Gritty realism: reading Half-Life
Half-Life [inc. Half-Life (1998), Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999),
Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001)]. First-person shooter. The player
controls the actions of an in-game protagonist from a firstperson perspective. What the player sees is what the protagonist
would see. Progression through the game largely involves forward
movement through a series of areas within a government
research complex. There is a limited need to interact with objects
and the landscape. All versions of the game offer variations on
a basic escape and
This strategy is guided by principled realism. It is realist because it acknowledges
the central role of power in international politics, affirms that sovereign states are the best
hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interests… We are also
realistic and understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed upon others, nor is it
the inevitable culmination of progress .
The White House, ‘National Security Strategy of the United States of America’
( The White House, 2017
Space and the Speculative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
In a 1961 interview with the journalist Studs Terkel, James Baldwin offered a riveting assessment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.” “It’s a fantastic kind of understatement,” Baldwin tells Terkel. “It’s the way I want to write.” Baldwin hears something in Bessie, a sonic and discursive quality he aspires to and identifies as “fantastic.” This essay considers the speculative undertones of Bessie’s blues and Baldwin’s literary realism. I argue that Bessie’s doubled vocalization in “Backwater Blues” lyrically declares her immobility and circumscription, while tonally staging freedom and boundlessness. Baldwin is drawn to this dual orientation and enunciation, a vocalization that in its iteration of the real transcends the social, spatial, and imaginative limitations of that order. If we read “Sonny’s Blues” the way Baldwin hears Bessie, as a fantastic kind of understatement, we discern subtle sonic and spatial iterations of the irreal. Attending to microtonal sounds in “Sonny’s Blues”—screams, whistling, jukeboxes—I show that the speculative emerges in Baldwin’s story when the sonic overrides the racialized inscription of space.
once authored, not
because of his own idiosyncratic way of doing politics but because of the strategic realignment
that his presidency represents.
According to Trump, his administration’s security strategy is guided by
‘principled realism’. The apparent incoherence of his foreign policy is as
indicative of what this entails as his specific interactions with other governments. With every
diplomatic encounter imagined as a stand-alone opportunity to strike a winning
‘deal’, the norms-based, multilateral system of global governance becomes
ecological degradation who should be most deserving of our respect and attention.
Violence Comes Easily to Humans
A picture of impending dystopian realism is part of the contemporary reckoning 4 . Collapse, anarchy, violence – the surest signs the explosive potential was always there. We might make a crude point here and say that if our basic level instinct is survivalist, and this in turn has shaped the prevailing account of politics as a means to protect life from its unmediated desires, then every human has a violent impulse deeply woven into consciousness and
in world-experience. What is often called post-humanism ( Braidotti, 2013 ) brings several contemporary positivist stands together.
These include the new empiricism, speculative realism and actor network theory. Post-humanist
thought draws on process-oriented behavioural ontologies of becoming. These privilege
individuals understood as cognitively limited by their unmediated relationship with their
enfolding environments ( Galloway, 2013 ; Chandler, 2015 ). An individual’s
‘world’ reduces to the immediate who, where and when of their
violence to economic prosperity, are ‘presented as unambiguous and
objective’ because they ‘are grounded in the certainty of
numbers’. Such a conception of numbers is encapsulated by Desrosières (2001 : 348) when he
talks of ‘metrological realism’. This viewpoint holds that
‘computed moments (averages, variances, correlations) have a substance that
reflects an underlying macrosocial reality, revealed by those computations’.
In other words, numbers reveal something about the
Digital Journalism , 6 : 2 ,
137 – 53 .
J. ( 2000 ),
‘ Problems in Photojournalism: Realism, the Nature of News and the
Humanitarian Narrative ’, Journalism Studies ,
1 : 1 ,
129 – 43 .
A. ( 1994 ), Froth
and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass
Medium ( Chapel Hill, NC : University of
North Carolina Press ).
C. ( 2015 ),
‘ Framing Atrocity ’, in Fehrenbach ,
H. and Rodogno
Visual Advocacy in the Early Decades of Humanitarian Cinema
pictures to produce an immersive spectacle, relying on the cinematic realism of non-fiction movies to increase the ‘perceptual experience’ and the ‘aesthetics of astonishment’ of the viewers ( Crawford-Holland, 2018 ). Back in the 1920s, ‘cinema … “virtually” extended human perceptions to events and locations beyond their physical and temporal bounds’ ( Uricchio, 1997 : 119). Humanitarian cinema thus participated in transnational campaigns aiming to mobilize and sensitize national audiences. More specifically, these movies also advocated on behalf of distant
Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Refugees for the American Red Cross, 1918–20
Sonya de Laat
‘his realism corresponds to the status of the photograph as report, [and] his mysticism corresponds to its status as spiritual expression’ ( 1975 : 45). Hine was certainly aware of, and in many ways appeared comfortable with, the realist and sentimental rhetorical aspects of photography. He himself had said in a Photographic Times article in 1908 that ‘good photography is a question of art’ ( Gutman, 1967 : 27). In his pre-war child labor and immigration work that generated passionate social and political debates, Hine recognized his photographs had to be affective