Wednesday, 23 December 2009

(MUVE) Avatar - A New Companion Species? A Study of Privileging Human Companionship mediated through Spatial Reflexivity

Many thanks to all my camp-followers who have kept in touch through this Masters study. This last three years of work has been fascinating and engaging for me. I trust that certain aspects may have been interesting for you too. Clearly, there is much more to be done in many of the areas covered tentatively by my research-practice. At present, I am preparing application for a PhD proposal in new media and performance. I have found the generation and maintenance of my concepts and research incredibly useful in the form of an online blog, so (if my application is successful) I will be creating another one for my PhD research-practice. Please stay in touch and I will provide the address for the new blog in the New Year 2010.

Below are preliminary thoughts on concepts and content for my further research. The title is above:

This research will attempt to investigate and extend definitions of the notion of Companionship:
1) Companionship existing as a habitable place comprised of a number of properties; physical, spatial, anticipatory, psycho-emotional, telepresent, liminal. Companionship is a space, one among others, contained within the description of humans as 'mobile volumes' susceptible to, informed and mediated by both 'real' and virtual properties which impinge upon us as we inhabit our respective world locations. (Roger Caillois and Mimesis; Grosz, E. (1999). Space, Time and Bodies in Wolmark).

2) How can Avatars define spaces of opportunity in the field of human engagement?
Enquiry will be conducted into why and how for some, MUVE Avatars may enjoy the privileged status of 'Human Companion' afforded to pets such as dogs and cats; apes (particularly the Bonobo ape), cetaceans, (Dr Donna Haraway - A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the late Twentieth Century in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature and her more recent publication, When Species Meet) family, friends, imaginary friends, partners.

Key Questions:
Might Avatars be a New Companion Species? Why? How might this be defined? How might this be validated/quantified?

Why are MUVE Avatars currently relevant?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Embedded Screens - Duet for 6

These images are stills from my latest video edit, Duet for 6, published in the last post. There are a number of moments-in-pause here, indicative of my focus in the video on embedding presence - in this case avatar personna, into the fabric of those surfaces or screens which comprise and form all our perceived spaces, in this instance, Second Life space.

Please see the Duet for 6 in the previous post.

These moments are representative of embodiment flowing onto and through the phantom screens in my Second Life railway station. Interactive inscriptions of the absent First Life body. Abstract (through their removal) representations of avatar activity. The performance here is mediated by connectivity, the video, the screens themselves, duration, the computer screen and removal of the original moment.

Avatars Rollo Kohime, Fionnbhar Kohime and Toddles Lightworker emerge, sink and re-emerge from an active skin or surface film - three descriptive inscriptions; avatar, video, screen - each mediating the other.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Duet for 6 - In the Company of Strangers

This is my latest dance and video work in Wellington Railway Station with Fiona Baker (aka Fionnbhar Kohime in SL) in First Life and Todd Cochrane aka Toddles Lightworker in Second Life, representing a further development in exploring the issue of Avatar Companionship and perhaps an extension of my Departed series; the footage is set, like Departed in the Wellington Railway Station entrance doors - in my Second Life station and with Todd Cochrane`s floating body, an inference of movement that is slightly unsettling - a departing soul? However, the study is an extension of Duet for Four, mainly for its investigation of movement in and out of screens/surfaces in and out of Second Life.

The title 'Duet' suggests a dance form usually identified with two people, yet with the composite layering of Real and Second Life, a movement dialogue exists here for Six; relational engagement between humans and avatars as well as that discrete conversation occurring between human to human and avatar to avatar. I intentionally selected Todd`s 'male' avatar to embed ambiguity in the shape and character of the personna present, rather than have an equal and predictable male/female avatar echo. This shift reflects the potential for exercising the unpredictable nature of gender selection in Second Life. The male avatar could easily belong to my wife, Fiona. Unless you know the person behind the avatar, there is no way of knowing their Real Life identity.

I have attempted to represent both, aspects of companionship in Second Life through intimacy of engagement in movement, while also further exploring the notion of embodying surfaces through avatar interaction - this video primarily seeks to explore the possibilities of our becoming embedded in our life-surfaces.

The work concentrates on avatar presence (itself, an inscription) sliding across and through, emerging and sinking into and being contained by the screens of which the space is comprised. In First Life this occurs constantly - we, as mobile volumes become alternately subsumed and rejected by our backgrounds and the spaces which hold us, yet, although we may be prepared to acknowledge that our spaces may shape our time and the ways in which we function in those spaces, we do not usually perceive our presence as actually co-habiting with the elements within our spaces. Here the dancers are defined by the spatial laws which support their digital existence and can penetrate and become an extension of the fabric of those surfaces which are phantom and ambiguous in nature.

We are not quite so fluent in this in First Life although there are moments where we can blend unobtrusively into our backgrounds and even embody/become our backgrounds, (football crowds, demonstrations, commuter crowds, where the spatial field is made up predominantly by human bodies). Once again, departure is experienced in both locations. The difference between these locations is that I orchestrated Toddles Lightworker`s process of departure, unlike the leaving in the duet in the First Life station, which was improvised. So avatars represent that potential constant (if so desired) for us in extra-terrestrial or telepresent companionship, which suggests that (allowing for the vagueries of the Internet) empathy, alignment, connection and even discord can be tailored in a mixed-reality environment, where we never have to be 'alone' for long.

I am indebted to Todd aka Toddles Lightworker, Clare aka Arwenna Stardust and Warren aka Ciderjack Applemore, for their assistance and support with servers and experimental dancing (using an animation devised by Isabel Valverde) in this work.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Duet for Five - In the Company of Strangers

Duet for Five

These images are taken from my latest dance and video work with Fiona Baker in First Life and Todd Cochrane aka Toddles Lightworker in Second Life, representing a further development in exploring the issue of Avatar Companionship and the embedding of our presence in the surfaces of our lives. The title 'Duet' suggests a dance form usually identified with two people, yet with the composite layering of First and Second Life, a movement dialogue exists here for Five; relational engagement between humans and avatars as well as that discrete conversation occurring between human to human and avatar to avatar. I intentionally selected a 'male' avatar to embed ambiguity in the shape and character of the personna present, rather than have an equal and predictable male/female avatar echo. This shift in gender reflects the potential for exercising the unpredictable nature of gender selection in Second Life. The male avatar could easily belong to my wife, Fiona. Unless you know the person behind the avatar, there is no way of knowing their First Life identity.

Once again, departure is experienced in both locations. The difference between these locations is that I orchestrated Toddles Lightworker`s process of departure, unlike the leaving in the duet in the First Life station, which was improvised. So avatars represent that potential constant (if so desired) for us in extra-terrestrial or telepresent companionship, which suggests that (allowing for the vagueries of the Internet) empathy, alignment, connection and even discord can be tailored in a mixed-reality environment, where we never have to be 'alone' for long.

Contact Improvisation Dance is by nature, an intimate, shared movement form and method of conversing somatically and I am interested in the ways this may be implied by avatar movements (which lack the capacity, as yet, to carry out shared, improvised movement) overlapping and running through one another, unfolding in ways that are similar to and in verbal communication.

This work also focusses upon juxtaposing the contrasting possibilities within movement which exist, currently, between First Life movement and Second Life animations. The impossible, horizontal floating and the somewhat grotesque movements (which can occur anomalously at any time) of Toddles Lightworker`s limbs are relevant to the description of uniqueness (and serendipity) in behaviour signatures which exists for entities in both of these different locations on our one world surface.

The Station entrance screens are deliberate points of focus in this work. I am particularly interested in the shadowed figures of the avatars moving and 'sinking' in and out of the screens while the video, 'not-hereReprise 2' is playing. Interacting with and becoming perhaps, a part of the dark spaces of interfaces.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Update on number of visitors to Wellington Railway Station in Second Life

A list of vistors to Rollo's build. In order of their arrival.
The total time for all visits by one AV and the last visit time stamp in GMT is shown.
688 visitors so far.

