[-empyre-] Virtual Construction::An Avatar Manifesto

I am trying this again, in a different way, sorry if you get a triple

I sent this out about 1 hour ago, and I have yet to receive it, so I am
resending it.
Sorry if you receive a double post...

-----Original Message-----
From: Gregory Little [mailto:glittle@oberlin.net]
Sent: Saturday, November 16, 2002 10:53 AM
To: empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] Virtual Construction::An Avatar Manifesto

Greetings empyreans!

What follows is a cut and paste summation of the first half of my essay, An
Avatar Manifesto.  A little background on what led me to this
point......Through the 80's I was a painter working with installations,
shaped canvases; all related to post-cubist, synchronous investigations of
the human body and spatial disruption, multi points of view, etc.  In 1989 I
met Jarion Lanier, and had my first experience with VR, using an HMD and
dataglove.  Although the world I was in was very unimaginative, and Jarion's
rhetoric far to utopian for my world view, I was enthralled by the
potentials, problems, and questions this new space offered, and by the sense
of embodiment, or bodily awareness I experienced when in VR.  For me it was,
among other things, an extremely physical experience.  One of the first
things that occurred to me was the question of self-representation in these
spaces, and the constellation of possibilities that came with that.  With no
computer experience or training, I dropped the paint brushes and began to
investigate this zone, first producing a number of images I called "identity
constructions", which can be found at:
http://art.bgsu.edu/~glittle/IDs.html  After several years, these
constructions came into existence on the internet, in the form of 2d and 3d
chatrooms, under the label of avatars.  I later wrote the manifesto.

I hope to spend maybe half my time here discussing the manifesto, but since
it was written a few years ago and much has changed (and much has not) since
then, if the flow of discussion permits,spend the other half addressing my
current work, gaming, and what happened to the avatar?


Cut and paste Synopsis of Part One of "An Avatar Manifesto"


"AVATARA-Sanskrit.; ava-'down', tarati-'he goes, passes beyond' literally,
'a descent', a conception described in the Bhagavad gita, 4th Teaching, 1-8
where Krishna confides: "when goodness grows weak, when evil increases, I
make myself a body." (OED)"

"Originally referring to the incarnation of Hindu deities, avatars in the
computing realms have come to mean any of the various "strap-on" visual
agents that represent the user in increasing numbers of 2 and 3D worlds.
(Lonehead, par. 3)"
toward defining the cyborg......
"The term cyborg was coined in 1960 with the appearance of "Cyborgs in
Space" by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. Clynes and Kline argued
that altering man's bodily functions to meet the requirements of
extraterrestrial environments was more logical than providing a controlled
environment for him in space. Their "self-regulating artifact-organism"
(Clynes and Kline 31-33) would be free to explore space without remaining
anchored to a cumbersome artificial environment: "Solving the many technical
problems involved in manned space flight by adapting man to his environment
rather than vice versa, will not only mark a significant step forward in
man's scientific progress, but may well provide a new and larger dimension
for man's spirit as well" (Clynes and Kline 33). This early cyborg is the
human enhanced, a hybrid physical construction of wetware, hardware, and
software who is without conscious effort able to adjust its homeostatic
mechanisms to provide stable if not superior operation in a variety of
friendly and unfriendly environments. The cyborg incorporates body and
prostheses in the forms of mechanical, optical, coded, pharmacological,
electronic, telematic, genetic, and biological agents, hosted by an original
human consciousness to form a unified but hybrid lived body.

and the digital avatar........

