Avatars and Theory

by Alan Sondheim on March 19, 2013


Guest post by Alan Sondheim.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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