Posts Tagged ‘Isocrates


St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching

St. Augustine
On Christian Teaching
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
The Significance of On Christian Doctrine (from Rhetorical Tradition)

•    His confessions may be seen as illustrating the application of Christian ideas to the governance of one’s own soul.
•    OCT advises the Christian pastor on how to foster both psychological and social order by correctly interpreting the Christian truth of the Scriptures and conveying this truth to diverse audiences.
•    The Platonic philosophers come closer to the truth of Christianity than any other pagan thinkers.
•    Augustine knew something of Plato and Aristotle—the Platonic philosophers came closer to the truth of Christianity than any other pagan thinkers.
•    Augustine suggests that eloquence can be achieved without rhetorical training and furthermore, that wisdom, which is separate from eloquence, is more important than eloquence.  Thus he seems to mount a Platonic attach on the declamatory rhetoric of the Second Sophistic that he himself once taught.
•    This separation of eloquence and wisdom implies a separation of things (truths, realities) and words (signs of things), thus also leading Augustine to the Platonic conclusion that language itself is only a means to the final, silent contemplation of divine truth.
•    Augustine thus shares with Cicero—and through hum, with Isocrates—the conviction that rhetoric must be employed for people’s own good.  Augustine follows Cicero in treating the three offices of rhetoric as pleasing, teaching, and persuading or moving to action.
•    Augustine may also place more emphasis on teaching because he assumes that the Christian pastor will usually be preaching to the converted.
•    The converted audience already values Christianity and desires to live by it but must be instructed in the proper way to do so.  In turn, this emphasis on preaching to the converted may lead to slightly more emphasis on style as an important concern for rhetoric in Augustine’s work, as opposed to its place in Cicero’s.

