Assignment 5: Digital identities 2

Looking at the work of Ed Atkins

In our video meet I talked with my tutor for quite some time around my personal experience of being an Avatar in Second Life.  It is enjoyable and interesting to be able to fly, to run fast, to suddenly transport to a different space and I certainly understand the attraction for people who have disabilities that limit them in their ‘real’ life. The aspect I’ve noticed most though is that no one looks old and there’s no facial expression.  It’s really surreal to watch a video of a virtual conference at Second Life where the staff and developers discuss topics as their avatar selves but there are no non-verbal cues to give any indication of feelings. I had written that I had wanted to avoid an ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect and for my Avatar to look as human as possible and my tutor suggested I also have a look at the work of Ed Atkins. In fact, I had looked briefly at his work a while ago but have to confess that I felt slightly unnerved by his robotic face and movements and digitally altered, deadpan voice.

Below is the video suggested by my tutor:-

 

I spent further time looking at his work, video interviews, such as with Louisiana channel and talks,  and articles about him. With this second look I realised that I am being reminded of some of the young men I worked with in the past who would come to see me having suddenly shaved their head back to a skinhead style and/or having a vivid new tattoo to show me – rainbow crusted colours writhing over their skin. “What’s happened? Will he tell me?”, I would think to myself and wait.

Below is Ed Atkins talking about another of his works.

He refers to alienation, depression. The ‘literalising’ of a working day of a person on the edge of collapse – a disembodied, talking avatar head with a ‘real’ person at the side of him – yet with a hooded head. There is an emptiness about Atkins’s characters and he believes that “Loss, insufficiency inability, failure and in particular melancholy play a great role”. He uses so many different filmic and narrative techniques – photography, video, CGI avatars, installations and performance. I heard him say in another interview that he starts with a title first – ‘a lifeline that enables one to go mad underneath’. Even one apparently simple word such as ‘food’ can be echoed through so many other things.  His work is about what’s not there – never there – real people.

I have the Kindle edition of his first book A Primer for Cadavers (2018) which is a selection of his texts from 2010 to 2016 and below is the beginning of one of his poems Elective Mute (2014)

The afterword of the book by Joe Luna  refers to Atkins as “….. an elegiac, erotic Frankenstein for the twenty-first century”. What did I think? Well, it’s a different experience just to read the words which are like a stream of consciousness, a form of rapping, coming from someone full of words who is attempting to push through to the kernel of something far deeper where words are not enough, although their force might push him over the edge and into the abyss. I can, therefore, understand his reference to his title for a work being ‘a lifeline’.  I did feel depressed after reading through the book but, after a while another thought struck me.  When those words become part of a multi-media performance it takes the edge off them slightly, so they become more like a slowly beating heart. To me Atkins is touching upon those existential anxieties I’ve written about before  –  to be alive, knowing this isn’t permanent; to seek another, knowing that, in the end, I’m essentially alone.  In choosing to be in ‘avatar’ form Atkins is questioning what it is to be human I think

Here is just a little more of him

 

There’s more I want to write about – on the uses of landscape vistas in second Life and also the views of Andy Clark, professor of philosopher and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. I was introduced to his ideas through a blog post from my fellow student Sarah-Jane Field, and they really struck a chord with me as, to me, they follow on from Marshall McLuhan’s earlier ideas on how we model technologies on our brain networks. More to come in time then….

 

 

 

 

Atkins, E.(2018) A Primer for Cadavers (Kindle Locations 2046-2050). Fitzcarraldo Editions. Kindle Edition.
http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/ed-atkins-something-missing

 

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Assignment 5: Response to Tutor Feedback

Below is the main content of my Tutor’s feedback:-

Overall Comments

You have produced a voiced narration over a simulated journey through Second Life for your submission for Assignment 5 and have really pushed yourself technically into areas with which you were previously unfamiliar, applying yourself to the research with characteristic rigor.

Feedback on assignment

The personal diary or voice you have used in conjunction with CGI in Second Life allows for  an interesting reflection in the gap between reality (the ageing body) and simulation, between reality (problems for example on communicating with others, etc.) and fantasy (creating the apparently perfect avatar). I think that this strategy can work well, especially when you perhaps juxtapose the life you have in the ‘real’ world with life in a virtual environment where identity is controlled by you. You also say “although self-identity becomes more fixed as we get older we all have the capacity to take surprising turns in our lives and continually reinvent ourselves.

