On the embodiment of the virtual (in the age of the collapsing distinction between fiction and reality)

Falk Heinrich

Looking at interactive artefacts of all kinds, it makes no longer sense to talk of a unified human subject as opposed to its representation in cyberspace. E.g. a computer player is not acting any longer by controlling his/her representational figure (avatar) in fictive computational realms. No, the player's bodily and mental actions form part of both the fictive and the material world. Thus we have to talk of extended bodies (McLuhan) and conflated distinctions between reality and fiction.

Based on Western ontological and epistemological distinction between notions of reality and fiction, we can account for occurring collapse of the very same distinction in two ways: (1) by suggesting a general fictionalisation (and aesthetisation) of everything; or (2) by proposing that fictional worlds are enacted and therefore very real. The result of both ontological displacements is an epistemological implosion, dismantling the inherent resistant position of fiction.

My paper proposes that the horizontal distinction between reality and fiction gives way for a vertical distinction between different performative domains. In the age of pervasive computing, the constitutive structures for these performative domains are 'synthetic' (human and algorithm) communicational systems (e.g. computer games, online communities, interactive social art). These performative domains are producing their own specific virtuality in the sense of potentiality. But in contrast to neo-Hegelian notions like noo-sphere (semiosphere, ideosphere), I propose that these virtualities are brought about by the interacting human (Bergsonian) body. The body is thus the mediating system between synthetic communicational systems and subjective recognition rendering concrete (inter-) actions. Performative reflection becomes a system immanent scrutiny of intrinsic possibilities. Extrinsic resistant positions (criticism) on the other hand emerge out of interferences between multiple performative domains.

The paper exemplifies my conceptualization by analyzing a roleplaying game (e.g. WOW) and locative art (Blast Theory).

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