From this source
BOOK I: Argument
The author divides his work into two parts, one relating to the discovery, the other to the expression, of the true sense of Scripture. He shows that to discover the meaning we must attend both to things and to signs, as it is necessary to know what things we ought to teach to the Christian people, and also the signs of these things, that is, where the knowledge of these things is to be sought. In this first book he treats of things, which he divides into three classes,–things to be enjoyed, things to be used, and things which use and enjoy. The only object which ought to be enjoyed is the Triune God, who is our highest good and our true happiness. We are prevented by our sins from enjoying God; and that our sins might be taken away, “The Word was made Flesh,” our Lord suffered, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, taking to Himself as his bride the Church, in which we receive remission of our sins. And if our sins are remitted and our souls renewed by grace, we may await with hope the resurrection of the body to eternal glory; if not, we shall be raised to everlasting punishment. These matters relating to faith having been expounded, the author goes on to show that all objects, except God, are for use; for, though some of them may be loved, yet our love is not to rest in them, but to have reference to God. And we ourselves are not objects of enjoyment to God: he uses us, but for our own advantage. He then goes on to show that love–the love of God for His own sake and the love of our neighbour for God’s sake–is the fulfilment and the end of all Scripture. After adding a few words about hope, he shows, in conclusion, that faith, hope, and love are graces essentially necessary for him who would understand and explain aright the Holy Scriptures.
•    Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist, and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them.
•    For to enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake. To use, on the other hand, is to employ whatever means are at one’s disposal to obtain what one desires, if it is a proper object of desire; for an unlawful use ought rather to be called an abuse.
•    Those things which are objects of use are not all, however, to be loved, but those only which are either united with us in a common relation to God, such as a man or an angel, or are so related to us as to need the goodness of God through our instrumentality, such as the body.
•    No man, then, hates himself. On this point, indeed, no question was ever raised by any sect. But neither does any man hate his own body.
•    Man, therefore, ought to be taught the due measure of loving, that is, in what measure he may love himself so as to be of service to himself. For that he does love himself, and does desire to do good to himself, nobody but a fool would doubt.
BOOK II: Argument
Having completed his exposition of things, the author now proceeds to discuss the subject of signs. He first defines what a sign is, and shows that there are two classes of signs, the natural and the conventional. Of conventional signs (which are the only class here noticed), words are the most numerous and important, and are those with which the interpreter of Scripture is chiefly concerned. The difficulties and obscurities of Scripture spring chiefly from two sources, unknown and ambiguous signs. The present book deals only with unknown signs, the ambiguities of language being reserved for treatment in the next book. The difficulty arising from ignorance of signs is to be removed by learning the Greek and Hebrew languages, in which Scripture is written, by comparing the various translations, and by attending to the context. In the interpretation of figurative expressions, knowledge of things is as necessary as knowledge of words; and the various sciences and arts of the heathen, so far as they are true and useful, may be turned to account in removing our ignorance of signs, whether these be direct or figurative. Whilst exposing the folly and futility of many heathen superstitions and practices, the author points out how all that is sound and useful in their science and philosophy may be turned to a Christian use. And in conclusion, he shows the spirit in which it behoves us to address ourselves to the study and interpretation of the sacred books.
BOOK III: Argument
The author, having discussed in the preceding book the method of dealing with unknown signs, goes on in this third book to treat of ambiguous signs. Such signs may be either direct or figurative. In the case of direct signs ambiguity may arise from the punctuation, the pronunciation, or the doubtful signification of the words, and is to be resolved by attention to the context, a comparison of translations, or a reference to the original tongue. In the case of figurative signs we need to guard against two mistakes:–1. the interpreting literal expressions figuratively; 2. the interpreting figurative expressions literally. The author lays down rules by which we may decide whether an expression is literal or figurative; the general rule being, that whatever can be shown to be in its literal sense inconsistent either with purity of life or correctness of doctrine must be taken figuratively. He then goes on to lay down rules for the interpretation of expressions which have been proved to be figurative; the general principle being, that no interpretation can be true which does not promote the love of God and the love of man. The author then proceeds to expound and illustrate the seven rules of Tichonius the Donatist, which he commends to the attention of the student of Holy Scripture.
BOOK IV: Argument
Passing to the second part of his work, that which treats of expression, the author premises that it is no part of his intention to write a treatise on the laws of rhetoric. These can be learned elsewhere, and ought not to be neglected, being indeed specially necessary for the Christian teacher, whom it behoves to excel in eloquence and power of speech. After detailing with much care and minuteness the various qualities of an orator, he recommends the authors of the Holy Scriptures as the best models of eloquence, far excelling all others in the combination of eloquence with wisdom. He points out that perspicuity is the most essential quality of style, and ought to be cultivated with especial care by the teacher, as it is the main requisite for instruction, although other qualities are required for delighting and persuading the hearer. All these gifts are to be sought in earnest prayer from God, though we are not to forget to be zealous and diligent in study. He shows that there are three species of style,–the subdued, the elegant, and the majestic; the first serving for instruction, the second for praise, and the third for exhortation: and of each of these he gives examples, selected both from Scripture and from early teachers of the Church, Cyprian and Ambrose. He shows that these various styles may be mingled, and when and for what purposes they are mingled; and that they all have the same end in view, to bring home the truth to the hearer, so that he may understand it, hear it with gladness, and practice it in his life. Finally, he exhorts the Christian teacher himself, pointing out the dignity and responsibility of the office he holds, to lead a life in harmony with his own teaching, and to show a good example to all.


