The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

January 20, 2008

I met my Baby, out behind the Gaz-Works

You don't often think of your body unless you're thinking of your body.
It's there and even when you think of it, you're incarnated, presenced.
You're presenced all the time. Sign off Second Life and you're gone.
That's the ground state, disappearance. In SL your bodies intended,
there's nothing given but the slate. Whatever is added parallels cinema
and the mise en scene - nothing is left to chance unless chance is
determined, built-in. But it's the projections that fundamentally
characterize it - introjections from SL body to organism, projections from
organism to SL body. Think of this as jectivity, an uncanny relationship
which escapes determination, which flirts with abjection. The SL body is a
body that is witnessed, except for the somewhat clumsy 'mouselook' which
places you within it; the mouselook eerily bends the landscape while the
framework monitor remains static. There's always background going on in or
within/without SL; jectivity operates through a normalization that behaves
as dream-screen - for jectivity to occur, the SL/organism interface must
appear coherent, cohering - an inhabitation or dwelling beyond building.
Gaz breaks through this in a way that would be illicit in the world of
organism, of course; pulled or distended limbs in the latter would be a
form of torture or death. One might still speak of self-image and perhaps
drugs which alter it, even the appearance of the physical scaffolding of
the organic body, but Gaz does this with what one postulates, again as a
kind of background radiation, as a normal state which is a state of

All of this is too neat and I'd argue further a few things - first, that
body and mind are always already both 'real' and 'virtual,' the computer
monitor appearing within this almost as afterthought - and second, that
culture, which is interlaced with intentionality, occurs all the way down
and across - not only from amoeba to, say, bird (with destructive humans
halfway across this continuum), but also from carbon- to silicon- based
lifeform which would include both amoeba and computer, if not the internal
combustion engine. I speak of spew and emissions - of signifiers which
ride across and above the surfaces of what's really going on - the true
world - and it's these signifiers that are subtextual operatives within
Second Life and art- or culture- working in Second Life, which is coding,
coded, recoding, writing, rewriting, and wryting itself constantly -
wryting being the implicit inhering relationship of inscriptive to the
body, bodily inscription and inscriptive body coalescing and coalesced
from the very beginning.

Think of edges of worlds and bodies; Second Life adds two new constants:
height (evidenced in flying) and gameworld boundaries, for example at the
bottom of the ocean where everything is transformed, and moving forward
out of the gamespace results in asymptotic returns to the interior. Camera
movement can distance you from the avatar; one can move within, beneath,
above, within her. There are at least two positions of inherent interest.
In the first, the camera leaves the avatar altogether, in order to peer
beneath the gamespace or elsewhere across forbidden zones, and in the
second, the camera appears within the avatar body - a view that brings the
sheaves/prims to the foreground, not goreground, as the avatar dissolves
into empty space. Gaz' reach extends, appears to extend, of course it
doesn't and can't, outside the gamespace altogether (a point in an expand-
ing universe is still within an expanding universe) - this is an inversion
of a caveworld, transformed into private plateau. Again the physics are
odd, exposing the Second Life universe as non-isotropic whatsoever - as a
construct within which worlding occurs and within/without which the true
world operates as it does, ontologically and epistemologically, everywhere
we are, can think of, within and without jectivity.

Now there are issues of entrapment, reminiscent of current RIAA stuff; Gaz
insists that one's body in Second Life is not one's own, and that jectiv-
ity in the same is only artifact, in fact mitigated by Linden Labs, at
best. S/he's a gadfly or parasitic (in Serres' sense of cultural producer)
about the game (as one is a man or woman 'about the town'). So one's
behavior in the vicinity of a Gazwork, gasworks (think of Bhopal) is not
one's own, either; the distortions and entrapments, the weighings-down,
are not of one's making, but of one's wandering into a work such that the
wandering becomes the catalyst or primordial state of the work.

Not always, but almost always, avatars are smaller than one's physical
body, or appear so. And one's viewpoint is not always, but almost always,
above and behind the avatar, slightly raised - as if one's watching a
soccer game, which for a spectator can be senseless from a ground-based
camera. I think this kind of miniaturization tends towards a maternal
reading of the world, a reading within which the image on the screen forms
a safe matrix; after all, the computer goes on and off, games and software
are replaced or updated, and both the world and you go on. So here's this
safe world, and jectivity or what one might call the 'jectivity-braid' -
the braid of psychoanalytic renderings, readings and writings, introjec-
tions and projections, dreamings and hallucinatings, all before or within
and without the screen - this braid is taken for granted; it's the safe-
house of the world, transforming the world and the true world into a
habitus. As a result of peering and miniaturization among other things.
And the ability to chat and keep or erase chat. And the ability to fly or
teletransport, playing into Freud's condensation/displacement in the
dreamwork. Second Life is a _pun_ in this regard - one place quickly sub-
stituted for another, and such substitutions revolutionary or disrupting
as one landscape disappears, another appears - perhaps throwing everything
off but just for a (very safe) moment. It's the safety in punning that
makes them revolutionary, and the same safety occurs in relation and
through the braid. So again, when Gaz takes a meta-position in relation to
this relation, when Gaz appears apparently half-in and half-out of the
gamespace, the disruptive becomes difficult to absorb, becomes something
that doesn't happen in the real (except perhaps with sado-masochism and
the use of safewords which break out of one theater into another). It's a
contradiction which can't be absorbed. And to return to one's "own" avatar
body after Gaz' distortion, one logs out of Second Life - in other words
out of the fundamental world, what is _being_ the fundamental world - into
another world with its real dangers, etc. - the world of the inert or
'idiotic' real (Rosset).

