Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Pictures are in English

This is what the flight attendants said to American passengers as they handed out Dutch newspapers aboard my flight home.

On the way back to LAX, I was also able to consider some other pictures as I read the new book-length study of the virtual reality artist Char Davies. Laurie McRobert's Char Davies' Immersive Virtual Art and the Essence of Spatiality makes a number of interesting claims. One of the singular aspects of the book is that it poses a kind of thought experiment about what Heidegger would think about the different design philosophies of different New Media artists. It also attacks what she calls technological romanticism at the core and argues for the importance of natural bodies and environments. Unlike Mark Nunes, who has tried to recuperate the term "cyberspace," McRoberts associates these forms of virtual spatial representation and the language to describe them with more quotidian exchanges that leave users moored in the world of commerce. She also challenges Cartesian norms about geometrical representations, much like Anna Munster does in a recent book. I didn't necessarily agree with her assertions about gender and technology -- in that she makes an essentializing claim that women need different kinds of computers to be self-actualized -- and her arguments about the harmfulness of videogames to the young, particularly since digital media artist Bill Viola is now using the genre for new purposes with Tracy Fullerton. Finally, I felt like the book lost some of its momentum in the ending where the writer devotes too many pages to neurology and psychopharmacology for a book about ontology and aesthetics. Nonetheless, I found this book to be a very stimulating read, and I am grateful to my colleague philosopher Michael Heim for recommending it. In particular, I enjoyed learning about Davies' corporate history as an executive with Softimage.

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