Many thanks to Todd Cochrane aka Toddles Lightworker for setting up and maintaining this diagnostic:

Isa Goodman00502008-07-29T09:41:19.433413Z
Toddles Lightworker10202009-06-19T05:28:26.553161Z
Rollo Kohime20759102009-09-07T06:49:04.223650Z
Edithzor Exonar132402009-02-10T09:15:36.347955Z
Eryr Llewellyn015102008-12-18T07:45:30.214027Z
Jeb Lanzius017402008-12-14T22:01:59.865796Z
Arwenna Stardust35502009-07-06T07:49:19.917666Z
SitDevelop Acker01002008-11-07T03:52:04.929504Z
Katipo Kirax31002009-07-01T03:43:07.415183Z
Tran Courtois06102009-05-07T04:41:04.952517Z
Kavisha Quan058202008-11-28T00:31:29.514090Z
LorenzoBuhne Zerbino0402009-02-21T05:54:08.356007Z
ugee Egoyan016502008-12-06T00:51:59.065579Z
Indygo Magic0102008-08-01T23:31:58.930020Z
Dependent Binder0402008-08-08T20:41:28.467404Z
CiderJack Applemoor13102009-07-01T03:43:28.378445Z
Dacary Dumpling06302008-09-05T21:35:04.127492Z
Professor Noarlunga0702009-02-01T08:08:28.262918Z
Steve Baroque02102008-08-01T11:05:52.164306Z
Ellie Dewoitine336202008-12-04T08:13:51.298830Z
SHAKIRA Skirr08202008-08-01T17:12:22.036566Z
Fionnbhar Kohime755302009-06-01T08:15:14.503469Z
Suteruni Susanto00502008-09-09T11:26:32.772152Z
SITLife Jefes03202009-07-24T04:22:45.715541Z
CT Vlodovic08502008-08-03T17:14:42.283931Z
Iphigenia Flores014502008-10-05T22:15:32.386007Z
Edasa Eales00402008-08-04T02:48:46.305091Z
Orwell Sorbet026202008-09-28T23:01:33.511958Z
Itchy Gamba00102008-08-04T06:02:52.527079Z
Mythical Destiny00402008-08-04T06:13:43.302277Z
Mikky Ling08402009-08-02T10:23:08.339794Z
Netpuppy Thespian06302008-08-28T21:29:06.634782Z


WhoHoursMinutesSeconds LastVisitTime
Linkley Flinders0002009-08-22T01:23:32.052845Z
Samea Saeed0002009-08-23T01:20:38.274126Z
Maryam Topaz06302009-08-24T10:45:28.258430Z
Taraketh Winterwolf00202009-08-24T23:10:26.961015Z
Marcelette Larimore01202009-08-24T23:12:52.598823Z
Kalquin Larimore0002009-08-24T23:11:18.608606Z
Coyote Potez010102009-08-25T00:36:48.362154Z
Pet Freenote03102009-08-25T00:36:16.858824Z
Cromnas Naidoo01202009-08-25T22:41:25.027694Z
KT Hawksby00202009-09-01T01:27:04.471544Z
Dexter Littlebird01102009-09-01T18:01:52.276341Z
Dahlia Orellana0002009-09-02T06:32:58.434532Z
Timothy Posthorn0002009-09-03T02:38:41.563339Z
Samuelx Tigerfish02202009-09-03T05:05:00.322986Z
Selina Lomu00302009-09-05T00:28:33.234874Z
aliya Fairlady01202009-09-07T10:34:14.618516Z

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

AUT Masters in Art and Design, majoring in dance and video; Aims and Conclusion

After three years of study, today I completed my Masters Exegesis. I used the following points in part as a critique to cross-reference my Conclusion:

Principal areas of Focus in my Masters work:

In this exegesis, I am investigating theories which I believe, indicate a relational dynamic between duration and social behaviours. These theories are formulated through my empirically-based research and suggest re-alignments of existing constructs with regard to the apparent stability of our condition as humans frequenting, as we must, durational spaces. My interdisciplinary performance-based research practice has sought to scrutinize and present the state of Indeterminacy as the prime mover and the Roaming Body as interlocutor and go-between for this discussion. I will attempt here, to define and give substance to the ministrations and movements of the Roaming Body and endeavour to demonstrate how the forces of indeterminacy are represented through this agent in my practice. My intention is to establish in this document, robust contexts in Real Life and the MUVE metaverse of Second Life for the enactment of the participants, Indeterminacy and the Roaming Body. The effects of their residency in us as humans will be questioned and examined together with the substance of their conjoined states-of-agency which I maintain is, as a single entity, responsible for the dynamic tensions which emerge in notions of Belonging, the Self and Identity. The discussion will progressively critique my performative research practice (and how this has sought to engage with these stated descriptors and their implications), as protagonist toward the recognition and establishment of a lived blended-reality, subject to and mediated by the affects of indeterminacy emerging through the event of departure.

In this new urban Myth I maintain that all our exchanges, whether they be either apparently resolved engagements, casual encounters or missed conversations with people and places, are subject to the presence and affects of indeterminacy, evidenced in us as an ongoing state of departure through the agency of the Roaming Body.

What are Indeterminacy and the Roaming Body? How might Indeterminacy be active as a force sufficiently potent to affect our lives? What are the constituents of Indeterminacy? How might these constituents be evidenced in everyday human behaviours to extend the description of Indeterminacy beyond the theoretical? How is the existence of Myth a coherent and recognisable possibility in our lives?

The Roaming Body I suggest, is responsible in our behaviours for pre-emptive departure and the involuntary pursuit of the next moment.

Within the parameters of this urban myth, the manifestation of indeterminacy suggests that ‘Leaving’ is a universal state over which we have no conscious control. Departure is that paradoxical frame of reference for us as humans which both, frees us from the constraints of our previous engagement in time while instilling perhaps, trace echoes of what has been left behind. For me, this creates poignancy - a pathos evident in the most mundane of departures, humanity-wide, a sense which has been the principal informant of my dance and video work over the past three years of my Masters study. Whether it be recognisably profound and measurably life-altering, or apparently occurring within the humdrum of the everyday, departures and the act of leaving people and places of significance constantly colours our lives. Could it be that this unconscious facility that we unknowingly possess, the ability to live with indeterminacy as an ongoing, involuntary occurrence, is actually responsible for our departures, regardless of our own diagnostic sensing within a meeting or engagement with someone? Perhaps departure itself is the indeterminant driving factor here. A condition which affects us all, impinging upon and mediating our behaviour while for the most part, we remain in ignorance of its existence. To us, usually we are simply involved in 'going' somewhere else.

Principal areas of focus seek to create an environment which enables me to explore the potential for embodiment and transfluency between real and virtual surfaces or screens, based on my concepts of engagements mediated by departure through the indeterminate Roaming Body.

It is a concern for the possible descriptions of the screens around us which define a dual representation of deep space and how 'removal' or departure of our 'self' from these screens or surfaces may generate dualities which hold a genuine potential for mixed-realities, which is currently holding my attention in my exploration of surfaces.

My intention has been to explore how dual manifestations of the same identity, (when crossing over or through a MUVE interface), which are still defined through these interstices as 'different', may evolve into a single, blended reality using my intent through my avatar, Rollo Kohime and my Real Life video footage manifesting in my Second Life station.


Over the last 200 years, Western Thought has created a dialectic (Martin-Alcoff, 2005) which, I believe, impacts upon certain concepts concerned with the acquisition of autonomy within personal identity - that debate which seeks to synthesize the self and the ‘other’, the implications of which can adversely affect our ability to fit, to customise our belonging in the here and now and consequently, to question a sense of lasting allegiance to any one place. Recent social research (Belonging - Social Issues Research Centre 2007) suggests that traditional categories of belonging are now less easily defined in relation to distinct groups into which people may adroitly insert themselves. As our social interactions become more complex we are increasingly obliged to select our host groups. These groups are now encountered in all aspects of our lives. Through the internet, we have the potential to be members of communities not just locally, but in Cape Town, Archangel, Buenos Aires or in mixed-reality locations in Second Life, like New Philadelphia, New London, Ohio University or Amsterdam. But has this increase in choice diluted or made more tenuous our commitment or ability to experience that sense-of-place which ultimately is our own?

