Corporeal Virtuality : the impossiblity of a fleshless ontology

Corporeal Virtuality : the impossiblity of a fleshless ontology

Ingrid Richardson and Carly Harper, Murdoch University

Ingrid Richardson and Carly Harper, Corporeal Virtuality: The Impossibility of a Fleshless Ontology, Body, space, and Technoogy Journal 2 (2), 2001,

이 글은 나한테 중요함.

Virutal space / VR / cyberspace 가 어떻게 embodiment하고 연결되는지 Merleau-Pinty의 이론을 주된 근거로 삼아서 설명하고 있다. 결국 corporeal body 는 VR에 있어서도 아주 근본적인 전제조건이기 떄문에, cyberspace를 disembodiment하고 연결하는 이분법적 사고 방식, dual-ontology, neo-Cartesian perspective는 한계가 많다고 주장한다. 

Critical and popular discussions of virtual reality and cyberspace increasingly deny the corporeality of these technological ensembles, positioning them as new media of disembodiment. (주된 경향.. 자꾸 disembodiment하고 연결한다.)

“in cyberspace minds are connected to minds, existing in perfect concord without the limitations or necessities of the physical body” (Heim, 1993:34); John Perry Barlow hyperbolises “it’s like having had your everything amputated” (Barlow, 1990:42). 이것을 주도하는 것은 Willam Gibson (Neuromancer) : Consensual hallucination이라고 묘사했다. 

While Gibson’s work is clearly science fiction, his concepts have influenced computer and information systems design, and characterise the exaggerated claims made about cyberspace in both popular and critical discourse.

is its representation of the possibilities of disembodiment facilitated by virtual systems, to the extent that the mind is seen as pure data able to leave the body behind. Within this hierarchical framework the body exists as a lower-order mechanism, Cartesian 적인 단견이다.–> The logic of a disembodied post-corporeality is a logic permitted by (neo)Cartesian metaphysics: epistemological framework provided by the Cartesian mind/body split. 

n the Cartesian understanding of selfhood, the body provided a convenient and very compelling `container’ for identity. i.e. one body, one identity.

Cybertechnologies, however, have provided a context for the reworking of this Cartesian understanding of the self.  there is an increasing acceptance of the idea that not only are selves separate from the body, they are not limited and determined by the mind’s containment in the body, or to put it another way, the mind or consciousness can somehow escape the body’s containment.

Our distinction here between necessary  and essential  is fundamental to the central argument of our paper.: corporeality 를 neccessary한 것으로 보는지, essential것으로 보는지는 상당한 차이이다. 여기서는 지속적으로 ‘필수적’이라고 주장한다. 

 the body is necessary, as we find in the Cartesian model of subjectivity, and by extension in Stone’s argument, the body nevertheless can continue to occupy a marginal or passive epistemological position; that is, it is necessary for existence but not fundamental to knowledge production. <–> Essentiality, however centralises embodiment as a condition  of knowledge, experience and perception.  Merleau-Ponty does with his notion of the body-subject – is a significant beginning to this process and thus to challenging discourses of disembodiment.

The main project of this paper, then, is to counter the disembodying proclivities of cyber-discourse with a materialist, somatalogical approach to existence and the production of knowledge. As such, we will work towards a materialist theory of agency, and argue that both knowing and being are always-already embodied.

By essentialising the corporeal, we will suggest that subjectivity and the body are not divisible, and that to attempt such dualism – even heuristically – is a faulty theoretical strategy. The attempt to collapse dualist ontology involves more than the reconciliation of two seemingly oppositional terms. The theorisation of an embodied subjectivity is crucially a relational ontologya generative and nondichotomous understanding of being and experience; in this way it will disrupt neo-Cartesian representations of knowledge common in descriptions of cyberspace.

 Merleau-Ponty, in particular, challenges dominant neo-Cartesian models of subjectivity, by highlighting the a priori  coincidence of consciousness and the body i.e. abandoning the mind/body. … the pivotal concept in his erceptual/sensorial and artifactual  epistemology: the corporeal schema or lived experience of bodily spatiality is `extendible‘ through artifacts. : 여기에서 중요한 부분!!:  Ihde하고도 연결 가능한 지점. instrument와 extendible 하다는 것. 

By invoking Merleau-Ponty’s paradigm of embodied experience, feminists seek a way out of the ontological reductionism of dualist epistemology that confines an understanding of agency to the social and the biological, the natural and the cultural.

The phenomenological body

Merleau-Ponty contests this model of human existence. For him the body is the essential  condition and context through which the subject is articulated in the world and by extension the originary and primary source of meaning and expression; a subject of perception and experience as well as of cognition and reflection.: 퐁티의 아주 기본적인 주장. 

