“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic”: The Drug Novel In The Postmodern World

[This is the title of my undergraduate dissertation. What follows is a little bit about why I wrote it and why I’ve chosen to upload it to this blog. If you just want to read the actual essay click HERE]

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“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold”

When I was fifteen years old I read Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas for the first time. I can’t pretend I found it the easiest of reads – I struggled with the temporal and spatial compression throughout the text – but it struck a chord with me. I expected the typical “hippie drug novel”, all free-love and consciousness expansion, but the actual text couldn’t have been more different. Hunter S. Thompson makes an argument for deliberately fucking yourself up on drink and drugs;  he presents a beauty to consciously choosing to feel weak and small. I knew wanted to work with this text but didn’t really have an outlet to do so at this time.

Flash forward three years, I’m now 18 and applying to university. My whole life I wanted to study medicine, but due to the severity of my anxiety and physical health I finally realised that I didn’t have the fortitude to make it as a doctor. I go to the University of Southampton to read BA(hons) English Literature & Film Studies instead. Honestly this was exactly what I needed at the time: say what you want about a humanities degree, but Critical Theory forces you to consider your world view. It strengthened my knowledge of the arguments important to me (like feminism) whilst simultaneously introducing me to new ways to interpret society like post-structuralism and post-modernism. Critics like Jameson allowed me to understand how texts like Fear and Loathing… work at a more intrinsic level.

But if postmodernism is the cultural form of late capitalism, why was drug culture always missing from the long form exploration of contemporary society? You could interpret the subculture as an attempt to “opt out” of modern societal discourse. But the black market for illicit drugs is ultimately still a market and thus conforms to socioeconomic capitalist systems. I therefore felt there was an irony within the drug novel that is important to the framework of postmodernism: the ability to opt out of capitalist discourse is an illusion that props the entire system up. Well that’s what I tried to argue with my dissertation, using The Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley), Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh) and, of course, the Fear and Loathing… books as the key texts.


I know everything I’ve written thus far is self-absorbed and it’s definitely a little bit up myself to make my undergraduate dissertation available online. But my dissertation is the thing I have achieved that I am most proud of; I am not the person I was at fifteen when I first discovered Hunter S. Thompson. This is a document that charts my own personal progress. However the main reason I am uploading this is because it is the best bit of writing I have ever done and, since I’m not sure if I ever will go back and get my MA and PHD, probably the best bit of writing I will ever do. As insignificant as it is, this is my magnum opus. I loved my degree because it was always about interacting and engaging with different ideas; English Literature is always a discussion. So that’s ultimately why I’m making this available online: there’s no discussion to be had when the only copy lives on my shelf.

“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic”: The Drug Novel In The Postmodern World

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American Horror Story – Managing Quality and Expectations

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American Horror Story is the television show that I am most critical of. It was never a series that I considered particularly good, but I’ve always enjoyed it; it was our “house show” at university so it was always fun just for the social aspect alone. But I’m very much in the post-uni stage of my life now, I have a salary, rent and a commute, yet I still find time to watch American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare every single week. It is the only series, outside of The Great British Bake Off, that I actively follow instead of waiting for the series to hit VoD and then bingeing. In this respect, it’s arguably my favourite show – but why I do I find myself unable to call it objectively good?

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‘Grief Is The Thing With Feathers’ – Max Porter

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“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long term project”

It’s perhaps a cliché to describe a book as unlike anything you’ve ever read; it suggests a laziness on the part of the reviewer. But in the example of Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers I’m genuinely struggling to find an adequate point of comparison through which to describe it. Part prose and part poetry, this text tells the simple story of a family after the matriarch dies. This incident is explored through three first person perspectives: the ‘Dad’ who lost his wife; the ‘Boys’ who lost their mother; and a giant ‘Crow’ who has come to help them mourn.

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“Weiner” (2016) – A Rare & Brilliant Comedy Documentary

Both sides of the Atlantic we love a sex scandal involving a politician or public figure; after all, the Keith Vaz cocaine fuelled prostitute bender seemed to run for weeks in the British red-tops. But when the figure involved is named Weiner? Well that’s comedy gold so potent it almost doesn’t seem real. It’s a Two Ronnies sketch somehow come to life. It instantly becomes the most important news story at the time and thus demands to be documented.

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Whoever wrote this headline deserved a raise.

This is the astonishing real story that Weiner attempts to document. Well to be more accurate it picks up after the scandal: Anthony Weiner, a rising star in the Democrat Party and 7 time congressman, who had to resign in disgrace following a sexting scandal in 2011. This documentary starts in 2013, with Weiner himself inviting the filmmakers into his life because he “doesn’t want to just be a punchline.” He’s running to be mayor of New York City and is co-opting the film as propaganda for both his political career as well as his personal image – he wants to be something more than the bloke with the funny name who sent explicit photos to several women.

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Remembering The Philosophy of Bioshock

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An attempt to break the hold Hearthstone and Overwatch have on my soul

Bioshock: The Collection has just released here in the UK and I’m finding the critical consensus regarding these games to be somewhat sniffier than I remember. It seems people are finding the narratives shallow, with Bioshock: Infinite getting particular flak for it’s gameplay and lack of narrative journey. This surprises me as I consider Bioshock and Bioshock: Infinite as the absolute pinnacle of art design, world building and storytelling within video games.