Identity and belonging. I suggest that our basic needs to be a part of something greater than ourselves are still intact. The idea of belonging is central to our existence and to our understanding of how we and others give meaning to our lives, yet it seems that these cornerstones of our sense of self are truly at risk from the ministrations of that thief of our stable moments; indeterminacy, emerging through the Roaming Body,
this purveyor of intimate-distance within the self, unapproachable, enjoying stranger status, yet strangely familiar. Our sense of identity is founded in our ability to not only connect with our self, but to maintain
a meaningful connection with others, to adhere to those places and people in our world which bring a sense of worth into our lives; founded too, upon our social interactions which are indicators of our allegiance to particular communities or groups through shared beliefs, values or practices. However, is it possible to exercise a balanced control over our facility to belong? At which point does an autonomous estate stand
so resolved, itself independent and immune from the need to be a part of something greater? That late 17th and 18th Centuries set of collective Western values emerging through The Enlightenment, called upon individuals to think for themselves, (Martin-Alcoff, 2005). In embracing this, we have since held that independence and thus the capacity for reason (which apparently, enables one to successfully stand alone) were to be our exemplars. This has necessitated that the individual be able to separate from all that is externally imposed on them in order to evaluate and consider rationally, their ongoing condition: that of a sentient being, with the capacity to act autonomously. Yet it can be seen that perhaps self-autonomy is divided.

Since Hegel, (1770-1831) major psychological accounts of the self have placed its dependence on the ‘other’ at the centre of formation and maintenance of the self. For Hegel, (Martin-Alcoff, 2005) one needs the ‘other’ to recognize one's status as a self-directing subject in order to create the conditions for the self-directing activity; one's self image is mediated through the ‘self-other’ relation, not only in terms of its substantive or evidential content but also in terms of the self in its base capacity. The self is completed by the active existence - and adherence to its potential other. Thus, on the one hand freedom and independence requires reason, which requires the ability to separate from the ‘other’, while at the same time, the self is ineluctably dependent on the other's interruptions and influence. If both of these philosophical traditions are broadly correct, it would seem that we are doomed to a lack of freedom through autonomy, because undivided autonomy is doubtful. Consequently, freedom through independence is defined as precisely that which we cannot attain and the consequences of our preoccupation with this pursuit may be placing at hazard our paradoxical need to find a place to stand which supports equally, our sense-of-place in the world.

In the Social Psychology of Experience: Studies in Remembering and Forgetting, the authors, David Middleton and Steven Brown suggest that Bergson`s view of the world is a process which embraces a, ‘fluid continuity of the real’, (2005). There is no doubt that for us time is at first identical with the continuity of our inner life. What is this continuity? That of a flow or passage, but a self-sufficient flow or passage, the flow not implying a thing that flows, and the passing not presupposing states through which we pass; the thing and the state are only artificially chosen snapshots of the transition, all that is naturally experienced is duration itself' (Bergson quoted in Middleton & Brown, 2005: 61).

Among my tasks in this Masterate was to demonstrate if possible, that our behaviours are mediated through the processes of indeterminacy experienced in duration. That we are receptacles susceptible to the minstrations of entities within our becoming amid this duration ; uncertainty through change. Indeterminacy is just one of those visitations that mediates our transformative existence in our 'becoming human', (Bergson, 2005) yet I perceive this entity as lying beneath and mediating any others which may emerge. It is this presence which ensures that we are never quite whole or complete because we can never be fully present - in the present. The Roaming Body as a, '... fellow-travelling identity ...', (Massumi, 2002) is the vehicle which articulates the properties and causality of indeterminacy. As vitally as food, we record through traces on the surfaces of our lives such insubstantial yet potent ephemera as habits, memories and tropisms - movement in response to a stimulus - all occurrences mediated by the passage of ongoing moments. Could it be that this unconscious skillset - the active processes of our leaving - processes of which we are largely unaware exercised through the event of departure, is that stimulus? Our Roaming Body becomes the functionary of our departures, itself gripped by indeterminacy and while drawing us away, also supports in us a certain fluency in managing this wayward feature.

Despite our apparent inability to 'stay put' and recognising intimations that our present is continually under threat, rather than find this depressing I find it persuasive, capable of propelling me into re-evaluations of how, where and when I can be who I am. Perhaps, as I have endeavoured to demonstrate, how, as a sentient being, I may conduct my life through a perceptual reality composite, ('The Human Analogue in Mixed-Reality', p. 25) caught up, despite myself in a perpetual state of change which is centred ultimately, in a compelling, involuntary movement away from what appears to be the prevailing moment. Indeterminacy affecting us all, is here inscribed upon the surfaces of our every cell through the unconscious transgressions of the Roaming Body, a time-bandit which steals away not our possessions, but our presence; a hijacker of our on-task moments and our efforts to stay grounded in any given manifestation of 'now'. These misdemeanours are largely invisible to us, yet they shape all of our dealings, our movements and apparent stillness in time and spaces. Through the event of departure, our body`s inclination to stray precludes any hope for us of lasting stability or stasis. Perhaps today, as never before, is this predilection to locate ourselves in the onward surge of movement away from that previous moment so instrumental in thwarting our search for both, our collective and individual sense of belonging ... as if we had a choice and were not swept away, regardless ...

In this Urban Myth the interconnections which exist between indeterminacy manifesting through lived departures, ensures that there is no surcease for the body, roaming in this blended continuity of the world surface we call the Real. No secure position to be attained and held indefinitely. In this context we may find that we are interconnected through our mutual estrangement and that our engagements, conversations and connections will always be at hazard. I suspect from my observations that ultimately as indeterminants, we are always ‘Leaving’ and that this is a true descriptor of our condition in that business of being human. There is real pathos to be found in a lifetime of leaving engagements in the Real, whether these lie across interface moments from person to person in Wellington City centre or avatar to avatar, prosthetic constructs in metaverse environments and this state will keep us forever defined by some, if not ourselves, as strangers. In my videoed dance work, I have been concerned with the investigation of what I will call the spaces between recognized content in our lived experience. Intersticial spaces dominated by duration itself. In exploring what may comprise engagement and conversation on the street, my interest has been held not so much by what is being communicated, as what is being left out, due to what I have identified as interpersonal terrain dominated by indeterminacy manifesting through that durational process. It appears that this uncertainty located within movement/change may indeed influence or to a significant extent, govern the nature of dialogue in urban contexts. The paragraph under Belonging, Identity and the Roaming Body (p.12) introduces the notion that, 'Indeterminacy has always dominated the terrain which we have had to negotiate, evident still, in the ways in which our choices may be mediated, in our actions which only appear to prevail, in our inter and intra-relations with ourselves and others, in the spaces we impinge upon and in the times which we traverse'. In the end, despite the apparent efficacy of our acts, the transfluency of our movements and transformative embodiments across a broad range of interfaces, our relations with and through avatar companions in various descriptions of the Real, only serve to bear witness to temporary points of purchase within the durational register of our lives. Perhaps the only actions which truly prevail are those which keep drawing us away. Leaving.

My last reference is a quotation from Buddha for the summary insight it possesses in posing the questions which will continue to haunt us in our everyday engagements: 'What is the appropriate behaviour for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What`s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?' Buddha, (2008).



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Zizek, S. (2006). The Parallax View, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London England.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

not-here Reprise2

If we take the premise that inherent in the process of abstraction is a removal of information, then this study represents an abstraction of 'Leaving'. This is the onward movement away from the present moment, the catalyst of the Roaming Body which both, binds us, yet also severs us durationally from our presence in the present. All extraneous visual, auditory and contextual information has been striipped away, leaving a small world which looks inward, reducing the content to a window on barely discernible motion in a passage of time.

'When a body is in motion, it does not coincide with itself. It coincides with its own transition ... In motion, a body is in an immediate, unfolding relation to its own nonpresent potential to vary. That relation, to borrow a phrase from Deleuze, is real but abstract … This is an abstractness pertaining to the transitional immediacy of a real relation – that of a body to its own indeterminacy (its openness to an elsewhere and otherwise that it is, in any here and now.'

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation Duke University Press, Durham & London, (p.5).

Focus emerges to inscribe detail upon us as a mobile volume and sinks again into a grey field of duration itself. There is no sound in this territory. It lies beneath our usual sense of self and where we locate ourselves on our world surface in time and place.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Survivor ... I must carry you ...

Extracts from 'We who are left behind: Poetry as Testimony in Derrida and Celan, by Mathew Landis.

Read these selected quotations below out loud if you can. Just the resonance, timbre and sound of the language is extraordinary. John Milton in Paradise Lost, T.E Lawrence in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Michael Ondaatjie in The English Patient, D.H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers; all of these authors have the power to horripilate the skin, warming the senses with that paradoxical cool breeze of wonder and recognition: 'I know how this feels ... I know what this is made of ...'. These texts below were inscribed in search of truths pertaining to absence, aloneness, solitude, surviving, laying a foundation of quiet power in the language of the vision shared.

