Avatar and terminal identity (part 2)
Avatar raises the issue of terminal identity, the one that depends on screens to grow and evolve. The film sets us in such a situation as to make us experience any sorts of representational states, in reality and in virtuality, —be it in the container for connection/fusion or in the training camp with its interactive holograms and its geostrategic navigation maps. All the possibilities of simulation are explored, including the extreme possibility of staying in the simulated space of one’s choice.
Cameron exploits the potential of all the screens and their interconnected networks that blend animate and inanimate, flesh and sap. By means of 3D imagery, he turns the screen into a powerful representational media due to its capacities for tapping into multiples forms and multiple sources of data (computing, broadcasting, mentalizing, etc.). The screen is systemic, that it so say that it meshes together several modes of representation with several internal and external processes while coordinating them with the socio-material and emotional environment of the mind.
Jake Sully as a mutant becomes a threefold hybrid, splicing human-na’vi-avatar together. He becomes fully a cyborg, an evolved cybernetic organism, virtually alive. His terminal identity, via screens, exceeds the mechanical relation between real actors and digital ones: he becomes himself active in the coordination and the structure of the task to be carried out. The virtual na’vi bodies (played by human actors) produce a performance similar to real bodies, with a very believable carnation —and therefore incarnation— visible in their eyes, their skin, the breathing and their moves. Digital writing endows the cold matter of computing with singular human warmth.
Such transduction is made possible by means of pixel resolution, a digital process that makes writing on screen more easily divisible and infinitely modular. It works as a rhetoric, with autonomous capacities of composition and manipulation. Assembling and dis-assembling such particles of light produces several playful effects: effect of presence, effect of de-solidification, effect of autonomy of artificial beings not to mention cloning, identical reproduction, interactive transformations and serial mutations. The codes of synthetic vision respond to the modification and deformation of light, with a play on representation (either realistic or artificial) rather than on reality. This distance creates a gap in which 3D derealisation can take place, giving the impression of takeoff from reality so characteristic of hypertextual navigation and three-dimensional immersion.
The erasure of the difference between reality and fiction becomes one of the laws of the genre. To separate reality from virtuality does not make sense any more. Reality is a potentiality as any other one and it is plastic. The levels of immediacy of perception and their connectivity dominate then in the relation with the machine: there no longer is a radical difference between human logic and machine logic, between na’vi logic and digital logic. The vegetal can invade the digital, the na’ vi can animate the man … The de-centering of the human subject reverses the traditional tacit contract between artist and viewer as virtual representation gives the upper hand to the cyborg rather than the human. Cameron, in Avatar, opts for the synthetic bio-digital world rather than the bio-degraded human world. He decides to have cyberity supersede humanity — the physical embodiment of the mind dematerializes in the screen as a second nature, an imachination.
Avatar and terminal identity (part 2) by Divina Frau-Meigs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 France License.