 I notice that in one of the comments on your work on your LL, a colleague suggests you put more of ‘you’ into it. I think this comment is very revealing as I do find it pertinent that it is after a period of ill health (and recovery, with your sight now fully restored) that you’ve moved towards this investigation of virtual life, where the confines of the physical self (the body) take second place to the imaginative leaps taken on platforms such as Second Life.

 I do think that certain images in your animation work very well when paired with your personal and very human narration: the image of the flying figure (i.e. the figure being freed from the physical constraint of the body, associations with dreaming etc., seem to work very well with the kind of ideas you are interested in exploring. Similarly, the image of the figure walking out into the landscape works well (the searching figure and the journey). Similarly, I do like your voiceover describing your surprise at coming across a herd of cows. Linking this very virtual experience back to a very early formative memory was interesting. The juxtaposition between the two things – memories of the rural and pastoral landscape of 1940s or 50s – with the hyper-simulated experiences offered up by Second Life seems to work really well.

You’ve already written well in your LL on those who for a variety reason, find life in a virtual world easier (i.e. easier to move, easier to relate to others etc.) and I do think it’s this juxtaposition (when the real meets the virtual) where the ideas become interesting. You might be interested in looking at Ed Atkin’s 3-D generated man in this respect (excerpt of Ribbons (2014): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EkqVWXBVOQ

You do explore in your reflection the journey you have made in terms of technical terms in for assignment 5 and the course as a whole: ‘Whilst I did experiment with earlier, layered forms of 3D, I haven’t as yet used the Second Life 3D modelling software…Instead I’ve concentrated on learning how to control the camera, how to actually ‘unpack’ 3D objects which were already in my inventory…most importantly how to move my Avatar. However, as a respite, I have recently downloaded Adobe Fuse and created two 3D characters which are older appearance-wise and ready to be animated when I have more time. Still not as old as me …’

It is perhaps in CGI’s very inability (or indifference) to represent the aging body that you might find your subject.

Congratulations on reaching the end of the course, Catherine. Your enthusiasm and research throughout has been impressive.

My response added to the Report itself

I was very pleased to receive such comprehensive and positive feedback together with recognition of the steep technical learning curve I have engaged with. I also enjoyed the research and was pleased I was able to ensure I kept it focused on what I was aiming to achieve.

What I enjoyed the most though was being able to link this Assignment with earlier Assignments – one of the poppy colleges I created for Ass 1 is now on a wall in my Second Life house and I was also able to link some of my “Second Life’ commentary back to Assignment 2 (the work done juxtaposing my father’s letters from 1940s Egypt with the landscapes of Egypt and Derbyshire).

Additionally I linked my Second Life experience with research on the theories and philosophy on simulacra/simulation and created a narrative from it.  Through this I have stepped along from the fairytale I created in my first Model TAoP and the male character I spoke through in C&N.  This is the kind of work that very much appeals to me where image and text work together as I like to tell stories.

CGI and the virtual world are fascinating and there is much available to explore so I am wondering how/whether I might continue engagement with it into my next Module.  It would be a shame to lose the opportunity to improve on the skills I am beginning to acquire.  I was already aware of Ed Atkins’s work but looked at it again, with more experience/knowledge to bring to bear.  It’s fascinating and I will write a little more on this when I reflect on feedback in my blog.

Reflection on Assignment 5

The title for my Assignment Living as an Avatar in Second Life:  Simulacra and Simulation in action came to me at the point of writing about it. The more I reflect on it the more I think how strange, out-of-this-world, this experience has been/is being. I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland finding myself in a parallel universe which just occasionally seems like the one I ‘know’.

Second Life is a virtual reality world where some of its (very creative) members have created locations within which others can create their own stories.  I’ve found this a very different experience from reading a book or watching a film. On the whole I’m aware of manipulating my Avatar but sometimes (and it is only sometimes) I become my Avatar and find myself behaving in, and approaching, situations as I might have done in ‘real’ life. I shouldn’t be surprised really because I have had similar experiences in role plays but I certainly didn’t expect it to happen with a virtual character that I especially chose to not look like me!

