Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

The Speaking Body in the Age of Electracy

    While the previous video showed the way that embodied rhetoric uses new media technologies to expose restrictive problematic ideologies about identity and the body, this video shows ways that said technology can be used to subvert and resist such restrictions. The examples used in the video of cyborgs, species reassignment in second life, and the automatic assignment of gender and race in the video game Rust epitomizes Ulmer’s theorizing of the behavior (play) and ground (body) of electracy. While there are still forms of bodily rhetoric that work to resist the normativites and constrictions imposed on it in the age of literacy, I argue that with the emergence of new media technologies comes new possibilities for “play” by morphing, deconstructing, or changing one’s identity and bodily form in virtual environments.
    Cyborgs, as Donna Harraway explains in “The Cyborg Manifesto” illuminate the intermingling of the behavior and ground of electracy by using A.I. technology to manifest a bodily from that deconstructs the boundaries between human/animal/machine and also between male/female that are present in physical spaces and in the apparatuses of literacy. The cyborg does not procreate within the bodily confines of heteronormativity and anatomical dependence that are at work in physical worlds, rather cyborgs sex “restores some of the lovely replicative baroque of ferns and invertebrates” (1). The cyborg provides a model for thinking about gender in terms not valued by reproduction and one’s need for a partner to procreate. Instead, the cyborg’s reproduction is through replication: a  process much more independent and liberated than having to conform to heteronormativity or to be wealthy enough to afford modern medical procedures to achieve reproduction. The cyborg does not procreate within the physical confines of heteronormativity and anatomical restrictions, rather the cyborg uses the apparatuses associated with electracy, such as A.I. to assimilate another version of itself. The cyborg body not only resists the confines and notions of reproduction, this body also resists the confines of gender present in the physical world. As Harraway puts it, “the cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world” (292). The cyborg is a gender-absent body because the cyborgs history and understanding of itself is not rooted in sexuality, but rather, in programmed information and emotion. The mind and body of the cyborg works to subvert the notions of species and gendered existence in the physical world by serving as an embodied example of a world without these restrictions. The rhetoric of the cyborg, a resistant rhetoric that works to challenge us to conceptualize a post-gendered world in which creatures can be both humans, animals, and machine, both programmed and intuitive, both simulated and created, both crafted and natural, is a rhetoric performed by and with the body of the cyborg. 
    The cyborg body morphs into another existence in order to resist notions of gender in current societal constructions. The virtual environment of Second Life allows users to change their bodily form or practice the “play” of electracy by creating avatars that are of other species. A digital project by Micha Cardenas entitled “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study” explores this notion. This project uses the technology of Second Life to explore the implications of species reassignment surgery in a digital space. Through experiences like this, users of new media technology can resist traditional regulations of the body that are present in physical spaces by playing with new identities in digitized social spaces, without having to occur the permanence and financial cost of these changes in the physical realm. Through this example, we can see that the emergence of electracy brought along with it a class equalizing force in that one does not need to be privileged enough to incur costs of surgery in order to play with their bodily identity. Instead, one can become a new species or gender in virtual atmospheres.

    Lastly, this video showed the example of a video game called Rust in which game developer Garry Newman experimented with automatically assigning player’s avatars a race and gender. This experimentation, however, was met with almost exclusively negative feedback from players. One Rust player tweeted, “You’ve made me into a girl. Not happy,” while another player complained that they were “being forced to identify with the company’s ‘feminist ideals’ .”The negative feedback from these players shows something interesting about the relationship between body and play enabled enabled by electracy: that it may actually be effective in uncovering and subverting problematic ideologies. I believe it is successful because these users were uncomfortable in having the bodily form that makes them have privilege or that reflects the problematic values of a culture that favors their existence, while it peripheralizes others. These players were so uncomfortable with other forms of existence that they did not even want to step into another body for the length of a video game. A  new configuration of power, one that deconstructing binaries and equalizes all forms of bodily existences, even those that exist on a spectrum, may become possible if the embodied rhetoric of the speaking and written on body continues to reach audiences through the apparatuses of electracy.

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