Keeping devastating real brings about, one cannot ignore

Keeping in mind the important role the image plays in the Lacanian theory
of identity, the identification that follows, and the anxiety that the pursuit
of the elusive, but devastating real brings about, one cannot ignore the extent
to which the electronic experience is similar to the formation of the self. The
mirror here is at the same time the savior and the nemesis, analogous to the
hate-love relationship that the screen or the computer interface elicits from
users who are hooked on the technologies that threaten their very subjectivity.

Such merging of consciousness and technology is not exclusive to computer
technology. In the widest sense we might say that the first instance of this
phenomenon was the first time human took up a tool, and in this way augmented
his body. While the borders of the body are said to be so fluid as to engulf
anything appended to the body, be it a spoon, a sword, or a construction crane,
the way in which computer technology fuses with human consciousness is more
akin to the way in which the film enthusiast is, in Nusselder’s words, immersed
in a film, identifying with the framed virtual camera position at “the
experiential level of ‘lived subjectivity'” (112).  Comparing the screen with the veil of Maya,
Nusselder takes the point of view of Lacan that the objects on this veil can
take the place of lack, and also that such a structure is characteristic or
reality itself (108). The anxiety which is caused according to Freud by
separation from the mother, and according to Lacan by the lack of separation
(Evens 10), is therefore an essential part of the complex interaction between
man and the largely visual nature of the computer medium.

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The interactivity that the use of hypertext links necessitates, according
to Vasseleu, creates an experience in which “the interactive user keeps the
system going by being active, physically engaged, alert and impatient,” and
consequently, in such a system, “users and systems are animated by each
other” (87). What is at stake here is subjectivity itself, which is the
outcome of the interaction of “man and technology, of real and virtual, of
tuchè and technè … in between the known, rational world of control of the
(human) Self, and the computerized, ‘imaginary’ world of the (machinic) Other”
(Nusselder 117).

Mark Poster also mentions the “instability of the rational individual or
centered subject whose imagined autonomy is associated with a capacity to link
sign and referent” (14); Nusselder argues that even the arbitrary
signifier-signified relation in Saussure, still inseparable like the two sides
of a sheet of paper due to “social and cultural conventions that combine them”
are now challenged by digitization (55-6).

Mark Poster, for example, speaks of the “physical, fixed vintage point”
lost to the subject now that they are “no longer located in a point in absolute
time/space” (15). Post-structuralism, maintains Liz Bondi, relies strongly on
re-conceptualizing identity politics based on “familiar spatialized categories
of identity like class, nationality, ethnicity, gender and so on” (95). With
postmodernism, as Henriques and his colleagues point out, “a subject was no
longer coterminous with the individual … there was no necessary coherence to
the multiple sites in which subject positions were produced, and that these
positions might themselves be contradictory” (203). The deconstruction of the
above localized identity politics is experienced even more strongly by users of
hypertext fiction or other forms of electronic literature.

The profound
impact the link has had on the identity crisis associated with digitization is
manifold. As demonstrated, electronic literature, and more specifically
hypertext fiction as the subject of the present discussion, have taken the
already unsettling features of postmodernity to a different and literal level
by exploiting the decentering and fragmenting qualities of the hypertext link.


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