Richard Catlett Wilkerson
The frontier of Cyberspace is the accelerated edge of much larger project that has been going on for sometime, the virtualization of culture. This means we spend less time in concrete reality and more time in constructed reality. Everywhere there is connection to the Net there is a rapid movement into this new world causing a paradigcybermatic shift. It is now clear we can capitalize this space, but it is not as clear how we can live in it. Cyberspace changes and mutates faster than our normal cultural means for understanding it. Old notions of identity, presence, national alliance and concrete reality dissolve in multiple cyber-identities, remote yet intimate interactions and virtual alliances. It is almost like we have learned how to collectively dream together. If this analogy of dream-space and virtual-space is useful, an investigation of work and play with dreams will also be useful in developing a productive virtual-work.
Dreamwork is a loose collection of practices used by both clinical and non-clinical groups interested in exploring dreams. Some people become dreamworkers through recording and keeping a journal. Other dreamworkers use dreams for complex therapeutic and spiritual reasons. Some dreamworkers only "work" while they are in the dream state itself, such as with lucid dream practices where they are aware they are dreaming during the dream, and in imaginal, shamanic journeys during sleep. Others allow the dream imagery to lead them into personal and social transformations.
In 1994 a dream sharing community formed online called Electric Dreams. The initial formation of Electric Dreams explored different ways the Internet could be used for dreamwork and dream sharing. The members were unhappy with the superficial conversations taking place on the open bulletin board format of the Usenet Newsgroup, alt.dreams, and began exploring alternatives. Since the Electric Dreams community developed during the rapid period of growth of the Internet in the 1990s, the struggles and conflicts of the community reflect many of the cultural concerns about becoming virtual, such as identity, alliance, nationalism, globalization, confidentiality and quality of life online.
The similarities between dreamspace and Cyberspace are many. Neither exists in any particular space, but in virtual space mediated by special protocols, rules that allow for the unfolding of experiential immersion. While the protocols of dream-space unfold subjective immersion for the sleeping dreamer and the protocols of Cyberspace are more objective (or at least, have collective conventions), both create inhabitable worlds in which we feel, sense, suffer and interact. Dream space and virtual space both produce a complex environment populated by others whose existence and status are always in question and flux. Particular dreams may disappear upon awakening, and websites come and go and seem to disappear when we log off, but planes of consistency build enduring nomadic relations and themes across individual spaces. Those interested in dream-ecology and those interested in cyber-ecology are both concerned about how we live and interact in these mutant worlds and what it means.
Another group interested in the issue of mutant
worlds and our place it them is postmodern cultural theory. Postmodern
thought shares with dreams and Cyberspace a playful irreverence with the
powers that be, a deadly serious questioning of the regimes that pressure
us and an interest in the strange twists in the logic and fabric of time
and space. Postmodern theorists have produced a large body of literature
addressing issues of living in Cyberspace, such as virtual presence, the
reorganization of subjective identities and simulated reality. Unlike
dreamwork and dream sharing, which generally focus on individuals and
small groups, postmodern cultural theory has a social and political focus,
providing concepts that allow the insights of personal dreamwork to be
carried over into a collective dreamwork of life in Cyberspace, a
"What are we really doing here, and
why are we doing it?"
While my turn-of-the-century grandparents asked, "What is the future going to look like?" they rarely asked, "How will we inhabit it?" The answer was obvious, the same way they lived in the past, just newer machines. But it didn't happen that way. Planes and jets, highways and automobiles, TV and telephones, assembly lines and typewriters; these changed the way they inhabited their world.
When color Television came out, my grandmother was very happy she would get color on her black and white TV. After we explained she needed a color TV, she would look through the TV guide and say, "Oh, we can't get this program, it's in color!" These assumptions seemed hilarious to my sister and me in the early 1960's. We had been raised by a generation of parents who speculated wildly about how we might inhabit the future and consumed each new invention as fast as the new models could be produced. Science Fiction had become its own genre, relativity had bent the imagination as much as the universe, and my sister and I expected to soon be able to teleport. But it didn't happen that way.
My parents imagined through the lens of a material future. Teleportation would allow material objects to travel from one real place to another, starships from one galaxy to another. The cartoon show "The Jetsons" best extended this suburban fantasy of having backyard barbeques on flying platforms of material convenience. They anticipated videophones that would connect them to their parents across the country, or even on the moon. What they didn't anticipate is that in-between these connections there would be a rupture in reality through which a new universe would emerge.
Of course, radio and television have been
transporting us to other dimensions for some time and fabricating a
mediascape of reports on the real world for decades. And in a sense we
have been inhabiting these worlds. But we have been inhabiting them very
indirectly, through commercial choices and voting and polls and isolated
imaginaries. They are basically a one directional (force) feed of
information. This changed with the advance of the Digital Revolution and
its replacement of the real world with binary coding. If something can be
changed into a reasonable amount of ones and zeros, it can be digitalized
and enter into the new universe. As the Digital Revolution spreads, a
layer of binary ice covers the world. Humanity has been pulled up from its
roots, but we can learn to skate across this new cyberscape.
The essential image I want to get across is that while an established protocol underlies the revolution, terraforming of the new cyber-ecology is just beginning. Just as the American Revolution begin with some simple truths and quickly became quite complicated, so too the binary beginnings of the Digital Revolution have become quite complex. Life on earth probably began the same way. Genetic codes use four instead of two elements, but the replication and development proceed in much the same way. Ray Kurzweil has suggested that the digital revolution is simply the next step in evolution, picking up where genetics have left off and creating a new virtual cortex in the center of the cosmos that connects and extends our prefrontal brain developments. But however our biological brains or a larger virtual brain develops, there will still be the question of how (and if) we will inhabit this new universe and what values and notions will prove to be the most viable and useful. We are now on the threshold of a new age and need to posit again these same two questions, "What is the future going to look like?" and "How will we inhabit it?"