I’ve therefore been a subject in my own experiment, which includes what happens to someone’s brain when they engage in this digital world.  Something does happen and I’m guessing it’s in a different part of the brain from where reading and looking occur; maybe there’s a linkage that produces an altered state of consciousness.  In this sense I could say I am adding personal evidence towards Marshall McLuhan’s earlier belief that this new digital world would change people’s brains, as did the invention of printing) and the information reported by Marc Prensky (2001) that students were thinking and processing information in a different way from their predecessors who he termed ‘digital natives’. This can be positive or negative; concerns are often expressed about the effect on children’s brains if they engage at too young an age for long lengths of time with their computers as explained here . Whilst their brains are still very malleable, though, mine is surely more set in its ways so less susceptible to the effect of altered states of consciousness, even though I sometimes enjoy the experience of entering into them.

Technical and Visual Skills

 For this assignment my tutor suggested I create a video with voiceover. I chose to put together several clips from videos I had created in-world with the aim of depicting the entry and responses of a new Avatar in Second Life. I’ve created videos before, as can be seen in other parts of my learning blog, but there was a new challenge in using different tools for separate actions at the same time – videoing whilst manouvering my Avatar. It was also the first time I have merged video clips to such an extent. I think I did reasonably well with this and learned how to merge clips together, with fades where appropriate, so that they would synchronise. One clip is too long (where I am running) and can benefit from being shortened slightly. I also attempted something new in using two different sound tracks – one from in-world sounds and the other being my voiceover. If I had given myself a longer lead-in time for video editing I could have had more practice with the recorder.  A fellow student, has been very helpful in giving me feedback and tips on ways to improve so I feel encouraged to persevere and improve the sound quality of my current voice-over, use fades of sound more effectively, as well as do further practice with my H4n Zoom recorder.

I think my choice of an additional presentation in the form of an illustrated digital diary was a good one and the theme I chose was appropriate.  I’m pleased I sought, and took account of, feedback advice from other students and put more of my own thoughts and responses into the written parts. I will write more on this below.

Quality of Outcome

My original mind map for assignment 5 was very useful as an aid to establish different aspects/themes emerging from my earlier work during Assignment 4.  I think I communicated my ideas and experiences clearly and read and researched appropriately. My reflections on the concepts of Marshal McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard, David Chandler’s views on the latter and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave providing a sound platform for the experiential aspects. “The Uncanny Valley” was a new concept to me but it certainly fits Second Life in terms of many of the created landscapes there and, of course, many of the Avatars. Having read on this I was even more determined that my own Avatar would look more human and hopefully gain more interest from viewers.

At present, keeping to a digital presentation seems to fit the subject best and I intend to improve/extend my technical skills before formal assessment.

Demonstration of Creativity

 I have definitely used my imagination, which has been strongly exercised. I took risks in choosing to allow aspects of myself to be revealed, slowly at first and then more obviously – with encouragement from peers. I’m pleased with the way in which I’ve been able to synthesise my research and reading with an experiential approach and to have had some fun doing it.  I haven’t found the right description yet but there’s something in my head about being a digital ethnographer. I hope that my personal voice has been much in evidence within my approach to the assignment.

Whilst I did experiment with earlier, layered forms of 3D, I haven’t as yet used the Second Life 3D modelling software which is said to be more simple than Adobe software whilst being a good introduction to it. Instead I’ve concentrated on learning how to control the camera, how to actually ‘unpack’ 3D objects which were already in my inventory or the set of furniture I purchased and, most importantly how to move my Avatar. However, as a respite, I have recently downloaded Adobe Fuse and created two 3D characters which are older appearance-wise and  ready to be animated when I have more time. Still not as old as me though – why not take the opportunity to have a younger virtual body, without surgery or other treatments as I’ve enjoyed the experiences of flying and running.

I will also continue with learning Adobe Premiere Pro so that I can create more sophisticated videos.

