In Gregory Ulmer’s Avatar Emergency, he writes
“Avatar as an experience is an event of counsel. It is an uncanny encounter with one’s own possibility (potential), as undergone in various wisdom traditions noted here as analogies for the rhetoric (flash reason) made possible through avatar practice. (ix)
“The experiment in this study is to construct a ‘concept avatar’ to support thought in electracy. Avatar is to electracy what ‘self’ is to literacy or ‘spirit’ to orality. Avatar as concept is needed to understand how theory may still be performed in the image metaphysics of electracy.” (x)
This moment and opportunity to become what one (already) is, is a threshold position latent in experience, and a primary element in our wisdom and assumptions about identity. The mystery of this change is not only that it happens, but how it happens.” (xi).
“Like lightning, a thought flashes up. Such is the functionality we want, to manage what happens in cyberspace when the networked databases deliver a water cannon of information.” (7)
Throughout his discussion of electracy, Ulmer discussions flash reason, which the last quotation describes. This concept of flash reason is closely connected to what happens when we avatar (yes, it’s a noun and a verb), and, later in the book, Ulmer stresses the role of control in relation to concept avatar, and the act of avatar:
The secular meaning of avatar refers to the personification in human form of abstract principles or intangible qualities. Aaron Britt surveyed the usage.
‘The proliferation of avatar’s second meaning can be traced to Second Life, a multiplayer online virtual world, where players fashion their own online personae called avatars. The popularity of the game has shot the term into the mainstream. Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, defines avatar in the gaming sense as “the representation of your chosen embodied appearance to other people in a virtual world.” Considering that Second Life avatars may assume literally any guise- wings, a dragon’s head, gills and flippers–the key to avatarness, in Rosedale’s view, is user control. And insofar as a Second Life avatar does and is precisely what the player wants, not just a little Mario who can be made to run and jump or a shapely diva gyrating of her own programmed will, it comes far closer to being a full-fledged virtual persona.’
Yes, it is a persona, but not in the way Rosedale suggests. The value of ‘avatar’ for us is that the name tags the cite of electrate identity experience, and in its religious, secular, and literal senses indexes cultural resources that have yet to be explored for the insight they may offer in our question of deliberation in the dromosphere.” (76)
Now, what I want to consider is this aspect of control and crafting one’s own avatar, one’s own electrate identity experience, along with the concept of flash reason, as it pertains to Native American sovereignty on the Internet.
If flash reason is related to the electrate experience of information response, think about the results of this Google image search when I typed “Native Americans” in the search bar.
This is a hodgepodge of images, some clearly portrayals of actual Native American peoples, some fantasy drawings, and, one, an image from the Victoria’s Secret fashion show where models walked the runway in lingerie and feathered headdresses.
This, then, is sort of an electrate representation of how, at any moment, the flash of information represents and portrays Native Americans.
Then, of course, there is this, the result of my search on Second Life Marketplace, where you can purchase completed avatars. I looked for Native American Avatars, and this is what I found:
I find the idea of purchasing a readymade human a bit problematic, especially when you look at the cost of each character–the elderly grandmother is the least expensive character–and it’s more problematic when you consider that most of the characters fit under the generic “Native American” or “American Indian” without any specific identifiers as to tribe. Kavita is the most problematic of them all–an R rated version of the already PG-13 Disney Pocahontas.
four unlockable costumes are a white and green snow leopard themed variant to his original costing 2500 points, an orange and brown leopard or jaguar themed variant costing 2000 points and an orange and black tiger themed variant costing 1500 points. His fourth costume is unlocked by completing “The Dark Bear” challenge, and it darkens the colors of his clothing to match his tattoos, making a distinctly darker figure.
No attention to his tribal affiliation, or the realities of what type of animal skins he would have, takes place at all. Native Americans are just a figure that fits into a type– warrior, typically. Or sexy vixen, apparently.
In terms of avatars creating identity, and exploring electracy as an equivalent to literacy, I wonder about electrate sovereignty, and I think about the increasing exercise of sovereignty that Native American communities are exercising online. One example, is the Chickasaw Nation, and their website that asserts the sovereignty of their people.
The Chickasaw Nation, and other nations, assert their own sovereignty in their online presence, but does this create avatar sovereignty when it is pitted against the sort of flash reason that takes place in the wider culture? Particularly when you consider that the United States still debates whether or not the name of the Red Skins is acceptable, are where high schools post signs like this one:
One of Ulmer’s goals is to place electracy into an ontology. Where in his ontology will he find a place for non-Western rhetorics? For non-European outlooks? Is the realm of electracy colonized as well?