"The loss of Material Space leads to
the government of nothing but time... The violence of speed has become
both the location and the law, the world's destiny and its
In the concrete material world there are limits on speed and dramatic limits on the speed of large objects. Still, cultures push to go faster. Part of this is the need expressed in military competition in tactics and strategies, part the need of capital competition in market economy and production. In the information society, information needs to move faster and faster, and its users do as well. Life itself becomes faster and faster. How fast can it go? Economic and nationalistic concerns will impose their own limits, but the speed needs of living in Cyberspace are not yet clear. What is clear is that speed has become a need. For the organic being, speed needs to be fast enough to re-create what are called real-time interactions. But this fantasy limit of real-time is based on old models of interaction. Basically they rely on the demands of an organic self for action and reaction to match his/her selection speed, perception speed, and apperception speed. Slight variances from this interactive speed and we become impatient at one end, nauseous at the other.
Postmodern theorist Paul Virilio feels that the speed will increase to a point where we can no longer keep up and remain as we are. As we move towards light speed, space collapses. We will have to abandon our subjective identities and mutate into a new consciousness. In this scenario, technology will continue to take up residence in our bodies, externalizing our senses. Our sight, hearing and touch and even memory will all be metabolically turned inside out, giving birth to a speedy virtual being. In this scenario, the need for speed will be the basic code of culture. In a virtual world, space does not have to be conquered, it has already surrendered. The struggle will instead be for time. The discovery of Cyberspace is not like the discovery of America by Europeans who saw a vast expanse of space to colonize. Cyberspace only exists as it is created. It is not pre-made. The value of cyber-territory is only as valuable as its relations with its neighbors. If one has a website with a trillion pages, but unknown to others, it's as good as non-existent. As culture reaches terminal speed, the meaning and value of all other activities will be stripped and reoriented towards speed. Whether this spectacle of velocity ends in ruins or a new relationship with time depends on our own ability to develop a relationship with speed.
During the global media frenzy surrounding the death of Princess Diana, a woman deeply affected by the event told me "I just can get any space to find my own feelings. I can't stop watching the TV and the latest tidbits and stories." Cassidy continues, " I see other people suffering around the world, but can't make time for myself to suffer, I have to see the next event on TV."
On the Internet, alternative modes of sharing grief are emerging. One of these modes is dream sharing. Dream sharing refers to the same practices as dreamwork, but with a focus on the transactions in relationship. It often includes the exploration of meaning and value as in dreamwork, but emphasizes the actual sharing of the dream as the primary activity. People having dreams of Princess Diana exchanged these across the Net like gifts exchanged between family members at a wake.
Dream: Diana Not Quite Dead by M. (970909)
"I was very close to Diana and was helping wash blood off of her (into a large bath); I remember watching it swirl clockwise around and down the plug-hole while at the same time we were talking in detail about the irreversibility of what had happened, and the reality of the here and now; she found it hard to accept that she could not yet leave the place where we were, or that she was in fact dead; she was not overly distressed, more like puzzled, tired, and regretful but the main focus of the dream was on her healing (of soul and body) and on my offer (not in words, but simply as something that happened) to take on myself her woundedness. There was no particular point at which this happened, but suddenly I began to feel physically badly hurt, weak, and aching, as if I were recovering from a recent and devastatingly major operation. I looked down the front of my body, which was badly bruised from the upper chest area, and a huge, healing scar was running down my body. The scar was like a long clean scalpel cut - a thin line that was already closed up. I felt a kind of joy and wonderment at this, partly, I think, because (in a relieved fashion) I'd taken on the woundedness in a kind of recovery mode, without having endured the preliminary shock and horror of its cause. I recall that this process - helping Diana wash herself free of blood, talking through what was now real, and feeling wounded - was enacted over and again in different ways several times, until there was an acceptance by her of death, after which I was free to leave her in peace. I can't describe the kind of closeness this all involved; it wasn't what you'd call friendship, or sisterliness, or motherliness; it was (for want of better words) an indefinable sense of oneness, sorrow, patience, and compassion."
M. reported that like many others, she had been drawn deeply and with powerful emotion into the tragedy of Diana's death. On the night she had the dream, she felt an overwhelming desire to be of some help to Diana.
Unlike M.'s waking self, her dream self created an interactive environment in which she could spend time with Diana's death, time with her desire to be of some help. Poetics has a term called "impleaching" which mean poetically interweaving. As the poet Hölderlin says, "poetically man dwells." In this dwelling, this lingering and winding back and forth across the surfaces and textures of an image, meaning and value begin to emerge. Psychotherapist Sylvia Perera has referred to this process as "interlacing" and uses the image of complex interweaving of Celtic illuminated manuscripts. More currently, there has been a revival of the practice of labyrinth walking. Here individuals locate mazes on the floors of cathedrals, in courtyards and in gardens and mindfully walk though them. The point is not to speed through them to the end, but to create time and space for alterity, alternative experiences and universes, a similar process when we walk though a forest with a quiet mind.
Psychotherapist Carl Jung once asked a Native American why they performed the sun ritual. He learned that without the ritual, the sun would not rise again and time would end. This is the responsibility of freedom through virtualization. We can use it to create or destroy time. Making time may not involve a complex ritual, but it does require something like a ritual. When Jesus came across a man working in the field on a sacred day, he simply said "If you know what you are doing, fine, but if not, you are really in trouble."