Poulakis’ Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece

John Poulakis
Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    If you tell people for 100 years that they are dogs, they’ll start barking
•    Reactionary argument—only kind of rhetoric is sophistical
•    History without language
o    Little is gained by arguing that Plato was wrong about the sophists
•    Language without history
•    Re-reading the sophists as they were is impossible—too many influences on the their reinterpretation (time passage, etc.)
•    Time-and-place dependent understandings
•    Discussion of the past constitutes an interpretive construction from a particular perspective of the present
•    Threat the rhetoric of the sophists in order to stimulate new thinking on our rhetorics
Xi: “Moreover, they have been trained to believe that their susceptibility to the charming words of others constitutes a weakness to be overcome by means of such fortifying agents as approved versions of reason, dialectical know-how, and objectivity.”
1: “Today, the narrative repertoire on Hellas’ early rhetoricians includes stories about a suspect epistemological and moral doctrine (Plato), a necessary moment in the history of philosophy (Hegel), a unique cultural phenomenon (Nietzsche), and a profound intellectual movement (Jaeger, Kerferd).
From Christopher Lyle Johnstone’s Review
•    The present work is the product of the approach he embraces: it is comprehensive rather than narrowly focused, it credits the Older Sophists with a “rhetorical consciousness” rather than being concerned (as Schiappa was) that rhetorike was coined b y Plato in the 4th century, and it seeks to interpret sophistical writings in terms of their themes, patterns and cultural milieu rather than strictly in terms of what the textual evidence alone permits. At the same time, however, Poulakos aims at something like Schiappa’s historical reconstruction: the book situates the sophists in the cultural environment of the latter half of the fifth century B.C., examines the preserved textual materials of and about the sophists, and considers three major receptions of sophistic rhetoric in an effort to “derive a rhetoric that can be called sophistical” (4).
•    Poulakos promises to “treat past texts not as fixed monuments to be consumed cognitively but as elusive documents that can stimulate readers to rethink the constitution of their own lives. . .” (3).
•    Poulakos asserts that “whether we are looking at a past work or its past reception, the perspective of the present is unavoidable.” Thus he dismisses the “extremes of classical philology, which claims to interpret texts objectively, and modernist criticism, which often disregards their historical character” (7).
•    After reviewing the principal political, cultural, economic and intellectual developments that shaped 5th-century Athens, the chapter examines the status of the sophists as itinerant teachers of oratory and disputation in cities where they were always “other.”
•    The next chapter, entitled “Terms for Sophistical Rhetoric,” explores in some detail the notions of opportunity, playfulness and possibility “as constitutive functions” of the cultural milieu of the sophists. It does so by first reviewing “two common ways of reading the sophists” and then by proposing a third “which attends… both [to] the cultural dynamics discussed in the previous chapter, and to some sophistical texts . . . influencled] by these dynamics” (53). […]These terms are kairos (opportunity), paignion (game, play), and to dunaton (the possible). They were selected because, we are told, they help explain common features of sophistical texts and because they can render the sophists’ rhetorical practices meaningful
•    Poulakos concludes that for Plato the teaching and rhetorical practices of the sophists provided the counterview against which he could articulate and argue for his vision of the superiority of the philosophical to the rhetorical life.
•    Isocrates, on the other hand, seems to have maintained a much more ambivalent and ambiguous attitude toward the sophists. “Indebted to the tradition the sophists had initiated, Isocrates imitates their work but only up to a point; time and again, he follows their example but never entirely” (142).
•    Aristotle’s reception, according to Poulakos, was characterized by both the preservation and the correction of sophistic thinking: “because they contributed to the cultural reservoir of rhetorical insights, [Aristotle held that] the sophists are historically important; but because their reasoning was often flawed, it needs to be corrected” (150).
•    One implication of this view is that “the rhetoric of the sophists has no end-point…. [W]ith the sophists there is no truth, no unity, no telos” (189). Moreover, “sophistical rhetoric labors to utter novel words, fresh insights, and original thoughts.” It disrupts “established norms of linguistic action, . . . shatters aspects of conventional wisdom, . . . unsettles the sensibilities of the accepted tradition” (190). Thus it calls into question habits of perception and traditional modes of thought by “challenging what other rhetorics take for granted. Accordingly, it cultivates skeptical attitudes. . .” (191).