For Merleau-Ponty perception is a creative receptivity rather than a passive capacity to receive impressions. This creativity is an activity that is inseparable from its corporeality; likewise incarnation in the world is inseparable from its capacity for such activity (Vasseleu, 1998: 24).

we experience things through  our bodies not in a separate relationship to it.  Merleau-Ponty consolidates corporeality as an essential (and not simply necessary) condition for the production of knowledge.

Merleau-Ponty re-configures the relation between self and world through an analysis of perceptual experience as something inseparable from its corporeality. In short, thought or consciousness is inseparable from perception, and in turn perception is inseparable from the particularities of one’s body.

On the contrary, embodiment is the schema by which the subject is articulated in-the-world, the condition and context through which relations between me and other things become possible. he offers the more primary and generative notion of the body-subject, a term which stresses the originary coincidence of consciousness and the body (Macann, 1993: 176).

Coincidence –> corporeal schema –> middle-space / entre-deux –> MR과 연결가능하다. 이 중간지점. Ponty는 in-between을 강조했다. 

Merleau-Ponty attempts to understand the necessary co-implication of consciousness and nature; the process of articulation between subject and object, inside and outside, the biological and the physical. One of the ways in which he explores this inherent interrelatedness or interplay between these previously incompossible terms is with the concept of the corporeal schema .

Merleau-Ponty takes this `middle-space’ or entre-deux  as the centre of his phenomenological project. : `in-between two‘ : the centre of his phenomenological project. As Vasseleu comments, his “challenge to metaphysics begins with the development of the concept of the entre-deux , or the `in-between two’ which brings the excluded ground of oppositional terms into play” (1998: 22).

In order to accomplish this re-conceptualisation, Merleau-Ponty asks us to set aside our prejudices of both science and common sense by asking us to reflect on the consciousness of lived experience.–> That is, our body-in-action; how we actually move our bodies and do things, and how this interaction occurs in everyday existence. Ponty가 답을 찾는 지점은 Body-in -action이다.

I am in it, or rather I am it” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 107, 150). An important part of this experience of the unified  relation to my body as a whole, is the implicatory or synergistic structure between the organs of the perceiving body (Bernet, 1993: 59).

I am in undivided possession of it and I know where each of my limbs is through a `body image’ in which all are included (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 98).  “undivided possession”

we also  experience in relation to objects and space. Thus, there is a kind of automatic and responsive anticipatory mobilisation of the body in relation to a specific situation, a “basic intentionality” that defines the human situation in the world:

Movement is not thought about movement, and bodily space is not thought of or represented. . .movement and background are, in fact only artificially separated stages of a unique totality (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 137-8).

Movement : bodily space –> 이 같은 신체는 또한 extendable하고 malleable 하다. 따라서 instrument와 결합이 가능하다. 이로 인해서 새로운 embodiment가 가능해진다. –> Ihde와 연결하자. 

 As Elizabeth Grosz points out, the body-image or corporeal schema accounts for the body’s capacity to be open to, and intertwined with the world, enabling the integration or incorporation of seemingly `external’ objects into our corporeal activities (Grosz, 1995). Merleau-Ponty illustrates this pliable and malleably extendable nature of the bodyimage through our ability to incorporate tools or “fresh instruments” thereby opening up new configurations of embodiment: –> This experience of one’s body-image or corporeal schema is not fixed or rigid, but adaptable to the myriad of tools and technologies that may be embodied.

The instrument is taken into perceptual bodily experience, and becomes a part of my now altered bodily experience in the world.

In particular, his recuperative concepts of the body-subject and the body image or corporeal schema – their inherent ambiguity and irreducibility  – are crucial theoretical concepts which have helped to frame the “corporeal turn” in much recent theory (Ruthrof, 1998).

VR: Developing a Critical Literacy

VR. These are coordinated multi-media systems, which attempt to surround or immerse the body within an artificial sensorium of light, sound and touch.

The desire to use media for physical transcendence or transportation beyond the location of the physical body, is not a condition unique to VR.

The desire to create a sensation of presence is  however more pronounced with VR technologies. Virtual Reality systems are definitively designed to foster a sense of immersion, with the implicit aim of creating a compelling sense of being in a mediated space other than where the physical body is located.

The dominant goal of VR is for users to feel themselves to be in a unified field of awareness similar to our lived phenomenological experience.  An awareness of the physical body, and thus of a consciousness/body split, is thus quite crucial to the idea that VR is a disembodied experience.

As Vasseleu points out, we can only fully experience the virtual, that sense of “disembodied agency”, because  we are embodied (Vasseleu, 1994: 160).