My increasing involvement in Second Life has emerged fairly slowly due to my determination to limit the time spent there and the need to give enough time to reflection.  I believe I have behaved as a ‘digital settler’ and, in terms of ethnography, as a ‘participant observer’. As a ‘settler’ I armed myself with tools for living, as it were, through prior reading and grounding in personal/physical reality through my choice of name, something which felt important to me. I would say that, overall, I used the tools of a personal experiential action cycle – sessions in-world, followed by reflection away from my computer and then decisions on what to do next. Unexpected occurrences such as my reaction to seeing cows and interactions with two other Avatars added a more spontaneous and personal flavour which added both increased richness of experience and closer links with prior reading.

There is much more I can do within Second Life, especially having seen what other ‘residents’ do in terms of building their own locations; exhibiting art; giving poetry readings etc.  The timing hasn’t allowed that so far but it’s there as a possibility if I wish to continue it.

Context

 I have evidenced my learning throughout the process and clearly indicated this in my blog. I know I have a tendency to get too carried away with reading/research but the original mind map supported me in finding the right balance so that the research and experiential aspects worked in tandem through the developing process of action and research and I was further able to bring my own personal experience into the mix.

More widely, in thinking of tools, technology and trends.  I gained a lot from looking at the work of Alan Warburton and David Claerbout, as contemporary artists in addition to their thinking on the uses of digital technology, and Marc Prensky on its effects on users. David Claerbout compared the evolvement of photography with that of the music industry in moving from the purely technical to “seeing the world the way it wants to be seen by us”. I found Warburton’s writing a positive confirmation on my growing view that, after all, digital technology is a just a tool like any other. As he points out technology of one form or another has been part of who we humans are for millennia. The important aspect is how we use these new tools and this is emphasised by Prensky who accepts the negative potential whilst suggesting we look at its positive aspects in terms of ‘empowerment’  – being able to do new and powerful things “in service of things that are useful both to them and to the world” rather than “just doing old things in new ways” .

Having referred to personal voice earlier, there is another aspect that might be worth further exploration. Fellow students encouraged me to be more obvious in relating my Second Life experiences to myself.  It seems to me that this could be almost like meeting a person and wanting to know more about them; looking for what’s beneath.  Thinking on this recently I have been wondering about ‘death of the author’.  Myself, as author, has been quite to the forefront despite my Avatar layer, plus more of my layers have been revealed through this exercise – even to me. The Johari Window comes to mind. I’m wondering now how far this has affected the viewer of my work in creating their own narrative and identification with the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living as an Avatar in Second Life: Simulacra and Simulation in action

This project began as one of two projects I undertook for Assignment 4 both of which concerned the notion of reality and replication in relation to digital technology. I do have a digital footprint on the internet through activities such as internet banking, shopping and also social networks although I would say that my presence is quite faint in the latter. I use Facebook sparingly and haven’t uploaded an image to Flickr for a couple of years at least. I joined Instagram in the middle of last year, though, because I thought this would encourage me to make photographs and experiment with other forms of photography such as cyanotypes and polaroids.  This concentration on image-making has worked well for me as I’ve gained inspiration from seeing the work of others in a wider artistic field and often having interesting ‘conversations’.

The idea of ‘digital identity’ troubles me in relation to the negative criticisms that are so often put forward so, being contrary as I am, I wanted to explore this in the hope of finding something more positive. I didn’t relish the idea of fooling others by pretending to be a different person on Facebook and so I decided to explore an environment where one quite openly takes on another identity and interacts in a virtual world. In this sense I have become a virtual ethnographer, adopting the role of a digital settler.

Process

My earlier work, including reading and research, has already been laid out in my post on Planning . In this second half of the project I have mainly concentrated on portraying my explorations of Second Life, although I have read the work of Plato through his Allegory of the Cave and reflected on this and its relationship to Jean Baudrillard – here . I have also thought about the importance of naming my Avatar here .

Having become slightly more proficient in being an Avatar and inhabiting Second Life, I have had a look at the work of others there. For example, Irina Pey , is a virtual blogger and also, I think a developer working on Second Life and Linden’s newer project Sansar which I haven’t dared to venture into. Her writing is eclectic as she describes visits to various sites there, using ‘snapshots’ that she has processed to look slightly different and also videos. In this sense it reads more like a virtual travel blog. Pey also summarises discussions on the running of Second Life (staff meet in their Avatar mode in a virtual conference, which is certainly different) and includes videos created for YouTube by other residents who include the developers and artists who have a presence in Second Life. It is through this that I have been able to appreciate the richness of creativity that people bring to bear in keeping this virtual world running – even though Second Life has its own signature look.

