WHEN I TOOK STUDENTS INTO SECOND LIFE IN 2012, ALL BUT ONE STRUGGLED WITH THEIR AVATAR. THEY WANTED TO BE THEMSELVES. THE ARTIST IN THE CLASS, ALSO A GAMER, BECAME A GIANT GREEN LIZARD; HE DISRUPTED MEETINGS EVERYWHERE HE WENT. HE WAS NOT A MODEL CITIZEN, BUT HE PRODUCTIVELY ERODED SOME OF THE SERIOUSNESS OF HIS CLASSMATES.
Avatar uses flash reason in order to deliberate on public policy issues in the dromosphere. Paul Virilio’s choice of the Greek term for race (dromos) to name the condition of dimension collapse in electracy is a clue guiding the heuretics of flash reason. The method poses a question: what is the reasoning that wins races; specifically (continuing with the tactic of retrieval), what was the logic of the race course in Classical Greece (grammatology, inventing electracy by analogy). The oral Greeks called this reason metis, (after Zeus’s first wife) and it survived in literacy as prudence, phronesis, practical reason. Plato configured it as his contrast while inventing the pure or contemplative reason and its logic of identity organizing the philosophy of Being. Metis, rather, is the logic of Becoming, useful in conditions of contingency such as those concerning ethics and politics, when the outcome depends on human judgment. A phronimos or prudent person is one capable of immediately assessing the givens of a particular situation, and drawing upon maxims formulated from past experience, making a decision to act in a way that foresees the best outcome in the future. In short, prudence is time-logic.
The details of prudence (metis) in their oral version are exemplified by Odysseus, who relies on cunning and deceit to overcome more powerful adversaries and forces. The same vocabulary was used in early literacy in manuals teaching hunting and fishing. The emblematic figure of metis, in fact, is the fishing net, especially the cast net with its encircling meshes. The net of network in electracy resonates with this skill of creating or escaping snares, traps, lures, or any sort of aporia — mastery of circles and binds. Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant use the race course (dromos) to map the operating features of metis that may be projected onto any situation (Arjuna and Krishna in the battle chariot). Prudence means not caution but foresight that prepares one for success in open circumstances requiring improvisation and instant thought. The race course holds three sites and moments of danger and opportunity: the starting line, the turn (bend), and the finish line. The charioteer stands in for any pilot (Arjuna in his chariot with Krishna), with the vocabulary of navigation, cybernauts, cybernetics, helping translate practical reason into flash reason. The ultimate test of wayfinding is that of a stormy sea at night, when all guidemarks disappear (the scene of aporia), whether this night sea is literal or figurative (projected into the arts of medicine, politics, rhetoric). Avatar as guide through Tartarus (the trackless realm beneath the underworld).
I’D LIKE TO THINK OF ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION AS A CLASS IN FORESIGHT. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? HOW CAN YOU HELP A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION ARRIVE AT A NEW, SUCCESSFUL PLACE? CAN YOU DEVELOP THEIR MAP QUICKLY? IF SO, YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF TO BE A SUCCESSFUL GUIDE IN THIS UNCHARTED TERRITORY.
What makes the dromosphere so troubling is that it requires the invention of a new mode of governance. The rhetorical skills of deliberative reason within a public sphere that made democracy possible were inventions of literacy, and are not sustainable within electracy. The time of decision, the civic process of critical analysis and persuasion through argumentation, is a luxury we do not have in the conditions of Right Now. We need a rhetoric that is forensic, epideictic, and deliberative at once. What happened, who is responsible, what do we do now? Here is the point of departure for flash reason, the image logic of avatar. Avatar reason is as compressed as the compression ratios of the equipment supporting it. An apparatus is not only equipment, but also practices of thinking developed within emerging institutions, and behaviors of identity (individual and collective).
THIS PARAGRAPH IS RHETORIC FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. RHETORIC IS THE HISTORICAL PRACTICE THAT GROUNDS ENGLISH AND COMMUNICATION. ARTISTS HAVE TRADITIONALLY SEPARATED THEMSELVES FROM THE RHETORICIANS AND PHILOSOPHERS, BUT AS ARTISTS ENGAGE MORE AND MORE DIRECTLY WITH COMMUNITIES AND ISSUES, THEY LOOK MORE AND MORE LIKE RHETORICIANS, BRINGING ABOUT THE WORLD THEY DESIRE.
Flash reason must do for the image prosthesis what argumentation did for the word in literacy. The resources needed for designing a logic of an Internet civic sphere are already available in the same cultural history that produced the technology. Marshal McLuhan’s laws of media indicate that apparatus invention proceeds by the “obsoleting” of some current practice, and the “retrieval” of some obsolete practice, newly recognized as relevant to a contemporary context. The larger purpose of Avatar Emergency is to establish a collection of cultural inventions associated historically with fast or sudden thinking, and compose from them an experimental procedure for collective and individual decision-making Now. Flash reason, adopted as a practice of general electracy, is a civic basis for democracy in the circumstances of the dromosphere.
Our reconfiguration of avatar as a practice of electracy takes McLuhan’s advice about the laws of media: that with any artifact one must ask, what does it render obsolete, and what does it retrieve from the past? [McLuhan & McLuhan 1992].