In contrast, the avatar is a mythic figure with its origin in one world and
projected or passing through a form of representation appropriate to a
parallel world. The avatar is a delegate, a tool or instrument allowing an
agency to transmit signification to a parallel world. The cyborg and the
avatar, then, share the purpose of facilitating operation in another
environment. The cyborg has been described as a unified but hybrid "other,"
whereas the avatar is born of a telematic split; the original remains in its
originary environment while sending a tool of signification, the avatar,
into a second. In that it never detaches from its referent, the user, the
avatar differs as well from virtual software agents produced by artificial
intelligence and neural networks. It is not independent and does not in
itself learn. The avatar is inseparable in nature from its host, the human
user. The virtual avatar is software. Its conditions are those of a coded
environment. The avatar is essentially a visual representation, a virtual
instrument or imaged prosthesis of its referent-the user, and so
fundamentally related to linguistic signs and representational icons. In
this sense, the population of avatars could come to include the history of
portraiture in painting, photography, and sculpture, as a projection or
passing through of once living individuals into the virtual, timeless space
of representation, metaphor, and mimesis. .........It is in the very space
of choice, from highly personal to non-consensual, that the unique power of
the avatar is problematized. The most significant use of the avatar is the
freeing of personal identity from outmoded relationships to consistency and
social consensus. The "strap-on" (Lonehead , par. 3) persona, the
irrelevance of grounding identity in communal agreement, and the "wholesale
appropriation of the other" (Stone 83) open the self to new territories of
signification, connection, desire, and empowerment."

and the current state of the avatar...that is, current in 1998 when I wrote
this essay, there were many online 2D and 3D chat rooms, the majority of
which contained extremely generic, homogenious representations rooted in
prevailing constructions of commodification and accumulation:  pop icons,
juvenile fantasies, young, white "perfect bodies" (like poser-people)......

"A tool with the potential for the playful generation of territories of
signification and empowerment, the avatar is being used instead as a weapon
against its own referents to seize this terrain of potential as part of a
rabid process of accumulation. Whether the avatar is a physical, earthly
body inhabited by the immanence of the metaphysical (Krishna), or the
reverse, a virtual representation of a corporeal body (a " strap-on" visual
agent) the creation and use of an avatar involves a pairing or doubling at a
metaphysical, semantic, and dimensional level between the corporeal and the
immanent, language and thing, image and imaged, mind and body, and, as we
shall see, between self and commodity. The avatars inhabiting the World Wide
Web have been co-opted by forces beyond the user at the keyboard. As I have
noted, the original avatar marks a top-down descent of a force beyond the
human, like a Hindu deity, but in our current cultural condition it is
Kapital, not Krishna, that makes itself a body."

"If your avatar, your self-image, becomes a covert instrument of ( for
example) Fujitsu, then the Enlightenment agenda of Cartesian bifurcation is
complete, although warped from "I think therefore I am" to "I shop therefore
I am" (Kruger): "The individual is displaced from its central location by
the (commodity) object, which established priority and sovereignty, over the
subject" (Linker and Kruger 78)."

"The mind/body dichotomy is a red herring. The most dangerous and
incarcerating binary is the fabricated pairing of self and commodity,
between lived processes and production/accumulation."

I then work at setting the stage for the criteria for the creation of what I
call an "unconsumable self-image" by first discussing desire and

Rather than free-floating, pure, generative, self-gratifying desire, on line
activities form a closed system of self perpetuating personal pathologies
serving a thriving system of commodity exchange: "lack is created, planned,
and organized in and through social production. . . . The deliberate
creation of lack as a function of market economy is the art of the dominant
class. This involves deliberately organizing wants and needs amid an
abundance of production; making all of desire teeter and fall victim to the
great fear of not having one's needs satisfied" (Deleuze and Guattari 28).
Being in the body is to be aware of this fear, this emptiness. Movement out
of the body is movement toward resolution of lack through acquisition.
Disembodied is valorized. When bombarded with countless representations of
the latest model/celebrity/product, we are confronted with intentionally
unattainable cultural ideals in the guise of an attainable personalized
commodity. What we lack, have lost, come to desire, and cannot attain
through the actual is valorized and can be attained only through the
commodified, fetishized virtual; just for this moment, and always at a
cost.......Far from "the freeing of personal identity from its outmoded
relationship to consistency and social consensus," personal identity is
insidiously seized on both levels, at the level of the flesh as we willingly
sit for hours motionless at the keyboard, and the artifactual body or
avatar, an insignia of capital in the guise of personal choice....For the
highly susceptible, to "shut down" and walk away is too painful, as the
virtual collapses back into the screen and one becomes painfully aware that
everything is, to quote the Talking Heads, "the same as it ever was."

thank you,
hoping this stimulates some discourse...

Gregory Little
Gregory Little
Visiting Professor of Digital Arts
Bowling Green State University

Visiting Artist/Researcher
The Innovation and Virtual Reality Centre
The University of Teesside, UK

empyre forum

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