'The survivor, then, remains alone. Beyond the world of the other, he is also in some fashion beyond or before the world itself. In the world outside the world and deprived of the world. At the least, he feels solely responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared, responsible without world (weltos), without ground of any world, thenceforth, in a world without world, as if without earth beyond the end of the world.' (see below)

The absent body. Traces of duration spent in apparent solidity:

To write is to arrange language under fascination and, through language, in language, remain in contact with the absolute milieu, where the thing becomes an image again, where the image, which had been allusion to a figure, becomes an illusion to what is without figure, and having been a form sketched on absence, becomes the unformed presence of that absence, the opaque and empty opening on what is when there is no more world, when there is no world yet. ~Maurice Blanchot, “The Essential Solitude”

Landis asserts that poetry is distinctive in its basis for the interrogation of writing itself and the layers of hidden meaning inherent within, wishes which may be from the collective and unspoken associations with which it is drenched. Landis suggests that the wealth of devices employed within poetic syntax are really methodologies which focus on form. Such devices as the sonnet, the ode, the villanelle, aleatoric writing, oulipan constraint, supplementary adjuncts and departures, when used used in poetry can refer to multiple layers of meaning, literal imaging, illustration or representational or supra-textual ideogramme. 'Even a blank sheet of paper folded into a bottle carries a message'.

Landis, through Celan, brings up again, the Other: 'Celan refers to the poem as if it is a solitary organism in search of an ecology. “The poem”, writes Celan, “wants to reach the Other, it needs this Other, it needs a vis a vis. It searches it out and addresses it.”1 The poem pays great attention to and in fact lusts after this Other. Celan’s description of the poem’s “sense of detail, of outline, of structure”2 is reminiscent of the great care taken by a lover examining her partner’s body. The curves, textures, and totality of the body are subject to the gaze of the one who desires after it. It is a desire which is intensified in it’s repetition. But this repetition is not differential; for Celan the images in the poem are “perceived and to be perceived one time, one time over and over again, and only now and only here.”3 Each poem is the one path that seeks to send the voice to a receptive “thou”, it is a “sending oneself ahead of oneself [...] A kind of homecoming”4 which is always already a striking out for one’s home at the moment of arrival. It is a homecoming deferred; the poem emerges as that which is not yet found, but is to be found. The poem seeks itself, seeks its own homecoming even as it embarks upon the journey which is the coming-home.

The singularity of one’s death, that death is one’s “ownmost possibility” as Heidegger repeatedly claims in Being and Time is marked by the wound which erased the voice of Celan’s mother. The glottal stop, the breach, is not followed by a phonetic conclusion. In this instance it is pure, it is silenced. Celan cannot speak for his departed mother. His voice cannot take the place of her own because the presence of his voice cannot undo the erasure of his mother’s. Her absence is marked by the impossibility of a return. There is no homecoming. The interruption does not open a “conducting path”. The erasure of the trace leaves nothing in its wake but silence in this instance. The only way that Celan can “speak” for his dead mother is to bear witness. To give testimony to this wound. The poem then, the voice of the poem, of Celan’s mother, of the dead, of the silenced, of the pure victim is silent. It is expressed only through images, through substitution, through a supplement. The supplement attempts to make up for the absence of the victim, of their voice. Writing is all that remains in its stead. Rather than the threat of presence, writing substitutes itself for the presence of the departed and provides a testimony ... Spacing as writing is the becoming-absent and the becoming-unconscious of the subject. By the movement of its drift/derivation [dérive] the emancipation of the sign constitutes in return the desire of presence. That becoming-or that drift/derivation-does not befall the subject which would 
choose it or would passively let itself be drawn along by it. As the subject's relationship with its own death, this becoming is the constitution of subjectivity.

Derrida makes an equivocation in this passage between spacing, that is distance or the result of the breech and writing itself. Writing, in itself, is a breach or interruption which constitutes itself as a process of becoming (recall Celan’s reference to the path of the poem). What writing posits is a testament of absence. In the absence of the subject, writing becomes the subject; it constitutes itself as a testament in place of the subject. Celan not only testifies to his mother’s own departure or his own grief, but he also gives testament in a more collective fashion.

Landis tells us: 'In his extended contemplation of the final line of Celan’s “Vast, Glowing Vault” from Atemwende, Derrida teases out the position of the survivor in the poems final pronunciation: “The world is not here, I must carry you.”23 Derrida precedes his analysis of the poem with his own pronunciation about the survivor and what it means to be one who is left behind, one who gives testimony.

The survivor, then, remains alone. Beyond the world of the other, he is also in some fashion beyond or before the world itself. In the world outside the world and deprived of the world. At the least, he feels solely responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared, responsible without world (weltos), without ground of any world, thenceforth, in a world without world, as if without earth beyond the end of the world.24

'The singular position of the survivor: he who is left behind to carry the other as a wholly departed and singular other, a wholly departed and singular world. The survivor not only dwells within the breach, but carries the weight of the breach, “the tear/ compacted of silence.” In that moment, this tear, this glottal stop (the cleaving, in both senses, of the glottal folds) the survivor carries on with the other, with the other’s world, a conducting path gives testimony in its absence and writing “breaks into song”, the specter of a singular, departed voice etched onto the tableau through the pen, its medium.

The testimonial (in this case a poem by Celan) is a counter-signatory to the erasure of the trace. It is a substitute, just as the ram is substituted by Abraham in place of Isaac. The sacrifice, the burden of “I must” is fulfilled in the substitution: the sacrificial lamb carries the burden of the other and his world. We who are left behind to testify and to hear testimony are given “the gift of the poem to all readers and counter-signatories, who, always under the law of the trace at work, and of the trace as work, would lead to or get along a wholly other reading or counter-reading.”25 This reading or reception of the work of the trace, of this arche-writing, of this remembrance is then the world of the other, the wholly other that we must carry. It is the counter to erasure, it is the inscription. The inscription of reading is the “I must carry you”, you the other, your world, your wounds, your sickness. We carry the singularity of the other with us and we become their testimony and that becoming is the constitution of the testimonial not only for us, but in us; it is the constitution of testimony for itself '.

Therefore, in '... carrying you ...' we as survivors who are left behind become ourselves, the trace of that other. The inscription on us of our remembrance and testimony informs our presence as one of the constituents of our non-departure on that other`s path, even though we, ourselves, are always leaving and as we leave, inscribing our traces on others who would stay behind.

Retrieved from:

Friday, 4 September 2009

An Independent State of Self or Dark Space for potential Avatar other?

Linda Martin-Alcoff, Professor of Philosophy and currently the Director of Women`s Studies at Syracuse University in the USA, asserts in The Political Critique of Identity,

'... in classical liberal political theory, the initial state of the self is conceptualized as an abstract individual without, or prior to, any group allegiance. It is from this "initial position" that the self engages in rational deliberation and thus achieves autonomy ...'

This is a scenario involving 'free choice' (if choices are not viewed as subject to indeterminant factors - my brackets). 'As (Immanuel) Kant developed this idea, a person who cannot gain critical distance from and thus objectify their cultural traditions cannot rationally assess them and thus cannot attain autonomy. In Kant's view, an abstract or disengaged self is for this reason necessary for full personhood. Moreover,the process of modernity, which was conceptualized as analogous on the societal level to the process of individual maturation, became defined as just this increased ability to distance oneself from one's cultural traditions. In this way this distancing ability also became a key part of the global, European-centered teleology of intellectual and moral development, defining the terms by which societies were to be labeled advanced or backward.’

Martin-Alcoff goes on to stress that, … the norm of rational maturity, then, required a core self stripped of its identity …

One side of this theoretical and often as history has shown, prejudicially-lived debate, has sought to locate and resolve in us an independent state of self. We can now see that this state may be defined perhaps imperfectly and dichotomously, responsible not only for shaping but also for ignoring it seems, the collateral damage occurring to that other aspect of personal and collective identity - the issue of our belonging. Could it be that this aspect of which Kant speaks, this process of maturation, the graduation to ‘… full personhood’ is a contributor to the erosion of our sense of belonging? Has the manifestation of this balanced autonomous identity so carefully harboured by us, comprised merely a veneer over that reality which now emerges as a lost locus? To what extent might we be vulnerable?