In this sense, the dream sharing online becomes a digital sacrament that creates time and space. Recalling the dream creates time and space in waking life. Sharing the dream creates time and space for a whole group. The particular interpretive system is not so important as the ability of the system to keep the dream present long enough to create a rupture in normal time. In Aboriginal Dream Time, there is the notion of time outside of time. That is, it doesn't directly partake in the everyday swirl of media and commercial signs, but rather is aligned to a symbolic order outside of time, a sacred time. Here the project of speed is exposed as game whose terminal limits seek a field of digital ice without friction, a false freedom that pretends to connect everything to everything else and ends in leaving nothing but the icy surface of empty death. Although dreamwork is not the only way to create time and space, it does provide a useful set practices which address how to take control of the throttle and create time/space in a world moving at the speed of light.
The irony that speed and media both created and
killed the princess, and created and killed public suffering, is not a
lesson we should miss. The vivisection by the mediascape can be mitigated
by a digital dream time.
"In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immensive accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. " Guy Debord
"Today we live in the imaginary world
of the screen, of the interface and the reduplication of contiguity and
networks. All our machines are screens. We too have become screens, and
the interactivity of men has become the interactivity of screens."
As postmodern theorists have noted, we now spend more and more time in a world of copies. The posters on my wall are copies, my car is a copy, my books are copies, and much of my behavior is expected to be a copy. More and more of my food is a synthetic copy. Duplication is the criteria of reality in science. To even enter the world of Cyberspace, one has be fully copied and digitalized. That which cannot be represented in binary code does not exist online. Further, these representations are signs which themselves point beyond themselves, continually deferring to more signs. At some point, all we have are copies and we can no longer find the source of the copy. At this point we have encountered the simulacra, the copy without an original.
Jean Baudrillard is a cultural theorist who, like Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, became concerned about Western Culture's abandonment of the symbolic thing in itself, and over-involvement with the swirl of signs that merely represent something else. Unlike Jung who responded by developing an individual psychology including the exploration of the symbolic in dreams, Baudrillard took on a McLuhan like media probe and analysis of the sign in contemporary culture. His startling results take us into a hyperreal world where models of reality dominate and reality itself gives way to simulations of the Real. Later the hyperreal gives way to simulations of simulations that have no anchor, nor interest, in the Real whatsoever. In this hyped-up reality, what something represents completely breaks away from the represented and circulates in a swirl of signs that no one controls.
Baudrillard was quite amused upon visiting American and going to Disneyland. What amused him so was the illusion that people somehow felt that the amusement part was not real, but when they left and got into their cars in the parking lot and drove back to Los Angeles they had returned to reality. He saw this amusement park game we play with ourselves as a way to pretend the real has not completely disappeared.
While there is no longer the chance to recover the Real, (you are already probably asking yourself what Baudrillard or I am meaning by "Real", which just proves this point) there is still a chance to create ruptures in the illusions that bind and limit us to any particular simulation of the real. This occurs by moving away from the games of exchange value and use value. James Hillman has noted this in his archetypal discussions of dreamwork. Once we use the dream to make our lives better or find wholeness, once we use the dream to make our waking life more livable and controllable, we have missed the most useful and intense part of the dreamworld. The gift of the dream, and Baudrillard's symbolic order, is that it doesn't fit in our neat scheme of things and forces us into a paradigmatically different experience and transformation.
Baudrillard delineates several cultural revolutions in the shift from real to hyperreal. These are not so much real historical events as general cultural trends. Briefly, the fixed and referential symbols of the caste societies were shaken by the Renaissance theatrics that put their meanings into question. Just what signs were suppose to refer to anymore was up to debate. The industrial revolution made possible the serial replication of these signs, exterminating any reference, producing an explosion of referents. In the post-industrial era, metaphysical models of the code create a world of simulation without any reference to the real, an order of simulation that has no interest in the real whatsoever. Finally, in the fractal order, the simulations implode into a viral proliferation infinitely extended and exhausted in all directions. All distinctions and differences are interwoven, cross-bred and played out to an extreme.
Since the virtualization of culture is accelerating, (whole industries now are disappearing as businesses leave their buildings behind and distribute themselves across Cyberspace) it is worth our time to look a little closer at these different orders of simulation. Though shown through quasi-historical times with some humor, each of these levels exists online, in virtual culture, in material culture and in dreamworld culture. Levels here indicate the degree of simulation between signs and what they represent.
Level 0. Aboriginal Symbolic Exchange Cultures. At this level, the image is a reflection of basic reality. Every activity of the day is woven into a meaningful cosmology. The dream imagery in aboriginal cultures is like a sacrament. The dream can completely undermine the exchange value system, shifting the flow of gifts and counter-gifts, marriages, taboos and status. This order of signs seemed to exist in the early days of the Internet before commerce was allowed. All objects within the Net were considered jointly owned and were equally distributed. Once commerce was allowed, this social arrangement was disrupted, but still remains as a kind of background ethos.
In a segment of the documentary film "The Dreamer and the DreamTribe" by Arto Halonen, a tribesman cannot interpret his dream and tells the local shaman. In the dream the tribesman is hunting with friends who attempt to cross a small river. The log they use gives way and the dreamer has to be pulled back to the shore by his friends. The local shaman is baffled and calls in shamans from other villages. After many hours of deliberation they finally come to a conclusion about the meaning of the dream. It will rain next Tuesday. The answer may seem rather disappointing to our modern ear that expects to hear something relevant to its own life experience and no longer finds in a rainstorm anything but a temporary nuisance. The Malaysian village, on the other hand, experienced a cycle of socio-spiritual events that profoundly moved them and reconnected them with their cosmos at every level. That the profundity "Its going to rain next Tuesday." escapes us, is the degree to which the simulacrum has taken up residence in our life and exposed our inability to recover the real. If you are not bothered by this and simply amused that anyone would even care, then the simulacra has fully actualized and all connections between signs and what they represent have been lost to cynical hyperextention.
