Monday, May 26, 2008

Virtuality as Transcendentalism in Reverse

Virtuality as Transcendentalism in Reverse
From the Transparent Eyeball to the All Seeing Panopticonic Eye

In his monumental five decade long labor of love, the 18th Century Natural History, Buffon writes that perhaps the scaly tail of the beaver is due to its eating fish.
Which, "quite naturally," prompted some wag to query in that case, how long might be M Buffon's tail?--if, of course, he did eat fish!--

In the "Language" section of "Nature" Emerson writes:
1. Words are signs of natural facts.
("And ain't that a natural born fact, Jack," as the saying goes.)
2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.
(The fish in Peter's image being, say, Pisces, or the Christian symbol of the fish, St Peter as a fisher of men, or an allegory of the fish dying of polluted waters, or a sign for Fish Fry Fridays--)
3. Nature is the symbol of spirit.
(Completing Emerson's Transcendental and redeeming version of the dreaded Jesuitical machinations known as the syllogism.)

Very quickly one moves from natural facts to words as their signs, to "particular" natural facts being symbols of spiritual facts and then to nature as a symbol of spirit.

The movement from the natural to the spiritual, from signs to symbols in a peculiar way seems not unlike what one might call a "Transcendentalism of the Virtual." Or, perhaps, Transcendentalism in Reverse, in the way that Robert Smithson, after Nabokov, wrote of construction sites as "ruins in reverse."

One begins--in this reversal-- from the Transcendental "spirit"--the Virtual Image--Virtuality being not unlike "spirit" in the sense that is "there" via symbols (digital codes)--and since particular spiritual facts are symbols of particular natural facts--(whose signs are words)--then--"nature is the symbol of spirit."

In other words, the world is a symbol of the virtual. Words as "signs of natural facts" which are "spiritual facts" which are the turning of nature into the symbol of the spiritual--are both "signs of natural facts" and symbols of the spirit. Language and nature are symbols of spirit--or, Virtuality.

Spirit is Virtuality. Virtuality is spirituality, and so, in a way, becomes, is, also virtue (The shared etymology of the Latin virtus.)

Virtuality as virtue, as another form of the spirituality which redeems the "fallen world" by turning it into a "symbol."

This has a strange effect on the experience of, perception of, the world, as it no longer exists, but is now world-as-symbol. For, if it is a symbol, this means the world is not "real."

The world-as-symbol becomes a place of tourism for the "virtual eye"-- taking the Surrealists' trips to the flea markets to new heights.

There are tours now for persons to take in which they are shown the "signage" and other "symbols" of the virtual that exist in their neighborhoods. This form of perception is considered a "virtue." The poet Charles Bernstein goes to China and comes back with --what else--but a great many photos of signs and "symbols." The disconnect between the English "mistranslations" from the Chinese is a”symbolic joke" and illustrative of one's own virtue as a perceiver of signs and symbols. (Though I always wonder if the Chinese might not actually be saying something like--well, we shall leave that to the reader's imagination.)

By virtue, so to speak, of this effect of the Virtual, what is seen in the world are only those things which are signs and symbols of the symbolic world of the Virtual.

What one sees in the world is a reflection of the Virtual. That is, one recognizes as "real" only those things which one knows from the Virtual. In a sense the tours of one's neighborhood as a trove of signage and symbols are a form of training in this recognition of the Virtual "real" and its virtues.

Yet what of those who live, pagans, beyond the pale of the virtues of Virtual "access?"

One speaks of the "dependence on foreign oil"--one hears little about the "dependence on electricity" in terms of access to the "real" as it is realized in the Virtual.

Are those who exist beyond electricity's reach those are without virtue?

This would seem to be the case for those affected by the following events: in Rwanda, when the massacres were to being, all cables, telephone lines, any electric access, was completely cut off. Once sealed from the real Virtual world, the now Virtual "disappeareds" were removed from the world as being without virtue. In Myanmar, protests were followed by the cut-off with the outside world of cable and phone access. In the world's largest ever prison, already Walled off from the world, a "refugee Camp," the Palestinians of Gaza are disappearing from virtue by virtue of the cut off of electricity. When all the lights go out--where will they be?

If one were to go about cutting off electricity, chopping off cables, pulling plugs, denying on line access to citizens for various reasons--controlling who is part of the Virtual and virtuous world--one might wonder if part of the possibility of this is to inculcate ever more "willing suspension of disbelief" in the Virtual and its virtues in the denizens of the Virtual.

For then will they not ever more willingly accede to the "transparency" of a new Transparent Eyeball in reverse, the Panoptical Eye of instantaneous "real time" surveillance of everyone and access to everyone's files, images, messages, transactions in order to keep "secure" the virtue of the Virtual?

The threat of the loss of the Virtual, of being a part of the virtues of the Virtual, may become a new form of discipline. And, desirous to not lose one's sense of Virtual Reality, might not one then accede to entering into a world wide prison?

To "die" outside the Virtual--or to "Live" as a prisoner.