A PDF of the Bibliography is attached

Assignment 5 Bibliography

although I intend to create a more informative outline of the ways in which the different types of research assisted me in creating this project.

Presentation

At this stage this is a digital presentation as befits a digital life, using ‘screen’ snapshots and videos plus a new separate blog to act as my own travel diary.

Second Life Videos

 I have utilised two different ‘viewers’ for interacting with the world of Second Life (the official SL viewer and Firestorm) both of which have tools for ‘snapshots’ and videoing (which SL terms ‘machinimia’) what’s on screen.  However, I have found that the Snagit software I have mentioned before provides better quality given that these are, after all, only screenshots.  I have continued to use Wondershare Filmora for video processing which I find more intuitive than iMovies.  When time has allowed I’ve also been slowly working through tutorials on using Adobe Premiere Pro, which has a much more sophisticated interface, but I must say that using Filmora has proved very useful in increasing my understanding of how video processing works.

 Two short videos were included in my earlier post here  and these videos also appear in my separate digital journey diary which I discuss in more detail below. Videoing in Second Life has the double challenges of setting up the video framework in such a way (including zooming and panning) as to include a moving Avatar, plus actually moving/manipulating the Avatar. Avatars do not move smoothly and it’s not easy to manoeuvre them along a curved path for instance. Having checked out a variety of videos on You Tube I can say that I’m certainly not the worst video creator there although I know I have much room for improvement. The more sophisticated videos can tend towards a more or less static background with a voiceover reading poetry and flowing text, say.

Along the lines of my discussion with my tutor in planning for Assignment 5 I have created two more videos. One was uploaded to my video diary but I include it below also

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/256937179″>SL Greenland</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The most recent one has been created in response to my tutor’s suggestion that I create a video with voiceover. I used mainly new material, apart from a section of an earlier video. The video was created by stitching together clips from 6 short videos and 3 ‘snapshots’. My aim was to give a flavour of the Second Life experience in the early stages –  manipulation of the Avatar; struggles with Second Life technology; my need for a ‘home-base’ and reluctance/lack of confidence in looking to interact with other Avatars.  For the voiceover. I brainstormed thoughts as they occurred, cut the pages into strips and moved them around on my whiteboard to see what made sense so I could create a transcript.

 

I then went through a lengthy process of reading the transcript to myself as I processed the video; moving clips around to fit it; discovering the recorder I used was to fiddly for me; generally stressing and then deciding to use the voiceover function in Filmora. The video below is my final edit.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/259138493″>Exploring Second Life</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I have certainly learned more about creating a video but don’t feel too satisfied with it. Apart from the voiceover itself not being as good as I would have wanted, I’m not sure that just one video can encapsulate my experience in Second Life. I feel happier with the other videos I created which capture different aspects of Second Life.  There’s certainly much more to be explored there and experimented with – if I choose to continue visiting there after formal Assessment.

Digital ‘travel’ diary

Having already started a journal, I decided that a separate blog would provide both an appropriate container for recording my ongoing journeys in Second Life and a continuation of the digital theme. My usual preference for a blog theme is one which allows scrolling, so providing a continual flow of content.  This time I decided on something different. It seemed to me that a blog theme which utilises image thumbnails on its Home page would mirror the experience of dipping in and out of Second Life and choosing where to visit. The home page also looks like a photographic contact sheet.

Once I had chosen the theme and made a few test entries I asked six photographer colleagues for feedback.  The response was positive with lots of encouragement to go ahead with it. The major feedback was that, to make it even more interesting, I should put more of ‘me’ in it – thoughts, feelings, reflections. Thanks to all of them. The link is below

JOURNEY INTO SECOND LIFE

I think it achieves my aims so feel quite satisfied with it. I do want to give credit to the Second Life residents who have created such excellent sites to visit but, at the moment, I’m not sure whether I should put the links within the blog posts themselves or create a separate ‘page’ to list all of them.  Also, is it a good idea to continue posting on this separate blog right up until formal Assessment. These are aspects to discuss with my tutor.