Level 1. Feudal Caste Culture. In these caste or feudal societies the representational systems, the codes, the symbols, and the signs are all clearly marked, commonly held and limited in the number of meanings. They are hierarchical and rigid, though they may appear fluid within the system. One knows immediately another's caste or rank by the garments one wears. The status is clearly indicated and there is little hope of changing one's class. Anyone who tries to change the meaning of a sign is risking punishment for the transgression. The actual clothes and words and rituals (the sign's signifiers) and the concepts they refer to (the signifieds) are fixed. The concrete referents in the material world are fixed. Transgressors of this reality, such as dragons, heretics and infidels, must be hunted down and slain. All unstable reference must be punished and free interpretation is prohibited. The sign and what it represents are held in place, but the system requires a cruel pharaoh, a king-pin at its center which, as deconstructionist Jacques Derrida has pointed out, cannot be questioned. We see this in dreamwork, such as in systems that depend on the goal being teleologically projected in the future or regressively hidden in the past. The systems work as long as the central assumptions are not questioned. Even Einstein's theory of relativity, which seems to abandon all reference to a center, hinges on not questioning the constant speed of light. Many therapists are quite well aware of this problem. Carl Jung told his analytic students to abandon all their theories when actually encountering a patient. By bringing the questioning of king-pins into virtual realties, we can begin to understand the abstract regimes and their forces which create our cyber-ecology and make informed choices about them.
Level 2. The Theater Stage and the beginning of simulacra. There is a period of time before production society sets in which we often refer to in the West as the Renaissance. Here is a time when the signs begin to loosen. What they signify (the concepts they point to) are more arbitrary. Does the Bible mean this, or that? Protestant movements demand that each man must make his own interpretation of the Bible. But why stop there? Everyone begins to have his or her own interpretation of everything. The particular meaning of a sign is freed, and an abstract code of exchange value begins to emerge as well as fashion, intrigue and fantasy island utopias. Theater is born and there is intrigue between a thing and what it represents. Psychology can begin as we can now question who we really are. It is no longer apparent. Nature becomes important because it is lost. Floral patterns become abundant and extreme and the Baroque appears. The sign is stripped of its original meaning, but still refers dimly to a time when it did mean something. Too late. The natural world unfolds in every form, but it is all on stage. It is the theater of appearance and disappearance and changing forms.
In the movie version of Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire, " the vampires stage a regular show, a parody of everyday life endless against the background of vampirism. But the theatre is unable to refer to anything outside of the parody itself. Little bo-peep has lost her sheep, and then a vampire bites her. Cyrano signs outside his love's window, but then a vampire bites him. The end is always the same, but not like Level 1 where the sign and what it represents are fixed by pharaoh. The vampire's reference to the Real world was cut by their condition. Early production societies in the Theater Stage feed on the Real, but it is a hide and seek show where the Real hides behind masks that pretend to express it.
This is an enormous issue in Cyberspace and the rapid virtualization of culture. Are the high eBay and Yahoo stock prices real, reflecting a global phase shift in the economic system, or just wishful thinking by a small group of optimistic digital pioneers? In Cyberspace itself, it is hard to determine how real any particular site might be, as every site is a little theater world of its own and many pretend to be the face of the Real. If you feel you can determine if the site is real or not, you are in the Theater Stage of simulation.
In dreams, we often encounter these worlds as well. Sometimes they are joyously filled with creative and theatrical energy, oddly meaningful and yet free from meaning. Strange forms evolve, masks and mistakes in identity trick us and make us laugh. Reversals and getting back to where we once were becomes more difficult. We find ourselves marrying people we don't know, making alliances with strangers and creating art forms we never imagined. On the darker side, this world can be uncomfortably unstable. Pets turn into insects, chairs are haunted with ghosts, and hospitals become prisons. Mom just ain't what she used to be. Reality refuses to stabilize. This is the first order of simulation, the corrupt symbol that no longer refers to what it used to refer.
Level 3. Modern Production Society. At this level of simulation, representation has shifted to production and automation and robots. The robot is not a marionette clown on a stage making up mysterious analogies about reality and its disappearance. Here the sign bears no relation to any reality whatsoever, it is its own simulacrum. The robot's meaning is not in need of interpretation nor discovery, it is a worker on an assembly line. There is nostalgia for ancient meaning at the level, but it is all appearance. The cowboy is a billboard commodity used to sell cigarettes. We know there are no real cowboys or cowboy experiences left, but long for it anyway. Down the block, the cowboy is on a bank billboard riding a stagecoach. The real meaning of the cowboy is easily exchanged. The cowboy is now a serial sign referring to other cowboy signs, but no longer to a real cowboy. The most famous cowboy today is Woody, a digital construct of Pixar for blockbuster movies.
Freed from having to represent anything in
particular, the signs can proliferate and reproduce. The assembly line
production of goods, science, technology, transportation, topics to
discuss, and money can spread out in all directions unfettered by their
relationship to the real. Barbie dolls, all alike, roll off the presses
and become the signs of what to be like. Reproducibility becomes the
yardstick of reality, whether in empirical experiments or mass
productions. Atomic bombs, the ability to reproduce force and proliferate
destruction, become key signs of prestige and status. What is it worth? If
there is even a hope of answering this question, we are still in the
Modern Order of Signs.
