Posted January 16, 2013
Below is a meditation on (rather than straight-up review of) Gregory Ulmer’s “Avatar Emergency,” an essay published in DQH. I’ve posted one such meditation in the past; please feel free to comment below!
Ulmer, Gregory L. “Avatar Emergency.” English and Media Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville.
Ulmer’s essay engages Christian and Hindu mythology and cosmology to make etymological, theological, and ontological sense of the early 21st century emergence of the “avatar” in online communities. Ulmer posits that the “Avatar … is a practical point of entry for theorizing the emergence of the new identity experience of electracy, that is supplementing and displacing selfhood, the identity formation of literacy. Playing one’s avatar is to electracy what writing an essay is to literacy.” Focusing on rhetorics of incarnation and embodiment suggested by the conflation of Vishnu and Krishna, and considering also the myth of Orpheus, Ulmer points out that the literal meaning of avatar in Sanskrit—“descent”—bears substantially upon the ways in which the body and personhood have been construed in Western cultures. More than merely suggesting the notion of identity projection through virtual communication (through avatars linked to email, MMORPG’s, or blogs), Ulmer points out that the avatar has accrued newly ontological status: when I present virtually with my avatar, there is a real sense in which “I,” and not some representation of me, is actually there, imbricated within and interpellated by that discursive system.