Reality according to Tom McCarthy

McCarthy’s remarkable and sometimes infuriating new novel “The Making of Incarnation” deepens and extends these reflections even as his contempt for conventional realism remains steadfast. Like “Ulysses”, a text that McCarthy cherishes, the book combines the very new and the very old. Its protagonist (as far as he has one) is Mark Phocan, the chief engineer of a motion capture company called Pantarey, which means “everything flows” in Greek. The name is a nod not only to Heraclitus, who coined the phrase, but to ancient Greek sculpture, one of Western civilization’s earliest attempts to capture movement, so to speak, and therefore, suggests gently McCarthy, a distant antecedent at the tip of Pantarey. Technology. This technology is used in a wide range of fields (sports, industry, medicine, video games, military) and Phocan spends much of the book commuting between Pantarey’s headquarters in Oxford and those of the company’s many clients. . Among them is high-end film production studio Degree Zero, which is working on a big-budget sci-fi extravaganza called “Incarnation.”

The film, which essentially tears up the plot of “Tristan und Isolde” and mixes it with “Star Wars”, is about as interesting, artistically speaking, as it sounds, but what captivates McCarthy (as the title of the book) is not the finished product but the labyrinthine creative process behind it. “Incarnation” is to feature, for example, a drug-fueled zero gravity sex scene between its two main characters. It’s Phocan’s job to figure out how the scene could be performed. His solution is to install motion capture artists on the ceiling of one of Pantarey’s studios. (” Most of filming in a film like this one is made with surrogate bodies, ”explains a colleague from Phocan.) These performers, covered in reflective markers (the industry term is“ nipples ”), perform an erotic mime scripted by a computer program, but things do not turn out quite as Phocan had envisioned: “The movement, taken as a whole, does not in any way suggest that all this really in orbit around a central and passionate act of coitus. When the movie’s director of computer graphics sees the rushes, he says they look like “a butcher’s shop window during an earthquake.”

However, “The Making of Incarnation” is much more than the mere creation of “Incarnation”. As jam-packed with characters and subplots as “War and Peace,” it’s about the creation of nothing less than contemporary reality itself. In this regard, the episode of floating sex, with its unforeseen problems, is broadly representative. Like the endless reenactments of “Remainder,” which never go exactly as planned, the endless motion capture sessions of the new book produce a sort of forged and distorted mimesis. But there is one important difference, and it’s indicative of how McCarthy’s ambitions have developed over the past two decades.

In “Remainder,” the narrator’s looping mockery is an essentially private obsession. (When someone offers to film them, he gets angry.) In “The Making of Incarnation”, on the other hand, the work of Phocan and his fellow craftsmen-technicians is so ubiquitous, so integral to the social fabric. , which most people fail to recognize to what extent their daily reality has become mediated and synthetic. The megalomaniacal director of “Incarnation”, Lukas Dressel, wants the film’s meticulously rendered space landscapes “to be iconic; to not only serve as a source, reference and gauge for all future science fiction authors, but also arise in the imagination of an entire civilian generation, haunting their dreams and coloring their experience with hundreds of real-world spatial interfaces.

McCarthy clearly searched for shit out of his material; on the acknowledgments page, he salutes a long list of “technical experts” and their willingness “to submit their wind tunnels, water tanks, mo-cap workshops, process labs and post-production studios” to his scrutiny. Sometimes the reader might wish they were a little more reserved. McCarthy, a formidably gifted stylist, can tease some bizarre poetry from his findings, but he can also suffocate us in superfluous technical jargon. “A discrete-time Markov chain in a countable state space is what we’re dealing with here,” said a senior Pantarey employee overseeing a study of pedestrian movement in a London supermarket. “Although I suppose you could argue that this corridor is considered a continuous or general state space.” This kind of self-loving pedantry is fun in moderation, but moderation isn’t something McCarthy ever practiced. As I read, I wondered how important it is to the overall effect of the book that we understand the science behind motion capture at the level of detail it throws at us. It often seems like all McCarthy really wants is for us to understand that he understands it.

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