Epikinetics S1.1 & The Future

Hey all! Thank you so, so much for reading and supporting my work so far. Sincere appreciate it.

I’ve been away for a while – since my silence happened in the middle of this current batch of essay ideas I’m colloquially calling “Season 1”, let’s consider it a summer break Which would be apt anyway, because a new era of sorts is about to begin for this project of mine – I’m moving to Medium and Twitter.

My first piece up there, “Immediate and Scrambled Thoughts on “infinity” (2018)“, is an anecdotal (sheet gonzo, finally to my namesake) short piece on a brilliant play I saw last night.

Follow me on Twitter here!

I hope you all jump over and see me there from now on. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ll be re-uploading the initial essays below (with some edits/polishing, perhaps), over the coming month.

xx

Epikinetics: S1.1

Infinity War: Marvel’s Rhizome

A Diagnosis of the Latter 00s

Past Bing/Future Bing, itsamemyleo and New British YouTube: A Movement Just Passed?

“20/20”: An Artificial Vision of The Upcoming Decade

“20/20”: An Artificial Vision of The Upcoming Decade

I have recently seen a spate of tweets stating a desire to throw large, decadent New Year’s parties in the style of the Jazz Age and Roaring 20’s, for when the world inexplicably/miraculously reaches the year of our near-forgotten Saviour, 2020 AD. Which is interesting. Bygone years have always acted as fulcrums for current societal invention— 50’s diners in the 80’s, 80’s music in the 10’s— but have always developed organically, in a sense; they originate from “nostalgia”. Market forces have manipulated and abused this to no end, granted, and perhaps I am lending to much credence to Strauss-Howe’s generational theorem like it’s some universal dialectic, but it does provide a decent model for understanding this kind of trend. An age group remembers things; these memories provide inspiration for current things; the process repeats, until capitalism collapses or whatever.

Except these tweets signal, to me, an artificial and conscious effort to revive a time and style purely on the basis of a numerological coincidence. No one who thrived in that era is alive anymore; no one in the 21st-century is ruminating on genuine memories of the 1920’s. All we’ve got is imaginings and idealisms of the 1920’s, taken from media and artistic reiterations. A reflection of a reflection. Maybe we’re getting further from the point of ingenuity and progress than ever before.

Of course, there are similarities between the two eras. The wealth gap is colossal; deregulation is rife (the ‘Gilded Age’); the modernism of then is ostensibly reflected in New Sincerity and growing rejection of trite po-mo collage. But I’ll save the essay comparing big-band jazz and PC Music for another day, or (preferably) for someone else. A ‘20s revival isn’t entirely uncalled for. And, most importantly, it would signal a societal reclamation of its own direction, a little bit away from causality and into its own re-temporal territory. Or is it a further sign of endgame-postmodernity’s insistence on recycling, obliterating idiosyncratic taste in its trans-historical blend for the sake of the consumer’s pseudo-wants?

Answer notwithstanding, here’s a vision of the 2020s: electroswing comes back, uh, swinging, really breaking into the mainstream. Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace dominate the charts. Cars of the retrofuture zoom along the inexplicably-gutted NYC subway system (Wayner). Screens the depth of your fingernail acts as jukeboxes. Androids do the neo-Charleston. We count down from ten. Explosions scatter in the sky, the colour of champaign. It’s 2020 and the world is in sepia clarity.

Sources

Wayner, Peter “The New York City Subway System Is Beyond Repair”, The Atlantic, 2018

Commented on:

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Past Bing/Future Bing, itsamemyleo and New British YouTube: A Movement Just Passed?

I

One has to wonder what YouTube has become. Logang; their derivatives; rambling alt-right pseudo-podcasts… copyright strikes on the oppressed, advertising of the damned. The site’s cultural impact has always been under some kind of scrutiny (Bo Burnham, perhaps once the poster-boy of this imagined former YouTube, did a whole song about it back in the site’s ostensible heyday), and  of course, internet-based stratification has erased any total endings when it comes to medium and movements— surely there’s a circle of small-time vloggers, somewhere on the site, that’s having the time of their lives— but the sense some moment centred around YouTube has ended persists, in a handful of fan narratives at least.