 Interim Reflection

I intend to do a more comprehensive reflection (using Assignment criteria) in a separate blog post but, in the meantime…

It was fun, absorbing and challenging as I had to take a big learning curve to get to grips with exploring Second Life. I was concerned I might become too immersed but I was grounded in having a fairly strong sense of self and knowing when to take a break because the mental challenge was quite tiring.  There was another kind of grounded too (apart from the name I chose) which was that I was always aware of my physicality through having my finger on my computer mouse.  It might sound strange but, through this, I retained my  sense of touch with a physical object and knew that I was the one in control of my Avatar.  I needed that physical contact because, as I realise now, a computer screen is quite an alien object with its hard surface, backlit screen and bright colours.  It isn’t like reading a book and becoming fully immersed in the story because my imagination is the dominating factor. Undertaking the different kinds of reading and research also aided me in detaching from the experiental and moving into objective analysis and reflection.

However, having written that I didn’t get too immersed, I was surprised that there were times when my ‘real self’ acted-into my Avatar, reflecting the way I sometimes approach life in my physical world.  I could never have imagined myself feeling anxious about approaching an avatar to make conversation, or feeling suspicious about the behaviour of another avatar that seemed to be behaving in a strange manner by continually shape-shifting and asking quite direct questions.

 

 

 

 

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3. What’s in a Name?

I’ve read that many people choose a name that has some meaning for them when they use an alter ego/alias on digital networks. This has been the same for me during my explorations of Second Life.

Kit

I was named Catherine after my maternal grandmother (my nan) plus the name Anne.  My mother told me I was given those names because my parents didn’t think they would be shortened as names so often are.  When I was small I learned to say, “Catherine with an ‘A’ and Anne with an ‘E’” when people asked me my name.  It somehow seemed important and I still say that now sometimes.

My nan was born left-handed but changed herself to being right-handed when she was older, which must have been really hard.  This was because when she ‘went into service’ (as they called it) people used to call her “Cack-hand Katie”. My nan was quite proud to tell me that, when I also showed signs of being left-handed when I was small, she ‘changed’ me to being right-handed because she didn’t want me to suffer in the same way.  There’s no way now to prove I was left-handed to begin with of course because children can often appear ambidextrous until their ‘handedness’ settles itself. However, my daughter proved to be left-handed as well and I remember feeling pleased about this, although I don’t think she’s quite as thrilled.

No one ever really shortened my name until I worked as a secretary in a large wholesale warehouse that was set up like a department store. Amongst many other items they sold a popular doll at the time called “Chatty Cathy” (which ‘talked’ and was usually a blonde.), and so that got attached to me! Later on, when I trained as a probation officer, I got called Cathy for some other reason and this stayed with me for quite a long time in my working life. In some respects I think this shortened name actually helped me to distinguish between my working life and my home life but I eventually reclaimed my name, Catherine, at a time when I was going through a lengthy period of personal development work. I think this helped me to feel more integrated as a person instead of keeping my different roles in life in separate boxes, although some of my friends found it really hard and complained.

Despite being called Catherine my nan was always called Kit and it suited her – small, down-to-earth, energetic and young at heart.

 

 

Dumont

One of my paternal great-grandmothers had the surname Dumont before she married, and this name was actually carried down for two generations as a middle name for first-born sons. I’ve always liked the sound of the name and used it when I became Paul Dumont (during a project for Context & Narrative) who created a blog in which to grieve for his broken relationship with Laura.

 

Kit Dumont

 My Second Life avatar is Kit Dumont – a virtual representation of  some connections with my female lineage.

 

Plato’s Allegory of The Cave

I think that Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a very relevant work to examine for two reasons.  Firstly, Baudrillard used the Allegory as a basis for his own theories on Simulacra and Simulation (1981) which have a direct relationship to a virtually created world such as Second Life. Secondly, Plato’s work The Republic (of which the Allegory of the Cave is a part) is concerned with the way in which people acquire knowledge of ‘Forms’ the highest and most fundamental kinds of reality, and his vision is of a particular organisation of studies which can be compared with that provided by Second Life; our past and current Education systems and the OCA.

I’m not intending to go into great detail or claim to have studied this in depth but wanted to put down the way I understand it as I’ve kept puzzling what Baudrillard means by ‘real’ within his own concepts.

