Sisyphus, founder of Corinth, father of Odysseus, founder of the Ismithian Games, is best known for a most cruel and unusual punishment, meted out to him by the Gods. He was to roll a huge stone up the mountainside, watch as it rolled back down again, and then start all over again. Nobody knows what he did that required such a punishment. Perhaps it was for revealing the designs of the Gods to mortals, for revealing the forms beyond the mere particulars of mortal life would, in topical times be a serious crime. Or perhaps, more prosaically, it was for his habit of murdering seafarers and travelers. Topical space, where each law, each God, is bordered by zones of indifference, would surely be troubled by such a transgression of the rules of ‘xenia’, of the gift one owes to strangers. Anne Carson: “The characteristic features of xenia, namely its basis in reciprocation and its assumption of perpetuity, seem to have woven a texture of personal alliances that held the ancient world together.” Or so it was in the age of the topic.
In a topographic world, Sisyphus is not a victim, he is a hero. He revels in this world from which the Gods and their intangible forms have fled. His labor is everyone’s labor, pointless, repetitive, endless, shoulder to the wheel of fortune. Indifference is no longer a matter of the vague borders between spaces, but of the useless repetition of time, each moment of which is just as pointless as space in topical times was unmarked. Albert Camus: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.”
And in our topological world? Where is Sisyphus now? Using the analog sticks on the game controller, you move a little character who rolls a ball. The ball is called a Katamari, and the game is called Katamari Damacy. As the Katamari ball rolls, things stick to it. At first it is small things that stick, household items picked up off the living room floor. The ball gets bigger as things stick to it, and so it can pick up bigger and bigger things. To move the ball, you twizzle the little analog joysticks. The whole game seems analog. Push the sticks forward, and the character rolls the ball forward. Pull the sticks back and the character rolls the ball back. Turn left, turn right — it feels as though the variable pressure on the sticks translates into variable movements. This is analog — a relation of continuous variation. Only it isn’t really. It is a digital game. The game converts the continuous movement of your thumbs on the sticks into a digital code.
The game is a computer. It turns movements into decisions — back/forwards, left/right, stop/start. A string of algorithms calculates the outcomes of each movement. If you roll your ball over a small object, you pick it up. If you roll your ball over one that is too big, you collide with it, throwing off a few things you have already gathered. To the game it’s a simple decision — big/small. To the gamer, it’s something to be learned by trial and error. Oops! Too big. As you roll your ball around, making it bigger and bigger, an icon in the corner of the screen shows your progress. There’s your ball, and there is a circle that shows the size it must grow to if you are to win this level. It grows, gradually, incrementally, but at some point — a decision. Big enough! It is as if there is an analog progression up to a digital threshold.
In Katamari Damacy, you are a Prince send down to earth by a careless King who destroyed the heavens. The balls you roll up are offerings to him. If the balls are big enough he replaces the stars in the sky with them. Perhaps it is an allegory for the relation that holds now between the analog and the digital. The twizzling of the sticks, the rolling up of the balls, is the analog labor of remaking the world of appearances within a topology that recognizes only the digital. The analog is just a way of experiencing the digital. The decision on whether something can appear or not appear is digital. You, and your character the Prince, are confined to the analog, rolling from topic to topic. The King commands the digital heavens. He decides what point in the heavens each ball is to occupy.