This falls into a wider quandary: the internet is no longer ‘punk’. In Charles Whalley’s essay “This Has Been a Blue/Green Message: Exiting the Social World”, the author refers to the term ‘post-internet’ which, rather than implying the internet’s end, refers to an epochally current moment in which the internet has become “something that passes over us rather than something we surf over […] as the internet flattens into reality, the novelty, fear and excitement fade”. In other words, what was once the domain of quirky subculture and avant-garde chatrooms, set against the backdrop of libertarian notions naive enough to be exciting (#Occupy, anti-copyright, blackouts in the name of abolishing SOPA…), have exponentially expanded to lodge itself in nearly every core facet of contemporary life. The internet has become mainstream.

Which begs the question… where next? If the digital world is a marketplace, where and when will the next ‘punk’ wave arise from? YouTube has steadily become an inherently corporate space, and so any resistance to this problem that arises from the site faces the daunting challenge of capitalist realism— how to forge genuine alternatives in a totalising system?  Which leads to acknowledging capitalism is a hydra/the wide reach of market “ontology”/ Guy Fawkes masks made in a Chinese factory/etcetera. Which helps nobody.

I mention this because I wouldn’t define the current/inevitable next wave of YouTube-based British artists around the site, unlike the main topic of this essay, since their scope and collective genius will (hopefully) transcend the limits of the website. I’d rather define them by the more general term of the ‘Incandescent Generation’, an alternative to “Gen. Z”, the latter of which I feel is hopelessly terminal— but I’ll expand on that in a different essay. If we’re to define a new internet-punk we have to look at what’s just come before, defining them around the site, and see what highlights that were there can be viewed as signifiers of our ideal cultural direction. If our counterculture is to regress let’s look at this lionised “era” of YouTube, one remembered as “purer” and around creativity, rather than the current throes of clicks and algorithm.

II

New British YouTube (NBY) operated primarily between 2010 – 2015. As the name suggested, it blossomed in Britain, primarily London, though there was always the constant of transatlantic collaboration. I would also consider it to be a digital version of the “New British Wave” in the early ‘60s, both concurrent and after of the more renowned French counterpart. The “newness” of NBY comes from living after their precursors, the likes of ZeFrank and VlogBrothers (examples which arose from the U.S.) exploded to recognition, although there was a lot of overlap between the two group of creators. It can also be defined in contrast to the other American sets of YouTube creators at the time, people who in many ways sparked the website’s current state: Annoying Orange. Fred. Tobuscus. In North America, YouTube was already becoming “the new television” corporations and managing agencies wanted it to be; the NBY aesthetic was its antonym. New British YouTube ended in a cocktail of sexual abuse allegations (a prologue of sorts to #MeToo), the death of Vine (leading to a mass-exodus of vapid “content creators” migrating to pillage YouTube) and fall-outs between movement figures (as per any movement, history seems to imply).

As for the movement’s style, its quintessence can be found in Christopher Bingham’s biannual project Past Bing/ Future Bing. The conceit is genius: in 2011, every other day Christopher made a video, in which he conversed with his future self, in 2012. A year later, “Future Bing” responded and uploaded a video on the other day, along with Past Bing’s entries. For the year past and future weaved together on the hosting channel, bingradio. By completing this project, Bing did nothing less than raise the form of the vlog to an unprecedented creative and conceptual level.

I would describe the visual style of PB/FB and NBY as mid-fi­. On the one hand, the camera quality of NBY is pristine to layman’s eyes. The movement’s progenitors were film students, and so have digital cameras that can capture footage in HD at the very least. They also have a mean eye to shot composition and arrangement, too. Unlike their precursors, who’s videos rarely rose above 480p in quality, on a basic and fundamental level NBY videos look good. We’re not watching the pixels of OK GO jump between treadmills, here. NBY is on a level of technical excellence.

Yet NBY’s videos do not emulate professional productions, unlike their American parallels. In terms of content, from subject matter to editing, the movement is lo-fi, in everything but technology. It’s singular filmmakers, or a handful of them, working hard on short homemade work. This especially comes across in PB/FB, which one could describe as a documentarian take on mumblecore, detailing the bittersweet tribulations of urbane twenty-somethings experiencing the post-collegiate world. NBY synthesised high quality with low-fidelity method, capturing an indie essence unique to the 21st century. This leads to a  mixing of absurdity and earnestness, which I find speaks to broader trends like New Sincerity. One of the most viewed of the PB/FB  entries is about the funeral of Bing’s close friend and acclaimed animator Edd Gould. One scene shows Bing and his friends, sitting heartbroken, as Neil Ciciegra’s jolly Brodyquest plays in the background. “This is so bizarre,” Christopher says. “Today is… stupid.”

