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.


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Anonymous said...

Как говорилось на Сейчас 17 неделек, тонуса раньше было, а здесь утром просыпаюсь и ощущаю напряжение в животе...продожается уже дня 2. Немного побаливает изредка, но волнует напряжение. У подруги тонус был 3 месяца, ставили угрозу. Но откуда он появляется, в последствии чего?