Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Identity, History, and Avatars of Knowledge

Identity is a powerful theme, and history plays off it in various odd ways. Sometimes, it seems pretty limited to sovereign states and their fates -- the politics of nations, conflicts, wars.
being shot by one of my students in a play
Fair enough. Those realities do shape our world. But what if we read history in terms of how people communicate, or how everything changes when knowledge technologies change?

I think print, as a technology, is much like the emerging nation-states that began to emerge as political entities in the Renaissance. It came into the world in a big way, complete with its own languages and literatures and its own sense of empire.
my Machiavelli pose
The Protestant Reformation just wouldn't have happened without the printing press. But it made identity all the more problematic. Where to put one's loyalties? To king or to the pope?
the day I was released as bishop in June 2010
And as time moved forward toward today, it got even stranger as you could represent yourself at a distance to other people through pictures or even motion pictures. The more media, it appears, the more identities one has.
And this finally leads the History of Civilization inevitably to the film, Avatar.
my son and his fiancee after Photoshopped into Avatar na'vi creatures
I'm only semi-joking here. Today's digital media are avatars of knowledge -- alternate embodiments from traditional text-based knowledge.

You change the form of something, though, and somehow you change its essence. Is the following really Shakespeare's sonnet 1) when it's read aloud by an actor? (sonnets weren't performed on stage like plays); 2) accompanied by music? (certainly changes how one responds to a text when you add a new medium); 3) when its text is animated through kinetic typography (me playing with Adobe After Effects)?

Maybe the history of civilization is really just a set of avatars, one period or location or medium simply inflecting another. In that sense, the past is an avatar of the present, or the present is one of the past. There are strong parallels both directions, and the fun happens when you start figuring out how the various media mediate experience, history, truth -- the works.

Let's have some fun this semester.


Sarah Wills said...

I was just curious why Alan Rickman was reading Shakespeare Sonnets . . was it part of something else that he did?

Kristi said...

You said that..."The more media, it appears, the more identities one has." I would actually disagree slightly. The more media we develop the more we can allow other to see our complete identity. Our various moods and idiosyncrasies exhibited in different settings are only pieces of a whole that we are truly trying to gather together in order to connect with others.

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