(William F. Smith Ph.D., European Graduate School, Switzerland)
Abstract: What is becoming doll and how does doll negotiate between its material and immaterial body? What reality is represented or signified within becoming doll? How does this represented or signified reality articulate relationships between social and cultural narratives, and technology? What is the relationship between visual representation and meaning of becoming doll? In order to try to answer some of these questions, we consider and elaborate on various theories of aesthetic experience, as only through the experience of art will we encounter artificial life out of living. It is important to note that we are not pointing to corporeal propagation of characteristics from nature or human to artificial life, but understanding the relationship between them. In addition, borderlines and changing dimensions will be shown to be possible in other ways—such as a distributed cognitive network of social relationships and interactions with digital machines. What are the liberating dimensions of this mental combination or reliance on machines? Are our realities not also fantasies performed inside the spaces of images? Are we not primarily performing art(-ificial) living out of life at the intersections where apparatuses, technologies, and image converge, or cross-over?
Key words: aesthetic experience; becoming; crossing-over; dolls; image-flesh
“But what reality is at issue here?…becoming produces nothing other than itself; …What is real is the becoming itself,” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 262)
Historically, we have encountered artificial humans or dolls in the fantasies of art, cinema, literature, and popular culture including some of the more commonly known: Golem—Jewish folklore; Pygmalion’s living sculpture—Greek mythology; E.T. A. Hoffman’s uncanny doll—Olympia, in der Sandmann; Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; Fritz Lang’s Maria—the female robot in Metropolis; and Ridley Scott’s Replicants in Bladerunner. Our long tradition with fantasies of artificial life out of living, continue with sex machines, and sex dolls such as the Real Doll—a life-size doll made of silicon, which can be designed to reflect our personal choices in sex partners, fetishes, ethnicities, body types, and other attributes, including designs based on Japanese anime characters. In 2006, two global corporations, M.A.C cosmetics① and Barbie® Mattel, Inc.②, a toy company, teamed up providing a new line of cosmetics for both men and women, allowing people to experience living as a plastic doll—Barbie or Ken, after cosmetic application. In addition, we are seeing more and more Japanese Cosplay (Costume Play) performances taking place globally, and then there are the Avatars—our cyberspace dolls. Are we not mobilizing our art experiences, this sort of performance art experience, and endowing ourselves with artificial life? What reality is represented or signified within becoming doll? How does this represented or signified reality articulate relationships between social and cultural narratives, and technology? How does the art of the doll signify the artificial living out of life, or the virtual real? How does becoming doll negotiate between the material and immaterial body? What is the relationship between visual representation and meaning of becoming doll?
In order to try and answer some of these questions, maybe a place to start is looking at the aesthetic experience through the utopian pleasure body, as only through the experience of art will we encounter artificial life out of living. There is no utopian pleasure body without an art experience, and in this situation, we could say this lived experience, this encounter, is sort of a performance art (doll) experience.
What takes itself to be utopia remains the negation of what exists and is obedient to it. At the center of contemporary antinomies is that art must be and wants to be utopia, and the more utopia is blocked by the real functional order, the more this is true; yet at the same time art may not be utopia in order not to betray it by providing semblance and consolation. If the utopia of art was fulfilled, it would be art’s temporal end. (Adorno 32)
We can discover our utopian pleasure body in knowing that it does not exist, or that it cannot be captured. If pleasure body is captured no utopia exists. Utopian pleasure body’s existence is dependent upon that utopia does not exist. The art of the doll is the (self-) realization of the art of life. Our human weakness, vulnerability and finiteness open ourselves to the promise of overcoming such barriers through art and paradigms of the technological.
“We consciously violate the rules of natural order to create an artificial life that better accords with our wishes” (Schirmacher, “The Virtual Human”).
Our wish to overcome one’s finiteness drives the creations or propagations of utopian pleasure bodies—plastic surgery, fitness, hormone treatments, artificial insemination, viral immunity enhancement, genetic scanning. What do these technologies of the self (Foucault 145-169)—a set of techniques and practices that can be deployed to modify or affect the self, say about our future? The human nature of pleasure body is artificial living out of life; its line of flight, (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 277) an imaginary art object with a symbolic function. Tensions exist that require us to perform our identity through art and image in order to cross-over. The art of the doll is a distributed cognitive network of social relationships and interactions with digital machines3 closer to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s becoming (A Thousand Plateaus 232-309).
