[NetBehaviour] Language and Object

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Jun 8 05:43:54 CEST 2010

Language and Object

A texture, tested.png, is created with the phrase "i don't understand
you're saying" overlaid with the word "ALIEN". The texture is applied to
numerous objects in the Second Life environment; the texture is also
inserted in the particle generation script. When an avatar sits on a
scripted object, particles spew out, carrying the same text as the objects
themselves. The result is a fireworks display of tested.png spews from
tested.png emitters. The display is like nothing in physical reality; at
the same time, it's tethered to the "ALIEN/i don't understand what you're
saying" text.

The problem, theoretical and practical, is this: How does alienness func-
tion, given the self-referentiality of this text? (Or, in fact, any text
at all? For it isn't so much the specific content, as the act of scanning
and reading familiar graphemes, words, and so forth, that sets the scene.)
Does the act of reading take away from the mise en scene (as alien, other
worldly - as elsewhere and elsewise) reducing it to a form of concrete
poetry - or does the mise en scene "alienize" the inscription - and, by
implication, any inscription, itself?

The former seems to be the case; as relevance theory has it, a determin-
ation occurs, creating a steering-mechanism as habitus for the viewing
session. Think of this as a detour or masquerade, the habitus within a
potential well, keeping everything in order.

In the real world, disguise of anomaly is equivalent to a problematic
shift to the familiar. Thus anomaly may be constantly hidden: a bomb as
lunch-box, for example - and the real as classical logic, with quantum and
cosmological anomalies kept at a distance. This references the phenomeno-
logy of nearly autonomous levels, without which life would be, literally,
at a loss.

In virtual worlds, we can experiment with all of this - keeping the alien
or familiar at bay - with (mostly autonomic) gestures whose stakes are
high in the real, gamed and (presumably) lower online. Thus the virtual is
the safe world/word for the real, until the real overwhelms us all.*


*And when this happens, inscription disappears, there is nothing further
to be said; without memory or organism, the flat world shudders to a halt.

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