Friday, February 4, 2011

Heim and the Urge to Merge

In his chapter entitled "The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace" in the book The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Michael Heim draws on the writings of William Gibson as a basis for Heim's philosophical departure into the driving motivation fueling the love affair between man and technology. Borrowing Gibson's metaphorical signifier of Eros, Heim writes, "We seek to extend ourselves and to heighten the intensity of our lives in general through Eros. The psyche longs to perpetuate itself and to conceive offspring, and this it can do, in a transposes sense, by conceiving ideas and nurturing awareness in the minds of others as well as our own," (p 87-88). Cyberspace indeed provides agency to this kind of self extension through a network of communication access points, allowing a window into the individual ideas we nurture as well as the idea of our selves as existing. I am struck by Heim's proposal that the deepest desires of our psyches are titillated by cyber capabilities. Heim further explicitly states that our 'urge to merge' with the virtual world is not utilitarian but erotically motivated, and I wonder to what extent cyberspace can now exploit this consequence of cyberspace Heim discusses (p 85).

There is an act of intercourse, arriving sometimes at climax, in the process of cultivating ourselves and projecting our identities into the minds of others through various means. I am reminded of the book the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, and the character Teresa after she has begun making love to a man whose body was not her husband's and thus foreign to her. Teresa's desire was not for the man, but the aspects of herself that became thrilling through the act with the foreign body. "She wished to see her own private parts in close proximity to an alien penis. She did not desire her lover's body. She desired her own body, newly discovered, intimate and alien beyond all others, incomparably exciting," (p161). Like Teresa, when we extend ourselves and create a love affair of exchange through a medium like Facebook, do we become excited at rediscovering ourselves during the act of meeting self in relation to foreign body selves?

Teresa's body was redefined, re-signified, re-identified because she projected and extended herself into a new love affair and in turn this extended Teresa's knowledge of herself only through intercourse with the foreign body (knowledge) in relation to herself. When Teresa gazes upon her naked body in the mirror at a spa during the above passage, she focuses on a tiny blemish and imagines how it looks when the alien penis is in close proximity to it, heightening her awareness of it. She becomes obsessed with the blemish that has now been revealed to her, despite her having already been aware of it previously. When we construct ourselves on Facebook, given the enhanced capacity for a foreign "penis" to come into close proximity to us, heightening our awareness of our profile self-projections, do we become Teresa through our newly discovered, intimate selves? Furthermore, the benefit of cyberspace is the immediacy of the medium so that we have not one penis, but an infinite range of penes that could possibly nurture our "awareness in the minds of others as well as our own."

How do we chose to define ourselves, for others, in cyberspace, and in turn does this awareness of self-construction for others serve to re-define our awareness of ourselves? The medium of cyberspace becomes the agent by which we can simply explore Eros, the drive to extend the self. This can also be merged with the excitement of discovering ourselves through extension and intersection with other minds, knowledge.

To conclude, I'll quote an excerpt from a later chapter in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that is only too fitting for this discussion:

"We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes….The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes….Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love….And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present….” (p 269-70).



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