Embodiment - Scoping Paper:
There are various kinds of moving experiences we have that affect a bodily sensation. If those sensations are extremely strong, and we are allowed reflection on them, those experienced or recalled moments may impact our lives deeply.
What should I consider when creating opportunities for these experiences to manifest? In daily life we are sometimes able to choose, or expect the various degrees of trauma within those experiences. We could consensually – play a Survival-Horror themed videogame, or watch a particularly harrowing emotional movie, or engage in a performative act that puts a degree of stress on our own bodies. Colloquially, we describe things beyond our traumatic limit as too ‘hard’ or ‘tough’. Moving through and within those ‘tough’ experiences isn’t easy. What value do they have?
Additionally, there are kinds of experience in which we don’t get a choice or control – sometimes when we submit to a videogame or a movie, to a performance, we can sometimes be surprised by the unfamiliar and the ‘hard’. Unless we adopt regular lucid dreaming practices, it can be argued that people don’t exhibit a degree of control over their dreams – and these too can be traumatic. Sometimes when not given the choice about an expected ‘hard’ experience, that experience could still hold value for us, but it requires reflection and possibly proper context to uncover that value.
A recent dream I had began with a lanky man I knew. He wanted to be killed, by arrow, in a public square.
He asked a woman he knew, a competitor of his, to do it.
He arrives, waits patiently in the square, and right before the woman releases the arrow, I snap to his consciousness.
Before I was disembodied, now I’m within his body. Waiting to be shot by an arrow.
So now I wait, on edge. Two arrows, missing their target, shatter on the cobblestones.
I didn’t know she had it in her, I feel. My gut twists.
I feel the moment when third arrow hits, and then I leave the man.
I follow along the trajectory of the last arrow, and I see the woman, aiming at the man, bow still raised after the third shot was taken. I am her, and I feel her anguish in shooting.
I see her face contort into bizarre expressions. Strange mouth movements beyond human range.
Incantations of Love, I think.
I leave the woman and am now disembodied, in front of the man’s face as a large red flower bursts from his mouth.
(Broken) Relationships in Space.
What value does this dream have for me? I didn’t get to choose this degree of trauma, and I felt it was also somehow meaningful. I found it helpful initially to look at the spatial relationships that were contained within it. The dream itself wasn’t from one perspective, but from multiple. It varied – from a disembodied observer, to an exact embodiment of the waiting man, with all his tension and feeling, to an outside, but still within, the woman. This gradient of experience has a familiar relationship in media and camera view – an omniscient, but internal perspective, a first person viewpoint and a third person viewpoint. Film and Videogames both extend this relationship beyond the person to the community, and sometimes the universal – a view of a city as an establishing shot for a drama, or alternatively a simulation style videogame’s city map. These could be read in similar ways, but are experienced differently. Both are moments in movements through the possibility space of their respective networks.
The subversion of expectations in both mediums is an important part of what makes this movement happen.
Nathaniel Stern describes this spatial embodied movement using the interlinking ideas of – Movement, Sensation, and Thought.
“When we move and think and feel, we are, of course, a body. This body is constantly changing, in and through its ongoing relationships. This body is a dynamic form, full of potential. It is not “a body,” as thing, but embodiment as incipient activity. Embodiment is a continuously emergent and active relation. It is our materialization and articulation, both as they occur, and about to occur. Embodiment is moving-thinking-feeling, it is the body’s potential to vary, it is the body’s relations to the outside. And embodiment, I contend, is what is staged in the best interactive art. (Stern, 2014)”
In the film ‘Enter the Void” (Noé, 2010), a young man is shot and killed by police, after a confrontation in a Japanese club. In his disembodied state he drifts in and out of his past memories, and his still-alive sister’s extremely victimised social situation and relationships. Through this continuous change in disembodied viewpoint we are allowed identification with the actors in this specific network, as well as the city itself, as well as what it represents in fantasy. As the viewer and character, we simultaneously eventually go through a kind of symbolic rebirth – a unique kind of resolution, similar to the final ‘starchild’ ending sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There is a similar movement of relation, and pushing through ’tough’ spaces – with a drastically lighter tone, happening in the video game ‘Frog Fractions’ by Jim Crawford. In this game you are presented as a frog on a lilypad, eating various bugs. It adopts a kind of ludicrous educational game as a facade – and it quickly reveals a ‘false ceiling’ – where you, as the frog – go on a journey through the bug universe, at first being reviled for your bug killing actions and ending up in bug court, eventually becoming bug president. At each stage of the game, the gameplay adopts drastically different genres, at some times a platformer, sometimes a vertically scrolling shooter, and a text adventure, as well as a few others.
This continuous breaking of experience, through the ‘false ceiling’ Jim Crawford cites as a necessity for mystery, in the age of video game walkthroughs and the culture of ‘looking it up’ online. His second version of the game is currently in production, and utilises meta-game elements, such as not revealing the release date, nor under what title it is going to be released – to enable this important element of mystery.
The ‘immediate’ quality of experience is something that is gained through these breaks, whether they be through subversion of expectations or emotional content tied the experience itself. To me, this gives me the feeling of ‘something is finally happening’ – and puts me firmly in the presence of the experience.
Ritual has presented itself to me as a possibly method of going forward in understanding the value of these particular experiences. I believe it has two purposes to do with constructing fuller, embodied experience. One is in the making of the experience itself, in whichever media it chooses to manifest itself in, and the other is in the structure of the experience itself.
In my initial readings about ritual, Bell (2009) reminds us that “ [ritual] ..It is not some sort of pure technology that smoothly and neatly works to socialize human beings according to general laws.”
This reminder suggests to me that not only do I need to identify my own purpose in constructing the media or experience through ritual, but also not to rely on formulaic structure to be applied.
For my own project, I initially started following (Lieutenant) Butterfly symbolism as a means of deducing whether or not I was on ‘the right path’ – when I saw butterflies at any stage, in particular examples that were tied with military symbolism, I deduced that I was on the right path. If I follow this symbolism and theme logically through the experience I construct, it would suggest a transformative process. A concern whilst in the midst of this process might be – who or what is affected by this transformative process, and whom does any constructed experience benefit?
This is especially important if there is a limited degree of consent to partake in the experience. Bell talks about the way cultures can construct ritual in order to form idealised subjects – with subtle, or not so subtle pressures of conformity. In excavating this subject further I hope to find ways in which I can navigate this transformation theme, in it’s construct and in the specific implications of the experience enabled.
Moore, B. (2014) You’ll Want to Play This Game — If You Can Ever Find It. Retrieved April 04, 2014, from http://www.wired.com/2014/04/frog-fractions-2-kickstarter/
Stern, N., & Art, A. I. (2014). The Implicit Body as Performance :, 44(3), 233–238.
Lewis, S. E. (2008). Ayahuasca and Spiritual Crisis: Liminality as Space for Personal Growth. Anthropology of Consciousness, 19, 109–133. doi:10.1111/j.1556-3537.2008.00006.x
TwinBeard Studios (2012) Frog Fractions [Flash videogame]. Retrieved fromhttp://twinbeard.com/frog-fractions
Bell, C. (2009). Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions–Revised Edition (Reissue edition.). New York: Oxford University Press, USA.
Noé, G. (2010). Enter the Void. Drama, Fantasy.