This has given me an interesting idea: In this post, I will be discussing exactly why I hold these games in such high regard through a discussion of their narratives as I remember them. I’ll then go play through the collection, as comprehensive as I can, and then return to these ideas and see whether these three games are as brilliant as I remember or whether I was just looking back through rose tinted goggles.

[obviously, spoilers for the entire series after this point]

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Blizzard: Warcraft & The Marketing Value of Nostalgia

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I will go to great lengths in the pursuit of a hackeyed/forced pun.

World of Warcraft: Legion is the first WoW expansion released in my adult, working life. As a result I haven’t found as much time as I would like to protect Azeroth from the demon invasion; it’s stressful having two actual jobs instead of just “alchemy” and “herbalism”. But even from my brief time with the new content it’s apparent to me that Blizzard has finally learned how to correctly market and create content that engages with the nostalgia inherent in its decade old game.

The previous expansion, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, is an example of a failed attempt to engage with nostalgia. Set before the events of WoW, this expansion forces the player to go back in time to fight the original, demon-powered Orcish horde. Originally planned to coincide with the release of the film, the intention was for film audiences to witness the birth of the Horde, and then enter the game to stop it. But the film wasn’t released at the same time – it was moved to not coincide with the box office juggernaut that is Star Wars. When Warcraft: The Beginning was eventually released, it didn’t really match up narratively with Warlords of Draenor in any way: sure Gul’Dan is the main antagonist in both, but the main protagonists in the game – Grom Hellscream, Maaraad, and Yrel – either have no dialogue or don’t appear at all in the film. As a result Warlords of Draenor was a hackneyed expansion built around a multi-media experiment that never actually came to fruition. It is easily the worst expansion Blizzard has released.

But Blizzard has learnt from this mistake, and since then their marketing machine has become much more nuanced and refined. For the past year or so Blizzard have been referencing one thing across film, Hearthstone and WoW itself: Karazhan.

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Why I Can’t Stand The Negativity Around American Football’s New Album

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To call American Football influential is something of an understatement. Without them, the vast majority of bands I talk about on this blog simply wouldn’t exist, at least in the same form. There’d be: no Modern Baseball; no Front Bottoms; no Knuckle Puck; no Brand New; no La Dispute etc. The list is virtually endless, as few albums have shaped alternative music (more specifically pop-punk, emo and post-hardcore) like American Football did.

This is why I am painfully excited for their sophomore self-titled album to be released, only seventeen years late, this October.

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Quick Update

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Please excuse how ramshackle my current set up is, renovations are pending.

Although I very much maintain this blog for my own purposes and for the sheer pleasure of writing, there are a few people who do regularly interact with my blog and my work – so I wanted to write a quick update about how the content might change short term.

I was sort of struggling maintaining content anyway because navigating graduate life isn’t necessarily easy. But a dislocated thumb (incident involving a ketchup packet) has currently resulted in the temporary loss of my right hand. I’m not writing for sympathy or anything like that – this has been a very long time coming tbh – but I just wanted to make regular readers aware that content will perhaps change short-term as a result.

I’m typing this one handed and it’s taking a surprisingly long time. As a result, content may become slightly irregular again simply because it’s taking me much longer to write things at the moment. The type of media being engaged with will likely change in the short term, as I’m finding it very hard to hold a mouse or a controller and thus play my usual sort of video games. I’m playing a lot Hearthstone again instead (can’t stop, won’t stop) so I might write something about that. But I digress – for at least a couple weeks I will primarily be writing about literature and the film industry, with maybe another love letter to early 2000s emo music somewhere along the line.

I would however quite like to turn this slightly annoying situation into something more positive. Do you have a book, film or television series you’d like to see me write about? Any podcasts you think I might enjoy? Or has anyone got an accessible games they can recommend me? Please help me find a way to spend my free time now that I’m sans a hand.

Returning To: Overwatch

With the first competitive season of Overwatch coming to a close, I thought it was high time I returned to my initial thoughts of the game. One of the major concerns in the media at release was whether an online-only game was worth paying full retail price for – could something without single player depth truly provide meaningful entertainment for consumers?

In my opinion yes, I’m still enjoying Overwatch just as much as I did in my first game in the beta. I had to take a little break from the game due to the frustrations of SoloQ in a team game (more a little later) but have returned to a game that still holds a surprising amount of delight. The novelty still hasn’t worn off for me: The gun play is tight, balanced around proactive and reactive abilities; the maps are bright, colourful and distinct; and all of the characters are charming in their own way. Every map starts with the characters chatting to each other, telling jokes or referencing stories, and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with that. Strangely, most of my frustrations about playing solo seem to have gone away on my return. I don’t know that’s because I’m in a higher MMR bracket, or the changes Blizzard made to the “team tips” but the vast majority of the games I play have a balanced team! No longer am I resigned to only playing Lucio, and as a result I’m starting to understand much more of the game from an offensive point of view.

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