Videogame in the Expanded Field.

“A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meanings of words, but their jobs.” (Bataille via Krauss. 2004).

“It is neither the ‘form’ nor the ‘content’ that interests Bataille, but the operation that displaces both of these terms. In this operation of slippage we see … what Bataille calls the informe”. (Bois. 1997).

Fredric Jameson had a theory where an art object was produced as a solution, but the problem to this solution was reasoned by the critic. The producer of the art text as problem solver, as creator of a solution, and the reader as problem maker, as the author of reason. Jameson reasoned that through the analysis of a creative text a collective political unconscious is uncovered. This unconscious rests between the signifier, the text, the solution and the signified, the critique, the problem. Therefore meaning exists somewhere in the space between the axiom and the idiom, the truth and its communication. Jameson was concerned with mapping the onset of postmodernism by basing it in history, tracing a horizontal story through the vertical logic and a-history of modernist ideology. Jameson’s book ‘The Political Unconscious’ was published in 1981. Two years earlier Rosalind Krauss’ paper, ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, was published in the journal October. As a contemporary of Jameson, Krauss was also concerned with the mapping of postmodernism, she stated that it was “extremely important to map” the shift into postmodernism. (Krauss. 1978. 290). She did this by focussing on sculpture and used the Greimas or the Semiotic Square as her map. The square is a mechanism for expanding two opposite or binary ‘positive’ concepts by illustrating the relationship with their ‘negatives’. For instance:

Source: Chandler, D; (2002). Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge.

For Sculpture in the Expanded Field Krauss set the positive concepts as landscape and architecture, and the negatives as not-landscape and not-architecture. In the spaces surrounding the square she found room between the terms to place site-construction, axiomatic structures, sculpture and marked sites. (Krauss. 1979. 284). Thereby ‘expanding’ the notion of sculpture beyond an object on a plinth. A contemporary of Krauss, Hal Foster, quotes Jameson’s opinion on the use of the semiotic square, he wrote that the diagram ‘constitutes a virtual map of conceptual closure, or better still of the closure of ideology itself, that is, a mechanism which, while seeming to generate a rich variety of possible concepts and positions, remains in fact locked into some initial aporia or double bind that it cannot transform from the inside by its own means.’ (Marshall. 2015). Jameson indicated that the semiotic square is a vertical mechanism which disrupts the continuity of his historical, horizontal and narrative mapping of postmodernism. Although both structuralist in approach, Krauss’ methodology is at odds with Jameson’s. If Jameson’s theory was put into a semiotic square, it might look something like this:

A diagram I composed to illustrate what Jameson’s theory might look like ‘expanded’. Alice Nant (2020).

This exercise of squaring Jameson aims to illustrate the use value in Krauss’ method of mapping. Much criticism has been levied against her use of the square as reductionist and interior. Hal Foster stated that the binary and oppositional nature of the square, although useful for identifying space, refused linear change and development as it did not accept what was outside. (Marshall. 2015). By expanding Jameson’s art-text-as-solution (axiom) and critique-as-problem (idiom) it could be proposed that the square can be used as a location from which to explore beyond its boundaries the implication of which, I hope, validates the use of Krauss’ expansion map for the purposes of illuminating the spaces of videogame. 

A diagram I composed to illustrate what Jameson’s theory might look like ‘expanded’ beyond its boundaries. Alice Nant (2020).

In order for the semiotic square to explore beyond its boundaries, a temporal element is required. Such that both mapping devices, the horizontal narrative and the vertical logical, co-exist. A more elegant diagrammatic analysis than mine above has been performed by the architect Sandro Marpillero in his review of Retracing the Expanded Field. Retracing the Expanded Field was a roundtable seminar event involving Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin Buchloh, moderated by Hal Foster, held at the Kitchen, New York in 2014. A book containing the papers, the discussion and academic responses and reviews was published in 2015. The diagram used to illustrate the coexistence of vertical and horizontal is the Klein bottle.

