Autocartography: New Installments

I’ve finished two more “chora” in the autocartography: one in Haverhill and one in Smyth County, Virginia. Again, both grew out of existing places in Second Life, the first being one of the places in the “Imaging Places” work of John Craig Freeman, and the second being the work of a psychology student at UC Davis which attempts to provide a simulation of the experience of being schizophrenic.

Like the first one set at the Mayan Ruin, the editing of these were driven by the chosen music. I stayed with the work of Philip Glass as it fit so well with the theme of each. In Haverhill, I chose his two original works from The Truman Show soundtrack. This movie invokes the issues of identity as it is shaped by the digital medium. Freeman’s work in Haverhill features my “real life” self talking about the metaphor of metaphor and how the “broken bridge” by my house in Haverhill was about to undergo repair. Freeman has been putting his work, originally intended for art gallery showings and publication on CD-ROM, into Second Life (SL), the online 3-D participatory virtual reality. So the youtube video shows my SL avatar watching my “real” (digitized) self. The music is from the scene in the movie when “Christos” (the God-like creator of the Truman Show and owner of Truman) is watching Truman sleep; he approaches the screen and strokes his hair. At this point in the machinima, “I” (the SL avatar Abaris Brautigan) am watching “me” in Freeman’s introductory movie being aired in SL. The second segment shows Abaris walking from the interface globe up the invisible stairway to a platform-map of Haverhill, where the spheres (i.e. the nodes or loci of the original work) are situated. The music is from the scene in the movie when Truman is attempting to sail beyond the bounds of the small town he has been persuaded all his life never to venture beyond. At movie’s end, he discovers his self and breaks out of the digital realm; in my piece, “I” go from having trouble accepting my digital appearance and the sound of my digital voice to accepting this. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say exactly, but I wanted to point to the strangeness of identity formation at this time of transition from literacy to electracy.

The second location reminded me of the breakdown I mentioned in the previous post. The breakdown occurred in Smyth County, Virginia (how’s THAT for a signature effect?!), and I was admitted to the Smyth County Mental Hospital, where I was labeled as a schizophrenic after being mistakenly treated for being on LSD. I did not have the experiences that are depicted at the UC Davis SL installation, but being in the hospital was a very scary experience, one that I remember vividly. I took this experience into a seminar on “Psychosis and Literature” with Ellie Ragland-Sullivan, whom I quote at the end of the video. During that seminar, I learned of Lacan’s theory of psychosis, which seemed to fit my situation so well and to explain what happened to me. The music, from Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach, includes repeated counting and nonsense voices–it sounds crazy.

In all three of these, the music has been essential in terms of creating the desired mood that I wanted the video to portray. Greg Ulmer, the theorist whom I worked with at the “Florida School of Grammatology,” writes about the significance of cultivating mood in electronic writing, especially in his book Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. He views electronic media as prostheses for a fuller expression of our humanity, an expression which recognizes the recent breakthroughs in brain studies which show the centrality of the emotions in our reasoning.


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