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<nettime> avatars and theory
Alan Sondheim on Mon, 18 Mar 2013 22:03:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> avatars and theory

(wrote the original around 1996, and I'm still talking about this stuff, most recently at SXSW Interactive this year.)




I started working with avatars in text-based applications such as
newsgroups, email lists, MOOs, LPMUDs, and IRC. Below is a list of what
I perceived as their common characters - and the relationship of those
characteristics to everyday, i.e. non-CMC, life. Current notes are in




1 system resonances - what entrances and exits available - sendmail for
example (from telnet 25 to configuration files), doctor for another [at
this point text-based avatars were attached to applications that were not
avatar-based. on the other hand the Eliza program in emacs allowed for the
development of personality and dialog, and might be one of the first
online avatar environments.]

2 explorations of self and fragmentations - discomforts, tremblings as
totality is problematized [this tends towards issues of abjection,
wounding, frisson, arousal, and death within the virtual - which might
cynically be seen as nothing more than a rearrangement of digital bits.]

3 psychotic emanations - selves generating worlds, inability to return or
manipulate one in relation to another [the worlds such as IRC were widely
disparate and appeared autonomous; to carry Jennifer from one to another
required reassertions. the same is true today, but mixed-reality work
tends to blur all of this - in other wor(l)ds the environments exist in
potential wells that allow tunneling.]

4 perturbations within systems - IRC or alt.jen-coolest for examples [it
was, and still is, possible to perturb systems, to work at the edges of
the game space, to hack and infiltrate - annihilating a performance
platform at the end of a performance in Second Life, or having human
performs work at the edges of a mocap space are two examples.]

5 theoretical turns - Jennifer's 'panties on the ground' - desire in
relation to metaphysical system building [sexual-theoretical turns, as
both male and female avatars operated within fetishization and abjection,
two trends that have become commonplace in virtual sexuality. what happens
when an avatar is 'in tatters,' falling apart, collapsing?]

6 problematics of author and authoring - 'deaths of authors' [like the
uncanny between real and virtual worlds, there is an uncanny between
avatar creator/controller/human performer and avatar; through an analysis
of projection and introjection, avatar and (presumably) human become
inextricably entangled.]

7 multiculturalisms (Nikuko), sexualities (Julu), Alan and the rhetoric
of innocence [multiculturalisms extend to virtual cultures and their
ethnographies, but what occurs in the virtual doesn't stay in the

8 duals and dialogs, dialectic - talker or MOO explorations (wanderings
and fabrications of spaces) [these explorations have moved of course into
OpenSim and Second Life, but the concepts of historiography, broken
projects, avatar absences, debris, etc. remain the same.]

9 stutterings, etc. - manipulated texts - the problematic of speaking,
including breakdowns of first/second/third persons [textual stuttering can
blur diegesis, tense, and person; it can play off inner speech, it can
speak among- or for-, it can reveal psychoanalytical debris.]

10 ontic explorations - ghosts and other emanations (the videos) -
elements of disappearances, sadomasochisms, bindings and controls - the
nature of writing and inscription [again in this early outline, sexuality
makes an appearance. not only are ontologies blurred, but the very nature
of control becomes messy and obscured in terms of agency. social media
obscures and hides: think of Facebook for example as a sado-masochistic
theater, with non-existent keywords and with hidden, unknown, power
dispersing and controlling your self-image, and your image of other's

11 sexualities - multiples, topologies, exchanges (Nikuko), dismemberings
(Julu-function), affect (Alan) [selves split, bots are everywhere, avatar
bots are wonders of control and one can imagine such control as looped and
continuous, eventually becoming the real/virtual landscape itself. all of
this relates to the _obscene,_ which has been shown to operate differently
in the brain; 'primitive' processes are called up, and language becomes
threat, arousal, and other. sexualities operate everywhere in social media
and virtual worlds, and the cartoon-like visuals in the latter play deeply
into fantasy introjection and projection. humans are just at the beginning
of understanding this, ignoring their animal and primate present.]

12 dismemberments - part-objects, splays, ruptures, s/ms, emissions [this
ties quickly into the world-theater of slaughter and corruption, plant and
animal extinctions, neo-liberalism and corporate enclaving: hiding the
parts in relation to a simulacrum of the w/hole. in a sense this is the
heart of an analysis that works with the engine of subterfuge and death.]

13 language and performativities - javascript, julu-function, julu- or
jennifer-pages [after this, a bit of Visual Basic. i've used Perl for text
manipulation, Emacs Lisp for reworking Eliza, scripting in Second Life,
etc., but always with help; I'm not a programmer, just a kludger. but I
sometimes start talks with the phenomenology of performative language; for
k2% date
Mon Mar 18 12:40:35 EDT 2013
where a command is qualitative transformed into an unforeseen result
(unforeseen in the sense that it occupies a different epistemological
regime) - and how this has utterly transformed our notion of the
fundamental depth and obdurate nature of analogic reality.]

14 constitutive realities - nature of the digital, Jennifer "having all
the time in the world," holarchic spaces and levels, fully-determined
worldings, towards - [this get complicated - the digital as cleansed,
corporate, codec/corporate-driven, capable of infinite raster, problemat-
izing the truth, capable of controlling everything. in the real world,
digital and analog are entangled, holarchic (tangled hierarchically).
digital worlds are less and less fully-determined - too complex, too many
glitches (which are seeds for other things), too leaky, too multiply-
connected, too mixed with the real - they're part and parcel of everyday
life, at least for humans.]

15 future seamless virtual realities, moving across cyberplains, fluid
architectures and entities, etc. [this is still a goal, but instead of the
analog embedded in the digital, at least for the foreseeable future, the
digital is embedded in the analog - in other words, we are all avatars,
and those who are relatively disconnected may well feel the wrath of our


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