The transformation from the analog to the digital epoch, or maybe what Lev Manovich refers to as the Velvet Revolution (Manovich)—to emphasize the gradual, almost invisible pace of the transformations which occurred in moving image aesthetics between approximately 1993 and 1998; new opportunities emerged for the average person—not only artists, to adopt digital technologies with ambitions of building a better social life through art and images. In the article, After Effects, or Velvet Revolution in Modern Culture, Manovich discusses how the visual hybridity of moving image and aesthetics came to dominate our visual cultures, however, it would be more appropriate to say that today (2011), our lives are dominated by our movement in combining technologies of the visual and our social practices. Our social practices and visual consciousness create the movement between the processes and structures of ideologies producing a subject position. The art of the doll does not represent a specific temporal or historical moment; rather it shows us how visual language is deeply embedded in our use of signs, or the way that we make pleasure body. When we create pleasure body from our lived experience, the marks of digital visual culture are varied and often contrary, suggesting how our visualization is encoded in a philosophy of how life could be lived. The doll can assume or annex the unknown or anything that falls outside of its it-itself-ness, an encounter with an unfamiliar, rewriting of the incomprehensible, or the experiences from the outside that are capable of endlessly transforming pleasure body into doll or visa versa. The art of the doll, a signification of utopian pleasure body, is artificial living out of life.
How does utopian pleasure body function? Pleasure body functions as a doll through all its distributed cognitive network of social relationships and technologies.3 The art of the doll is always–already; becoming–it–itself; (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 232-309) the leap to an anthropomorphic existence—life technique (Schirmacher, “Technoculture”). It is important to note that we are not pointing to corporeal propagation of characteristics from nature or human to artificial life, but understanding the relationship between them. Performance art is the anthropomorphic function of preserving pleasure body’s utopian image, necessary for the art of the doll’s being the picture, (Lacan 106) NOT being in the picture, and its protection from fear of toppling out (Lacan 73-76). Like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or Ridley Scott’s Replicants, both of which are technological organism endowed with life, so too is the doll endowed with life by mobilizing technological capabilities, however, the differences not addressed are how the identity of human mind can incorporate machines or technology instead of the repetitive and outdated construct of fusing machine with human. What are the liberating dimensions of this mental combination or reliance on machines? In this sense the utopian pleasure body’s performance art emerges as the art of the doll. The art of the doll is this technological mental combination of artificial living out of life.
An operational definition of the doll to consider is the unattainable body or the relationship functionality between human and something other, animals, the universe, et cetera. What is of interest is how one actualizes becoming doll. One way to define becoming doll is through the translation of information flows between human and digital machine. The art of the doll is an alliance to negotiate between its material and immaterial body through the distributed cognitive network of social relationships and interactions with digital machines.3 Becoming doll is possible through the aesthetic experience, or what is referred to as performance art. We can define the art of the doll through the translation of information flows between human and digital machine. Translations of information flows provides the potentialities of becoming, and in this scenario, there is a translation for every potentiality. If you change information, you change potentiality.
This paper shows many types of encounters and aesthetic experiences from a consumer culture of plastic to post-reality (Virilio). Becoming doll is the result of a mediated self-changing activity by artificial living out of life. Becoming doll is not a bio-machine configuration similar to Donna Haraway’s cyborg, rather the liberating dimension of incorporating human mind with machine, not the replacement. New media, digital aesthetics, and the culture of information are dominating our life experiences by our movement in combining technologies of the visual and our social practices. Today’s mode of existence is organized differently; the becoming doll aura is amplified by passing through media technologies. These technologies re-organize the aesthetic experience from the one of the past, bringing a new historical testimony. The doll emerges as images endowed with life—artificial human.
Becoming doll does not represent a specific temporal or historical moment; rather it shows us how visual language is deeply embedded in our use of signs. When we create doll from our lived experience, the marks of digital visual culture are varied and often contrary, suggesting how our visualization is encoded in a philosophy of how life could be lived. What are the liberating dimensions of this mental combination or reliance on machines? Becoming doll is this technological mental combination of artificial living out of life.
Artificial and Virtual
According to Deleuze and Guattari, [man] “does not live nature as nature, but as a process of production. There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couple the machines together”(Anti-Oedipus 2). For Deleuze and Guattari, production is a process of the man-nature relationship, just as it is for many other relationships. “The human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species”(Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 4). Then, would it be correct to say that human production is artificial?
