Question: Do the technologies of representation offered by computers offer an alternative to the mirror, to the limitations of mimetic, causal realism?
Offerings are neither transitive nor passive, rather what Cixous calls "The gift without return.". Technologies cannot offer except as we embody them. We offer ourselves as alternative representations of computer technologies and the limitations of mimetic, causal realism alike.
I offer my response to this question in what Joan Retallack offers in her essay ":Re:Thinking:Literary:Feminism":
The extent to which [mirroring representation] are founded on positivist or naive realist epistemologies is revealed by their insistence on full disclosure or accessibility. This is an aesthetic that imagines itself into the idea of but one logically possible world, which, coincidentally, is identified by the very internally consistent, narrative, or lyrical principles that construct it in the first place. Of course this connect-the-dots constellation we call our world is no more ontologically present in the cosmos than any other. But the metaphor of mirroring, as brought to us in Aristotle's _Poetics_, still carries enormous weight...It is seen in mainstream literatures as providing unassailable grounds for cultural understanding and political analysis even when the very notion of grounds has become so philosophically shaky, no one would knowingly choose to secure anything to it. It is my feeling that women should be particularly suspicious of mirrors. The retrograde looking-glass world we've been encouraged to inhabit harbors a cultural black hole disguised as "benign" vanishing point.
Retallack is equally critical of what she calls "the picture theory of gender-- the essentialist lodging of the feminine in female bodies--as well as the symbolic orders from [and mirrors of--one would suggest, MJ] the Freud-Lacan-plex." She suggests
an interesting coincidence, yes/no? that what Western culture has tended to label feminine (forms characterized by silence, empty and full, multiple, associative, nonhierarchical logics; open and materially contingent processes, etc.) may well be more relevent to the complex reality we are coming now to see as our world than the narrowly hierarchical logics that produced the rationalist dreamwork of civilization and its misogynist discontents. I wonder if we may find in the collision of radically destabilizing institutions and emerging feminine forms the energy to make something unprecedentedly, poetically generous of our complex future?
Michael Joyce is participating in the virtual session while at the Eastgate Seminar in Boston. Since he will have to leave after an hour he offers this text as an additional contribution to the discussion. Q: "Have we adapted to the technology too uncritically?" A: Of course not. As with most matters having to do with electronic texts and environments, the question is one of multiple perspectives.There is a temptation to pressure each word of this question for its multiplicities. Who is this "we" and how are we distributed, geographically, culturally, technologically, politically, spiritually, artistically. What sort of adaptation do we mean here? Can a species/culture/person ever self-reflexively know its/her own adaptation. Or do we mean instrumental adaptation? Is it possible to use the ATM (where? what resources does the discourse of the ATM presuppose you possess), the VCR? the web? the electronic ignition in a car? What is the putative master narrative called "the technology"? Whose stories are told in it? Do we mean "critical" perspective or the critical of critical care?
Much of what passes as dialogue about these issues has been merely a repackaged version of millenial distrust of human beings and their sensibilities and communities. Sven Birkerts assertion in a recent exchange on FEED web magazine that computers will cause us to ignore the beauty of a spider's web in favor of the world wide web is an instance. Likewise much of the dialogue about children and porn on the internet continues a very dangerous and complex discourse which seeks, in "saving" children, to demonize them as magnets of sexuality. My thirteen year old boy (a churning cauldron of testosterone and moods) does not see the internet as a sexual site (I think he's looking for park benches). He was among children who AO pederast mailers contacted, he told me, we told AO, his life goes on, not innocent, not malevolent. I am certain he fdinds sex on the web because he finds sex in his whole life. I am likewise certain he finds music in each locale, for he embodies music.
Q: "How do we, as individuals, relate to this technology?"
A: As embodied individuals in communities.
It is not because we cannot be everything that we choose to do what we do but because we are called to be some thing. What we feel ourselves called to in an electronic age is a profession of the value of human multiplicity, proximity and community. The value added by human community is in its being there, and the force of our being (both predicate and nominative) within it. Though we all are moving ever onward in a turbulence of changing change (not just change but morphogenetic change which changes its own nature by instants), we can tell you where we are and thus assist you in your process of seeing where you are. The value added by human community is in its successive and erring answers to the questions: What do we do with the self? What do I do with myself? which the poet Charles Olson compounds in the question, "How to use yourself and on what?" As the boundary blurs between reader and author, we feel ourselves increasingly unbounded. We can only tell you where we are, but no longer can be certain where you are nor say where you should be. In the place of competencies and commonalities electronic spaces offer swiftly shifting and easily shared particularities. Web spiders and yahoo servers are the cyborgian protozoa in an evolutionary scheme which will take us, humans and machines, toward a coevolutionary world of likewise evolving questions. We inhabit new forms in the presence and community of others. In a world of shifting centers, meanings are not so much published as placed, continually embodied in human community.
Everywhere I speak or write I argue the same thing: that the value of our presence as human persons in real place continues as a value not despite but because of the ubiquity of virtual spaces. Our embodiment graces actual and virtual space alike with the occasion for value.