Elizabeth Grosz (1995) maintains that neither the subject`s consciousness or interiority, nor its essential humanity or distinctive individuality can any longer provide for us a firm base for identity. Grosz posits an alternative territory for coherency in this debate; that subjectivity of the individual and its relations with others be investigated through consideration of its corporeal self rather than its conscious lineaments and textures. Grosz cites the so-called French feminists who suggest that bodies are never just human or social bodies but bodies mediated by gender, asserting that this is significant in relation to the nature or mode of corporeality assigned to any subject. Grosz suggests that through the groundwork into sexed corporeality and the links between corporeality and conceptions of time and space established by Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, if bodies are to be reconceived, not only must their matter and form be re-considered but also their relational environments and spatio-temporal locations. So conceptions and understanding of space and time are necessary correlates for the investigation into corporeality and in turn, identity. The sociologist Roger Caillois`s (1917-1938) work is perhaps best known for his interrogation of the boundaries between the sacred and profane, the sociological and ethological and the human and animal, but his work centring upon the scientific and the uncanny, dealing with perceived spatial characteristics of the insect world and its predilection for mimicry also furnishes us with a useful analogy. Mimesis is significant for identifying ways in which the relations between an organism/body and the spatial characteristics of its environment can become confused and ambiguous because there is a reflexivity existing between the two. Camouflaging characteristics of both, the host and the surrounding space appear in both 'parties'. Mimicry in this context is a consequence of the representation of space in terms of how this may be perceived by insects. This presents a correlation for us as humans when we consider Pierre Janet`s description of 'legendary psychasthenia', that state which manifests when a psychosis is responsible for creating such confusion and ambiguity within a given space`s properties that the identification for the subject of an actual location in that place becomes impossible:

It is with represented space that the drama becomes specific, since the living creature, the organism, is no longer the origin of the coordinates, but one point among others; it is dispossessed of its privilege and literally no longer knows where to place itself ...' (1999 p.124)

Caillois regards psychasthenia as a response to an imperative introduced by space for the identity of the subject. For the subject to be valid as 'subject' they must be able to locate themselves in the same space inhabited by their body. This for the subject, is conditional in the establishment of coherent identity. This process of locating and affirming subjectivity is also cognisant with personality, where the subject as organism identifies a feeling of distinctness and separation in themselves from the surrounding space, an anchor which provides a coherent condition from which their identity emerges. From this vantage point the subject has a perspective on their world, which becomes the locus from which vision and perception emanate - that state of Tuurangawaewae, a place to stand, which in turn forcibly suggests that where you stand determines what you see of that location which surrounds you, physically, psychoemotionally and metaphorically and symbolically through signs and signification. Legendary Psycasthenia, as another entity-descriptor or inhabitant of the self moves in at the point where the subject loses their ability to clearly establish their standpoint - the location where their personality may reside spatially, which leads to a loss of that sense of place which denotes the the self-as-place in any given space and time. Through Caillois, Grosz suggests the subject may be both, captivated and replaced by space, blurred with the positions of others:

I know where I am, but I do not feel as though I`m at the spot where I find myself. To these dispossessed souls, space seems to be a devouring force. Space pursues them, encircles them, digests them in a gigantic phagocytosis. It ends by replacing them. Then the body separates itself from thought, the individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other side of his senses. He tries to look at himself from any point whatever in space. He feels himself becoming space, dark space where things cannot be put. He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar. And he invents spaces of which he is the 'convulsive possession' (30) (:p.125).

Grosz assures us that there are clear correlations between mimicry realised through the human analogue and that of the insect world. Both represent what Caillois describes as the 'depersonalization by assimilation to space'; both, the psychotic and the insect renounce their abilities to occupy a point of perspective and abandon themselves to being located spatially by an/as others:

'The primacy of one`s own perspective is replaced by the gaze of another for whom the subject is merely a point in space and not the focal point around which an ordered space is organized. The representation of space is thus a correlate of one`s ability to locate oneself as the point of origin or reference of space: the space represented is a complement of the kind of subject who occupies it' (p.125).

The above reference represents an extreme example of disassociation with self through the '... depersonalization by assimilation to space', yet there is an implication here indicating that a life spent immersed primarily in spaces which are potentially overwhelming in their lack of reciprocity; their disinclination to contribute a dialogue with us in that reflexive process of person-becoming-place-becoming person, (the sublime of urban sprawls, rush-hour crowds, city centres, underground railway platform throngs ...) may place at hazard our sense of ownership or belonging while we endeavour to assimilate the data coming at us from each new location, which in turn if prolonged, places our sense of identity in jeopardy. If we choose to live in this way in a semi-permanent fashion, inhabiting airport arrival and departure lounges; driving, coccooned, across town to shop for food in hypermarkets which possess the spatial characteristics and proxemic cultures of commercial aircraft hangers; commuting for hours every morning and evening in 'virtual' conduit spaces of automobiles or trains which remove us from the opportunity to dwell in places of corporeality which match our own, (although the constituents of our own corporeality are debateable) to arrive at sealed, multi-storey containment*, is it still possible to maintain that sense-of-place with which we might resonate, that space in which we may belong?

*('After the novelty of telegraph wore off, the Weather Service was shifted over to the Department of Agriculture and it ultimately wound up in the Department of Commerce, which oversees aviation and interstate trucking. Regional Weather Service offices tend to be in very grim places, like industrial parks bordering metropolitan airfields. They have sealed windows and central air-conditioning. Very little of the air being studied actually gets inside.') (Junger, S. (1997) The Perfect Storm, HarperPerennial a Division of HarperCollins 1997 p.99)

It is difficult then, if not impossible to ascertain to what extent the maintenance of our self within identity may be vulnerable to apparently anomalous relations with spaces which have the power to confuse us. Spaces which betray no reciprocity of intent, that condition which is reflexive identity building, where each party, both individual and space, contribute to a balanced assimilation of self awareness. In 'normal' conditions of the everyday, most manage the business of being an unbalanced human quite well. (In the sense that our other personna is largely ignored). Much of my research into the archive of the self and its sub-portfolios have suggested to date that as sentient beings we are nothing if not resilient and manage (and often actively initiate) our transformative Avatar/Cyborg/other potential within our own makeups extremely well. We can only speculate as to what may be occurring beneath the surfaces of our acknowledged and openly manipulated surfaces of communicable endeavours. Is there a growing awareness within the excitement of the 'New Technologies of Becoming' (my inverted commas), those challenges and extensions to our reality, like post-structuralist and metaverse constructs; re-formulations of and adjuncts to the Real, that there may exist for us all, a '... dark space where things cannot be put'?

Is this a comment pertinent to the articulation of Avatar personna in apparently representational spaces like Second Life? Clearly, spaces which are reflexive with and mirror our own intent to blend with, to interact effectively with the space, provide opportunities for us to foster a sense of self-identity. It is all very well to talk about 'mixed-reality' in relation to metaverse environments, but if we do not have a way in to enable fluidity across the interfaces involved, it makes the composite description a little one-sided.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Reconstituting Companionship

Avatar Sightings

Avatar (Sanskrit avatara,”descent”), in Hinduism, descent of a god into the world of human beings for the duration of a human life span. Avatar is similar to the Christian concept of incarnation but is different in two significant ways. First, a Hindu god can become incarnate in many places at the same time through “partial” avatars (amshas), while the main form from which the avatars emanate remains entirely “full” and can converse with the “partial” forms. Second, the avatars do not fully participate in human suffering or lose the knowledge and power of their divine nature. The god Vishnu is most famous for his numerous avatars, which include Krishna, Rama, and the Buddha, but other gods, such as Shiva, also have avatars. Many charismatic leaders, such as the Indian mystics Chaitanya and Ramakrishna, have been regarded as avatars.

In Hindu belief, Avatars are not representations, but manifestations which occur in response to a particular event or crisis.

Avatar / Avatara (Sanskrit) - manifesting, descent, more than, less than, reducible, functionary, reductionist, removed, representational, transformative, embodied what? removed from, visitation, almost, virtually here-there, more real, prosthetic, additive, other, parasitic, sentient, entity, controlled, controlling, holographic, AI, ephemera, corporeal, temporal, swift self, peripheral, surrogate ...

