Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Avatars of Desire and the Question of Presence: Virtual and Transitional Spaces Meet Their Liminal Edge - from Pygmalion to Spike Jonze's Her, and beyond. . . 1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Avatars of Desire and the Question of Presence: Virtual and Transitional Spaces Meet Their Liminal Edge - from Pygmalion to Spike Jonze's Her, and beyond. . . 1

Article excerpt

Avatars of desire and the question of presence: Virtual and transitional spaces meet their liminal edge - from Pygmalion to Spike Jonze's Her, and beyond. . . 1

There is a poignant strangeness to Spike Jonze's movie Her (2013); we resonate with the characters' clumsiness in trying to reach one another, each an avatar to the other's desire. The movie is an expression of the human condition of being grounded in desire that can never fully settle itself. And because desire arrives wrapped in fantasy, it is always-already virtual. As analysts we are familiar with this: the analytic situation itself structures a transitional space - a virtual space - that situates the analyst, too, as an avatar of desire. The liminal frame of the analytic space maintains the transitional possibilities by heightening, frustrating, and sustaining a core of desire wanting to be expressed - and not merely in words. And here at the threshold of connection lie the possibilities of new awareness.

The question of presence: What does it mean to be somebody?

What does it mean to be somebody? Here is Lily Tomlin: "All my life I wanted to be somebody. And then I realized I was aiming too low." And how about Tom Ripley, the charming psychopath in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella, 1999): "I'd rather be a fake somebody than a complete nobody." Consider too the prescient New Yorker cartoon of two dogs typing away at a monitor: "On the internet no one knows you're a dog."

And there you have it: The deep wish to be somebody in a world of other somebodies, the opportunity to create self anew, and the illusory self-affirmation in the reflected mirror of the other. True self/False self. Fakery with the aim toward authenticity. Or at least, faking authenticity. And so here is a question we need to ask, and yet never settle: Is there, indeed, a true self? Better, what kind of illusion is the true self? A necessary illusion? But, if so, what kind? What, precisely, are we looking for behind this world of illusions? We dream of a Turing test on steroids, that is, a way to look behind the screen of presentation. There is a Turing nightmare embedded in the beginning of Ridley Scott's movie Blade Runner (1982): A mesmerizing panoramic shot opens on to a grim but beautiful, pulsating Los Angeles dystopia. We pan to a dingy office in which a Turing-like test is in progress. The tester, looking for replicants (that is, genetically engineered humanoids) sits before a rough, ill-kempt man. Synching his questions to measuring pupil size, the tester is looking deep into this man's psyche. The subject is getting agitated and offended, but the oblivious tester - officious, smoking a cigarette - is just going about his workaday routine. Out of the blue the outraged subject pulls out an ugly futuristic gun and blasts the tester away, just like that.

I submit, though the android failed the human versus replicant test, he passed the Turing test with flying colors. That is, there is intelligence - and much more - behind the facade. And though one might argue that the replicant's reaction is perhaps a tad excessive, he has rightly guessed that the testing constitutes what I would call an 'Existential Turing Test'. That is, the Existential Turing test matters precisely because the subject's own being, his existence, is at stake (which is, in fact, an operationalizing of Heidegger's [1962] conception of Dasein, or human being). And so we have moved from can a machine actually think to what does it mean to have Being or existence itself?

Like Blade Runner and science fiction in general, Spike Jonze's movie Her is a mirror to our collective unconscious fantasies and fears, especially the existential preoccupations of our time. What does it mean to be human? To have presence? To have Being? What does it mean to be somebody? And, how are virtual, augmented realities changing our ways of relating to one another? How are we changing our very modes of being? …

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