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Anita Hammer

Role and Theatricality in Virtual Worlds: Extending the theatrical, and investigating thresholds of mythic identity.

Submission for ordinary full paper (parallell presentation).
About the author

The Main Themes to be Examined by the Presentation:

1. Ritual Space in "Virtual' Reality.
a. Presentation/representation of ritual setting.
b. Looking at mythological contents of various metaphors within ritual space.
c. Modes of human representation and human action in "virtual" space.

2. Construction of Human Identity in "Virtual' Ritual Space.
a. Relation between "virtual' self and bodily self.
b. Role and change of role in presentation, degrees of "theatricality".
c. Multiple Identity as Ritual transformation of self?
d. "Virtual' ritual as liminal/liminoid phenomenon to a collective/society as a whole.

Chris Chester, in searching for an "Ontology of the Digital Dornain" (Chester 1997:86)states that "If people and property cannot be lined up along perfect grids in actual space, they can in the virtual". The digital domains, Chester points out to be not spatial, but "universally addressable', only existing to "make invocation possible". Thus, one could argue that the boundaries of software-interface can be aligned with the boundaries of ritual invocation of deities. Subsequently one could also ask the question of the ontological status of the nonbodily "identities" being invoked within this space. When 1 enter into "virtual space" naming myself as a different identity from the one 1 am accustomed to in everyday life, and this representation of a "self' meeting there another representation of self, we are both, simultaneously, invoking both another "me" and another "you", in the lonely, but universally addressable space in front of the keyboard. If God, or all deities, as is now commonly believed, were never existing as separate bodily entities, but as projections of what may be perceived as another part of ourselves to "out there", as to be able to control our lives better, or in order to confess and have a dialogue or an encounter with ourselves from a "different point of view". To my view, then, the road is not so far travelling from prayer to online nightchat. The need to be anonymous, or to leave the everyday-identity behind is also common to religious ritual and to net communication via "Second self representation". And what other activity than ritual would "enable an increase in interacting between individuals while at the same time increasing the anonymity of each member of that community" (Holmes 1997:229), which is exactly the way "abstract Communities" are defined. As from my approach there is, thus, two ways of which to approach virtual systems as mythic ritual structure.

-One is to approach the virtual system of community, its function as symbolic representation, carrying emotional contents in representational form into transformative processes, and thus functioning in relation to society as a whole, as a shaper and/or re- shaper of social processes. This approach will be leaning on Victor Turner's dynamic analyses of ritual processes.
-The other point of departure is by looking at anthropomorphism in myth and religion as a form of mimesis. This approach will require an investigation of the relations between human experience of self and body, and questions related to animation of objects, seeing this projective process as not fundamentally different from a process of identification, but suggestible as a continuum of distance between self and object, in which projection of self upon object does not differ fundamentally between objects defined as myself or objects defined as other self.

Rene Girard,(1977) in analysing the same underlying conditions of mimesis, in the actions of Greek tragedy, observes that "desire itself is essentially mimetic, directed towards an object desired by the model", and that "mimesis coupled with desire leads automatically to conflict". (Girard 1997:90) The semi-divine prestige lays in possessing kudos, which is the reward of identity, sought by the Greek warrior in combat. My point in bringing Girard's considerations to the fore here is his suggestion that "What we are witnessing in this struggle for kudos is the decomposition of the divine". Girard suggests that prior to the time of Homer, there might have existed a personification of kudos, a single god whose presence "oscillated from one camp to another depending on the course of the battle". To my view, if kudos is to be considered the "object of desire", and the action of the battle is to be considered a mimetic action alternating between the two battling parties, with the one party alternately being mimetic of the other, then kudos, which is "being at one with the divine", may be seen as at the core of mimetic action. Here the relation between two different "selves" in battle is simultaneously identification with what we would normally identify as a "third", namely the divine "object. Perhaps this would indicate that one cannot consider acting at all as from the point of view of one actor, but has to consider that acting, and any projecting out of self, requires recipr_ocal mimesis. Between the two is the third, and the third may be considered not an "object, but a projecting out of a part of the "self' in mimetic action. It may be through this mimetic action that the third becomes, or comes to be considered as an autonomous entity. Returning to Kirby's continuum between acting and non-acting, Kirby states that it may be merely the use end projection of emotion that distinguishes acting from non-acting.

The question of the "doubleness" of acting, its connection to trance based on body-technique as well as modes of identification has been discussed by Stanislavski, Brecht, Grotowski and Artaud. Philip Auslander (Aslander 1997:28-38), leaning on Derrida's deconstructivism argues that even in their differences, particularly in focusing on mind verse body in the emphasis of actors attention and technique, these different schools of acting still relies upon the same philosophical paradigm, namely in that they "posit the self as an autonomous foundation for acting". They claim that "performance" can bet truthful only if it evokes the presence of the actor's self' Auslander further argues that by using Derrida's famous notion differance, it becomes evident that "the actorly self is, in fact, produced by the performance it supposedly grounds" and that "the actor's emotional repertoire derives in turn from the process of acting itself, which necessitates the distortion of emotion memory .
As regards the discussion concerning "truth" or "not truth" of actor projection or expression of self, whether or not this projected self is perceived as a "character", it may be legitimate to point out that the value and belief-system revealed through Grotowski's "holy actor", could be viewed as another form of "Puritanism", in which nothing but the purest assumed self of the actor is to be seen as valid acting. The Grotowski experiment, putting itself in a bipolar position to the body/mind(self) split of western philosophical tradition, may be seen as getting trapped on another level of the very same spIit of bi-polarity, namely the pair of clean/dirty, true/untrue, authentic/nonauthentic(false), which is part of the same bi-polarity of the western cultural paradigm.

Not only the actor's self, but also the human self in everyday life, is subject to the same discussion. Various theory of acting has attempted to describe variables of relations between self/body, identity of character and identity of self. Michael Kirby (Kirby 1995), in creating a continuum between poles of acting/non-acting, uses the criteria of acting activity taking place within a symbolised matrix as a major indication on differing between what he concludes in naming simple acting and complex acting. Kirby sets out operating with a quantitative formula, which is one of degrees of acting, from which it becomes clear that he considers acting in a non-matrixed context as a lesser amount, or less complex.

Analysing modes of representation of "self" on the net represents a challenge to the postmodem notion of theatricality, while simultaneously an understanding of the theatrical may provide valuable tools for analyses of various net-activities. If man is "homo performans" (Tumer 1988:81), ritual processes are at the core of all transformative human action.


Anita Hammer
Institutt for Kunst og Medievitenskap
NTNU
7055 Dragvoll
Trondheim

tlf. 73591820 / 73550189
e-mail: anita.hammer@hf.ntnu.no