So that the space-time slice within which your body is distorted must be
abandoned. So that one returns and in this return, like the prodigal
daughter or sun, the body is made w/hole again, just like in the MOOs and
MUDs and various adventure games which are the history of all these spaces
and WOW and whatnot. (I want to mention briefly my own work here, which is
concerned with inconceivable positionings of one's own avatar, position-
ings within which behaviors pile on behaviors, creating 'behavior colli-
sions' that create, for the viewer (distinct from the performer), a
disturbing and/or dis/eased representation of the body, an abject body
that indicates something else other the normative is occurring, something
that can't be absorbed. With Gaz, this occurs first-person - the change is
to _me_ and my image/imaginary; with my work, it's third-person and in a
sense stains or transforms the mise en scene into something abject and

To conclude on a mundane note - There are two things that distinguish Gaz'
works as well as Second Life, and are critical for contemporary theory, to
the extent that contemporary theory is critical. First, the latter: When-
ever people talk about an experience in Second Life, they talk as if
they're _in the world_: "I just wandered around and didn't see much." "I
talked to some people and a bird flew overhead and grabbed me." "I was
teleported to the Odyssey Gallery and saw an amazing work there, well, not
actually _saw,_ but experienced." "I kept looking for someone but all I
found were empty spaces." And so forth. So the _experience_ of SL melds
with experience otherwise (or the same), and this doesn't happen with
other online experiences, except of course games and other social spaces.
We adapt quickly to the screen, we're braided to the screen, and this
permits the creation of artworks and environments that simply have no
parallel elsewhere: "I entered this house and it flew away." "I turned
myself from a forty-year-old man into a sexy twenty-year-old." "I couldn't
get lose from the bird until I logged out and in again." "I was buried in
paintings." "Records played by themselves." "I flew." We say these things
as if they're everyday, as if they were always possible. "Question-marks
were falling everywhere." Sometimes the servers are hacked or slowed up,
but even this can be absorbed until everything grinds to a halt, and then
one just logs out, waits, logs in again. This logging-out/logging-in has
become an integral part of SL, in fact, just as online/offline otherwise
is integral to being in a post-industrial world. (I do want to point out
that this isn't, naturally, the only world - the world outside the matrix
or braid is characterized by intense poverty, local wars, starvations, and
so forth, and SL is powerless in relation to these; one might argue in
fact that SL is too much of a safe haven, that it detracts from real
praxis and real difference in the true world. And there's truth to this.)

The second, related, thing in conclusion, is Gaz' works themselves; as I
pointed out above, the behaviors they trigger couldn't occur outside
gamespace without bodily destruction - and some of the behaviors couldn't
occur at all. So these behaviors, these works, are absolutely unique in
this respect; they depend on both a reading of the SL environment as
'natural,' and a scripting within and of that environment to produce the
'unnatural' which is still read as natural. These works, on this level,
question the authority of the real, of the idiotic real; they're a kind of
critique that couldn't exist anywhere else. The viewer/participant isn't
prepared for them. (UPS trucks falling on one!) So one engages both crit-
ically and psychologically/psychoanalytically - the works create both
contemplation and affect, in ways we're not used to. And that, at least
for me, is one of the highest goals of art - to create that sense of
dis/comfort that gives us a place to question everything, and to return
from that questioning hopefully wiser. On a personal note, I can't say
I've found anything as intriguing as Gaz' works, anywhere, and for a long
time, and I'm still fathoming out the implications, still feeling the
limbs extended almost to the breaking-point. Gaz is a pioneer in the body
and space of the Other - and perhaps nothing more need have been said than


References in no particular order (check online for details):

Drew Leder, The Absent Body
Alfred, Schutz, Reflections on the Problem of Relevance
Dalai Lama, introduction by Jeffrey Hopkins, Kalachakra Tantra,
  Rite of Initiation
Janet Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, The Secret Autobiographies of a
  Tibetan Visionary
Candrakirti, Madhyamakavatara (The Entry into the Middle Way)
Hevajra Tanta
Visuddhi Magga (The Path of Purification)
Paul Fishwick (editor), Aesthetic Computing
(by various) second life, the official guide (2007)


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