Isocrates and Plato

“To Nicocles,” “Encomium of Helen,” Antidosis,” “On the Team of Horses,” “Against the Sophists”
The Gorgias
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Notes from class

• Mind/body
o Being=power
o Corporeal adornment: reason ≠ corporeal
• Two part soul
• Epictetus/Plutarch=far after Plato
o Adorning reasoning
o Stiff armed attack against corporealism
o Attractive
o A critique of the ‘body’
• We have a hard time thinking that the soul isn’t corporeal
o Body = abject
o Soul = superior
• Is adornment necessary?
o Hatred/dismissal of the body
o Rhetoric would be the adornment of reason
• What’s being built by Plato is being fought against by deconstruction
• Strange turn towards the myth
o Gorgias
o Helps you realize what you already know
• Dialectical fiction
o Pleasure dissociated from good
• Subjective and personal: perception and experience
• Good: objective; Pleasure: subjective
o Gorgias: universal good?
• Man is the measure of all things
• Persuasion v. truth
• Imitation of appearance: Sophistry
• Encomium: defenseless
• Bodily – primacy
• Veil before our own souls
• The moment where the body becomes artificial
• Things should be turned upside down: Plato
• Can the effect of flattery extend to the soul
o Outside influence
o Gaze: external
• Embodiment: self-contained?
o Mental body image
• Who is the author of being?
• Socrates Demon: Voice that told him what to do
o Not an uncommon move
• Philosophy and rhetoric distinct from each other
• How can you make change and not distinction
o Presence: Derrida
o Experience as sameness through difference
o Difference first, sameness later
• Mission Plato: refuting what’s popular
o Oppositional
o No recourse to oppositional object
• How for something and not against?
• Affirmative without negation
o Persuasion: violation?
o Rhetoric as pleasure?
o Rhetoric as rape?
• Molding false arguments
o Inescapably manipulative
• Rhetoric of fear?
o Loyalty to agenda
• Pleasure of self-love
• Pleasure of right, denial
o Two types of pleasure
• Encomium: performance
• Imitation playing into sophistic technique
• Limits of persuasion
o Drugs, force
• “Willingly made slaves”: Philebus
• Return to persuasion as sinisterism
• Target for corruption
• Soul in three parts
o Soul v. body
o Selfless selfishness
• Better to suffer than cause suffering
• Sophist: Platonic Dialectic
o The Copy v. The Simulacrum
From 7007 response
The notion of distinction is first aroused during the introduction to The Sophist. In his introduction, Benjamin Jowett explains that Not-being is relation—it is the other of Being. By stating, “all negation is distinction,” Jowett expands upon Spinoza and shows that the other (in this case, Not-being) is a distinction, rather than something that is not (14). The two are relational and dependent upon one another. They are not oppositional. As we continue through The Sophist, the Stranger and Theaetetus examine different professions by what they are in relation to what they are not (e.g. hunting with pleasure—amatory art—is distinct from/other than hunting with violence—the whole military art) (59). Therefore, hunting with violence is not opposite of hunting with pleasure, it is instead distinct from it in very specific ways. What we see is difference, not opposition, as stated by the Stranger towards the end: “the negative particles when prefixed to words, do not imply opposition, but only difference from the words, or more correctly from the things represented by the words which follow them” (109).
In “On Adornment,” we hear a conversation about beauty, and how beauty in one species is distinct from beauty in others. Similar to the example of the types of hunters, characterizing species-specific beauty does not negate the beauty in other species. To quote from “On Adornment,” “In every class of creatures nature produces some exceptional specimen; do not say then to the exception, ‘What are you then?’ […] ‘Do not require me to be like the rest, nor blame my nature, because it made me different from the rest’” (3).
But what happens when someone wants to be the same, to imitate? In Plutarch’s “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend,” we encounter the ideas of flattery, imitation, and responsibility. We quickly learn that a flatterer is someone who acts like a friend, but with selfish, reciprocal intentions—a flatterer is thus a “counterfeit copy of ourselves” (4). The flatterer imitates another person, and in turn seeks personal approval by complimenting ‘the original.’ The flatterer’s compliment is then actually an outward praise of oneself, because through the compliment, the flatterer is also commenting on his/her own imitation. While the flatterer is neither “properly his own,” nor is the flatterer the one he/she is imitating, as a result of imitation the flatterer can be anything or anyone. The flatterer both Is and Is-not simultaneously. As a friend, one has the responsibility of approaching one’s friends honestly, and not seeking self-imposed ego-inflating comments. We can compare this with the following quote from “Encomium”: “discourse is a great potentate, which by the smallest and most secret body accomplishes the most divine works; for it can stop fear and assuage pain and produce joy and make mercy abound” (2). Just as the flatterer can be anyone, discourse can do anything, even victimize. Discourse and flattery are tricksters one in the same: “some give pain, other delight, other terrify, other rouse the hearers to courage, and yet others by a certain vile persuasion drug and trick of the soul” (3).
Finally in Gorgias, we can see that the power of discourse, and importantly the discourse of the body, plays crucial roles. Towards the close of Gorgias, Socrates notes, “take […] any other profession you like, and see how each of them arranges the different elements of his work in a certain order, and makes one part fit and harmonize with another until the thing emerges a consistent and organized whole” (111). Returning to the term distinction, this quote can refer to the idea that Being and Not-being are not opposites, but are instead parts of the consistent, organized whole.