A diagram of a Klein Bottle by Patrascu, A., (2015). The mapping of non-planar diagrams into planar diagrams.

Marpillero states “As a basis for producing conceptual figurations in space/time, the operational logic of the Klein Bottle not only describes the reciprocal exchanges between a participant in an aesthetic experience and the multiplicity of techniques structuring that experience. It also addresses the open-ended processes embedded in the production and realization of an architectural project.” (Marpillero. 2015). He asserts that combining horizontal and vertical into the bottle diagram releases the semiotic square from two dimensional boundaries by intersecting through, between, above and below.From Jameson we understand that development is horizontal, and from Krauss that it is vertical. We have also seen that horizontal and vertical transformation can be combined, in an expanded square or, as in Marpillero’s experiment, using the Klein bottle. This notion has echoes of Grids, a paper by Krauss published at the same time as Sculpture in the Expanded Field. Krauss wrote that ‘There are two ways the grid functions to declare modernity … One is spatial; the other is temporal” (Krauss. 1979. 9). She describes the grid in terms of its flatness, its geometricity, and its ordered rejection of nature, mimesis and of the real. In these terms the grid serves as the archetypal vehicle for modernist visual production, such as can be seen, she suggests, in Mondrian and Albers. The paper develops however, to demystify this statement, by describing the grid not only as spatial with vertical and horizontal axes, but also encompassing temporality. The temporal movement of the grid was characterised by Krauss as centripetal and centrifugal. This description imagines the movement of the grid as spiraling from the boundaries inwards, and in reverse spiralling from the centre beyond the frame into real space. She states that the grid in its bivalence  is ‘fully, even cheerfully, schizophrenic’. (Krauss. 1979). By this she meant that the grid (Videogame, by virtue of it pixelated form, is in fact a grid) undermines its own logic as static form that becomes movement, it is a reproduction of the real, of itself in real space, onto itself. It is its future and its past. If the schizophrenia of the grid is its use of temporality to undermine its own logic, then logically the grid is formless.

The suggestion that the grid is time-based, or four dimensional and not a fragment of a two dimensional plane, allows it to move forwards and backwards, through itself and back again, through time. A function that might be called formless. Formless, or l’informe was a conceptual mechanism of Georges Batialle. Using l’informe Bataille defended his critical position against the purity of aesthetics, academia and humanity seemingly inherent in art in the first part of the twentieth century. A formless, slippery, concept employed to disrail art and destroy its elevated positioning as truth. Terms often used by Bataille Documents:

Connor Joyce, from ‘A Play of Concepts’ Chapter 3 of Carl Einstein in Documents and his collaboration with Georges Bataille., p.45.

A Bataillian outlook could be useful for critical analysis of certain videogames such as Ennuigi.

Millard, J. (2015). ‘Ennuigi’. Web Browser. Lexaloffle, Tokyo, Japan.

The image above is from indie game Ennuigi. Luigi, famous brother and plumber, wanders around an apocalyptic Mushroom Kingdom. The controls for Luigi are left and right, smoke and ‘speak’. Each phrase appears in type at the top of the frame and consists of an introspective, depressed, sometimes regretful, sometimes nihilistic sentiment. For example, “I look at a turtle, I think I have done you one better. You wear a shell. I have become one.” (‘Ennuigi’. 2015).  The player moves the character from one screen to next deciding whether to smoke or to speak. Josh Millard, Ennuigi creator, states, “this is one lens through which to look at … Luigi, the … complicit onlooker, wandering now through some fractured, rotting liminal place in this strange world, reflecting on it all in scattered fragments.” (Millard. Via Pescovitz. 2015).Could games like Ennuigi be described as formless? Krauss wrote that the opposite of form is chaos, not formlessness (l’informe). ‘Instead’ she writes, ‘let us think on informe as what form itself creates, as logic acting logically to act against itself.’ (Krauss. 1994).

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