Some Thoughts on Gadamer and Zizek

I am trying to put together my bibliography as I head into a summer and fall of thesis proposal writing and comprehensive exam preparation. Moving from Sociology to Film Studies has been a logical step in terms of my research on some levels, but perhaps not on others. I am trying to marry my work on video games and identity (an ambiguous, networked identity – not necessarily/specifically the identity of the player) and my desire to be working towards theories of (as broadly speaking as possible) (social) humans and technology. I guess in the end, the goal is to talk about how technology and perhaps specifically – video games, affect traditional definitions and processes of (social) identity. There is quite a bit of work in this area, but more often dealing with concepts of splintering selves, gender and representation issues (to name only a few). Although I am currently unable to completely articulate it (which I suppose is the goal of proposal writing and eventually thesis writing) this is not where my thinking is – or heading.

In terms of reading, I have been having a hard time getting back into the idea that it’s ok to read ALL day and have it considered work – especially since the texts are not ‘assigned’ or directly useful. I feel a little all over the place but at the same time am enjoying the chance to simply read and think about the ideas – not feeling the pressing need to make it fit my research, fit it into a paper or ditch it. I am currently working on my notes from Gadamer‘s Truth and Method. I have been planning on reading it cover to cover, but admittedly, focused primarily on the section “Play as the clue to ontological explanation” (I did start another section, to read a bit more leisurely). This part of the text is centered on aesthetics and the role of the spectator in relation to works of art (and theater) through his working definition of play as a non-goal oriented ‘to- and fro-” while ‘game’ is that which gives purpose to play (my 2 second synopsis). He continues to talk about the idea that those who ‘play’ are always conscious of it since it is outside of himself since the “player experiences the game as a reality that surpasses him” (109). This got me thinking about the use of concepts of immersion in video game play – as when the player turns the console/game on (enters into play – and performs the tasks of the game,  (s)he is making a conscious decision to move outside of him/herself and their ‘reality’.  This conscious choice puts the spectator/player in a (default) refective role. To be fair, Gadamer explains it much more clearly than I am right now. The section continues on to talk about signifiers, representation, ornaments, momentos and architecture – some very interesting bits to extrapolate for sure.

Seemingly unrelated, I picked up Slavoj Zizek‘s “For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a political factor“. This is a second edition (first print 1991). I am currently working through the forward – which is a good 100 pages long – as it contextualizes the changes made for the second edition. There are many interesting references to digital technology and the internet – particularly the relationship between ‘virtual’ interactions and reality (in terms of one’s sense of obligation and commitment). While wading through the text, I came across this bit of text – which talks about the way people perceive online relationships and interactions in terms of commitment and ‘reality’:

This means the Real is not the hard kernel of reality which resists virtualization. Hubert Dreyfus (On the Internet, 2001) is right to identitfy the fundamental feature of today’s virtualization of our life-experience as a reflective distance which prevents any full engagement: as in sexual games on the Internet, you are never fully committed since, as we put it, “if the thing doesn’t work out, I can always leave!” If you reach and impasse you can say “OK, I’m leaving the game, I’m stepping out! Let’s start again with a different game!” – but the very fact of this withdrawal implies that you were somehow aware from the very beginning that you could leave the game, which means that you were never fully committed (xv)

What I liked when I read this passage, is the link it illuminated for me between Gadamer’s text and Zizek’s. With this line of thinking – between Gadamer’s purposive actions (and I am inferring meaning here – purposive equates conscious which may eliminate true immersion) and Zizek’s comments on the ability to enter and leave ‘virtual’ space (as a game) at any given time, again, negating any pure immersion since a choice is always present. By entering cyberspace (in the context given above), one is consciously stepping outside of their everyday and entering a space of ‘play’.

Although one would argue that both “real” and “virtual” (using those terms loosely here) can be an equal part of one’s life, the fact that it is easier to leave one than the other positions it into spaces of play and game while simultaneously removing the possibility of ‘pure immersion’ (if there ever is / was such a thing in gameplay). I know this is not new – thinking back to Turkle, but just that I didn’t expect to pick up on this from these two texts). I know that this is an easy paragraph to pick apart – but just to have the opportunity to read both texts at the same time, and have them (appear to) speak with each other is a luxury I have not had in a while.

I am not sure what track this takes me on – closer to where I am trying to go, or further away from where I started – nonetheless, it is always the journey that is the best part as they say.



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