More notes from Bodies of Persuasion

More notes from Untimely Mediations


Some talking points on the digital

Merlin Donald’s term, “external memory devices,” or EMDs henceforward. Until called upon, EMDs remain suspended and retain the exact information one uploaded onto the device. The increasing utilization of EMDs suggests that our bodies are not enough.
Vilem Flusser argues for a distinction between cultural memory and genetic memory, noting that the former is, “is shorter than genetic memory, and even less trustworthy” because the individual re-remembers an event over time (397). Electronic memories are simulations, within inanimate objects, of the memory functions of the human brain. Even though EMDs only simulate memory, they do not disregard all other aspects of the brain. EMDs do indeed exaggerate memory, but rely upon computers (or, the “rest” of the brain) to function properly.
A crucial distinction between personal memory (storage apparatuses) and collective memory (libraries) is the notion of progression. Whereas collective memory is themed knowledge, we place ideas that are important to ourselves in our EMDs.
Collective memory entails privileged access to particular places, but personal memory is not limited in this sense, as EMDs only demand an internet connection or a USB port. Simply, personal memory is individualized.


Deleuze states that, “time simultaneously makes the present past and preserves the past in itself” (98).
According to Henri Bergson’s essay, “Of the Survival of Images,” time is a constantly formed and reformed trinity: past, present, and future. We simply “define the present in an arbitrary manner as that which is, whereas the present is simply what is being made” (Bergson 149-150). This is the critical illusion of time according to Bergson—the present is ‘being made’ as it is at the same time disappearing.
Bergson designates three important processes through which one can examine time and, ultimately, one’s personal history: pure memory, memory-image, and perception. Just as the past/present/future trio function only as a result of each other, “perception is bound to expel the memory-image, and the memory-image to expel pure memory” (Bergson 134).
Derrida calls this recurrence “hauntology,” defining it as, “repetition and first time, but also repetition and last time, since the singularity of any first time, makes of it also a last time. Each time it is the event itself, a first time is a last time” (10).
As Stelarc admits in, “Prosthetics, Robotics and Remote Existence: Postevolutionary Strategies,” “evolution ends when technology invades the body” (591). Arguing for the need to begin thinking about our future selves, Stelarc suggests that we should replace parts of the body as they fail, rather than temporarily repairing the body with modern medicine.
“The body need no longer be repaired but simply have parts replaced. Something other than the present, something yet to come, insures the cryonic body,” the body in suspension, too, risks the possibility of never being resuscitated (Doyle 65).
Van Dijck argues that memories are never stable over time, and how we choose to remember them and the technologies that we use to recall such memories are actually the concerns. In chapter three, van Dijck shows how some Alzheimer patients are utilizing blogs and lifelogs to record their deteriorating memories. Although van Dijck argues that memories are never stable, Alzheimer blogs are functioning in the exact opposite way by storing memories so that they become stabilized. Also, the shared experience between the blogger and the blog reader further compliments the notion of collective digitized memory. This specific type of collective memory suggests that the Alzheimer blogger will experience her own memory as though it is not actually hers. Moreover, while the disease actively deteriorates the mind, the Alzheimer blogger is actively posting to suspend his memories in order that he, his family, and others who may be experiencing similar deterioration can return to these memories knowing they will be constant and unchanged.
Extending the brain with the development of exteriorization
Today, we are dramatically externalized, so much so that our physical memories are under worked and reliant upon outside sources. However, Leroi-Grourhan views externalization as a “logical stage of evolution,” as noted in the following:
“These machines […] reflect a logical stage in human evolution. As with hand
tools the process whereby all implements came gradually to be concentrated outside the human body is again perfectly clear: Actions of the teeth shift to the hand, which handles the portable tool; then the tool shifts still further away, and a part of the gesture is transferred from the arm to the hand-operated machine” (245).