What is virtual, and what is a virtual human? We may think of temporality or simulation, however, an object’s essence is virtual too. Schirmacher writes, [virtual human] “is a creature of possibility, open to an unknown future, a trans full of undreamt-of qualities” (“The Virtual Human”). If human production were artificial, then would the virtual human be the event of that production? Under these circumstances, the virtual human would be the reality of its virtual, the unknown future. Reality of the virtual is completely different than virtual reality. Virtual reality means to imitate reality and remake its experience in an artificial medium. Therefore, the virtual is a form of something else, and the virtual human is the one who is open to possibilities that are undetermined.
Pierre Levy suggests the use of virtual as illusionary; something which does not actually exist, but it is assumed to be, like fake, or hypothetical, such as virtual desktop, virtual workspace, etc. It is intangible and unreal. And in this sense, virtual is inferior to the real; it substitutes the actual, the real, the physical in a technological environment for the purpose of effective communication. On the other hand, real “implies a material embodiment, a tangible presence” (Levy, 23). Summarizing Levy, virtual refers to virtualis (derived from virtus); it means “strength, a potential as in virtuosity” (23). Therefore, it refers to potential rather than actual existence. “The virtual tends towards actualization, without undergoing any form of effective or formal concretization” (Levy, 23). Therefore, virtual should not be compared to real, but to actual, which it couples and constitutes the real.
For Deleuze, virtual and real are not opposing forms, but they are two modes of the same event/object. Deleuze’s philosophical position is established on two closely related, and historical contested, philosophical notions; one related with the understanding of the thing/body, the other is the understanding of time, of the event in which the thing exists and takes part.
As Levy points out, reality has been thought of as a process of realization of one of the certain possibilities that have been given in a particular situation. For Deleuze, the transition between virtual and actual is more than such a fulfillment of a possibility. He warns us about the disastrous dangers of confusing the virtual and the possible. “The only danger in all this is that the virtual could be confused with the possible. The possible is opposed to the real; the process undergone by the possible is therefore a “realization”. By contrast, the virtual is not opposed to the real; it possesses a full reality by itself. The process it undergoes is that of actualisation. It would be wrong to see a verbal dispute here: it is a question of existence itself” (Deleuze, Difference & Repetition 211).
So, then, if we begin confusing the immanency of the potential, the virtual itself, by possibilities, then the reality is understood in terms of such a realisation, a dictation which has no space for differentiation, as Deleuze writes:
Every time we pose the question in terms of the possible and the real, we are forced to conceive of existence as a brute eruption, a pure act or leap which occurs behind our backs and is subject to a law of all or nothing. What difference can there be between the existent and the non-existent if the non-existent is already possible, already included in the concept and having all the characteristics that the concept confers upon it as a possibility? Difference can no longer be anything but the negative determined by the concept; either the limitation imposed by the possibles upon each other in order to be realised, or the opposition of the possible to the reality of the real (Difference & Repetition 211)
So, reality as a realisation of possibility produces an understanding of existence, which occurs in an indifferent time and space, instead of an existence that is produced in a characteristic time and space immanent in the idea.
…to the extent that the possible is open to realisation, it is understood as an image of the real, while the real is supposed to resemble the possible. Such is the defect of the possible: a defect which serves to condemn it as produced after the fact, as retroactively fabricated in the image of what resembles it. The actualisation of the virtual, on the contrary, always takes place by difference, divergence, or differenciation. Actualisation breaks with resemblance as a process no less than it does with identity as a principle. Actual terms never resemble the singularities they incarnate. In this sense, actualisation or differenciation is always a genuine creation. It does not result from any limitation of a pre-existing possibility… For a potential or virtual object, to be actualised is to create divergent lines which correspond to—without resembling—a virtual multiplicity. The virtual possesses the reality of a task to be performed or a problem to be solved: it is the problem, which orientates, conditions and engenders solutions, but these do not resemble the conditions of the problem. Any hesitation between the virtual and the possible, the order of the Idea and the order of the concept, is disastrous, since it abolishes the reality of the virtual (Deleuze, Difference & Repetition 212)
For Deleuze, the reality of the virtual is the actual reality, which is produced with a multiplicity of potentials through a process of constant differentiation. In this regard, Deleuze’s position on virtual as potential can be traced back to the very early philosophical discussions on the nature of the thing. After the Socratic break in ancient Greek philosophy, the question concerning the thing itself—what is a thing, and how can it be defined? —stood as an essential inquiry. Platonic answer to this question, which became the dominant mode of ancient Greek philosophy as well as the following western metaphysics, was to define the thing in its limits and its form; in its borders and certain operational features, which constitute the thing as a distinct body and separates the thing from other things. A seed, in this sense, could be defined within its formal limits; its size, its shape, its color and the volume inside its membrane, which separates it from the outside world. The limits create inside and outside of the thing in this sense.