Level 4. Post-Modern Hyperreality
"The real is produced from
miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control-- and it
can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. It no longer
needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against an
One of the biggest mistakes of market analysis at the level of political economy is to think that production remains at the level of just producing basic goods. This is considered to be the biggest mistake made by Marx. If the optimism of NASDAQ is true, we have moved into the mass production of nonessentials. There is now a proliferation of fashion, media, publicity, information & communication networks, Internet information systems, computerization, cyberspatiality, digitalization and genetic code. The organizing principle is no longer production but re-production. In this society of simulations where it is more interesting to be involved with a simulation of reality than reality itself, a new social order establishes itself. With the collapse or implosion between image/simulation and reality, the ground for the real disappears. People write in to actors playing medical doctors and lawyers for medical and legal advice. Now doctors and lawyers are expected to act like those TV actors. The models are the pivot point of reference rather that the real thing. Simulations now determine reality, devour reality, and models take over. The continual solicitations to buy, to consume, work, vote, give opinions, and participate in social life consume meaning and value as distinctions become meaningless. As Cassidy experienced in the merciless call to watch the next media event surrounding Princess Diana's death, there was no time to live this event, only time to respond to the next media message. It is hard to resist because it is more real than real, it is hyperreal.
Now we have implosion, a loss of the center that keeps the dynamics of the pole. High and low art, appearance and reality, news and fiction, they all implode. Reality and meaning melt into a nebulous mass of self-reproducing simulation. Simulations have taken over for reality, and now generate nothing but more simulations. The flight simulator was originally developed to help pilots fly real planes, but now the games of simulation are played for their own sake and the players could care less how they are related to real life. We are beyond being able to know what real life is anyway. It has been swept away and only returns as another simulation.
The boundaries between entertainment and news collapse. The news becomes spectacle, entertainment. Politics and entertainment implode. Polls turn the elections into image contexts, a war of signs. We still consume, even more feverishly. But now we buy status and presence instead of objects. Here in San Francisco, my neighborhood has filled with four-wheel drive wagons. We used to call them jeeps, then ATVs, now SUVs. It is rare to see these all-terrain vehicles anywhere off the road beside perhaps a sidewalk. There are hills here, but never any snow nor weather that would warrant a 4-wheel drive. But it's very cool to be part of this urban safari. In hyperreality what is produced and consumed are signs. The pressure on the individual is to be socialized. Production is irrelevant and secondary. It's a higher sign of status to have lost millions on a failed Internet company than to successfully own actual real estate.
In the hyperreal, the real and imaginary implode. Any moment might be a media event and we have a kind of sixth sense for this. We scan for fakery, montage and overlay. Absolut Vodka ala the latest artist, Absolut Mc Glynn, Absolut Philip, Absolut Goodman. A kind of non-deliberate parody clings to everything. No one believes it is real, nor cares. There is no time to care in this order as the next mediaevent is about to take place.
In an attempt to break the enchantment of the simulacra, Baudrillard declared that the Gulf War never occurred. Many people misunderstood the callousness of this statement given that real people died. But as Baudrillard pointed out, the USA media carefully never showed these people and the Iraq elite abandoned them in its mediascape as well. All we experienced of the war were simulations and mediascape shots. Rather than directly experiencing the war, or even representing the real war, we got instead a simulation of the war calculated to win points in global status for the political machine. This game of status advanced with the 1999 Kosovo Crisis, where people had been completely removed from the US war-game and the UN was continually courted with concerns of status. The paranoid Serbian Milosevic regime rid the area of media, then realized its mistake and invited them back. It was too late. In a linear cosmos there is always the fantasy of reversal and going back, but in the hyperreal multiverse we have gone past the end into a space where going forward and back are just games without any real meaning. The war was over when the media left.
As the Roumboullet meetings in France were collapsing, the Electric Dreams community found itself in an odd position. On the DreamWheel dreamgroup, an Internet mail list discussion group, a young woman from Serbia shared a dream. The notion of dream sharing with the enemy was too much for some who resigned the group in protest. Branka was herself a pacifist caught in downtown Belgrade and quite unhappy with the Milsovic regime, but her national alignment wavered throughout the event. Due to satellite connectivity, she was often able to come online and participate in the dreamgroup. Other times, we lost connection with her for days, and we often wondered if a bomb had killed her.
Dream: 'Radioactively Contaminated Uniform' by Branka
"I have entered the building in which my father
lives. In this place where elevator is supposed to be, I see this military
uniform on the hanger. In the pocket of a uniform, I see photos of Nikola
Kojo's family. Just as I get them out of the pocket, I become aware that
uniform is radioactively contaminated. Huge wave of fear grabs the hold on
me. I'm desperate. I am convinced I will surely die. "
For those who stayed in the dreamgroup, the Kosovo Crisis became something other than a media event. The group lived outside of the circulation of the sign exchange economy. A mutually constructed reality began to emerge, a universe where we had to improvise reality, an Improverse transversing normal space/time. This improvisational field that brought us into contact with something undetermined, something personal, something beyond personal. Our usual values and sedimentary channels had been intersected. It was unclear if we were committing treason, responding to a personal crisis or taking part in some kind of paradigmatic shift at the center of the universe. For most of us in the West the war was mostly a media event, something to occupy the six o'clock news. From Branka's side, bombs were exploding down the block and relatives were dying. She too questioned whether her involvement in the group constituted treason or a unique spiritual event.
The rupture in the mediascape existed at several levels for the group. First there was the dream itself. Rather than drawing attention away form the crisis, the themes continually brought us into relationship with the event. What was real about the abominations and what was propaganda? How did we feel about the military and how these uniforms contaminate our lives? Where is the hero when you can see both sides of a tragedy? Each member had a chance to answer these differently, some by being contemplative, some by protesting, some finding justice in activism. These forms or action were available to everyone in the culture and many people developed reactions to the war outside of the mediaspace, but nowhere were these reactions more felt than in places where these kinds of personal interaction could take place.
As we fill the present with media events and exhaust
ourselves in circulation of signs, there arises the question of how to
create breaks in this surface. These ruptures are explored by two more
postmodern cultural theorists, Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
"Analysis is paralysis."