As our guiding scene suggests, avatar’s history includes various incarnations and theorizations, as god, soul, self. It is not that literate selfhood is rendered obsolete in our context, seeking a practice of flash reason adequate to the demands of the dromosphere, but that this experience of being an autonomous individual is brought into relationship with a new dimension of reality produced within the epoch of electracy. Avatar is the name of this relationship, and it may be figured in an emblem.
WE WILL SPEND TIME WITH MCLUHAN’S LAWS OF MEDIA; TO WORK IN THE DROMOSPHERE REQUIRES AN UNDERSTANDING OF “MEDIA ECOLOGY,” HOW THE TECHNOLOGIES INTERACT WITH ONE ANOTHER, PUSH EACH OTHER AROUND. WE WILL ALSO SPEND SOME TIME WITH EMBLEMS: CONDENSED VISUAL COMMUNICATION.
Avatar in our Internet public sphere is a relationship, and depends upon a certain kind of experience. Another relay (rather than model) for this approach to avatar is provided by Maurice Blanchot’s appropriation of the Orpheus myth as an emblem of his theory of writing [Blanchot 1981
, 171]. The Greek myth recounts the life and death of Orpheus, credited as the inventor of writing
. Blanchot focuses on Orpheus’s descent (avatar) into Hades, which he was able to enter through the power of his art
. His purpose was to retrieve his beloved Eurydice, who died in an accident. . . . Catabasis connects avatar with the very structure of narrative, codified in the templates of screenplay authoring: the protagonist becomes hero by leaving home, entering the special world of the narrative (that is, descends into the realm of death). This model is only the point of departure for our project (becoming image), since brand as the identity experience of electracy no longer possesses the coherence of narrative form.
NARRATIVE: THE NAME OF A LOCAL ADVERTISING AND MARKETING FIRM IN FARGO.
STORYTELLING: UNDERSTOOD TO BE THE KEY TO BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, TO CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE, WHETHER YOU ARE A POLITICIANS OR A MARKETING GURU.
IMAGE AND BRAND: IDENTITY RECEIVED IMMEDIATELY, RATHER THAN PERCEIVED SLOWLY WITH THE UNFOLDING OF TEXT.
THIS IS A RHETORIC COURSE: ALL FORMS OF COMMUNICATION ARE IN PLAY.
Blanchot’s appropriation of the myth typifies a device of existentialist authors of his period (Camus and Sisyphus, for example), of updating legends, fables, myths, as allegories for contemporary experience. The lesson passed along for us is the analogy between the writer’s relation with the work and the relation of self with avatar. Blanchot developed his poetics in explicit opposition to Sartre’s endorsement of prose and an activist engagement with political polemics. Blanchot takes “the other slope of language,” that of poetry, with important implications for EmerAgency consulting. Poetry is “useless” in instrumental terms. Our purpose, rather, is to bring into ontology the disposition, attitude, virtue (desire) of the subject, in order to open a new front in the struggle for survival. Blanchot’s lesson is that the “entry into language” by a speaking being is a kind of avatar descent.
BECAUSE MY EXPERIENCE WITH AVATAR HAS LED TO “ACTIVIST ENGAGEMENT” I TEND TO APPROACH ONLINE ACTION AS PROSE, AS REALISM, AS PRAGMATISM. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO, AND WE ALL SHOULD KEEP BOTH “SLOPES OF LANGUAGE” IN PLAY. 140 CHARACTERS MIGHT BE POETIC AND POWERFUL; A 500 WORD BLOG ENTRY MIGHT BE ALL THE TIME AND SPACE WE NEED (AND HAVE) FOR DELIBERATIVE ACTION IN THIS SPED UP DROMOSPHERE.
An instruction of this analogy is that avatar as the enunciation of flash reason performs an entry into image, and must be designed according to this conative or receptive stance. Avatar is not mimetic of one’s ego, but a probe beyond one’s ownness, as a relationship with community. Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome is much invoked in association with the Internet. Our use of the figure follows their example of rhizome as a symbiotic relationship between two separate domains brought into mutually beneficial alliance. It is significant that one of their primary examples of rhizome (the wasp and orchid, or bee and flower) was also the chief guiding image for students in manuscript culture, who were advised to compose texts the way bees made honey: by frequenting the best flowers of rhetoric, to retrieve and store their essence, with which to create honey in the hive. Here is another analogy for the avatar relationship: player to avatar is as artist to work. Analogy depends upon the familiarity of its ratio. To understand your relationship with avatar, you are offered a comparison with authoring, or with art making in general. Blanchot’s allegory specifies the relevant part of the analogy: player with avatar in an Internet dromosphere is like Orpheus with Eurydice in Hades. Such is the counsel provided by our traditions and our artists, said to be the antennae of the race.
ONE CAN BE ONLINE WITHOUT BEING AN ARTISTS, BUT WHY WOULDN’T WE ENTER INTO THIS VIRTUAL UNDERWORLD AS STORYTELLERS, IMAGE MAKERS, AND LIFE SAVERS?