A Poetics of Virtuality
Doctoral thesis, 2016
How is virtuality represented in fiction, and what does that say about our anticipations and fears about what the virtual is and will be? This text, a poetics of virtuality, explores fictional representations of virtuality, primarily in movies and literature, but also in media productions done by the author. The aim is to study the dream of virtuality. What are we promised? What do we anticipate? What do we fear? This is why the study has focused on fictional virtualities, where the storyteller is somewhat free to represent the virtual, and let cultural ideas emerge, untethered by the technical constraints that govern real-life virtuality technology.
The study has two methodological approaches. One is the analysis of a large number of fictional narrative texts representing virtuality, primarily movies but also a few novels and short stories. The other is the study of the author’s own work producing media products involving virtuality. The chosen research design utilizes the author’s position as both an academic and a computer graphic artist. The studied fictional narratives have been analyzed using semiotics, a method to study signs and sign production. A self- and auto-ethnographic approach has been used to observe the author’s media productions.
The contribution of this study is a deep and detailed understanding of how virtuality is represented in fiction, presented as a poetics of virtuality. Seven topologies of virtuality are presented: #surrealism, #containment, #engineered space, #artificial light, #immateriality, #control, and #virtual artificial intelligence.
In summary, the results show that:
It was advantageous to combine film studies with auto-ethnographic observations, but also highly time consuming
Fictional representations of virtuality are largely based on real-life technology, especially older computer technology
Fictional representations of virtuality are quite highly constrained by production circumstances and storytelling requirements
Volumetric displays are highly anticipated, but the need to use augmented reality to implement the vision might surprise us
Virtuality is often thought of as being in opposition to the real and the natural; it is also often thought of as being a lesser copy of the actual
A major theme is breaking out of the virtual, and this falsely promises that there can be an escape from the virtual, and from technology.