Michael Wojcik on Mon, 4 Aug 2008 23:39:09 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Dreaming of Molly Millions, the Panther Moderns and Body Hacking

[Sorry to take so long to respond. I was on my way back from vacation.]

lotu5 wrote:

> Michael Wojcik wrote:
>> lotu5 wrote:
>>> If "life has become an object of power in itself", then what about 
>>> second life or the mass consensual hallucination of another life?
>> How is that different from, say, popular written fiction? RWA 
>> estimates 64.5 million "Americans" (presumably residents of the USA) 
>> read at least one romance novel last year.[2] Does that make romance 
>> novel reading an even larger "contemporary occurrence"? Does it make 
>> romance novels a more-significant "mass consensual hallucination"?
>> And if not, why not? That's the question I have to ask, when I look at 
>> VW and the like critically. What justifies a claim or assumption that 
>> these forms of activity have different implications for wider society, 
>> or politics, or what have you?
>> Mind you, I'm not saying they *don't* have different implications. I'm 
>> just saying I haven't seen a convincing argument why they would.
> I've been thinking about this because I think you bring up some good 
> points here about this discussion and what might and might not be useful 
> questions about second life and MMO's.
> I'm not trying to argue that romance novels aren't important sites of 
> investigation, and I'm sure there are lots of other great positive 
> examples in that regard to bring up.

Yes - cultural theorists are never short of source material, that's 
for sure!

> But what is different from the way that people imagine themselves 
> through literature and through virtual worlds? There seem to be a few 
> big differences, one being interactivity. People can and do say that 
> they create their avatar as an expression or reflection of themselves. 
> They say their avatar is "me". I think this is related to the sense of 
> agency created by interactivity.

I agree that this looks like a fruitful line of questioning. What 
effects can the affordances of this kind of interactivity have on the 
construction of subjectivities? Do they affect the cultural work done 
through these activities? Unfortunately, I think that sometimes, in 
their enthusiasm for the visceral appeal of new technologies, 
commentators have made overly-broad and simplistic claims on those 
topics; but that doesn't mean there aren't really compelling nuanced 
ones that can be argued.

> The second thing I think is significant to point out is that they are
> networked, so there is a social process of feedback very similar to the
> social process that creates out identities in everyday experience.

Here it might be interesting to consider how these resemble, and 
depart from, other interactive group narrative activities, such as 
storytelling and various forms of theater.

> Lastly, there is the question of the image. While it is one thing to 
> read characteristics and imagine them, images have a powerful unifying 
> effect on the hallucination of a unified identity or subject. I think 
> this is a major part of lacan's ideas about the mirror stage, that the 
> image itself presents one with the idea of wholeness, of a complete 
> identity that you think you have, and therefore end up striving for once 
> you find that you actually don't have, either when the baby falls or 
> when you quit second life and shut the lid of your laptop.

I'm sympathetic to this line of argument, as I'm something of a 
(non-orthodox) Lacanian myself.

One of the interesting questions, for me, is whether new media do, or 
can do, anything - in terms of individual subjectivity or cultural 
work - that old media do not do; or whether new media even make any 
such things more likely, or easier to achieve, etc, than old media do. 
Many of the claims I've read for new media ignore the ways in which 
similar effects have been achieved in old media. So this is what I'm 
interested to see - arguments that do account for the effects of old 
media, and consider how new media might be substantially different.

Michael Wojcik
Micro Focus
Rhetoric & Writing, Michigan State University

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