The seriality of PB/FB is what makes it so unique. Here, Bing has formed explicit continuum for treating the vlog as a snapshot of the past, an aspect it is already accredited for— how many halcyon days have been captured by teenagers, in small-town pockets across the nation, set to woozy filters and lo-fi electroswing and artificial lens flare? In the former half of the ‘10s, Christopher Bingham set a standard for whole swathes of youth, members of the aforementioned Incandescent Generation.

The overlap between the two is definitely worth mention; those I would class as part of New British YouTube are still creating, some as (if not more) proficiently. In fact, I would argue that the movement’s endgame masterwork was released only three months ago.

III

Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it is Myles Wheeler’s return to YouTube after two years and, along with They Call Him Hinge Joint, I believe to be his best work. A lot of his videography corresponds to the NBY aesthetic I’ve just outlined, being mid-fi and capturing a youthful sense of bittersweet melancholy, though Myles’ style stands out. He might just be the last of his kind in the YouTube of today, really— who else could make a poetics out of home-video tactics and gaffes like when, in Every Fuzz a Field (and something you said), flare renders the entire sky white, before fading to its blue detail, when the sun disappears behind a cloud?

Those moments, half-spontaneous and half-mediated to vlog form, a mixture of stand-up, monologue, documentary, narrative short-film and tongue-in-cheek surrealism, lead to an idiosyncratic style worth cherishing. It’s a filmography that only thrives in the medium of YouTube, due to their rapid pace and leftfield narrative structures, often pogoing in and out of their incoherent chronologies.

For example, a central motif in Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it is Myles’ being locked out of his flat. Most of the film’s non-fictional content comes from the chronological progression to footage after this, but sudden scene-shifts return to Myles’ irreverent reactions to his error constantly. This digital quickening and breaking of time reminds me of flicking between browser tabs at an intense speed, a style that would have rendered films of the 20th century nonsensical. But, situated on YouTube, the rapidity works. Rather than distancing himself from the site (as many have understandably done; beloved booktuber Bazpierce bowed out recently, lamenting at the state of what was once a cherished part of his adolescence), Myles’ work begs to be understood in the lens of NBY— it’s a noble exemplification of its previous virtues, and so reclamation, of a corporate medium.

IV

What’s the point of defining a minor movement like New British YouTube, if it’s so slippery and vague? I don’t intend to be authoritative in analysing video culture of the immediate past, but rather hope that, in being retrospective for the first half of this decade, schemata for ‘reclaiming’ a meaningful YouTube become visible, however vague or minor the impact. Rather than being comprehensive (I haven’t even touched on Kyhan!) my intention here is to catalyse discussion about the just-past so we can figure out a new alternative, be it within our Incandescent Generation or otherwise.

I think it’s worth mentioning that, be it for the sake of metanarrative or the digital quickening of time, the progeny of NBY themselves imply their movement has ended. In his video _25_, Bing visits a German internet-video convention and muses on the halcyon days of London’s YouTube Space: at the time of release, a whole 20 months ago. “It was such an exciting time to be a YouTuber in London,” he says. “That place buzzed every day I was there. […] It was truly a unique little moment in time and space.”

True, film movements usually last for only a handful of years before becoming absorbed into the mainstream, but I wonder what NBY could have been like if not for this attitude, and the cocktail of circumstances that ended it circa 2015. And so it appears a moment has passed. An undefined spectre.

