Book Review: Death's End by Liu Cixin by Keeley Haftner

** spoiler alert ** I really struggled as to whether or not to give this book 4 or 5 stars. In the end, though I adored its interminable imagination, its poignant reflection of our time, and its awe-inspiring scope, I could not let this book off the hook for its portrayal of feminine and female figures. Liu Cixin, in his seemingly boundless imagination, still can't seem to imagine a universe in which women are not either Eve-esque doomsday bringers (Three Body Problem, Ye Wenjie), delicate but inconsequential muses (Dark Forest, Zhuang Yan), literally alien (and stunningly beautiful) militaristic robots (Dark Forest/Death's End, Sophon), or angelic Virgin Marys whose maternal instincts doom not just humanity but the entire solar system (Dark Forest, Cheng Xin). When feminized in the Deterrence era, the human race is beautiful, peaceful, and superficial. This results in the near destruction of the earth in under 10 minutes when Earth's fate is transferred from the stoic, relentless hands of Luo Ji to those of Cheng Xin (notably: in her mentor-nemesis Wade's hands, deterrence would undoubtedly have been maintained). In her second chance to save the earth, Cheng Xin opts to once again choose the route of non-violence in opposition to our cut-throat Wade, which leads to a 35 year loss of progress on light-speed ship construction, a delay in part responsible for the collapse of the entire solar system into two dimensions (though this is later explained away as probably not the fault of a single individual - after all, humanity chose her as their representative - according to her placating male defender). Cheng Xin has a total of two knights in shining armor: the socially-defunct but loving Yun Tianming who gives her a star, a small universe, and is able to save her and her supportive counterpart, AA, with an actual Fairy Tale. Our second male savior comes in the form of Guan Yifan (former civilian astronomer from the starship Gravity), who protects Cheng Xin from emotional collapse and death with his timely arrival on the Blue Planet, and with his protectorate sensibilities when both fall victim to reduced light speed when black hole 'death lines' are ruptured. Indeed, this -1 star is accounted for when, like so many of his science fiction predecessors (Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov) Liu Cixin is able to imagine a brilliant new universe of infinite possibility, but not one in which we've progressed socially beyond the limitations of our current era. As Michio Kaku outlines in Hyperspace, this failure in imagination may literally mark the difference between what astronomer Nikolai Kardashev has described as Type 0 and Type I-III civilizations: that whether or not a civilization can catch up with its own technological progress after the advent of nuclear technology without self-annihilating on account of archaic and lagging social progression may actually be the reason we have not yet found intelligent life in the universe. In other words, intelligent life has, so far, not been culturally intelligent enough. That even a series of literary masterpieces like Cixin's Three Body Problem can fall victim to such failures in Sci-Fi imagination seems to verify the likelihood of such a theory.

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Acentrism and the Polycephalic god by Keeley Haftner

I know many brilliant artists who look to horoscopes and tarot in order to better to navigate the incredibly uncertain lives they’ve chosen. When your life’s work is centered on asserting the value of the valueless (gesture, object, labour, etc.), the effect can be destabilizing, to say the least. I’m not saying that astrology holds my hand through the dark of life, but I will say that I’ve had some pretty uncanny reads of late.

The cards are telling me to keep thinking big. To, as Buckminster Fuller asserted in ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’, think big enough. Being a detail-oriented sculptor, I have a tendency to obsess over the minutia of matter. I try to make sense of the world and objects through intensive separation and distillation of parts to produce new entities. I run the risk of seeking microcosms at the expense of the complex macro. I make systems (closed, looped, small, specialized) at the risk of losing sight of the whole. At the risk of leaving out important compounding factors. Having a partner-collaborator who is a toxicologist, the irony of this fault in my thought process is not lost on me.