In the previous discussions, the doll symbolizes the activities that human beings use to function, to progress and survive from their human weakness, or use in search of ways to live better lives. A better life is not one established by a political authority, regimes, or a moral of society; rather, it has been shaped by an individual’s cognition of life envisioned by them. The becoming doll lies somewhere in the science of dreams, and in the practice of art and the aesthetic experience.
As we have seen, “the relationships between animals are bound up with the relations between man and animal, man and woman, man and child, man and the elements, man and the physical and microphysical universe” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 259) Would it not be appropriate to replace the word ‘animals’ with dolls? The relationships with doll are the same as described above, and are found in a variety of previously mentioned aesthetic experiences and life technologies like, Cosplay, Anikora, avatars, cosmetic surgery, et cetera.
The twofold idea series-structure crosses a scientific threshold at a certain moment; but it did not start there and it does not stay there, or else crosses over into other sciences, animating, for example, the human sciences, serving in the study of dreams, myths, and organizations. The history of ideas should never be continuous; it should be wary of resemblances, but also of descents or filiations; it should be content to mark the thresholds through which an idea passes, the journeys it takes that change its nature or object (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 259)
So here, there is relationship functionality between human and something other, animals, the universe, et cetera. Notice this has nothing to do with metaphor, as metaphor pertains to the order of representation, rather than function. Deleuze and Guattari suggest this functionality is not possible under Structuralism because it sees these becomings as “a deviation from true order and pertaining to the adventures of diachrony” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 262).
A becoming is not a correspondence between relations. But neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification. The whole Structuralist critique of the series seems irrefutable. To become is not to progress or regress along a series. Above all, becoming does not occur in the imagination, even when the imagination reaches the highest cosmic or dynamic level, as in Jung or Bachelard. Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here? …becoming produces nothing other than itself. This is the point to clarify: that a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself; but also that it has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first. This is the principle according to which there is a reality specific to becoming (the Bergsonian idea of a coexistence of very different durations, superior or inferior to ours, all of them in communication (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 262-63)
So there is heterogeneous activity that de-emphasizes meaning and focuses on functionality. Is this not the point of the art of the doll? There is no meaning behind our becoming other than becoming itself. “If evolution includes any veritable becomings, it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms, with no possible filiation” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 263).
At this point, we can see the rhizomatic nature of becoming. It is not relations, but alliances between kingdoms, and the term they have in mind to describe this evolutionary form is “involution; on the condition that involution is in no way confused with regression. Becoming is involutionary, involution is creative. In contrast to involution, to regress is to move in the direction of something less differentiated” (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 263) Continuing to summarize Deleuze and Guattari, “becoming is a rhizome, it is not imitating, or identifying with something; or producing through filiation. It is a verb with a consistency all it own” (A Thousand Plateaus 263). They are not interested in characteristics, but modes of expansion, propagation, contagion, peopling.
In this way all animals, including the human animal, are bands or packs. The demonic animal, or pack, forms the multiplicities or becomings:
These multiplicities with heterogeneous terms, cofunctioning by contagion, enter certain assemblages; it is there that human beings effect their becomings-animal. …The pack is simultaneously an animal reality, and the reality of the becoming-animal of the human being; contagion is simultaneously an animal peopling, and the propagation of the animal peopling of the human being (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 265-67)
So the pack is associated with molecular and rhizome, an organic, or natural changing, for the sake of becoming, or the impossibility of totalization. The pack has a borderline and a borderline is defined as the phenomenon of bordering:
A multiplicity is not defined by the elements that compose it in extension, not by characteristics that compose it in comprehension, but by the lines and dimensions it encompasses in “intension.” If you change dimensions, if you add or subtract one, you change multiplicity. Thus there is a borderline for each multiplicity; it is in no way a center but rather enveloping line or farthest dimension, as a function of which it is possible to count the others, all those lines or dimensions constitute the pack at a given moment (beyond the borderline, the multiplicity changes nature (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 270)
Here we see an opportunity for the art of the doll to negotiate between its material and immaterial body for the purposes of becoming. Similarly, early in this paper, the conception of Deleuze and Guattari’s borderlines and changing dimensions was shown to be possible in another way; through the distributed cognitive network of social relationships and interactions with digital machines.3 What Deleuze and Guattari call borderlines, may be referred here as translations. As pointed out earlier, translations of information flows provides the potentialities of becoming for pleasure body and the art of the doll. In this scenario, there is a borderline for every multiplicity; and there is a translation for every possibility. In the same way, if you change dimensions, if you add or subtract one you change multiplicities; then, if you change information, if you add or subtract one, you change possibilities.