Sources

Burnham, Bo welcome to youtube. (boburnham, 2008)

Whalley, Charles “This Has Been A Blue/Green Message: Exiting the Social World”, The Poetry Review (105:2 Summer, 2015)

Bingham, Christopher “Future Bing –Edd’s Funeral 2012.04.10”, Past Bing/Future Bing (bingradio, 2011 – 2013)

Wheeler, Myles Like a Dog or A Boat, you tether it (itsamemyleo, 2018)

Wheeler, Myles They Call Him Hinge Joint (itsamemyleo, 2015)

Wheeler, Myles Every Fuzz a Field (and something you said) (itsamemyleo, 2018)

Pierce, Barry Bazpierce (2011 – 2018) (Bazpierce, 2011)

Bingham, Christopher 25 (Christopher Bingham, 2015)

Coda

Music plays an interesting role throughout NBY. Future Bing’s entry “Love Receptionist” is a hilarious parody of the faux-serious dance-punk craze happening around the same time of its release, while his choices throughout all of PB/FB are mid-fi: originating from Bandcamp, they strike as somewhere between professional studio and bedroom-bound software. You can’t tell the difference. I can’t really think of anywhere else to put this point, and I don’t have an editor(!), so thought I would just leave this little observation at the end.

Commented on

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A Diagnosis of the Latter 00s

British university students have access to an archive of all public television from the last several decades through a service called ‘Box of Broadcasts’. Now term-time is over, this website has catalysed many journeys down pseudo-memory lane for me— my visual diet on BoB has consisted mainly of old Later… with Jools Holland’s circa 2007 – 2010, Mercury Prize ceremonies from the same period, and this highlights show from Reading 2007 centred around the band Klaxons, originally shown on the then-nascent BBC 3.

Watching through these I was struck with this uncanny remembrance. Not only of presenters about the age I am now, back when I was about ten years old, but also this very tangible awareness of an indie history that persisted without my childish knowledge. Some of my favourite bands came to prominence during this time (LCD Soundsystem for one, along with other acts in the genre of ‘dance-punk’, or ‘New Rave’ to use the NMElogism), so I found myself weirdly nostalgic for music scenes that, back when they were initially thriving, I had no investment in. Their hipster worth gets considered in retrospect.

From this unfounded nostalgia came a dislocated melancholy. This was a weird time. As conventional wisdom has it the aesthetic of this period is in its nadir of coolness, but so recently passed that it still has the power of precedence in the now. The spectre of post-Britpop hangs ubiquitous in every clip— Gary Lightbody dazzles the crowd, resplendent in t-shirt and jeans. This was the decade described as a “capitalist realist desert” by Mark Fisher, remember, where New Labour’s capitulation to the right and monopoly on cultural capital had created the illusion of post-ideology, the notion that political struggle had succeeded. No Declan McKenna-esque figure was rearing its head out then. Just floppy-haired twinks smearing glowstick juice over their faces, wanting to get high.

Death everywhere, in this wasteland— three topless boys slugging their way through the mud of Reading ’07, milk-pale torsos versus their jet-black mops. I wonder where they’ve gone. Hopefully and probably they’re not actually deceased, but rather in their thirties— with jobs, marriages and sensible haircuts. Which, cliché youthful melodrama acknowledged, is its own kind of death anyway. It correlates to what Barthes argued in Camera Lucida, the image brings about a relation to death, be it those general losses of vital scenes, the loss of youth in presents, or a literal absence of life.

So while watching this old concert footage the latter-00’s begins to occupy a limbo between its resurrection as part of some nascent nostalgic engine, and its current status as a national embarrassment, in my mind. On the one hand, the former could be said to be underway— consider Virtual Self’s excellent self-titled EP, itself based on utopic notions of the internet, right in the embryonic stage of the new millennium (the ‘pre-9/11 21st century’). In that way the internet has decentralised one generation’s wistful remembering defining the zeitgeist to allow for a whole flood of revivals (Lhooq, 2018), which includes the years from 2005 to 2010. Even this article is a project to such a goal, along with being cine-excavation.

That said, Fisher’s quote does seem to ring true. This was the decade of reality television, the Great Recession and White Chicks (2004). The decade when the king of pop overdosed. A time when the Young British Artists became flagrantly blunt about their monetary ambitions. Perhaps here was when simulacra truly came to fruition— what was the Iraq War but a hyperreal stadium, conflict experienced directly by a minority, watched by a majority from screens? In this sense I do wonder what will be considered revelatory and quintessential from this period, when we have genuine distance between then and now. If in 2018 we are amidst a mass-revival of the ‘80s (from bright colours to American presidents with dementia), a glut of style, then how will society revive the 00s, an ostensible absence of style? Maybe the real death I’m seeing, watching footage of Reading ’07, is of nostalgia itself. Perhaps those uncanny feelings of mine are a nostalgia for nostalgia; the desire to be those twenty-something presenters, those topless teens wading through the mud, but now, in their thirties with sensible haircuts and jobs, so I could be nostalgic for concerts that happened when I was ten, unaware of their existence. Desiring the simulacra of rose-tinted times.