"Who speaks and who acts? It is
always a multiplicity, even in the person who speaks or acts. We are all
little groups. There is no longer representation, there is only action the
action of theory, the action of practice, in relations of way-stations or
When interpreting the meaning of a dream, or deciding the value of a virtual event, there is always the issue of organization and representation of this meaning. Whoever gets to implement and organize information also gets to control the systems by which we understand the world. As we have seen in the simulated realities of Jean Baudrillard, the organization of information can lead to experience that is dominated by systems of cultural signification that lead us into interactivity with models of reality rather than reality itself. As postmodern theorist Francios Lyotard has noted, this is the sign world of the grand narrative, a world where we are taught stories that attempt to explain and control everything.
Psychotherapists, sociologists, cultural theorists, social activists and others in the later half of the twentieth century have challenged these grand narratives and sought alternative paradigms. Nowhere is this the result more clearly seen than in the development of the Internet. The nomadic packet switching distribution system of the ARPANET ruptured the monopoly of direct connection telecommunications systems and created the Internet. The World Wide Web was a creative response by a scientist Tim Berners-Lee to find a laterally distributed information system based on relations rather than linearity. Instead of the hierarchical tree model of knowledge where one slowly follows from a root to the various branches, there is now a lateral rhizomatic model of knowledge where every piece of information is virtually connected directly to every other piece of information. A rhizome is an extended, partially underground system that connects plants in a living network. It provides not so much a new model or new grand narrative, but a rupture in whole notion of models and grand narratives.
Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were postmodern theorists who extensively explored this rhizomatic paradigm shift in the decades before the Internet. Their concern was how even the most radical and anarchistic of organizations eventually begin slip into a controlling pattern of self-organization and become as repressive as the state dominated institutions they originally set out to undermine. One of their goals was to create concepts of liberation that could be used to subvert repressive authorities and create productive alternatives. These concepts not only predict and define much of the early 21st century online culture, but also offer extensive conceptual resources in navigating the nomadic virtual terrain of decoded flows, deterritorialized space and multiplicity of interactive bodies. In short, they create guerrilla tactics for rupturing repressive concepts that inscribe our lives.
In nature, the rhizome layer is generally an amorphous subterranean set of complex relations, but it can also form eruptions in the forest floor, tubers and bulbs, flowerings and carpets. The rhizomatic Internet exhibits traits of multiplicity, connection of heterogeneous elements, transitory becomings and indeterminable territory. Web sites erupt through the digital ice and form complex relations with neighbors. The length of the relationship is no longer a measure of its success and may even be the cause of its loss of dynamic and productive energy. Groups form, they do what they need to do and they disband. Programmers in Silicon Valley talk about themselves not as working for companies, but working for the Valley. Individuals pop up here, then there, and a complex, mutable network can at times be seen. Just what is above and below the ice is no longer clear as organic beings merge with the virtual being. If a group stays together too long, layers of self-referential signification accrue and the central organizing principle will inscribe itself in the body and mind of the participants.
In both dreamwork and virtualwork there is the project to un-terraform the world of signifying systems and simulated reality. But how do we shift from an arborescent, tree-like hierarchy of sign systems to a multiple, rhizomatic level of becoming? Enter the a-signifying rupture and the dislodging the sign in favor of expression. Roland Barthes refers to this notion when we focus on the cutting of the tree instead of a discussion about the tree and it's cutting. Here there may be a moment where there is a disruption in the hegemony of the representational language, though eventually this too will be covered by advancing sign systems. Susan Langer also notes the difference between representation and presentation. A represented event is one which the focus of the expression is referring to something else that is know, like a billboard for a product. The presented event may carry signification, but is more a rupture in this sign game.
Others create asignifying rupture by proliferating the meanings in an attempt to create a space where new pathways might emerge. A model for this might be the improvisational jazz group where a repetition with creative difference is continually introduced into the main melodic flow. These multiple intrusions revision the single melody into a swarm, a pack of animals, an assemblage that is situated but also de-situates the central theme.
This notion also emerges in parts of Jung's dreamwork. I have a dream where I die, but I want to live forever. Here the tension of a problem is not directly addressed with an overlay of a system of interpretation, (this represents blah de blah) but rather the systems of interpretation are themselves subverted and held away until something utterly new can emerge. In some Jungian dreamwork this is done through explorations of the opposites that create a polar tension through which the new path can emerge. I don't try to resolve the issue of both wanting to live forever and knowing I will die, but make it worse, encourage the multiple conflicts and tensions to come to a boil and overflow any ability to contain them. For Jung, this rupture could only occur productively within some kind of containing field, usually the sanctuary of the psychoanalytic hour. The sick travelers to the ancient dream temples of Asklepios would also seek an ecstatic healing experience, but within a confined area of the sanctuary. The boundaries of this singular containment were to allow a polymorphous nuclear reaction, a core ecstatic experience that could not be contained, that overflowed the life of the single individual. The patient at the dream sanctuary falls asleep and enters a dream and waits to be touched by an animal/god, a snake, Asklepios, a dog, a daughter. Jung speculates that at the core of the experience the seeker's grand narratives collapse. The old stories fail. Attempts to channel desire into accepted old paths (sublimation) fail. One is confronted by just too many things to keep it all together. All the state and family sign systems dissolve into deterritorialized flows. The gap between stimulus and response spreads out along an infinite plane of becoming. In this rupture of cause and effect, the desublimated subject experiences a moment of freedom in the emergence of an unpredictable and overwhelming encounter. In ancient Greece, these visions were then interpreted by the priests and the deterritorialized subject re-positioned or reterritorialized back into society. The same thing can occur in modern psychotherapy. The asignyfying rupture of illness deterritorializes the line marking the physical, mental, emotional and imaginal space of the subject. Reterritorialization re-inscribes the line, often a different line, but always restoring some kind of subjective space fitting to the current culture.