By looking at Leroi-Gourhan’s argument for extending our bodies, it appears that technologies have always encouraged the expanding of the brain in one fashion or another. Currently, we are experiencing the ability to “store” our brains: “evolution has entered a new stage, that of the exteriorization of the brain, and from a strictly technological point of view the mutation has already been achieved” (252). Compared to the reformation of the skull to hold our physical brains, this mutation of which he speaks occurred rather immediately. Consequently, we are externalizing the self with more frequency and relying upon a stored, technologized memory. It should be noted that while Leroi-Gourhan refers to encyclopedias and punch-card indexes, he was indeed able to see where externalization is heading.
Memory is becoming individualized, rather than group oriented
One might argue that with the prevalence of externalized memory, a collective memory is replacing our individual memory. However, I believe that it is the reverse that is occurring: because a collective memory is no longer necessary, our memory is strictly individualized. Real memory of specific, collective, survival behaviors that were passed on through a group are no longer necessary for the species to endure. We simply store the information that we need and seek out only what we deem important. Perhaps, then, the next step in externalized evolution is maintaining a certain technical savvy-ness—if one does not have the means (economic, knowledge or otherwise) to externalize, you will not evolve.
Hawhee’s detailing of ancient gymnasia perfectly illustrates the interrelation of mind and body training. Both types of training are initiated through a seeking out, a dedication to becoming, which is initially motivated “by a concomitant submitting: active submission is thus a necessary first step for transformation” (87). This transformation is a recognition that the individual wants to become something more, something other than his/her natural self. Only through the 3Rs (rhythm, repetition, and response) can one remold his/her current nature, thus forming new habits, or a “second nature,” that “become so ingrained in a person they become almost instinctual responses and most closely approximate a ‘natural’ response” (95). This sounds quite like the flatterer who “has no principles in him, and leads not a life properly his own, but forms and moulds it according to the various humors and caprices of those he designs to bubble, is never one and the same man […] like the water that always turns and winds itself into the figure of the channel through which it flows” (5). Interestingly, Hawhee calls upon Heraclitus’ saying ‘it is not possible to step twice into the same river’ during her discussion of cyclical differentiation, the notion of simultaneous combination and scattering (141). We can see cyclical differentiation represented in both the flatterer and the trainee, for both are learning new skills while abandoning the older ones.
The flatterer, whose “second nature” is based solely on imitation, is unlike the ancient ‘gym rat’ in the sense that the latter has “the desire to become something else” permanently (97). Instead, the flatterer is never completely transformed, but only performs as someone based upon his/her situation. The athlete—and here I use athlete to recognize the training of both the mind and the body—has the potential for self-improvement and true change through his/her training. In order “to make oneself capable of training,” self-control is the necessary component of self-improvement; therefore “the transformative work of practice relies upon the readiness, the submission, the painful subjection’ for the athlete’s total transformation (146). Only others motivate the flatterer, whereas the self motivates the athlete.
Turning to Antidosis, Isocrates notes at the start that we are “not to form opposite
judgements about similar things” (1). From Hawhee, we have learned that the body and mind were not trained separately, but rather informed the other through similar training styles (the 3Rs). Speaking on the gymnasium, Hawhee notes, “the inculcation of such knowledge in a crowd heightens the embodied nature of such learning, as the space of the ancient gymnasium emerged as a network of forces” (128). This “network of forces” can be compared to Isocrates’ “similar things”: the physical space representing the convergence of mind, body, sophistry, and athleticism.