In Deleuze and Guattari’s becomings, we can define the art of the doll, and the shaping of our human life (Schirmacher, “Homo Generator”) through the translation of information flows between human and digital machine. These are the realities signified in the art of the doll; the formations of possibilities based on our experience with image worlds. The art of the doll is the generative process of becoming that is not a characteristic, but a signification.
What is the relationship between visual representation and function of the art of the doll? The visible world is composed of the ever-changing space of doll’s material image surface, and pleasure body is an eternal immaterial form (Eidos) of being beyond our senses. The ideas of doll take shape from the ideas of homo. What is in doll depend on what is in homo. Since Ideas are Essences and Essence is Form, the Idea of doll is the Essence of homo’s aesthetic experience, and that is the Form of the image-flesh, or the form that makes those things the kind of things they are. The image-flesh is the impression in the mind of homo and the art of the doll its sense impression. Homo’s mental process grasps and holds the image surface it perceives through its mediated experience and conceptualizes doll in whatever form it decides. In popular culture, the doll’s sense impression is giving rise to animal or non-human appendages, changes in our physical composition through cosmetic surgery and implants, and a host of other possibilities. For example, Cosplay is based on an aesthetic experience that includes performance art or role-play, representing an idea or an artificial creation that usually originate from various media sources, like comic books, animation, novels, video games, fantasy and science fiction movies. It offers opportunities for participants to cross over into other potentialities.
What does the art of the doll offer that the material body doesn’t? As Wolfgang Schirmacher pointed out, technologies are anthropomorphic modes of existence and there is no difference between technologies, whether we call them organic, mechanical or cybernetic. As science theorizes about the unknown, doll performs it through its language and play. In the art of the doll, language can be switched ‘on’ or ‘off’, between realities and fiction, social perceptions and projections, and the crosses incorporating digital machine and organisms. As homo realizes its weaknesses and mortality, it draws from its strength of creating new modes of living through images. The art of the doll is a technical apparatus that endows homo with functions and abilities to overcome the tensions between being bound by the threat of all too human characteristics; guaranteeing its ability to survive by being the picture. This wish to overcome homo’s finiteness drives the creation of becoming doll and promises liberations from pre-established determinations. Could we not say that there is not a fine line between nature and artificial life? What is natural about anything that homo does? Have we not learned anything through living? Somewhere in our artificial living out of life we will discover how becoming doll contributes to a good life, not one prescribed one. And, will this not lead homo to find meaning as an event of coming-into-its-own?
① M.A.C., or Make-up Artist Cosmetics, originally a company founded in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and later
acquired by Estée Lauder Company in New York, U.S.A., manufactured a specialized line of cosmetic make-up in
collaboration with Barbie®, Mattel, Inc.
② Barbie®, a famous toy doll produced by Mattel, Inc., headquarters in El Segundo California, however,
since 2002, the company outsources its toy production to China. In Shanghai, Mattel, Inc had invested in a flagship store for Barbie®, which was later closed in 2010. Marketing industry journals speculate the closure was due to poor sales in China.
3. distributed cognitive network of social relationships and interactions with digital machines; and, distributed cognitive network of social relationships and technologies: are terms that I developed during the writing of my PhD dissertation. Since 2007 until present, I claim, with cautious hesitance, I’m the first person to use these terms together in academic publications.
4. This publication was originally written for 2012 International Deleuze Conference and published by Henan University Press. Kaifeng, P.R. China. 2012 International Deleuze Conference. ISBN 978-7-5649-1296-3
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