When Rufus Hound talks about the novel wonder of playing your own music on a console mid-game, it’s amusing in hindsight, but also signals that a period in my own lifetime was now becoming crystallised, however recent the past was. And if we’re talking about deaths, then the ghost of Myspace rings implicitly true through all this. The fact it was the springboard for these music scenes, but subsequently died soon after, gives the website a unique resonance compared to the impenetrable immortality of monoliths Twitter and Facebook, entwined so tightly with the discourse, rather than being innocuous and concurrent to it. What would a popular Myspace look like in the age of the alt-right? And another death, the dictatorial grip of TV— youth of the latter-00s were the last micro-generation to have their counterculture dictated by the silver screen. In this lens the 00s was another type of limbo, between the internet’s social ubiquity and an era when the old models of media influence still held weight. This is even reflected in the music— what is new rave but growing pains, defined by new-found poptimism and adolescence, the liminal reach between indie rock and electronica?

In that sense I cannot look back at the previous decade as anything but a purgatory. Now I am nearly twenty, and the figures on these BoB clips are nearly thirty, I am to become who those people were; while they leave the territory of young-adulthood world, I cross over to their grave. I enter the muddied field, empty but for ghosts, tracing the digital echoes of a time just gone.

Sources

Barthes, Roland Camera Lucida (1980)

Fisher, Mark, reviewing Alex Niven’s The Last Tape (2014): http://www.zero-books.net/books/last-tape

Michelle Lhooq, “Porter Robinson’s ambitious, human Virtual Self”, The Fader (2018)

Commented on: 

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https://music.avclub.com/st-vincent-no-age-and-yeasayer-were-the-next-wave-of-1825505892

Infinity War: Marvel’s Rhizome

Early on in Thomas Pynchon’s novella The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), the main character Oedipa and her lawyer Metzger get drunk and watch a children’s adventure film. It follows “this kid and his father, who’s drummed out of the British Army for cowardice […] He and the kid follow the old regiment to Gallipoli, where the father somehow builds a midget submarine”, which they use to “torpedo the Turkish merchantmen”. It also features a St Bernard who “sits on periscope watch, and barks if he sees anything” (p. 18-9). Metzger notes that it ends with them all drowning. Oedpia is sceptical:

‘This is absurd,’ she said, ‘of course they’ll get out. All those movies had happy endings.’
‘All?’
‘Most.
‘That cuts down the probability,’ he told her, smug. (Pynchon, p. 21)

Metzger ends up being correct. The submarine fills with water; the St Bernard drowns; the father’s “suffering eyes” fill the screen and “strange thirties movie music” swells. THE END. (Pynchon, p. 28)

The ending of Marvel’s Infinity War reminded me of this. This is my first experience with a blockbuster, unabashed pop culture, explicitly dragging that what-if scenario straight from the subconscious and on to the screen— what if the heroes lose? What if the baddie’s unimaginably terrible plot is executed? But then the classical narrative structure swoops in to save the day and the bleak hypothetical reverts back to being an impossibility. Except here, wherein the villain’s stated goal of eradicating half the universe happens. Spiderman drifts into dust; Steve Rogers is left shell-shocked; Thanos stares into the sunset. Credits roll.

