Stumbling about recessed folders of my hard drive, I discovered a five-song EP from The Peyote Foundation. No amount of Googling provides insight here - one organization by that name exists in Arizona, but they are a drug legalization activist group, and do not appear to record music. The music itself is, put simply, bizarre. Two tracks appear to be the stoned ramblings of... someone set to music. One consists of audio of a baby being dismembered in a cave (presumably simulated). The other two tracks might arguably be called songs, although if one is to do that one has to note that they are not designed to be fun experiences. On the whole, they sound like weird, underground experiments - too produced to quite be done on a lark, too insane to quite be done seriously. At times the voices are oddly familiar - as though I could place them as part of another band. Mostly, it's just a mysterious and unfamiliar wave of sound.
I mention this because the discovery of mysterious and potentially authorless texts is a surprisingly frequent occurrence of late. The other day, as I walked to my front door, leaves of weeds in my yard were littered with torn scraps of paper with printing on them. Oddly, the paper settled directly on the leaves, looking as though words were growing from my yard. The scraps were small enough that context could not be determined - a word or two at most complete. The rest was negative space and graphemic fragments. Inevitably, I wondered what message was here, although I doubted an author beyond the wind...
And then there is Chou, a game that survived my attempt to purge my games folder of unlicensed and import games before I started. Clearly this was not entirely successful. But Chou remains deeply strange. Loading it, you see a graphic of a witch crashing into a butterfly. Then comes highly stylized Japanese text that would be difficult to read even if I could read Japanese. Then comes the game, which is a space shooter, Gradius-style, in which you appear to be a butterfly. No attempts to Google this game succeeded. I have no idea what it is, who made it, whether it saw a US release, or, really, anything at all. I assume that the title is a misnomer, except that one translation for Chou is "Butterfly." Although apparently the Japanese text does not look much like "butterfly."
The game is unremarkable - I'd have assumed it merely obscure except that it had no copyright information or anything on it. Not even a year of release - it may well be some modern game made in a retro style - several such NES games exist. The game is not so bad as to obviously be an amateur attempt, nor is it good enough that I have significant hope of a secret cult following. Truth told, it is the perfect game for the position it finds itself in - cryptic, mysterious, even a bit ineffable.
One of the supposed proofs of God's existence is the watchmaker analogy. The argument is simple - if you walked along the beach and found a watch, you would assume the existence of a watchmaker. Therefore you should assume the existence of a creator for the vastly more complex world. Where the watchmaker analogy fails is that it merely justifies why the existence of God should be considered - not why it is necessary. It is a compelling argument for God as a hypothesis. Nothing more.
But how much deference do we owe this hypothesis? If we were to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, the most remote settled place in the world, and were to further land at Inaccessible Island, an island that is not inaccurately named, and were to voyage up the 1000 foot cliffs that block progress from the beach, and there at the heart of Inaccessible Island were to find a watch in seemingly perfect condition, would we assume a watchmaker? How many watchmakers must be found and asked before Occam's Razor starts to dictate that an alternative hypothesis is in order? At what point in a failed quest to seek the divine do alternative hypotheses grow appealing?
On one level, certain facts present themselves. The music in my mp3 collections comes from one of three sources. I can rule out that I downloaded or ripped the Peyote Foundation, which means the mp3s must have been given to me by one of two people. I can ask them what they know of the Peyote Foundation. Likewise, whatever problems exist in judging Chou, it is clearly a game that has some prior source. Even in the (essentially impossible) case that the game exists only because someone delineated a certain string of bits as a ROM file and discovered that these bits constituted a playable game, the object has a lineage.
Stanley Fish points out, in arguing that authorial intent matters in the reading of literature, that it is only when we assume an author that it is possible to discern meaning. In his own twist on the watchmaker analogy, he argues that if you are walking along the beach and see a formation of rocks that reads "HELP," you only assume that this is a distress signal as a consequence of assuming that the rocks were placed there by a person. If you assume that the rocks are a fluke of natural processes, you assume no message, and do not seek to interpret.
This thing called Chou, these things called The Peyote Foundation's songs, they are arbitrary strings of digits that already existed in some Platonic state. Binary code is a misnomer - these files are, in the end, just numbers. These numbers correspond to game and song only because of a given interpretive method that names them. Chou could just as easily be a novel or a photo with a different encryption. The watchmaker then is not God but Adam, wielding the mad power of names.
But here our lexicon starts to fail us. The given names - Chou, Peyote Foundation - somehow fail to separate thing from other. The watchmaker hypothesis, still better than the alternatives, seems woefully inadequate. The names signify nothing but the objects before me - tell me nothing save that there is something here.
Out of context, the strangeness of the object comes forth. Why does this butterfly work its way through space? Why can it shoot things? What was the witch? Why is this man talking about turning into a butterfly, or not being a caterpillar? It is not that such incommensurabilities are absent with context. But context, at least, gives us something else to look at besides the cracks.
Or perhaps context simply eats away the glamour surrounding the scene. The watchmaker hypothesis is, in the end, the belief that all mysteries are meant to be solved. No matter that Godel, Heisenberg, and Turing laid waste to that possibility decades ago. The human brain ill-accepts the possibility of a code that cannot be cracked. Adding even the ghost of an author intoxicates.
But authors are a difficult bunch. One never really knows where one stands with an author. Whether the author is holding cards to the chest, whether she knows more than she's saying. Or, perhaps more troublingly, we know for certain that the author does know more than she's saying. Authors lie. We have to. Right from the first, the moment we suggest "I," we're lying. I'm not here. I wrote this on Wednesday, September 26, 2010, at 8:27 PM, Eastern Standard Time, at my parents' house in Newtown, Connecticut while my mother prepared a pot of french press coffee so we can watch the season premiere of Castle. You are not. You are reading it at some later date. I've moved on. "I" denote nothing more than a tomb in which I've buried an old identity, and with it all of my myriad of secrets.
But words are a poor tomb. Meant to express, word tombs inevitably haunt, just as I am clattering around now, long after I've been buried. This is an important realization, both to the Nintendo Project, and in general. And, actually, if you'll forgive the discursion, Chubby Cherub is an excellent illustration of this.
Chubby Cherub is an awful game (listed by Seanbaby as the 15th worst Nintendo Game ever). It consists of an eponymous fat angel who flies around and throws hearts at dogs, who are apparently complete bastards who hate the heavenly host and try to kill it. The eponymous cherub is a fairly standard depiction of the cherub - a sort of fat cupid angel, inevitably infantile, essentially the most harmless and cuddly variety of angels our culture has yet thrown up.
Here is a description of the Cherubim from Ezekiel:
They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies... As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning
Burning wheels of fire with four faces and animal features are relatively dissimilar to flying overweight babies. The word "cherub" has entombed this concept though. And yet, beneath the surface of Chubby Cherub, something uncanny writhes. Dead? Perhaps as dead as an idea can be.
This is the awful mystery of Chou and the Peyote Foundation. It is not who the watchmaker is. No doubt he is long gone, just as I am. I am not worried about where the departed author has gotten off to.
I'm worried about what exactly he left behind.