Inventing the Self

Looking for function in aesthetics

December 3rd, 2013 · 1 Comment

As someone with a deep and abiding love for games and game culture, I was surprised by how little I identified with Ito’s and Bittanti’s breakdown of “gaming practice.” I don’t think leading with a question about games’ functional place in the life of the gamer is the right angle for all cases. I can understand their categories, and appreciate the “academic spirit” with which Ito and Bittanti examine the medium—but I find my relationship nowhere in their explication. I sometimes game online to “hang out” with faraway friends, but my primary enjoyment of the medium derives from another place. Honestly, I may have more in common with the manic undulations of Cooper’s narrator than with the functional analysis in Gaming.

My sense is of games as aesthetic objects. They are not their content, their pixels, their mechanics. Not all games qualify as art, but many are foremost an aesthetic experience for the player, distinguished from other forms of media by the nature of their participation. I mean, all aesthetic experience is participatory—defined by an engagement with the things of our perception. And what is unusual about games is not the fact that they are designed: we see aesthetic design in paintings, in movies, in literature, on TV. All art is designed, and probably all “contains” in some way an artist’s vision, seeking to connect with an audience thru some aesthetic participation. But what is unusual about games is the significance of player input to the experience. A game, unlike a film, will not complete itself if you sit and watch intently for two hours. Whatever vision an artist poured into the work, it literally requires us to seek its completion. Our engagement is guided to varying degrees by hints and echos—by the ghost of an author. But we must mix with her intentionality and imbue it with agency to make real its contours.

We are the artist’s vision in operation.

My experience with games is something like this—having the sense of ongoing synthesis toward an aesthetic object. What does that do for me? Only God (Jr?) knows…

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Quantified Selfies

November 12th, 2013 · 1 Comment


I misspoke in class: Nicholas Felton was the person I was thinking of. I saw him speak earlier this year at the games & culture conference two5six. He is a graphic designer, and has achieved some notice for issuing yearly “reports” containing his personal data.

Feltron 2012 Activity

He has also designed a website that enables others to track and interact with their own data. “Begin collecting and exploring your data to reveal the bigger picture,” copy on the site implores. Curiously, when a group of us asked Felton about deploying this kind of data collection toward something like “accountability reports” for governments or other entities, he resisted wholesale. For him this was about quantifying the self, not the other. It was personal.

How big does the picture get when quantifying yourself?

McCarthy and Wright open an analysis of technology at the level of personal experience, or feeling. This was somewhat revelatory for me—and surprisingly novel given my own preoccupation with couching terms according to relational perspectives. I think it duly emphasized in their writing. There is indeed something personal in my interaction with my technologies, even (especially?) when I’m absorbed in public. What is that feeling?

It’s like I’m thinking private thoughts…on my phone.

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What is the ontological status of consciousness?

October 28th, 2013 · 1 Comment

In what way does it exist?

In the midst of McCarthy Jones’ ocean of acronyms it hits me again: that squirmy, Alva Noë feeling—that there’s something else going on. McCarthy Jones is upfront enough, but what does it mean that “brains do not hear voices,” but “people do”? What is the connection between the state of an SZ:AVH+ brain and the phenomenal experience of Rufus May? It’s fascinating the range of data that has been collected, and the simple steps toward understanding different parts of the brain such ventures bring. But in the thick of it all I feel like we’re losing the forest for the trees. Where are we? What were we looking for again?

Something Noë relates in that interview comes to mind, about how no amount of physical examination of a coin will reveal its value. I felt something like that; like we could spin our wheels all day, using all manner of imaging techniques, yet gain little ground understanding a conscious mind. It almost makes me think about the body as something more like a material condition among others (like say environment), which conditions the arrival of consciousness in the way elements of a climate condition the arrival of a tornado.

Kind of an aside to close: I was pretty amazed at the part McCarthy Jones relays early on, about electrostimulation of peoples’ brains to induce perception. I will enjoy puzzling over that for awhile, I’m sure. Also, can I just point out: Penfield and Perot apparently did that experiment incidentally, just because they, like, kind of had their patients’ brains open anyway.


Take that as yet unfounded IRB.

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Strategy 1: Picking a Fight

October 1st, 2013 · Comments Off on Strategy 1: Picking a Fight


Before I lay out in earnest my own story dealing with McAdams, I’ll just comment that László provided a nice survey of this new landscape—but really I’m not that concerned with things like verifiability and prediction in narrative models for personhood/consciousness. If there is “narrative truth in life,” I’d use McAdams’ words to say that the really interesting part is “quite removed from logic, science, and empirical demonstration” (McAdams 1993a The Meaning of Stories).