On a certain level Infinity War’s refusal to follow this formula is refreshing. One could consider it congruent with the times— Thanos’ plan is essentially an ecofascist plot, of necessary genocide for an ill-defined ‘greater good’ on a cosmic scale, a madman’s answer to the problems of the Anthropocene. Conceptual analysis aside on a technical level it’s also intriguing to see the same old action-film apparatus, the same plot-beats, employed for the ‘opposite’ cause. When we watch Thanos succeed, we also watch the childhood nostalgia of millennials (a generation with nascent cultural power, if we loosely follow Strauss-Howe’s theorem) become weaponised in an effort to reflect a decidedly complex, crisis-ridden and fractious adult world. It’s a fitful kick-back against expectation, yet another appeal to the never-ending urge to subvert expectations and detach from narrative, as craved by postmodernity— but to what end? What results from this so-called subversion? What’s the reward? I would not argue that films necessarily have a duty to certain generations, but one wonders the impact of such contrarianism on children wanting to see their favourite superhero save the day. The gritty and monochromatic palette of post-9/11 films that pervaded the first wave of the superhero genre— Iron Man (2008), The Dark Knight (ditto)— may have been replaced with technicolour costumes and bright-pink explosions, but the cultural trauma remains. This self-reflexivity leads to pop-nihilism. Ten-year olds come across the void as entertainment.

As for the film’s action, although enjoyable at times, and intriguing to see the zenith of this unprecedented global cinematic experiment that is the MCU, it can be described as incomprehensible. But if Infinity War is incomprehensible, maybe it can be analysed with incomprehensible theory. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari describe their concept of ‘the rhizome’— a system of thought inspired by the botanical stem, wherein “any point” connects “to anything other, and must be” (Deleuze and Guattari, p. 7), compared to a more straightforward A-to-B process of understanding. In this sense watching Infinity War is like watching a rhizome— rather than remaining as its own totalised film, start to middle to end, references to other films flit in and out with erratic abandon. The battlefields of Wakanda become a digital plane to drop in set models from other texts; the Hulkbuster suit from Age of Ultron (2015) stands out in contrast to the wildgrass, as references and remembered characters swoop all over the diegesis. The boundaries of the film are not entirely broken, but permeable, the nexus of the MCU; a crossroads multiple texts walk over to foster a spectacle. However hard it attempts to justify cameos with meticulous precedent, it feels like fanfiction, because it operates on the same bombastic fusion of character relations which doesn’t happen. Until now. Another what-if, unrealised for decades, coming to fruition.

Marvel’s cinematic universe distorts the medium of cinema into one more akin to television, in which each film is a digestible component of a larger and sweeping narrative arc. Hence Infinity War’s rhizomatic nature— films within this continuum can’t be a contained vessel. They need to branch out and connect, forced into intertextuality by the will of the MCU. Thus two layers of narrative emerge, often with asynchronous story beats, and so issues arise. Saturation, for one. Four planes of action emerge, four different groupings of pre-described heroes that battle or plot or race across the planet of Titan (not Saturn’s moon, confusedly enough) to New York to star-forges and more planets to Edinburgh, Wakanda too (four ‘any-space-whatevers’, if we still want to flick Deleuze into the mix). These flippant cuts between cosmic distances puts Kubrick’s infamous montage of bone to rocket to shame.

But it’s the film’s need to remain coherent on some fundamental level that brings about a visual language that signifies that contrarian ending, the realised what-if. With sixteen or so main characters all flying across the screen at lightspeed, the one stoic character who can be followed throughout the chaos is Thanos. As A.A. Dowd refers in his A.V. Club review of the film, the most comprehensible scenes of the film are the ones that painstakingly show the titan’s plan coming together and succeeding. Thanos becomes the focal point of Infinity War’s rhizome; the Hero’s Journey becomes the Villain’s Journey. There is the pretence of difference, but really all that has occurred is the switch of particular subjects in an ancient model. Which I would argue is emblematic of pop-nihilism in general. Because, unusual as the ending is in the context of stand-alone films, this is but the penultimate step before resolution in the MCU. It’s an impressive spectacle in the series but bewildering on its own terms.

Infinity War has its moments. The full rainbow of explosions here are a welcome change to gritty palettes, of petroleum-fuelled flicks of orange, and Doctor Strange’s aesthetic brings about some arresting visuals (a large object bursts into a murder of crows during one battle). But as this global experiment of mass-culture goes ever-onwards (plans, however vague, are for Marvel to continue the franchise until 2025), Infinity War signals a shift in the blockbuster film, the loosening of its boundaries.

Sources

Pynchon, Thomas The Crying of Lot 49 (Vintage Books, 2000 [1966])

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix A Thousand Plateaus (Athlone Press, 1996 [1988])

Dowd, A.A. “Infinity War is just way too much movie for one Avengers movie” (A.V. Club, 2018)

Commented on:

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