Much of the theoretical and social commentary surrounding VR implicitly depends on a reiteration of the mind/body dualism, which also functions interchangeably with a surfeit of other binaries and assumptions.

We will illustrate how the discourse of disembodiment is dependent on a reiteration of the Cartesian mind/body distinction, an inherently flawed model of subjectivity, which when explored closely, seems peculiarly antagonistic to the goals of VR technology.

Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach and his insistence on the embodied nature of all knowledge is central here. This theoretical proposition, further developed and supplemented by corporeal feminism, provides the theoretical platform and leverage for a re-embodied theory of VR.

in Merleau-Ponty’s model of embodiment relations, tools are not conceived of as merely perceptual attachments or extensions, but rather are incorporated into our embodied field or corporeal schema. In this sense there remains a fundamental irreducibility  between technologies and embodiment, and thus a correspondence between technics, the body, knowledge and perception. : tool/ instruments하고 corporeality가 결합되는 지점. 

conceptualising cyberspace as an inherently disembodied medium relies on an unambiguous understanding of bodies, and bodily location. This perspective assumes that the body is limited and confined by its own materiality and physicality to a singularity of location and possible actions.: 이분법적 사고의 한계.

This understanding of bodies and presence clearly relies on a dualist ontology which imagines a subject essentially separated from her body, marginalising and excluding the body’s formative role in perceptual processes and the production of knowledge. 이분법적 사고의 한계.

We live through  our bodies, and through them we have access to space, not an homogenous a priori  space, If we use technologies that alter our space-perception, our modes of embodiment are also effected; and vice-versa, so there is a continual interplay between `space’ and `body‘. As Lakoff and Johnson point out in Metaphors We Live By,  “spatial or `orientational’ metaphors are the most common of all, … which has to do with the fact that mental mapping is `grounded’ in fundamental bodily experiences (our perceptions of back, front, beside etc). Spatial metaphors arise `from the fact that we have bodies of the sort we have and that they function as they do in our physical environment'” (Gripsrud, 1999: 119).

So cyberspace is not a disembodied reality; it is a medium through which we experience a different kind of embodiment. i.e. cyberspace and VR do not offer us the possibility of disembodied reality, but rather, there have been significant cyber-technological effects on embodiment.

thus requires a shift from thinking of the virtual as de-corporealising subjectivity, toward an understanding of how the body incorporates the virtual; of how the virtual becomes an aspect of our embodiment, or conversely a corporeal virtuality .

as a system of possible actions, a virtual  body with its phenomenal `place’ defined by its task and situation” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 250, our emphasis). He argues that “our experiences are not organized by `real objects’ and relations but by theexpectations  and meanings  objects have for the body’s movements and capacities” (Grosz, 1994: 89).

Emphasis is shifted from the nature  of the objects themselves, to the relations or expectations, and spectrum of possibilities or corporeal projects that are made possible by this interaction. 

Cyberspace, as Vasseleu suggests, is not a transparent or neutral electronic medium or informational interface; it is a medium of participatory  orientation between bodies and objects in different spaces (Vasseleu, 1994: 155).

Re-mapping the relationship between bodies and objects in this way is thus involves a double displacement. –> redefining concepts of space and time in this manner, as essentially corporeally constituted, simultaneously extricates the body from its role as passive housing or location for consciousness. That is, it reinforces the active and lived spatiality that corresponds to the relational notion of Merleau-Ponty’s body-subject.

It is the material body that thus permits the virtual. Embodiment provides the ground of virtual experience. Our embodied experiences circumscribe the parameters of those perceptions and identities. The `corporeal schema’ of the body is perhaps changing according to the perceptual augmentations provided to us by new technologies.

The reciprocity between the body and the technology is also present in the technical specifications and development of the VR apparatus itself. Within the development of imaging technologies there is, as Ihde suggests a “dialectic between the instrument and the user in which both a learning-to-see meets an elimination-of-bugs in technical development” (Ihde, 1999: 178).  In this sense design perfection of the technology is always developed in the context of ergonomic compromise and perceptual compatibility between human and machine (Ihde, 1990: 74). Thus the body (in the context of the agency of both the user-subject and the body-object) is built into the development of the technology,

 We have illustrated how this discourse of disembodiment is dependent on a reiteration of the Cartesian mind/body dualism, an inherently flawed model of subjectivity. … disembodiment we have employed the work of Merleau-Ponty…

the virtual becomes conceivable and perceivable only insofar as corporeality provides the basis for that perception.

reworked the epistemological foundation of the subject-object relation. For if the role of the body shifts from that of container to that of an agentic being-towards, then body-prostheses also become complexly integral to the making of knowledge.  We are all corporeal-instrumental relational achievements, and VR is simply another instance of this relation.


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