[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Introduction: The Material/Virtual Dialectic

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

According to several recent studies on cyberspace, electronic nirvana over data lines of global networks creates an alternative space which exists apart from and outside the material world where people live embodied existence. Promoters of cyberspace thus set up a dichotomy between the virtual and the material world, describing-it in terms of literally freeing mind from the body into invisible virtual spaces. Despite the increasing conversion of atoms into bits, as Nicholas Negroponte points out in Being Digital, we still need atoms to interact with the bits. If Being Digital is a state of being hooked to the network with one's point of view flying through empty space, then it is Being Material that makes that connection a reality. If cyberspace is seen as an extension of the material world, the performativity of material bodies in virtual spaces cannot suddenly be conceived in terms of being free of markings of race, gender, and class. These specificities are not simply masks that we take off as we traverse cyberspace; instead, these markings constitute the very materiality of our existence and hence, color our thinking and our imagination. Not only are role playing cybernauts operating from their bodies, but the personae they assume also conform to the regulatory gender norms, so that even though crossdressing is common, they nonetheless preserve the stereotypical gender distinctions.

Any serious critique of the material/virtual dialectic must, on the one hand, address the question of embodiment in the virtual realm and how it is different from the embodiment in the material realm and, on the other hand, explore the constructed nature of materiality of the body and how it is carried over into the experience of virtual bodies. In his exploration in Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau Ponty comes to the conclusion that the mind and body are intricately intertwined in the project of being in the world. The body is not an empty container occupying physical space which is filled with consciousness that occupies nonphysical space. Our vision is perspectival, our body parts determining what perspective we will obtain of the object that is the focus of our attention. If consciousness were totally free of the body, we would be omniscient. Thus, consciousness is dependent on the body for the acts of perception to materialize. Body without consciousness is dead matter and consciousness without the body has no way to materialize itself. Thus, subjectivity is always embodied in the lived world.

The nature of embodied consciousness definitely changes in the virtual realm. The digitalization of data and its instant transmission over the network has extended human senses beyond what has been possible through television and radio. Computers have made it possible for us to create simulated realities right on our desktops-whether it be the reality of a virtual document that magically emerges in front of our eyes, even though physically present on a remote computer or virtual environments entered through the computer screen where people come together and interact in a synchronous or asynchronous setting. Our perception that is so perspectival in the real world, becomes multiperspectival in the virtual environment. This multiplication of our senses enables us to be metaphorically at many places at almost the same time by just clicking our mouse. We can have different windows to different virtual environments open simultaneously on our computer screen. We no longer have to depend on physical positioning or mobility alone for viewing and experiencing the world. Even though the experience of time and space has radically changed through the proliferation of information technologies, our experience is nonetheless located in time and is dependent on the body for the acts of perception both in the real and the virtual realm to materialize themselves.

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes