Though the ‘mind-body’ opposition seems to be less categoric today than it was in the times of Descartes, I have an impression that it still exist and is much more influential than it could be assumed. In a discussion about spaces and places and bodies within them one’s senses should be considered with a question what senses are meant exactly and what is meant by “senses”. If it is much discussed experiences of those practicing derive including their bodily, physical response such as hunger, thirst, need for sleep or fatigue (Debord, p.66) it becomes understandable how these physical reactions could affect intellectual interpretations of place exploration. But if we consider a cyber space, an internet platform to be a place for derive and agree with Farman that the dichotomy between real/virtual is not true (Farman, 2012, p.22) then would not it be just another upgraded version of denial of human physicality?
Although some activities and/or interactions online may cause emotional reactions these reaction are always stipulated by reasoning. One can start crying after reading or even hearing/seeing particular information online, but it is quite impossible to start crying online because of that feeling of care and safety that the warmth of one’s embrace can give. Nor is it possible to feel the silk of one’s hair between fingers or smell a scent that instantaneously gets into particular moment and place. It seems that many of those who are accustomed to Internet did not close the gap between body and mind not one jot or little. With the same self-congratulatory confidence that served Western civilization faithfully and loyally since Plato, The Man of Reason as Genevieve Lloyd calls him (Lloyd, 1984) may approach Internet as an extension of physical place without thinking twice about its purely mathematical (and thus fitting into categories of the reason) nature. By doing so he leaves no space for body (as an excessively feminine category) to be included online fully with the whole palette of its sensations and irrationality. The body is predisposed for fragmentation, reconfiguration, reassembling – the reality welcomed by cyberfeminists with Linda Dement being a good example. In her work In My Gash (1999) she tries to take her viewers “into the flesh of a depressed and dangerous girl, drug fucked and damaged”; an experience that to my mind still differs from bodily experience of that girl. In her Cyberflesh Girlmonster (1995) she combines scanned images of women-volunteers into monstrous assemblages to explore femininity and violence. Ironically, with such fragmentation the drama of abused women becomes bearable if not entertaining for the viewer: it’s not as shocking to see pictures like this as it would be to see a dissected body in one’s backyard; perhaps because there is no smell of blood, or urine, or sperm – or anything else, too physical to find its place online.
So how spaces and bodies are constructed online? To my mind, in a desperate attempt to stretch the physical reality further its physical limits, to move it beyond the screens as an improved version, to codify it in 1s and 0s. However ambitious this attempt would be it is destined to obey the same laws that define the physical reality with the only difference in the absence of context. Perhaps, Rupi Kaur’s photo with blood on pants caused such a response on Instagram’s part because it lacks that multidimensionality of physical reality and at the same time is too straightforward for some viewers to digest it. They may interpret it as defiant simply because they may never came across any girl brave enough to intentionally expose her menstrual blood in her workplace or study place, or leisure place, in brief anywhere we consider to be a public space. Yet, it is possible to imagine such situation as an accident, no matter how that imagined girl would feel – proud, embarrassed, or just calm and confident in her right for any physical manifestation of her existence. It is even possible to imagine some extent of empathy and humor on the part of witnesses if we still believe in humans’ ability of empathy. If it is a question of changing attitudes toward display of women’s secretions online, then the power of physical context that online space lacks should not be underestimated.
Without that context Internet becomes a sterilized copy of the physical world with the same financial and political interests defining its politics that govern the physical world. As Farman himself explains co-creation of embodiment and space, “embodiment is always site-specific to the particular cultures, histories, and relationships that serve as catalysts to such production” (p.19). It would be astonishing indeed if any mainstream social platform (as Instagram or Facebook) had claimed to be an anarchist underground or a non-judgmental staunchest ally of menstruating women. My assumption that their politics are mere reflections of the order of things in a physical world does not justify their actions at all. However, the physical world presumably has more chances to challenge its attitudes because of its spontaneity, diversity, and irrationality. Online space appears as much more rigid due to its structure and rationality. My questions here are: how can we bring in more bodily humanism online and is it possible at all. Or do online and physical spaces have necessarily to sacrifice their distinctive features in order to blend each other and irrecoverably erase differences between organism and mechanism.
Debord, Guy. “Theory of the Dérive and Definitions.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (65-69). London: Routledge.
Farman, Jason. (2012). Mobile Interface Theory Ch. 1 “Embodiment and the Mobile Interface” (16-34) London: Routledge.
Lloyd, Genevieve. (1984). “The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy”. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.