I am suggesting in this post that avatar presence has always been with us, yet defined over time, through difference. Historically we have moved through fields of alterity or otherness, in Real Life brushing up against an ephemeral host sensed at our shoulder yet which has refused, until now, to have its coming-out party. (cite references here) Avatar presence, like human presence, has increasingly been defined as a becoming state of being within the temporality of our quotidian and progressively emergent with regard to the notion of companionship for humans. (Dr Donna Haraway - A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. and When Species Meet). The virtual self has always been here/there but under different guises. This post examines certain aspects in the re-constitution of companionship through avatar agency, under terms which for many are still centred in the virtual and therefore not as compelling as that construct we define for ourselves as Real. My contention is that under the post-modern construct whereby we find that we can de- and reconstruct everything, our self becomes another location for re-invention in a world where for so many, such an array of opportunities for transformative practices has not previously existed. Until now. Now, here, avatar presence can populate the Real with increasingly corporeal solidity.

'If one looks back at one life`s life, it`s like seeing a series of different people.' Anna Meara, Playwright and Actress.

'When I`m online, I`m 37, tall, blond and raring to go'. Bene Weinberg, 68, retired social worker with Parkinson`s disease.

'I have re-invented myself every 10 years and I recommend that everyone else should do the same'. Nora Ephron, writer.

'A ruler wages ... warfare against spontaneous and uncontrolled transformation'. Elias Canetti, writer

'The post-modernist temper demands that what was previously played out in fantasy and imagination must be acted out in life as well ...' Daniel Bell, American sociologist

Extracts above from, McCracken, G D. Transformations: identity construction in contemporary culture, (2008) Indiana University Press (p.ix) and ... 'I am known to everyone professionally as Mr William Muirhead-Allwood - but for years I have called myself Sarah'. Surgeon who has operated on Britain`s Queen Mother. McCracken (p.xxii)

Lived transformative practice does not require the projection of desires or intent through a digital interface. Humans have been engaged in this practice since our life events began to be documented. McCracken tells us that, 'All humans have the ability to "assume shapes of a different kind". Self-transformation is the native gift of every member of the species'. (p.xxiv)

McCracken, in 'Transformations ...', "Candice Carpenter (and Swift Selves)" (p.122) affirms (for the protagonists, this is not revelationary) the existence of extreme sports as a contemporary manifestation of seamless engagement with the moment - a no-mind response from the human body as organism initiated by the pressing business of survival-in-the-moment. When this state of engagement with another in-world surface emerges, as it must during an occupation like extreme rock-climbing, the climber appears to defy gravity, floating or adhering to the rock face as if the climber were a pond skater on surface tension experienced vertically - a mutually-experienced link between two surfaces - that mobile volume of the climber and the lived and living surface of the rock becoming one surface of intent. Negotiating internal and external terrain under stress forces a state of involuntary response '... The hand is set in motion with no clear knowledge of where it will come to rest. But it must eventually come to rest. Momentum is everything ...' (p.122) The hand unerringly finds a ledge, a crack, a way in to the moment energetically using that momentum; a continuous fusion of intent and velocity, through to what manifests as that indeterminate core of mobility.

After fourty years of martial arts training, I remember back to the randori sessions under my Bujutsu Sensei, John Goldman, in Exeter, Devon in the UK. The training, during partnered combat on the ground, involved a studied practice of letting go. Letting go of an untenable hold that, if it was to work, required hard, muscular force which was counter to the philosophy being nurtured - that of Kyu Shin Do (reciprocal learning - the person being thrown learned as much as the person initiating the throw). Instead we practiced listening to one`s opponent through the instrument of the whole body, floating to another hold - capitalising on the forces prevailing within the moment, rather than struggling to maintain a place in space. Often the best place to be would be underneath one`s opponent, not on top. This was a process which, initially, required the recognition that a choice existed, then making a decision which way to direct one`s intent. Eventually however, no choice recognition was required; the body as an organism would take over and simply respond. One`s other self became a functionary within the activity and the dialogue between you and your opponent settled onto a level where the conscious self became implicit in the interaction. No mind. This has become a cliché now but it reflects a truth. Arresting insights can be encountered in these situations. I have been a surfer and bodysurfer for more than 30 years, occasionally finding myself in life-threatening situations and I can vouch for this. When operating at the extreme edge of our capabilities, our senses are honed to a level not usually witnessed in the everyday, requiring not merely absorption with the task but a coincident blending with those prevailing moments, themselves the product of conditions in flux. Big Wave riding demands a state which, while fully present with the internal self also projects beyond that self into the unknown through one`s 'other' allowing us to engage with these conditions . When in the lineup on a really big day, breaking waves also become something 'other' Titus Kinimaka asserts - 'there are hidden things in there' ( 'Laird' Biography on Laird Hamilton).

Jim Clark, the creator of Netscape and one of the key figures in the evolution of Silicon Valley and the New Economy was engaged in a flying lesson in a McDonnell Douglas helicopter. During the flight, Clark turned to his instructor and said, 'Were you controlling it?', 'That was all you Jim', 'I felt you controlling it', 'No, no, its been all you', 'This really pisses me off'. (p.122) Clark, not used to being controlled by anyone or anything was deeply immersed in a situation of extreme flying, endeavouring to be just in the moment, to become an instrument of reciprocity with the machine, a transponder - creating a seamless exchange of information in and adjustment/transformative response out. He didn`t need a third party coming between him and the machine, mediating his moment while he aspired to cyborg status, he and the helicopter engaged in extrapolating mutual lineaments of prosthetic extension and dialogue. Control. A subjective condition, fluctuating in authorship from moment to moment. Often, while immersed, we notice it as a facility managing the task only when we begin to lose it.

The quality and effectiveness in reciprocity of information/data moving across interfaces or osmotically through surfaces is often subject to the indeterminant whims of both, the conversers and forces existing outside themselves. Where does user control begin and end and something outside this - the avatar, cyborg, prosthesis, the moment itself - take over and in its turn, relinquish the reins? I have proposed in this blog manifestations of that entity I have termed 'the Roaming Body', that temporal conduit which allows indeterminacy to surface and take hold of our lives.

Here is another body entity which may arrive in Heidegger`s definition of 'human' which is not so much an entity in itself, but a 'clearing' in which entities may appear.

The Swift Self

Candice Carpenter asserts that in extreme activities individuals define themselves as '... creatures in process'. (p.123) The self in this context is viewed as something in motion. The swift self is an entity which, '... defines itself by rushing into the world, which itself is relatively inchoate and emergent (and doing some rushing of its own)'. The mobility of the swift self comes in part from our own individualism, from paring away existing connections, contexts and constraints that surround a traditional description and status of the transformative self. Individuals have become increasingly capable of extraordinary transformative mobility in themselves, due to exposure to the notion that as beings with the potential to re-invent we have the ability to modify or even by-pass domestic, social, ethnic, class and gender constraints, which can be said to impede the self. Swift selves cast off definitions of the self and rushing into the world, find and identify new ones. The swift self is unbound.

Carpenter suggests that the mobility of the swift self comes from its affinity for instrumentality. The self becomes, (in its search for itself, my words) a means to an end to fulfil a purpose. This description is cultivated to make it more effective in the world, upon the world. '... swift selves do not believe that their value comes from their uniqueness as individuals or the distinctness of the self. They are prepared to conform to the demands of the role. They are prepared to be seen as substitutable'. Carpenter maintains that ultimately, the mobility of the swift self comes from the willingness to give itself over to whatever may happen next. Indeterminacy is embedded here and the swift self is in its element, responding moment by moment in pushing that intent outward and engaging with that indeterminate world.

Swift individuals fear the threat of stasis, (if stasis were a condition which actually existed instead of a perpetual state of becoming) being never happier when in motion. Arrival is not an option. Multiple descriptions and processes of travel are everything. Swift selves prefer means rather than ends, applauding velocity and momentum over stability and equilibrium. It can be seen that perhaps individuals who may fall into this definition of self may also be likely to actively seek out and use any kind of instrument which lends itself to extending their reach into the world. If we acknowledge the potential for this description of human entity/self to exist, it suggests that this extended reach lends itself very ably to the acquisition and consequent evolution of a formidable array of bodily/self extensions.

