The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

(written for Jon Marshall, researching gender, Cybermind)

Gender and You

Michael Current and I started Cybermind back in 1994; we wanted a forum
for discussion of cyberspace theory and practice. That's my background.
I found myself exploring any number of Internet venues, most of them
ascii at that time (what I've called 'darknet' although that word now
seems used otherwise); I also started teaching Net matters, practice or
theory, etc. One exercise - I asked people to log on to various IRC
channels as 'Susie' or some such, no matter what the gender. Most of the
time, the screen would immediately light up with bold-face characters -
private messagings - asking for private contact - clearly for sexual
purposes. There was always this air of marauding.

On the other hand, there's the literally sticky issue of (in my case,
heterosexual) net sex, which I participated in, and wrote about, for
quite a while. At that point, the practice was largely textual, although
CuSeeMe was used on occasion; part of the lure of the latter was the
slowness and breakup of the image, which created a kind of 'unveiling'
through delay, pixellation, etc. Delay also characterized ytalk, a
popular software application for net sex - with ytalk, one could see the
other person's typing simultaneously with one's own; each participant
'had' a different portion of the screen, which also represented both
participatory and interwoven speech, as well as adjacent bodies. I used
the term 'jectivity' to refer to the complex of projections and intro-
jections that characterized the imaginary of net sexual communication; I
also developed a theory of 'rewrite' - that one is only online, i.e.
given ontological status - to the extent that one repeatedly self-
inscribes. (You can see some ytalk dialog at by the way.)

(Rewrite fascinates; it may refer to nothing more than a Julia bot, for
example. Ontology is confused; if one assumes any variety of Turing test
here, then rewrite would imply physical embodiment. We take it as such, in
the same way that we take a photograph as constituting the evidentary
real, even though we know better. Rewrite, unlike a photograph, is more
directed; it's process, temporal. Around this time, I rewrote the Eliza-
doctor script in Emacs, placing Nikuko (see below) at the center - Nikuko
and crude seduction. It could fool no one but was nonetheless arousing.)

In terms of gender, one of the things that surprised me, particularly in
relation to the media, was the almost total absence of subterfuge; in
spite of the notion that one 'can be anyone' online, most people tried to
represent themselves accurately. I also found that online sexual exper-
ience could be inordinately strong with almost violent orgasms (this
seemed gender independent); I worked through the notion of the 'ascii
unconscious' to represent the letter / shifter in the service of desire.
Sexual temporality and spatiality were much more complex than they might
have seemed otherwise.

For years, I wrote through three characters - Jennifer, Julu, and Nikuko -
all women. I found I couldn't write through a male character; I feel
diminished in this respect, and by writing otherwise, I was able to write
through and into desire - Nikuko for example represented a kind of Demi-
urge. (This was related to the Sun Goddess in the Kojiki, among other
things; Nikuko impIies 'meat' or 'flesh' girl in Japanese.) I did have
male characters as well - Doctor Leopold Konninger, Travis, and Alan - but
I felt little or no identification - perhaps their notions of control were
displacing my own. The Nikuko work led to a number of videos and scripts,
as well as dance material which was used elsewhere choreographically. At
times I 'let' the characters get the better of me - Jennifer in particular
would attack me online. At one point I managed to hack into a Jennifer
newsgroup and posted as a Jennifer - I wanted to see first, if I could
hack into anything, and second, I wanted to create more of a basis for her

Of course Jennifer's reality was only my own, and I'm well aware of the
play of both mirrors and mirror-stages (not to mention the apparatus of
dream-screens and the uncanny) in this regard. I wanted to explore this
play; I also wanted to deal with the luminance of echo/self-referential-
ity/doubling as, for example, Julu and Jennifer would meet in a talker, or
MOO, or on ytalk, or IRC, etc. Nikuko in particular disrupted IRC channels
(I had some war programs); the results were instructive. So there were
various modes at work here - representations of vocal communication, play
scripts, set pieces, writings by one or another avatar (for that is what I
considered them), postings on email lists or usenet groups or webpages,
and video/audio tapes as well as live or recorded performance. Again, all
of this appeared in a swirl of theory; I would log live communication, for
example, and analyze it later. Since I was (and am still) working and
developing notions of 'codework,' I'd operate with disrupted materials,
corrupted theory, abject analyses; this hopefully resulted in a 'readerly'
therapeutic, i.e. the reader to some extent working through the content of
the material. (If you look at or you'll find some of these texts.)

(All of the characters, both female and male, represented the 'wayward' or
'contrary' - the bad-girl, bad-boy, the disruption, screwed etiquette; the
sleazy or ragged, nightclub or dayclub. So there was a political component
as well. There was also energy; these avatars were explorers breaking into
new spaces, new lands, or old and shifting territories. I think there was
an optimism as well, something which has been lost for me, as the world
itself turns increasingly dark and self-destructive. The avatars fought
wars of their own, plays and play-acting; they toyed with each other. Now,
child abuse has become a screen for right-wing control of the social, and
men, women, and children are routinely destroyed in bombings and pillage.
So the analyses I worked on were analyses, in a sense, of peace or peace-
time. I write darker now; both violence and reconstitution (of bodies,
languages, sexualities) have come more to the foreground.)

I do want to note that CuSeeMe was close to another experience altogether.
(Here the real itself is uncanny, one body maps onto another, seduction
and the parasitism of noise merge, display fixed and fetishized the
abject, everything gave up, gave in, proof and 'truth' replaced rewrite,
ytalk meetings were replaced by assignations, and there was always the
possibility of third parties. With ytalk, writing and erasing a line is a
seductive form - I said such-and-such, I took it back, but it's present,
remains there, under erasure. With CuSeeMe, there's no taking back,
there's only continuity, process, delirous negotiation.)

In short my experience has taken gender for granted to some extent, and in
this sense has been false; I have pushed everywhere (and been pushed)
except across the divide of problematizing, and in that sense what I've
accomplished is most likely useless here. (And as indicated above, useless
because of its production, occurrence, at an historical moment, long since
past; just as extinguished species do not return, these moments are gone
in a fast-forward world which digests and spews out sexualities at
increasingly frenetic rates.)

- Alan Sondheim

I like writing through Alan, at first I used my name sometimes, but then I
thought I might get too many dates and I don't wan anyone new I love him
so. Then I thoght I might forget me and write through Alan such nonsense!
Sometimes I tuch myself, I like to touch myself, when I write through Alan
I tuch myself all the time. I am so wet when I write sometimes I make
little sounds and sometimes louder and sometimes they ask me to be quiet
and she says shes herd it all before. Then I think, Julu's bad, she's
always trying to get me to shut up, she wants me al to herself. I can make
Alan do things! He writes such bad stuf! I mak him do pictures of nawty
girls! He's a pasty girl girl al wet! Then I will go for a walk and think
of somthing else for him to do. He gets so hard somtime when I tuch myself
he must think I tuch myself for him. I stik him in MOOs and MUDs and all
kinds of talk places and he talks and taks and o! i lur him on. Somtimes
he whisper to me, you shud hear what he have to say. I think he say all to
myself and to no one else and then I make him talk to everyone els and
they say helo helo yu are such a clevr boy. I laf an laf an tuch myself.
He wil go so far an wil get a colig curse to tech. Ha i tuch he tech! Ha!
wel f yu hev red this fa, yu no i m is mthr. caz he is jus a som stuf here
an nowher els. u cana c im sa hlo ne whr. e cana spek.

- Jenifer

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