The Allegory of the Cave

This allegory is part of Plato’s work The Republic which is the centrepiece of his philosophy and concerned with the way in which people acquire knowledge about beauty, justice and good. Plato uses the device of presenting his own philosophy through a fictitious conversation between his late mentor Socrates and Plato’s older brother Glaucon as to how this vision of the Republic can be achieved. Basically, he puts his own words into Socrates’s mouth which, presumably, he believed would give his own concepts a firm foundation.

The allegory is in three parts which represent the stages through which the common man attempts to face and deal with opinions and ideas that are different from those cultural and intellectual norms which make him a prisoner of convention. There are many videos on You Tube using a variety of strategies to explain the allegory.  Below is the one that struck me at this particular moment:-

 

 

The cave represents that which is known to us only through the material/physical world and through sensation. The ascent out of the cave is made by those free thinkers and intellectually liberated individuals who question the validity of their cave-bound life; see the physical world for the illusion that it is and seek enlightenment through following the highest of all studies so that by thought and rational thinking they can deduce ‘The Forms’. Plato believed that there was only one ‘real’ and good version of anything – the perfect version of that such as beauty and justice. However, those who have attained this highest level must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the ‘prisoners’, sharing in their labours and honours.

Jean Baudrillard uses Plato’s Allegory as a springboard for his own concepts of Simulacra and Simulation (1994). So far as Baudrillard is concerned ‘the real’ has disappeared. Andrew Wernick (in R.G. Smith (Ed) 2010:181) suggests that, with this notion, Baudrillard is building upon Nietzsche’s fable How the ‘Real World” at last Became a Myth (1987) which traces the demise of Plato’s ‘real world’ “ – a higher reality which is the repository of truth and of which the world of appearance is only a degraded copy.  All of this is quite convoluted, as philosophical concepts often are but what I am taking from it at present is that my version of what is ‘real’ concerns that which I experience as known through the material/physical world and through sensation and not those higher ‘forms’.  This is one of the problems when the same words are used for different and sometimes contradictory concepts. I also recalled, during my current reading, that I had actually learned about Plato’s Philosophy during my studies with The Open University and been interested in this idea of external perfect truths as opposed to Aristotle’s later view that they should be searched for within the essence of things. It is because of his theory of forms that Plato believed that philosophers should rule the World – being the only ones who sseek out true knowledge and not just imitations of it (R. Ferguson, 2006).

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he  who would act rationally either in public or private life must have his eye fixed (Plato The Allegory of the Cave (2017:11)

Here I return to Plato and his views on the education of those who will attain this higher knowledge and become effective Ministers of State.

The role of education for higher knowledge

This is clarified through Plato’s dialectic approach as the discourse between Socrates and Glaucon continues following Socrates’s description of the Cave.  This education begins in childhood with children, taken from their parents at around the age of ten (by those  who have already gone through the process) so that these children ‘will be unaffected by the habits of their parents” (ibid p.34).  After some years of simple gymnastics  and sciences learned without any order there will be further selection at age 20 with more specific instruction in mathematical sciences. At age 30 there will be selection for dialectic, with philosophy to take the place of gymnastics. After five years these men (?) will be sent down again into ‘the den’ and compelled to hold military or other office to gain experience of life for about 15 years. At age 50 “they must raise the eyes of the soul to the universal light; behold the absolute good as pattern to order the State and lives of individuals – making philosophy their chief pursuit but toiling also at politics and ruling for the public good – simply as a matter of duty (not as though performing an heroic action). Then depart to the Islands of the Blest and dwell there”.

Music must be educational and stories must be carefully crafted; there is little role for the Arts. Earlier in The Republic (book IV) Plato warns against the corrupting dangers of innovative poetry to the established order because of its power to quickly transform the values of entire societies.

This concept of education comes through to me as being rigid, austere, disciplinary and creating a society where individuals are selected early on to ‘know their place’ and stay within it. It reminded me of my own education in some respects.  Yes – as a result of the creation of the Welfare State I was able, as a working-class child, to have the possibility of education in a Grammar School through the 11 plus examination.  Much has been written about Grammar and Secondary Schools and how the 11 plus examination categorised children at such a young age; to the detriment of many who still feel resentful about this as adults.  What is rarely mentioned is that there were other categories of schools such as Intermediate Schools and Technical Schools, not forgetting ‘Open Air’ schools for children with disabilities.