Yet every day there is a new rupture in my life. I go to sleep and a dream begins to deterritorialize me and my identity. I am reterritorialized along a new assemblage within the dream narrative. When I wake up, the dream is ruptured and it is reterritorialized along my dayworld axiomatic. During dreaming, I am the content, and the dream is the expression, but when I wake up, I claim the dream to be the content, and I am the expression. Even an unremembered or suppressed dream is an expression of content. A dream each night may be seen as an assemblage through which one finds the novel mutant becoming of the following day.
Finding asignifying rupture in Cyberspace is more difficult than it would first appear. While the Internet supports a rhizomatic layer of intense becoming, it also raps space within a virtual fold of representational consumerism. In this fold e-commerce and dot com capitalization thrive. Anyone who has used a search engine to look up information and found only a commercial to purchase a product at the end of this search knows the drain of libido created by this economy. Meaning and value are stripped from the event and recoded in the marketplace. Hackers may break into the flow of code, but the result is rarely a paradigmatic shift where rhizomatic connectivity and heterogeneous elements can dance and play. More often it is simple destruction, an imposition of negative field where nothing can grow and little productivity occur. Asignifying rupture is not an explosion, but a fountain.
Productive ruptures are found online at three levels and all influence one another. The first is in the content and expression of code and texts. A document like the Declaration of Independence may be seen as a code that directs the flow of life, just as much as a computer program may direct the flow of interaction and transaction. We struggle over how and where online these codes will control the flows and breaks in the flow. When one of these texts begins to dominate an area of Cyberspace, the effects are dramatic. The notion of open source code, which is simply making public the blueprints of programs which support and create our cyber-ecology, has caused one of the largest legal battles of the 21st Century between Microsoft and the US Government. At simply the hint that the monopoly might be broken up, billions of dollars were exchanged on the free market in the matter of hours. At the level of micropolitcs, the key seems to be the proliferation of texts which continually offer alternatives. These may be alternative operating systems or the may be traditional articles and manifestoes. At Electric Dreams, we like to create exchanges of dream text. Whatever the texts or codes are, they now become part of our landscape while they remain in circulation. Finding the right amount of asignifying circulation, or break in circulation, becomes an ongoing task.
The second level of productive rupture in virtual reality is in communities that form to resist regimes of power and create viable alternatives, packs of cyber-nomads and swarms of marginalized assemblages. These repressors may be large monopolies, state domination or the most insidious repressor itself, ourselves. Cyberspace has provided a new field of interaction where ruptures in identity, gender, sex, age and other old notions of classification now occur. Dreamwork has been exploring these ruptures for sometime. At this level of rupture, content and its expressions easily change places. At one moment I am a part of group involved in expressing a community or social value, at another I am the content being expressed by the value. The goal is to create a dynamic set of relations that are flexible enough to survive when the central pole of the universe is removed.
The third is in the process of virtualization itself. The greatest difficulty in understanding and coming to terms with becoming virtual is best summarized by Marshall McLuhan's statement that the medium is the message. In this context, all our articulations about how we will live in virtual reality are already missing the point, just as our interpretations of dreams miss the point. Cyberspatiality is not a content we are giving expression to, but we are its content and it is expressing us. At one level it is totally out of our control. Virtualization is itself an asignifying rupture between potential and actual and can't be contained in categories such as the concrete, the material, the ideal, the abstract, the imaginal, the imagination, the emotional, text, code, sign or symbol. Each of these categories establishes a relationship with the virtual, but they do not replace it.
Just how to live in a kind of rhizome that undermines so many old notions and values is explored by Deleuze and Guattari in the concept of the nomad, a creature that can break into the territorialized flows of repressive regimes and offer new trajectories. The nomad is a free autonomous subject who exists momentarily in an ever-shifting array of possibilities. Combining the wandering nomad with Donna Harroway's cyborg, an organic-virtual creature, may produce a rupture in the homogenous self indulgence of virtual reality and take up alliances with novel assemblages.
The Electric Dreams community has explored this in the annual Swarm and the continual Dream-Flow. The Dream-Flow relies upon the notion that the distribution of dream reports in Cyberspace is an alternative to our involvement in the flow of normal sign circulations. Dreams are collected and redistributed across the network at all hours of the global day. The dream texts don't escape the use of cultural signs, but often offer alternative readings and ways of engaging the sign culture. The dreams are not held to be a privileged view of reality, but a productive rupture in dominant reality fantasies. The process mixes computer automation with personal relations, organizational alliances and dreamworld imaginaries. That is, people send dreams into the community and the community then distributes them around the Net. Comments and interpretations are treated more like literary criticisms and form part of the intertextual assemblage of the dream-flow. A woman dreams about washing blood off of Princess Diana after her death. A commentator notes the correspondence between this and the ancient ritual of washing our hands of the blood of sacrifice. One is not so much an interpretation of the other but a co-mingling of expressions and contents which may both produce a temporary pivotal point that is outside of the normal sign exchange economy.