When I began reading McAdams I found myself refreshed. Not only did the load of this week’s assignments seem manageable within normal time constraints, but the content of that first chapter kind of cleansed my palette in this transition into a different mode of inquiry. “I can dig this,” I thought to myself,  reading about myth and its place as part of our social and personal psychologies. Our myths are constructed as a kind of personal history—a re-creation of the past in the present moment—to deal with circumstance and identity. It makes sense that a myth is more like chronicling a personal history, “judged to be true or false not solely with respect to its adherence to empirical fact,” but rather “with respect to such narrative criteria as believability and coherence” (28:1993a). By the conclusion of the chapter, I was on board with the approach—that we should explore how, thru our personal myths, we “help create the world we live in, at the same time that it is creating us” (37:1993a). That right there is a crux for me; I am all about explicating the subject-object relationship.

Then… in the next chapter we deal with Character and Imago (McAdams 1993b)… Yes, there is something to these concepts—there is something to be revealed, or appreciated, or at least discussed in the thought that our dealings with our own identity involve developing certain patterns of thought and behavior that are in fact based on an idealized personification we create as part of some personal myth (124:1993b). Sure, okay… It’s… It’s just… There is something I find intolerable about the way this is discussed here. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I found myself literally mumbling obscenities aloud in parts, fuming to myself over McAdams’ presentation. And it was something quite different from the obscenities I mumbled reading Noë. Where Noë makes me roll my eyes all over, McAdams makes me fume about… what?

It’s like I am pissed about how irresponsibly he is deploying language for his argument. Not that it’s imprecise per se, but I feel like his structure leads to intolerable conclusions. An example is in this passage (127:1993b):

Imagoes may personify aspects of who you believe you are now, who you were, who you might be in the future, who you wish you were, or who you fear you might become. Any or all of these aspects of the self—the perceived self, the past self, the future self, the desired self, the undesired self—can be incorporated into the main characters of personal myths. [emphasis mine]

Gods, with this line of thought it’s no wonder McAdams talks about needing a unifying frame for a fragmented identity! How many selves are we supposed to account for? These are assumed in the argument, but this is the fucking part we need clarity on!! We don’t need an explanation about the self that further invokes this self, that self, red self, blue self!!!


Okay I guess what’s at issue for me is this assumption of a multiplicitive self that needs unification thru narrative devices like imago. This “underlying self” is implied by the structure of McAdams’ argument, and I find it a harmful assumption—not just harmful to the strength of his argument, but harmful in a real way to people carrying out his line of thinking.

While imago contains useful content as a concept, I think it needs a much subtler deployment for any positive use.

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September 14th, 2013 · 1 Comment

I’m impressed by how nuanced Antonio Damasio’s presentation of consciousness is in these writings. I must admit to expectations of a coarse materialism or scientific literalism—and I am happily corrected. I have only just progressed into his new book, but something interesting came up while reading the assigned chapter from The Feeling of What Happens that I’d like to use for my post.

This week has been especially busy for me, so at one point my girlfriend offered to read aloud to me while I finished up some chores around the apartment. She soon had begun this passage:

You are looking at this page, reading the text and constructing the meaning of my words as you go along. But concern with text and meaning hardly describes all that goes on in your mind. In parallel with representing the printed words and displaying the conceptual knowledge required to understand what I wrote, your mind also displays something else, something sufficient to indicate, moment by moment, that you rather than anyone else are doing the reading and the understanding of the text. [p10; bold added]

And this feels not quite right in the moment. To be sure, each of us has our own private experience of consciousness: her reading/representing/understanding and my hearing/representing/understanding. But the sense of ownership seems somehow in between us. We are both involved in a relation to these symbols… Oh I’m sorry, I tell her; I interrupted. I let her finish.

The sensory images of what you perceive externally, and the related images you recall, occupy most of the scope of your mind, but not all of it. Besides those images there is also this other presence that signifies you, as observer of the things imaged, owner of the things imaged, potential actor on the things imaged. There is a presence of you in a particular relationship with some object. [p10; bold added]

I generally do my best to hold awareness close to the present moment—focus down a stimulus, clarify my consciousness of that stimulus, and observe any identification with that consciousness. I am loving Damasio’s explication because it nestles right up with this recursive subject–object relationship, and as a scientist he offers such refreshingly substantial grounds for his musings.

But even if Damasio laid it all out—literally figured out how we are conscious individuals—there would be more to tell. We are not just conscious and therefore necessarily conscious of, but we are conscious together. We will come into class on Wednesday—individuated, separate—and fully attempt to share consciousness with one another by constructing external objects to which we all might relate. Is it accurate to describe the experience of such conversation or reflection as just the coeval creation of x personal consciousnesses, each creating for itself an external object to which it can relate? Do we hold the same object between us: a single locus supporting our individuated experience? Or do we truly experience together, and support as a collective some higher order consciousness, altogether above us as individuals but inextricably bound up with our individuality?

Could we know if it’s one way or another anyway?

Hm. Hah, I’ll keep reading and look forward to Wednesday.


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