Foucault notes that the panopticon is the “perfect exercise of power” for several reasons, although most significantly “because it can reduce the number of those who exercise it, while increasing the number of those on whom it is exercised” (206). The panopticon, just as the parked police car, does not need a physical body behind it to instill a sense of control. Because any of the prisoners may be watched at any time, simply the possibility of being watched should be enough to maintain order. Further, Foucault says that, “because without any physical instrument other than architecture and geometry, it acts directly on individuals; it gives ‘power of mind over mind’” (206). The panopticon’s strength lies within the ‘power of mind over mind’ since it is the prisoner’s mind that is being controlled. One could assume that no one is ever looking, but one assumes that one is always looking, without ever knowing which is true at any given time. Becoming posthuman, or becoming body-less, is previewed by the panopticon. Some sort of actual human presence is not necessary for the panopticon to function—it is self-sufficient. This self-sufficiency is not the issue though, but rather that human presence is no longer needed. We are in a time when we can be absent and present concurrently (i.e. on dating websites, blogs, and myspace and youtube postings). Just as the prisoners did not know when they were being watched, no one knows when we are ‘available,’ as the webpage, posting, etc. stands in for us even when we are offline.
“[…] force-feedback devices are enabling varied forms of haptic actions at a distance. These range from the simulated handling of molecules by research chemists and telesurgery effected through visually enhanced feedback loops, to cross-planetary arm wrestling, and the inevitable attempt to realize sex-at-a-distance, or teledildonics (“Corporeal” 431).  If ‘avatars sexing other avatars’ enables an actual feeling, how are the lines of private and public redistributed? And further, is there a private self anymore if public actions (i.e. the sexing avatars’ deeds) are responsive to and received by the lone, haptic recipients? As Brian Rotman notes earlier in “Corporeal or Gesturo-haptic Writing,” this results in “a form of transposed physicality,” where we can be both ‘here’ and ‘there’ simultaneously (430). Although because ‘sex- and arm-wrestling-at-a-distance happens’ here and there, the haptic response seems to suggests that there is no ‘there,’ anything that is being felt is only happening ‘here.’ To explain, even though I might be tele-arm-wrestling someone else across the globe, the only sensation I am feeling is their presence back on me. The action is only taking place for me ‘here’; I am exerting strength, but I don’t feel it there (where my opponent is ‘located’). There is a supposed ‘there’ (with which I am supposedly interacting), but since I do not feel my actions, the only ones that ‘count’ are the ones being received. The tele-arm-wrestling is transpiring in two separate places, and the same event is identical and separate.
To add to this, Rotman says in “Going Parallel” that “the I/me unit is disintegrating, the one who says ‘I’ is no longer singular, but multiple: a shifting plurality of disbursed, distributed and fragmented personae” (60). To return to the above example, the tele-arm-wrestling “I” materializes in two locations at once, creating two copies of the same action. The idea of “copies” is an interesting thread, as the transported self is not necessarily a reproduction, but is the same action And, MMOGs such as Second Life foster this distribution and fragmentation of the individual—there (in Second Life’s virtual world), one can be both “serial” and “parallel”; behind the computer is one “operator” with the ability to create multiple selves “doing many things at once” (“Going” 57). In this life (and I am not referring to reincarnation here, but distinguishing our lives from virtual ones), one can be a starving grad student, while at the same time have enough Linden Dollars to consistently devote to groceries in Second Life. Also in Second Life, we are able to foster our “alters” by creating various personae; there we can create “The Angry One” and “The Innocent Child” while we, “The Actual One” maintains control over all of them. What I find most interesting about MMOGs such as Second Life is that they still require an actual person to foster action. They are not, to borrow Varela’s term, “selfless selves” (“Becoming” 6). Although limiting, one can play MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft by oneself, while Second Life would not exist without involvement from other people (actual ones, not their avatars).

April 2018
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