The Dream Swarm extends these notions in an annual concentrated effort to create an intense becoming cyborg, becoming dream. The model is the Halloween trick-or-treat ritual and so we usually pick October 31st as the date to start the swarm. Participants attempt to break old circuits and distribute dreams and create dream events on as wide a basis as possible without spamming. That is, a dream can be distributed and break into the flow of other discourse beside dream discussion groups and sites, but it must be a productive rupture, not a destructive act. Dreams are introduced into the philosophy of literature discussion list as a rhetorical historic method, website are encourages to display dreams a important cultural objects, newsgroups are called upon to post dreams about computers and other contemporary events. The Swarm is not limited to the Internet. Telecommunications systems of all kinds are employed, dreams are introduced to Halloween parties and physical bodies touch and transmit dreams. The Swarm is really many swarms. Some people gather and move like bees without a queen from chat rooms to Usenet, to websites to mail lists to buildings, to streets, from city to city, from lip to lip. The center is not the person, the ego, but an assemblage of dream code and its transversals, a nomad and its tribe, a pack of wolves. Collections of dream circuits are initiated. One circuit might be a woman who left her child in a trash can which I see on the TV. I dream about a garbage truck dumping men into dumpster. I send the dream to Cassidy who is feeling dumped upon herself and needs to put up a collage of this dream on her website and is then contacted by an activists group who would like to use this as an image in a pamphlet giving attention to how the elderly are dumped in our society. Cassidy dreams that a garbage man is breaking into her house, but the phone won't work. The dream is distributed to the dream-flow and a housebound wife in Australia reads this and cries about being trapped without a connection and considers alternative. The dreams work by not-working, not quite fitting in and breaking into the circuits of everyday life.
No fixed constructs will serve for very long, cyber-nomadology continually seeks to undermine and subvert these fixed structures. It is more a question of intensity and positioning. The following suggestions are therefore offered as jumping off points, trajectories in the past that have broken into the flow and created new connections.
The cyber-nomad develops an attraction for the abject. Dreamwork borrows from Jung and calls this shadow work. This is turning one's attention to that which you least want to attend to and recognizing the other in oneself. Jung suggests we can identify our shadows by noticing the people and interactions that get under our skin, that we find morally inferior and we would die of humiliation to find out we were like that. Integrating everyday circuits with the circuits of the despised creates a powerful site of exchange and new flows of life. Nightmares are seen as the treasure-house of this aspect of dreamwork. Disaster sites, underground activism, marginalized groups and minorities are the site of shadows in Cyberspace, but those excluded and on the other side of the digital divide hold more than just a useful mirror to the cyber-nomad.
Conjugate deterritorialized flows. The cyber-nomad
multiplies these sites by locating connections between heterogeneous
elements, groups, and limits. Focus on the convergence and swarms of
unique singularities rather than abstractions. Note the difference between
talking about the body (an abstraction) and my body, (an infinite source
of virtuality). The cyber-nomad's tribe shifts to new points outside the
limit and in new directions. In dreamwork this means coming into
relationship with dreaming as a swarm, a pack of animals, intersections of
human and transhuman elements which temporarily form a particular state of
things. The cyber-nomad is not unsettled by fragmentation and rejoining of
partial objects, in fact she courts it.
The unconscious factory. It is seductive to think of subjective interiority and it boundlessness, but when interiority is seen as a destination instead of a source, it is literalized and becomes a prison, rocks in the sea of cyber-sirens. As Jung noted, we all have a relationship with desire and stand at the edge of its abyss. When we confuse this desire as a lack for an object we think will fulfill us, we throw ourselves over the side into its darkness, into compulsion, into possession. Andrew Feenberg has noted that technology is not a destiny but a scene of struggle. When we are able to see that desire is a creative, productive source and not a destination, desire creates deterritorialized flows to find new connections and we are led to unimagined territories. All virtual space holds attractions. These can be prisons or keys that unlock the door to new worlds.
Form a rhizome. The cyber-nomad can increase the range and scope of its activity though de-territorialization, though finding breaks and cracks in repressive regimes. These regimes always create their own cracks. Capitalism may strip the meaning and value from all cultures it touches, but this same deterritorializing action can be used to create new culture and new values. The freedom works both ways. In this freedom the nomad travels in the rhizome, extending links to as many diverse modes of coding as possible; biological, political, economical, psychological, technological. Through this interplay, whole new states of things emerge.
The acceleration of virtualiztion constitutes a paradigmatic break in the old universe. While we have always been living in a virtual universe, in the shared protocols of family, tribe, religion, state, culture and mediascape, these virtual realities have formed slowly over time, passed at the speed of sound, and have been under the control of a few individuals, groups and institutions. The digital revolution has provided a technologically mediated virtualization process that is distributed at the speed of light and will soon surround us and all our practices. The joy is that it frees us from many of the limitations of state imposed conceptualizations and practices of body, mind and imagination. The horror is that the source of our old mind, body and imaginations have been stripped, mined of their meaning and value and left without a solid ground.
In the days of the single uni-verse we could talk about well-worn paths, finding our path, getting back to square one, returning home and aligning ourselves with destiny. In the multiple improverse, we have to learn to improvise. We become like Nietzsche's higher man, an actor of our own ideals and improviser of life. The pathways have become trajectories, defining a plane of consistency, but without a determinable center, origin or end. Subjects become a distribution of intensity across an imaginary surface. As Proust might say about virtual being, it is real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.
Dreamwork suggests that when we are in spaces where old concepts of reality and identity cannot hold, then we are responsible for co-creating the meaning and value of the world with the others around us. This means that our relation to the inhabitants, animal, vegetable, human, imaginary, machine or other, is more important than territorial mastery of these others. Without a center pole to rely upon, we need to listen to one another to find a melody, just as an improvisational musicians need to listen to one another without knowing exactly where things are going. Improvisational musicians talk about how, during a performance, they begin to include in their space more and more of the other elements of the band, then the audience, then the whole world.
Not only are we responsible for creating relational space outside of sign exchange, but also time outside of acceleration and speed. Time in the labyrinth of becoming-other is not being lost in a maze of collectivity, but being found in an assemblage of individuals in creative and unique states. The virtual nomad traverses these endless possibilities in a dynamic improverse, which refuses to be located but is always local. Always beyond representation, the cyber-nomad is never beyond relation.