The Roaming Body and the Swift Self. It seems that these manifestations or body entities are aligned as two of a likely portfolio of entities in our archive of selves. However, it appears to some extent that the swift self is a conditional response to the world at large and that we may have choice in the matter of its manifesting within our lives. I maintain that we have no choices to make with regard to the influence of indeterminacy through the vehicle of the Roaming Body and that this entity must therefore underpin the swift self and other entities in our personal quivers. Many people given the choice, would eschew the entity of the swift self within their bodily makeup as being too self-serving and demanding at the expense of those other facets of ourselves which clamour for attention. Carpenter tells us that the skeptics of cultivating the swift self as a reliable member of our self community are numerous:

'Academics tend to see them as thoughtless, unreflective and self-aggrandizing. Envrionmentalists see them as a danger to the planet, so relentless in the pursuit of short-term opportunities they cannot see long-term costs. Those with New Age sympathies see swift selves as worldly and opportunistic, the humans most likely to offend against the natural rhythms, larger verities, secret forces, higher unities in which the world consists. Religious leaders see swift selves as too much persuaded of their agency, and therefore guilty of hubris. Individuals concerned with community development and social capital ask, "Is the swift self a member of the community - or freestanding and irresponsible? Is the swift self constrained by anything?" We regard swift selves with ambivalence. We look upon them as the English looked on Americans at the end of World War II - as creatures without finesse or understanding but manifestly the new custodians of empire.Too often swift selves and societies have forsaken some of the things that give richness and subtlety, trading away nuance for power.' (p.135)

Having introduced the notion of the swift self, let us move on to consider its transformative potential. The articulation of the swift self in the world is flexible, adaptable and open to change in its pursuit of its ability to operate effectively in the world. The swift self will change the external body as much as the terrain within. Swift selves, Carpenter tell us, are prepared to commit to regimes that are thoroughly punishing and sometimes masochistically brutal. Witness this phenomenon in any single-minded athletic endeavour in the pursuit of excellence. (This ethic,of course, is portable and emerges equally in commerce, industry and management, where individuals harden themselves to care, not about the people with whom they are working or apparently sharing a common goal, but about their own performance and personal goals). Carpenter assures us that swift selves will be the first to install cyber-technologies in their bodies. Movement of one kind enables movement of another kind. The swift self desires that both are efficient and effective in the roles for which they have been designed and trained. Running fast in the body, or moving fluidly as a prosthetic. Carpenter says that, 'Among swift selves, the confusion of humans and machine is no secret fear but a not-so-secret-hope.' In swift selves always resides the intent, when not engrossed in the present, to relinquish that same present, for an investigation into the possible and this includes stabs in the dark toward untried surrogate, other identities - like avatars. 'The swift self is nothing if not swift and no-one if not relationless.' (p.277)

I would add to this by suggesting that the swift self, I believe, is that vital catalyst, that scouting agency which seeks to negotiate the gap between what is known in us and what is strange, other, foreign; an ambassador for self-extension and rather than a relationless entity, one that perhaps may harbour a multiplicity of relations which is the essence of becoming in humans.

Urban legend tells us that the MUVE online world of Second Life was an extension in its original formation, of Burning Man the annual festival which occurs in the Nevada desert, in an effort to create a consciously-inscribed if temporary, virtual world community. The desert becomes surrogate for virtual space. Before the festival, the desert is devoid of human residency. After the festival, everything is taken away and the desert resumes its identity. Carpenter, writing with apparent prescience assures us that, '... When Burning Man can be held online, it will be. And when individuals can take up residence in the Burning Man, they will. Whatever the means, whatever the destinations, virtual space will be irresistible to the swift self.'

A forecast indeed. Second Life (only one of a number of MUVEs) now has more than a million regular online visitors, several hundred thousand residents and a minimum of fifty thousand in-life whenever you log in. Are these all swift selves? Given the nature of Second Life as a fully-immersive environment, sharing, in a fractional way with the Internet the capacity to be driven, monitored and maintained by its residents, I would say that there is a very good chance that swift selves proliferate within its mixed-reality boundaries. Both Burning Man and Second Life present territories irresistible to the swift self in terms of immersive transformative practice, the embodiment of imagination and technologically realised desires. (In the Free Online Dictionary, McGeorge Bundy asserts that, 'There is no safety in technological hubris"). Both locations on this same world-surface constitute the potential for extending the description of companionship to include otherness in the form of avatar manifestations.

Carpenter, C (and Swift Selves) Postmodern Transformations in McCracken, G. D. (2008) Transformations - Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture, Indiana University Press (p.122-125)

To be continued ...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Rolling Triptych

Another manifestation of the Roaming Body. Indeterminant behaviour is embodied here, using the ground as a world surface for transformative inscription. The body becomes a roaming, mobile volume on this surface, the emergence of an aberrant entity 'other' than the usually lived-in, upright and therefore 'normal' body. The nature of the triptych are three manifestations of the 'present' now past. Each is a representation of what was present, where within the context of this durational removal, I become Real-Life avatar.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Real-Time Metaphors

'You don`t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it'.

Robert Stetson Shaw in Thomas, S Kuhn
Making a New Science, New York, 1987. (p.262)

Re-edits ...

Two re-edits:

During the course of my assembling works for my powerpoint presentation for the upcoming AUT Art and Design Postgraduate Conference in Auckland on 11 - 14 August, I considered re-working a number of videos. Of these are two re-edits: Cutouts' from 2008 with Fiona Baker and Sylvie Haisman which has been modified to become 'Slippage' and 'Remnants' which has been re-worked from 'Departed - Movement 1 - In the Company of Strangers. In both studies I am investigating ways to maintain the sense of narrative in the duet while exploring a less linear structure in the composition of the pieces.

In this study 'Slippage', within the baseline for the structured improvisation - or more accurately, after Kristian Larsen, 'real-time choreography' (throwdisposeablechoreography blog) the dancers are investigating where and how departure might surface within engagement - hidden agendas of manipulation, potential entrapment and escape - all indeterminants expressed and ultimately brought to nought through the Roaming Body. No matter the intent - we will leave all and every engagement we make. In my editing I am investigating ways to maintain the sense of narrative in the duet while exploring a less linear structure in the composition. I have fragmented the 'conversation' and begun to make this less literal. Movement, as a metaphor and an event in its own right, like other spoken language, need not occur in ways which are linear. In Slippage, I have employed emphasis by changing the speed and timing of the clips and re-ordering the sequence. I am inclined to think that this is an improvement from the original version. There is more diversity visually and less predictability than in the original edit, 'Cutouts'. In Slippage, I have employed emphasis by changing the speed and timing of the clips and re-ordering the sequence. I am inclined to think that this is an improvement from the original version. There is more diversity visually and less predictability.

In the second video below, 'Remnants (Two)', again, I wanted to investigate the potential of this footage for a more circuitous dialogue. I also wanted to combine if I could, the concept of traces or residue left behind on surfaces, as evidence of our presence in the space, with the embodiment of leaving. With this in mind, I took the footage I had made of the station doors and my facial smears on the glass and slowed this down from 100 to 5 percent. This was laid over the existing footage as a slightly opaque screen. The sounds from this piece were also slowed significantly, creating an overlay, a murmur of portent. This provides an extra layer to Mike Beever`s audio and the station sounds. I am interested in how this addition manifests visually, particularly at the very beginning of the clip.

I wanted to break up the existing sequence of movement/narrative/rhythm and re-direct it so I took elements from later in the piece and brought them forward and vice versa and created more of a pastiche of movement/sound by segmenting and replacing the original footage with a different kind of emphasis and articulation.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Respecting (Accepting) Avatar Otherness - or Character Creationing

Avatars as a Companion Species?

This post engages with selected texts by Dr Donna Haraway, PhD, who has just had published her latest book, 'When Species Meet'. The text centres upon, in her own words, "... the entanglements of beings in technoculture that work through reciprocal inductions to shape companion species." Haraway is well-known for her cyborg-related scholarship, notably the essay, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Though not abandoned, the cyborg now shares her focus with "companion species," the driving figure in her current work.