I should mention that I did not enjoy being at an all-Girls Grammar School with all women teachers who seemed bent on raising ‘young ladies’ so I left before taking any ‘O’ levels. I went to secretarial college given that being a teacher or being a secretary were, in any case, the only apparent future options suggested at that school anyway. It was only years later that I returned to education as a mature student.  Even now, the education system is being constantly tinkered with by Governments on the basis of prevailing beliefs about the way in which future citizens should be educated.

This compares with the approach to education offered by organisations such as OCA and the Open University which have open access and, in the case of OCA,  are geared to learning which expands creativity.  What interested me about Second Life was a similar emphasis upon opportunities for personal development, albeit through a virtual learning environment, with avatars as tutors.

Returning to Jean Baudrillard, apart from my quest to work out his notion of ‘Real’ I do think there is one important aspect missing from his concepts of Simulacra and Simulation. He doesn’t seem to allow any place for, or recognise, the use of imagination and creativity. in representations of reality.  I doubt that he would have approved of virtual worlds such as Second Life.

 

References

Baudrillard, J (1994  ) Simulacra and Simulation (English Translation) US: The University of Michigan Press
Ferguson, R (2006) Socrates and Plato: From Dialogue to Dialectic [accessed at http://www.international-relations.com/History/SocratesPlato.htm ]

https://www.buzzle.com/articles/the-allegory-of-the-cave.html
Plato The Allegory of the Cave translated by B. Jowett, 1888. Los Angeles. Enhanced Media Publishing (2017)
Smith, R.G. (Ed) The Baudrillard Dictionary: Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

 

 

Assignment 5: Planning

Assignment 5: Planning

Firstly a reminder about the brief for Assignment 4 as this links directly with Assignment 5:-

Develop a project around the theme of identity with the current digital climate. This could be an autobiographical exploration examining how you relate to digital culture, or it could be a more critical examination of an aspect of digital culture

  • You should develop your project over the course of Part Four. This is your chance to find and articulate your personal voice in relation to digital culture.

The brief for Assignment 5 is:-

  • Use your tutor’s feedback on Assignment Four to help you develop your digital identities project to the point of resolution.
  • The method of presentation that you choose for your project should be appropriate to, and complement, the work you make. Your work may suite a print-based submission, or it may be appropriate to present your work in a book, audio-visual form, web-based project or installation.

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During the Course of Assignment 4 I explored two possibilities for Assignment 5 – Looking at the Art of Bonsai and also exploring the virtual World of Second Life. In her feedback for that Assignment my tutor wrote:-

You’ve also done lots of interesting research into Second Life and the motivations of those who visit this and similar sites. What I found most moving here was the ways in which you said that the behaviours you saw from yourself in Second Life was actually very similar to the behaviours you noted in the real world. I thought that this was very interesting and wondered if it might be interesting for you to condense this idea into a piece of writing – to make a script – possible in a diaristic voice -that you might read over your (lonely) travels around the various digital landscapes of Second Life? Again, lots of good research here that can be further developed as you move through your OCA studies beyond this course.

I had a suspicion that my tutor might focus in on my comments around these similarities and had already set up a separate WordPress blog site in readiness.   My tutor has also approved a  preparatory mind map – see below.

Initial thoughts on Ass 5

The new WordPress blog will include ‘snapshots’ and videos created whilst I am exploring the Second Life website. The new blog site is in progress and I intend to use its contents as a foundation for the composite video, with voiceover. I will also expand upon the work already created towards Assignment 4:-

Jean Baudrillard’s reference to ‘the Real’ has long perplexed me and so I also intend to re-read Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” (Translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1888) to gain more understanding of the roots of Baudrillard’s concept given that the Cave itself is an introduction to Plato’s more complex concepts on the notion of the Republic and the education and divisions to its Society.

I would also like to get some experience with Adobe software for 3D characters plus Premiere Pro Video creation which is more sophisticated than the Wondershare Filmora software I have been using. I’m writing this bearing in mind that I can continue working on Assignment 5 after tutor feedback and up to presentation for formal Assessment. This aim is included on my preparatory mind-map.