I got my topic for the trial lecture I’ve got to give the day before my defence: îUser-avatar relations in cybertextsî. So now I have a fortnight to write a traditional 45 minute lecture of the sort you read slowly from a carefully prepared manuscript.

It’s very close to the topic of my thesis. It nearly is the topic of my thesis, though I suppose maybe I could have spent more time discussing the user/avatar thing. I was hit by communication model fatigue, you see, you know, the real author – implied author – narrator – narratee – implied reader – real reader stuff. User and avatar (though I’m not sure I like the word avatar) go in there instead of “real reader” and “narratee” – more or less, perhaps a little less than more. You get into those questions people often get stuck in, too, like should we really be using models devised for literature and reading for works that aren’t simply literary, and then there’s the whole how structuralist do you want to be discussion. I delved too deep in all that in the first year I worked on my thesis, and got so tangled in definitions I had great trouble disentangling myself. Threw most of what I wrote into the “probably rubbish” folder. Perhaps I can write about this differently, though?

I think I’m going to do a close reading of something, and discuss the user/avatar question through that. Careful readings of actual works are my favourite kind of academic writing these days. Perhaps I’ll write about Magictree.com, it’s fascinated me, and I’ve not really written about it at all. And it involves the user quite peculiarly. Or I’ll find something else. Suggestions?

13 thoughts on “topic given

  1. anonymous

    I’ve been quarrelling with Espen and others about this: the looks of Lara Croft. The game would not have the same appeal, I argue, if the avatar was an old man in a wheelchair.
    Lara doesn’t matter, Espen usually replies. We don’t even see much of her, only her backside. And after a few minutes, we forget about her.

  2. Jill

    We only see her backside? Ha.

    Perhaps I should rephrase the topic, specifying that I’ll be concentrating on sexual relations between user and avatar. Oh dear.

  3. hans

    Nice topic, Jill. Closereading of “magic three” could be quite interesting. As an alternative text, I guess you know about “desire” (http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/templates/Dinner/tlaporta.htm).

    Good luck!

  4. Francois Lachance

    Jill/txt — which is user? which is avatar?

    Just a reminder that there is a quadrature possible when one considers labelling (naming):

    user:name :: avatar:label

    How closely do players and observers of players believe in the identificatory moment? How closely does label stick to avatar or how much of a person is read off a name (signature)?

    Elouise Oyzon has an interesting exchange going under the rubric “just a moment”
    http://weez.oyzon.com/archives/000352.html
    That exchange parallels a possible typology of the temporal moment in the user-avatar relation:
    approaching link up;play;disengaging — almost like a careful puppeteer.

  5. Myrtle

    Here’s one that you may have already read closely:
    shes.aflightrisk.org
    It’s a blog that uses fictional devices to depict a disguised truth, as the author Isabella V. (but not) pointed out from time to time.
    My name is Myrtle, but it’s not. Myrtle is an avatar created to participate in discussions about the blogger. When I was only reading the blog, the comments, the boards, the links, etc., I was narratee, implied reader and real reader all rolled into one.
    But in this story, the readers were taking over the world, gaming the author via the comments section and the Agonist forum.
    Narratee is a term that doesn’t cut the mustard when a cybertext reader accepts the writer’s invitation to interact. A user needs an avatar, especially in a realm of disguise and depiction, so Myrtle was born.
    Relations between the User (real reader) and Avatar (narratee) in me are strained, I can tell you. Ask any superhero, it’s hard to keep up the secret identity gag!

  6. Jill

    No, no, Myrtle, you were never narratee, implied reader and real reader all at once, not if you follow the other narratologists: you see, the narrator of this blog may or may not write to a particular narratee, and Jill Walker the author certainly has some idea of a readership which almost certainly doesn’t completely correspond to the actual, flesh and blood you, who is then the real reader.

    And none of this works once the real readers start narrating themselves. Even a few clicks of the mouse can create havoc, I tell you!

    It’s so cool there are people in the world who find this stuff interesting!

  7. Francois Lachance

    In reading Mytle’s comments and Jill’s response, I am wondering if the gameworld of blogging is not composed of addressees (that way the narrator can self adress). I mean to aim at thinking about aspects that the, often static, dichotomous pairng narrator-narratee doesn’t quite capture. It gives psychological depth to the the one-to-one communication. It is almost as if any given interpretation, any given act of meaning production (or even any recognition of a semiosis sans semantics)gives rise to a potential writing for the one. Reading is like writing for the self.

    I would like to see the classic typology of commputer-mediated communications begin and end with one-to-one:

    one-to-one
    one-to-many
    many-to-many
    many-to-one
    one-to-one — other-to-other

    And come with a big admonishment not to always read the typology as a narrative syntagm. There is a synchronous aspect where, for example one-to-one and one-to-many overlap (blog writer reads entry, especially strong when blog writer rereads entry they authored in a session on a MOO). The types of the typology are networked and can be activated or awaiting activation.

    I hope this makes some sense. I am intending to explore the quadrature of communication in some future work, as I’ve mentioned to Chuck
    http://chutry.wordherders.net/archives/001066.html#1820
    in a piece about content modelling blogs. That mention to Chuck was preceded by a “geometry” that plays with possible representations of communicative flows.

    Jill/txt and Myrtle — good luck to you both juggling and spinning personae with torque majesty.

  8. Myrtle

    Jill,
    So … to be real reader, implied reader and narratee all at the same time, one would have to be the intended recipient of the writing?
    If the cybertext takes the form of a blog that invites comments that may be left anonymously, doesn’t every reader fit all three definitions — potentially, at least?

  9. Jill

    No – the implied reader could also be described as the set of values I assume my readers will have. If you’re a rabid nazi you might well read my blog, and leave comments, but you’re not the reader that the text implies.

    The second you comment you’re not really a reader anymore anyway, you’re a writer, with your own set of implied readers and so on…

    The narrative communication model really doesn’t work well for weblogs with comments, or interactive narratives. It’s built for understanding novels, and even there you could disagree with it…

  10. Myrtle

    Allrighty, then. Time for a new model?

  11. Jill

    Either that, or it’s time to quit trying to fit life into models… Sigh. Model fatigue. Want holiday. Want PhD defence to be over.

    Sorry about the grumpiness, it’ll pass in a couple of weeks 😉

  12. Francois Lachance

    About models… what is Searle modelling in the piece you are, we believe, currently rereading?

  13. Web search resources center

    Thanks for great info

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