The virtual has previously been characterized by this collective as spacial, but in recent weeks this has had to be re-evaluated. To characterize the virtual as a space in which people gather, with defined boundaries and borders is to fall into the exact thinking promoted by virtual control mechanisms. This narrative of the virtual as definable space allows for obscuring of the virtual’s true forms and formations and their effects on those people who are increasingly reliant upon it. In this essay I will be exploring the virtual’s topology and the effects that topological virtual theory has on previously stated theories of persona.
In the Simulated Collective’s previous theorization (Socialized Zombies, A.O. George) the virtual was defined in terms of space, in such a way that, if one wished, the “space” of the virtual was mappable and navigable. Within this framework persona found a definitional niche that asserted it as an external force, in it’s entirety fabricated within the space of the virtual to allow movement within that space. We now propose that the virtual as such is not a space, but a formless topology, an infinitely elastic structure capable of shaping itself depending on the needs of the moment. This new theory of the form of the virtual is a shift that more effectively clarifies why ideology is omnipresent within the virtual, and additionally forces a more nuanced understanding of the persona into virtual theory.
The Fisherian conception of the Gothic flatline is one that holds overbearing relevance in the current moment, although not one which is frequently acknowledged. Fisher’s flatline, defined as “[…] a plane where it is no longer possible to differentiate the animate from the inanimate and where to have agency is not necessarily to be alive.” (FC 2), is, in many ways, an apt descriptor for the virtual, a topological continuum beyond life and death where the inanimate holds agency and the animate, very regularly, does not. This continuum defines existence within the virtual, it’s form influencing every emergent virtual function and form. It’s topological existence as well allows for the unbroken propogation of neoliberal ideology in the virtual, easily recognizable in the disparate structures, and descriptions of them, rising out of the flatline. Even the approach of the ideologues of the virtual to it is one steeped in ideology, the “free marketplace of ideas” being first and foremost dominated by the capitalist authority that facilitates a so-called free market.
In this new appraisal of the virtual we now re-encounter the persona, the “[…] idealistic, transhuman, and normative self.” (SZ) constructed in order to allow for existence along the flatline of the virtual. This construction is a new, topological body which is a projection of a non-topology into a topological arena. This construction forces immense tension into the psyche, the conflict between a flatlined construction of self, a topological personhood, and the non-topological self and it’s gradual degradation by the persona being irreconcilable. This irreconcilability between a virtualized self (persona) and a non-virtual self is the root of “virtual-real alienation” (SZ). We can define these personas as not simply a construction of identity, but rather as a sub-concious projection of self into the virtual. These personas act as the bleeding-over point where the non-topological real and the topological virtual meet and begin to interact and push into one another. This boundary breach has become more and more apparent, as personas become easier and easier to project into the virtual and as performance of all facets of life becomes more and more normative. This breach, or more precisely, erosion, of the boundary between topology and non-topology has a profound effect on the psyche, and was termed “temporality” in the Collective’s most recent work (although those familiar with postmodern theory may recognize it more readily as “schizophrenia” we at the Collective consider this term to be dated and offensive). This temporal state of society, accelerated by the emergence of virtual topology, is both a breakdown of experience and a penetration via the persona that spawns an obscene integration of self into the virtual.
Living in temporal, and by extension virtual, society necessitates living in an “ephemeral culture” which is “inundated with disparate and continuously proliferating cultural symbols, short-lived cultural iconographs, and a generalized detachment from one’s own histories, and thus, reality itself.” (SZ). This societal scale detachment and shifting instability is one which, more and more, envelops and swallows the capacity for true community and action against the real structures maintaining it. Its importance to the building of counter-hegemonic left movements cannot be overstated, and in the era of a left obsessed with the trappings of the virtual, a truly revolutionary moment must be created outside it.
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