So how does one scale up without losing sight of the out-of-sight? The flip side of this philosophic conundrum is that I tend to be hyper-aware of the human phenomenon of letting important details slip when systems get too large. Largeness dominates such details when moral priorities scale toward anthropocentrism and away from acentrism (noncentrism, cosmicism, etc.), for example: I am a parent > my child-human’s life is of primary importance > disposable diapers, milk bags, towelettes, etc. are necessary for its comfort and maintenance. Or, when the scale of a project becomes too tight: we are a design team inventing a revolutionary piece of furniture > the client must have our design in three weeks > fast food, Styrofoam maquettes, and cheap disposable approximations are absolutely necessary to getting this done when it is required of us. While I am equally aware of the contradiction in a ‘universalist’ perspective also having the potential to acquire a ‘moralist’ stance, it perhaps goes without saying that there are obvious reasons (and good ones) why the aforementioned examples of ‘material sacrifice’ come into play. The question I put to myself is, however, how can one employ macro thinking (the well-being of children, the power of design) without sacrificing the micro (using our consumer votes to call into existence what Timothy Morton refers to as ‘hyperobject’ materials; i.e. the plastic that is used on the scale of minutes to hours that proceeds to last for millennia).

Is it possible to maintain both kinds of thinking, keeping them smartly and tautly tethered as they oscillate, so that we may begin to gather all that we’ve lost as a sacrifice to the polycephalic god of moral and temporal urgency? If what follows is yes (and it is), then what follows next is how.

know thyself by Keeley Haftner

In the interests of postulating a greater unified practice that has intentions toward the kind of work I hope to produce, and which is rooted in the kind of work I already make, I have begun a process of mining old writings from the previous four years.

These were writings (casual thoughts, desperate pleas, weak statements, epic proclamations) that I was archiving with the specific intention of eventually creating a blog in which I could hash out some of these ideas, potentially as a collaborative effort between myself and other art makers and thinkers. The bulk of it will likely never see the light of day, but in the spirit of beginning, I’ll share one that had me loling for your reading pleasure. Mid-twenties art-making anxiety, away we go…



Excerpt from writing called “SOLVE FOR X”, written May 20, 2012:

[After a diatribe on too much freedom being a limitation (suggested in a Claire Bishop/Paul Ramirez Jones interview), I attempt to list my freedoms as a means of focusing my practice. I’ve included the whole latter half, which is embarrassing, but I hope you’ll find it as comical as I did]

1)   Freedom of content  (C)


-       Form (as merged with other content, not in itself)

-       beauty

-       waste

-       feminism

-       ‘taste’

-       participation

-       erasure

-       kitsch

-       craft

-       time

2)   Freedom of media (M)

-       Craft

-       Sculpture

-       Paint

-       Print

-       Performance

3)   Freedom of intent (I)

-       Audience receives insight into complex subject

-       Audience receives a piece of work that they can interact with or keep

-       Site-specificity or ‘the local’ in a process of making (why? This drives me nuts!)

-       Ability to convey something new

4)   Freedom of end result (ER)

-       a literal document (this is a painting, this is a sculpture)

-       a ‘passing document’ – this photo or video helps second hand viewers to relate to what this work was

-       no document – this work is represented through memory, story, or not at all

-       an unfixed result: this work is constantly changing PUBLICLY, so that no two experiences of it will be the same

Kay.  That’s a lot.  Too much.  Wayyyyy to much. Here are the problems - so what is the ‘solution’? Is there is something ‘to solve?' If a formula is essentially ‘solve for x’, we don’t know what ‘x’ is until we solve it.  So if we have our ‘ingredients’ to the recipe, we know full well that ‘x’ cannot be solved for until we have an intelligible amount of numbers to work with.  Not unless we have a whole lifetime (which we do, so as the formula changes, we can add more things to the equation to make for different results).  So for now, we shall make a formula that can work with these different things in manageable ways.


(C² + M)I = ER


Solve for Media first: can use:


Craft to make sculpture to make painting to make performance

Print to make performance

Sculpture to make painting to make performance




Painting to make print

Performance to make painting

Sculpture to make painting

Painting to make sculpture (?)


This was the stupidest thing I’ve ever written.