This article aims to start an ontological exploration of all the pragmatics that define our relation with the web and the new technologies. It rises from the need of redefining the concept of virtuality as opposite to reality, precisely because the new media immateriality is rapidly building a new intimacy between man and machine.
The idea that the web virtual world is not effectively real is more and more difficult to accept, as well as the fact that its reality is opposed to the external world. Actually, it seems that the two spheres (the real and the virtual one) are overlapping more and more, like in J. L. Borges‘ Del rigor en la ciencia, where the kingdom map is exactly superimposed to the kingdom territories, or like in A. B. Casares’ L’invenzione di Morel, where a machine is able to reproduce and superimpose reality so that it would not be noticeable from it.
The Net seems to attempt in potentia something similar, and its ability to absorb the external world makes it dangerous and fascinating. PC screen pixels act as a sort of gate, a transparent membrane where the world’s coherence hooks into the band discreteness. F. Nietszche‘s veil, inspired by A. Schopenauer, (im)materializes into the screen virtuality. Virtual is between the two, and so is the veil. The veil is not only what you see, but also the virtual horizons that it opens. Thus, the veil is the virtual zone of the ontological reversibility, the projection surface of virtual into reality, of imaginary into image.
Hence, the Net immateriality becomes the sign of an expressive relation between virtual and real. Technically speaking, immaterials are materials that lose their opaque consistency transforming the substantia idea in the transparent language code of the new digital media, the immedia (cf. G. Deleuze, L’image-temps), where traditional media are overtaken by the invisibility of the interfaces.
The signs common asymptotic tendency to trasparency is highlighted in immaterials as præsentia in absentia (cr. F. De Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale), where the code invisibility is directly proportional to its opaque (that is visible, because applicable) operating functionality. Hence, transparency and opacity coexist and consist in the complicated and retreated nature of immaterial signs, revealing themselves as one the fold of the other.
Maybe, it is among these sings that we are witnessing to the (hetero)genesis of a virtual immaterial boden, halfway between real and imaginary, visible and invisible, the Net transparency and the virtual bodies carnality. A centralized boden, perpetually changing, unrecognizable neither body-centric.
In the Net, as in the substantial (real, intended as tangible) bodens, geography and landscape cohabit, crisscrossing. But it is especially through these immaterial signs that the extreme geography of algorithms is converted into landscape, intended as “that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scienti?c schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the country-side in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is.” (cf. M. Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception).
In this sense, the geographic conquest illusion is controverted in the Net too, for instance when we get lost among several pages opened at once, or when, while we are looking for some information, we find others that sidetrack our research and lead us toward unexpected scenery, making us forget about the reasons or the direction of the research itself.
So, unlike for metaphysics commonplace immaterial signs of techno-sciences perfect the human supremacy over nature (Vor-stellung), these signs bring into question its basis, proving that “Mind and matter are cousins in the family of immaterials” (cf. J.-F. Lyotard, T. Chaput, Les immatériaux). Indeed, the opaque subject body virtually re-appears as sign among signs through immaterial signs, spurring us to re-think the language as “openness of symbolic in relationship between body and world” (cf. M. Merleau-Ponty, Résumés de cours, Collège de France 1952-1960).
Perhaps, immaterials give us the opportunity to look at perception as a form of unreflected linguistic expressiveness, that is of non-language: in virtual bodies the natural language, cover/implication of the cultural one “does not isolate, does not pull out the expressed, that remains closer to perceptive dimension more than to the verbal one” (cf. M. Merleau-Ponty, Résumés de cours, Collège de France 1952-1960), demonstrating that perception is already expression, budding language, sensible idea.
From this perspective, also the presence in the net of oral writing forms (for instance, in chats or in forums), reveals that the language lives in words, and that the distinction between cultural and natural languages is softening with numerical superfast technologies.
At the same time, avatars and virtual environments, in their way, make opaque the immateriality of codes which they are written in, re-introducing them in a natural, perceptive language. From this perspective, immaterial signs make resurface the tangible and expressive side of our exposure: the real and the virtual body are expressive precepts of a raw semio-perceptosis, and so are the places of a language ontogenetic recreation, due to “the expression in the strict sense of the word, as obtained by the language, retrieves and amplifies another expression, that reveals itself to the archeology of perceived world”. (cfr. M. Merleau-Ponty, Résumés de cours, Collège de France 1952-1960).
The technological virtuality embodied by avatars discloses the nature of the body as sign, or better as exposed: its symbolical value rises in “an unstable horizon of interactions” (cf. J.-F. Lyotard, T. Chaput, Les immatériaux) perceptive between virtual bodies and real identities, and between virtual identities and real bodies.
Bodies explosion and their dissemination convey to a mutant identity that plunge into virtual personifications, retro-acting on the supposed origin identity and transforming a virtual imagination in a virtually real identity, the Second Life real bodies. It is about the retrospection of virtual body over real identity: so the latter changes, proving to be inessential. Anyway, it is an odd form of empathic backcross between avatar and myself. What kind of empathy does exist between myself and my avatar? Perhaps it could be called “meta-unipathy of multi-vidual”, but it would sound as a disease.
Nonetheless, if we refer to unipathy as feeling one of the two, we should refer to this meta-unipathy as feeling two of the one, that is to say as an empathic exhaustion of one’s own body from himself towards a virtual horizon, whose avatar is a particular and auto-referred retreat. But the one reveals itself not as the same but instead as the other of the other: the subject identity becomes the immaterial entre-deux generated by their own projection on the virtual body and by the retro-projection of the latest on the original identity. In avatars, intended as raw forms of mind upload, human intersects with machine immateriality, rousing latent identities, non conceived virtualities that make palpable the chiasmatic relation (cf. M. Merleau-Ponty) between real and virtual, as showed by the atypical form of (empathic) reversibility between the individual and himself in the act of incarnating in a body, though immaterial. I empathize with myself in the mirror constituted by the others, that is to say in their gazes. At the same way, I look at myself in my avatar, empathizing through other, virtual, gazes.
In this sense we could say that in the immedia we trace the heterogenesis of the individuation principle, which is actualization principle, too. However, actuality does not look like the virtuality it embodies: for this reason, the opaque virtuality of immaterial signs is veiled by their (supposed) transparency of the algorithms in which they are written. Thus, neither language nor technologies could be banally intended as humanity prosthesis, quite the opposite, they could be its (im)proper expressive deformations. As in the avatar hybrid nature, bio-machinic minotaurs in the Net invisible labyrinthic umwelt.