeie of the defendant, bringing forth the children, avoidance of images (apparently Roman courts frowned on images?), calling on the gods (a favorite maneuver of Demosthenes), various warnings about getting too dramatic or too funny, etc.

Most striking, though, is that he says that the real orator is one whose words can “move men to tears or anger” and that others are suited enough to assemble the facts of the case (paralegals? secondary counsel?) – he appears to be putting pathos well ahead of logos or ethos. Q also seems to contradict himself on his usual “good man” shtick when he notes the “orator’s true work begins” when the judges’ minds are “distracted from the truth.” – I thought truth was the aim of the good man.

Q’s discussion of phantasiai is also interesting, where he suggests our habit of daydreaming can also allow us to form and then convey clear images of an event to a jury – enargeia, which I recall Aristotle talks about in Book III, though he links it to metaphor (Q would agree, I’d think, based on Book 8). This coupled with his stress on the orator doing something remarkably similar to method acting suggests that emotional appeals are the strongest kind for Q.

A long discussion of comedy follows; it is not much more than a list of the different kinds of jokes, though, and only loosely connected to emotional appeals.

Book 7 seems to cover much of the ground covered earlier; Q introduces something he calls ‘division’ though it seems to be nothing more than stasis theory. I think the difference is that Q here is not so much concerned with the discovery of possible conjectures, but the importance and usefulness of each; he doesn’t make the distinction strongly enough, though, and so Book 7 seems half rehash, though later on he does into some new areas, such as the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law, and the arguments best used in certain kinds of cases, such as insanity and such. There is an interesting note about halfway through when he mentions having only published one speech in his lifetime, when he was quite young, with any others unauthorized and meddled with; it’s an interesting glimpse into 1st century C.E. publishing. Also, the book ends with a thoughtful rumination on what it is possible to teach – in this case, the rudiments of invention, but not, in the parallel of a doctor, “the power of feeling a pulse or noting temperature” as this goes to natural ability. His further admonition to “strive hard, grow pale with study, develop one’s own powers…” I take to heart.

Book 8 starts by Q’s note that it is important to provide a smooth road for beginners, and perhaps along those lines, he recaps the previous 7 books in 14 points, before moving on to elocution, which he believes is the most difficult part of oratory.

Q’s discussion of elocution, again, seems somewhat at odds with itself. On one hand, he is strongly opposed to spending too much time worrying over diction – to “grow old in a futile pursuit of words,” and he goes so far as to repeatedly link such activity to the feminine; it is better to use simple words “that spring from reality”, to “care for words, but (have) deep concern from the subject.” On the other hand, he says the ability to compose in those same simple words requires a great deal of previous study; I suppose the point here is that you must build a rich vocabulary when you are young, and then it is always at hand when you go to compose a speech.

Still, the following chapters, which follow this caution, are all about the importance of good Latin (lucidity vs. obscurity) and then in describing a sizable list of tropes – the very points of style that Q warned against. His “love of words” may be getting in the way. Perhaps this will be further explained in Book 9-12. In closing, I would note his emphasis on metaphor as the trope of tropes; Q’s discussion of it is pretty good, though shallow, as he doesn’t link it to logic or make it the centerpiece of style, instead giving the more general “delivery” that honor.