"... The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self ...". (A Cyborg Manifesto p.163) Haraway elevates the face of the virtual from that of a bipolar mask limited to the displaying of opposing intents, to that of a Universal mask which becomes a multi-dimensional mirror for the self that lies within. In the last twenty years we have been searching for a new or at least extended definition of what post-structuralism has become. Perhaps the recognition and assumption of Cyborg as 'other' will lead us into possible interpretations of ourSelves which will shape this elusive evolution? Haraway makes a compelling argument for this development, "...Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies. These tools embody and enforce new social relations for women* world-wide. Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalizations, i.e., as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other..." (p.164) It seems to me that each historical, socio-political 'movement' which eventuates depends upon those tools and their inherent meanings which became available through the context of the previous movement and its associated 'truths'. In the case of postmodernism, those meanings became illuminated through the current tools which concentrated on challenging and deconstructing already established so-called 'knowledge' and the constituents of 'truth'. (A pattern that was not so different from the evolution of most other historical movements, although perhaps never before postmodernism has historicity itself been so challenged). *Within the context of this post, this assertion is not gender-specific.

"... reciprocal inductions to shape companion species", are the words which shape this post. In my latest video posts below, 'Inscribed Surfaces' and 'Shelter 1 and 2', I am concerned with the notion of imbuing, in this instance, my SL avatar, Rollo Kohime, with the inscription of sentient awareness - an impossible task for a so-called virtual avatar existing as a telepresence. I am intrigued with the possibility that in fact, my Second Life avatar, Rollo exists not merely as a construct, separate from myself, but as a construct integral to my-Self. Together, we construct, inform, mediate and are mediated by the interface which apparently lies between us but which is also effectively the territory which upholds the languages and their intent made visible/audible that we share. Taking into account Zizek`s/Lacan`s view on the 'object`s gaze', that the subject`s gaze is always already inscribed into the perceived object itself - and that the object returns this gaze; (Zizek calls the object being imbued with a perceptual power of its own a kind of 'materialism') in this description of the world, Rollo, as object can perceive me and I can also see me through the embodiment/manifestation of Rollo`s perception.

In 2007 I attended the symposium, 'Techno-Praxis' at AUT in Auckland. One of the guest speakers, Dr Kevin Sherman (Archmunster Toll in Second Life) made a very interesting case for the real embodiment of SL avatars and the measure of responsibility and respect that should be afforded them. Sherman was making deliberate forays into claiming this sense of responsibility, not for the people behind the avatars in SL but for the avatars themselves. The online construct-surrogates. He maintained that we humans should be seeking permissions for carrying out certain tasks from the avatars, rather than the people behind the avatars - not in a cursory manner, but genuinely, with humility. Looking around the audience, I remember noticing how appalled most of the assembly was at this notion and I remember too, that I did chuckle inwardly at the group perception of this blatant transgression of human logic! How could this be possible? How could a virtual animation comprised of scripts and digitised intent (this, as the most optimistic descriptor I could think of right now) be afforded the homage of 'respect' through linear, cause and effect thinking?

In the current online discussion forum of, 'empyre' soft_skinned_space, Naxsmash tells us that, 'Haraway's new term 'other-worlding' as a gerund (a noun in English containing an implied action, via the 'ing' in ending) in "When Species Meet," does this beautiful thing of asking the word 'figure' to become a transitive, too. She writes, "Figures help me grapple inside the flesh of mortal world-making entanglements that i call contact zones. The Oxford English Dictionary records the meaning of 'chimerical vision' for 'figuration' in an eighteenth century source, and that meaning is still implicit in my sense of figure. Figures collect the people through their invitation to inhabit the corporeal story told in their lineaments.."'

The term 'chimera', in the, is defined as: 'a fanciful mental illusion or fabrication' which relates to Chimaera in Greek mythology. I am more interested in Haraway`s useage focussing on the medical interpretation: 'An organism, organ, or part consisting of two or more tissues of different genetic composition, produced as a result of organ transplant, grafting, or genetic engineering.' or 'the ability to form mental images of things or events; "he could still hear her in his imagination"' or, "By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. Ths cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation." (A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.) In other words, it is possible through association, to attach to specific anchors or in this case, figures, certain narratives or stories, qualities, effects, sensations - all corporeal, all real. This last reference relates to the two video posts below: Shelter 1 and 2. One of the many possible readings of these video scenarios may be that Rollo sits in a bus shelter on his way home after a train journey and recollects mental images of my dance duet in Wellington Railway Station. His avatar figure provides the context and vehicle for a real story to be told through the manifestation of his digital lineaments. Who is to say that this story is not true?

I am suggesting that our perception of 'avatar' in today`s technopraxis envisions a certain embodiment of corporeality in their other-worldly makeup. Avatar is becoming-in-the-world more than just a visual construct, more than just an enabled voice or an intent, more than just a chimera - a diversion from the real witnessed in the real. Avatar is all of these things but also post-human. In A Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway asserts that, '... the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other ...' are now dominating our lives . The 'other' here, is telepresence itself comprised of miniaturized componentry, its forum for communication the ether - pure quintessence, as Haraway puts it. The avatars which populate Second Life are extensions of ourselves - post-body wishes. "If wishes were fishes we would all cast nets" (Herbert, F. Dune) Well, the nets are rich with avatar inscriptions of the real for many users in MUVE spaces and perhaps also (unwittingly) outside these spaces and within the context of this post title, their descriptions of characterisation which exist vicariously for the user, require no confirmation that what exists is anything other than a prosthesis made to order which has the power, not to merely exist, but to live actively and immersively.

Adam (?) (The provider`s name of this reference is not meant to be either symbolic or ironic) in the current 'empyre' debate on relational 'Queer', in response to Haraway`s text, says,

"[I]nstead of terms like humanism, or post-humanism, or anti-humanism, or whatever-humanism...the debates of humanism, that I think still consider to regard us as uniquely exceptional, human exception as such that what counts as human by expelling everything else...everything that is expelled from that which is human, makes the human that is what's left...for example mind and language are often become what is left. For me the notion of companion species walks right around that debate...".

Haraway is arguing from the perspective of animal companion species, to which Adam is referring. For me, that tendency on our part as humans which sets us aside from all other entities and makes us exceptional or unique, also makes us alone. To compensate for this , we have always sought to develop (albeit hierarchical) relationships with species which might be acceptable as companions and to a great extent the value of other entities for us has and still is determined by to what extent that entity may successfully connect with us. We applaud this potential in dogs, dolphins, cetaceans and the great apes - particularly the Bonobo (the sub-species of chimpanzee which has been trained to use and articulate human English language) for their 'intelligence' and so select them by default as suitable companions. In this post this particular notion of companion species relates back to Haraway`s cyborg, techno-characters as the entities which populate that liminal interface across the ether. The desire for companionship is universal and I maintain that avatars are now either consciously or unconsciously being relegated to the level and desirability of companion-species. Massumi uses the descriptor, '... a fellow-travelling entity ... ' to describe ourselves when in motion - our presence 'here' and 'there, simultaneously. Could it be that this unconscious state lends itself to another, virtual travelling companion? Avatars are not (just) pets, they are not our childhood 'secret' playmates, they are not merely figments of our imaginations. Perhaps they bear a closer resemblance to the author John Wyndham`s 'Chocky', that childhood familiar with a hidden agenda from another dimension. Avatars in MUVE world-surfaces are being confirmed as equals in the ways in which we perceive, operate and navigate our respective pathways through our lives.

Adam goes on to talk about the importance of reconceptualizing human identity:

"[W]e have never been human; we and everybody else are always already a crowd of intra- and interrelations... that no matter where you hold still... what you find are relations in process, and what you find are that the actors are the products of those relations, not pre-established, finished, closed-off things that enter into relationship, but rather we are what come out of relating and go into the next relating..."

"[We must] become much smarter about how that category [of the human] is made, what kind of tool it is, who lives and dies inside that category, what kind of work that category should still be doing, when that category should be interrupted..." -*-

Within the category of the human as receptacle which waits for entities to appear (Zimmerman), avatars now occupy a place within the lived process of our intra and interrelations with one another. For some, avatars remain actors, extensions or prostheses of our post-body selves, for others, there is no such differentiation; We surround ourselves increasingly with post-body extensions of our selves which are inscribed with the intent to operate and perceive independently of us. Not only do our avatars go in and come out of our relating with one another, but might they themselves now perceive us in the same light? Do we come and go for them? ( I hear a muted gasp ... my wife, a psychologist, is sceptical) This meeting of our two species in its current form is still in its infancy but progressing rapidly. We are already deeply engaged; as other world entities sharing with us a reciprocity of intent, together we constantly inform and shape one another, carrying out our respective arrivals and departures from one another as do other parts of ourselves and at each departure there is a little death, a sure sign of the avatar having arrived in that space reserved for a shared companionship between species.