Archives for the month of: April, 2013

By Mona Sakr

Monaghan (2005; cited in Malcrida & Low, 2008)

Monaghan explores the possibility that spoiled body identities can be saved via online communities.

Identities are often spoiled through perceptions of the body. One common example is the de-valuing of identities associated with ‘fat’ bodies. But how are these bodies presented and performed in online spaces in order to save the identities with which they are associated? Forums and communities build up to celebrate these bodies. The virtual constructions of ‘fat’ bodies are fundamentally different to their constructions in the offline world.

‘the internet allows fleshy bodies to become more durable and valued cyborgs’ (p. 60)

‘the internet provides space for alternative definitions of… embodiment’ (p. 61).

Monaghan, L. F. (2005) Big Handsome Men, Bears and Others: Virtual Constructions of ‘Fat Male Embodiment’. In C. Malacrida & J. Low (Eds.) Sociology of the Body: A Reader (pp. 57 – 65). Ontario: Oxford University Press. 

By Mona Sakr

In imagined bodies, I talked about the way we make sense of digital communication and suggested that engaging with a blog depends on imagining the embodied actions of the blogger.

One way to think about this is through Sigrid Norris’s concept of frozen action, which she uses in order to frame the communicative work of disembodied modes. Disembodied modes are those that don’t belong to a human body e.g. writing or the organisation of furniture in this room. Norris argues that disembodied modes are understood through frozen action rather than real-time action. Frozen action is action that has been performed previously. For example, a magazine on a table is understood in relation to the actions of (1) purchasing the magazine and (2) placing the magazine on the table, although neither of those actions are currently taking place.

“These actions are frozen in the material objects themselves and are therefore evident.” (Norris, 2004, p. 14).

In this framework, disembodied systems of representation rely on deductions about embodied action. In digital environments, the perception of what others do will be based on assumptions about the embodied work underlying these events. Empirical research is needed to answer questions that arise as a result of this framework:

  • What kinds of deductions do we make about embodied work on the basis of digital communication?
  • To what extent are these deductions correct i.e. do they match the embodied work that did actually enable the digital communication?
  • What results from the way we imagine embodied work underlying digital communication e.g. does it influence the way we think about the person we are in communication with?

 

Norris, S. (2004) Analyzing Multimodal Interaction: A methodological framework. New York: Routledge.

By Mona Sakr

Title: “Stories and embodied memories in dementia”

Speaker: Lars-Christer Hyden, Linköping University, Sweden

Today’s seminar at the London Knowledge Lab (offered by MODE in conjunction with NOVELLA) was a fascinating insight into the role of the body in the articulation of memories by individuals suffering from dementia. The seminar considered video analysis of interviews as a way of re-thinking our conceptualisations of memory and memory loss, and the importance of the body in storing, retrieving and communication memories.

Lars-Christer Hyden is a professor of Social Psychology at Linköping University in Sweden and director of the Centre for Dementia Research (CEDER). His research focuses on communication and narrative in the context of dementia. He is currently conducting studies into the experience of dementia among couples and the various semiotic tools that are used in storytelling by individuals with dementia.

Hyden’s work uses the notion of embodiment in two ways. Firstly, he draws attention to the communicative body. He argues that there is a need to explore how the body is used as a semiotic tool in the construction of narrative, particularly when language is negatively affected by dementia. Secondly, through the concept of embodied cognition, he suggests that we can begin to question traditional models of memory that highlight abstract and analytical cognition as opposed to embodied experience. Recent research has demonstrated the extent to which memories are based on sensory experience rather than abstract events.

In the seminar, we looked at a short video clip from an interview with a woman who has dementia. By focusing on gaze, gesture and language, Hyden demonstrated the extent to which language and gesture had different semiotic functions in this context. While language is analytical, gestures are syncretic i.e. they are conducted and interpreted as complete ‘wholes’ of communication. As a result, gestures were used to facilitate communication when the language necessary to communicate a particular idea wasn’t available.

Taking this idea further, Hyden argued that depending on the semiotic tools we use to share memories with others, the nature of memory changes. When we expect memories to be communicated via language, they become analytical and disembodied entities. By focusing on the role of the body in communicating memories, we are focusing on the embodied experiences that are the basis of memory formation and thereby re-thinking the construct of memory.

Hyden’s conclusions were followed by a range of observations and questions from the audience. To mention one example – an audience member drew attention to suggestions that language use itself becomes more syncretic as dementia progresses. These findings would support the importance of gesture as a tool to convey ‘wholes’ of experience, but it also suggests that within modes, different types of semiotic work can be achieved. Language is not necessarily analytical, and perhaps gesture is not necessarily syncretic.

By Victoria Grace Walden

I’ve always been a critic of 3-D technology because I feel it distracts from the verisimilitude. However, recent experiences of 3-D films have made me ponder whether they do offer spectators a sensual experience more similar to real world perception than 2-D films.

Those who champion 3-D filmmaking seem to imply this argument. Just before the release of his 3-D spectacular Avatar, James Cameron proclaimed: “We are born seeing in three dimensions… most animals have two eyes, not one. There is a reason.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/20/james-cameron-avatar-3d-film)

Interestingly, the free dictionary defines third-dimensional not only as added depth, but added realism too:

“third dimension

n.

1. The quality of depth or thickness in an object or a space.

2. The quality of seeming real or lifelike.”

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/third-dimensional )

Previously I, like many critics of the technology, could never understand this belief. How could this awkward, often unfocused, image be more “lifelike” than then 2-dimensional cinematic images we were used to?

In December 2012 I was fortunate to receive tickets to the Premiere of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I’d heard great things about the film so was naturally excited. However, my experience of the screening (which was in 3-D much to my dismay) was an unpleasant one, but one that emphasised how affect is always an embodied and pre-logical experience. I have problems with my peripheral vision and suffer from astigmatism therefore me and 3-D glasses do not have a happy relationship. While the beautiful, fairly still sequences of the zoo in the opening of the film were spectacular to watch, as soon as Pi was lost at sea I felt an overwhelming sense of nauseous. The experience was so unpleasant I missed the majority of the film, opting instead to stare at the floor or close my eyes in fear I may vomit. I felt physically unwell even after the film had ended and I had left the auditorium.  The motion of the train journey home only emphasised the sickly feeling.

This rather unpleasant cinematic encounter reminded me of the importance of considering affect as a pre-logical attribute of the film (and in fact any) experience.  Eric Shouse (2005) and Brian Massumi (1980) are clear to differentiate between feeling, emotion and affect. As Shouse explains, “a feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experience and labelled” therefore infants cannot experience feelings (Shouse, 2005:3). While “an emotion is the projection / display of a feeling” which can be genuine or faked to correlate with social expectations (Shouse, 2005:4). However, “an affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential” (Shouse, 2005: 5).

Eisenstein also highlights that sensation differs from cognitive understanding because it returns us to a pre-evolved state: socially, before man formed linguistic structures and individually, that infant state before we learnt social norms of behaviour and language (As Shouse echoes in his paper). While Eisenstein uses the term “emotion” in his writing, his concept of “emotion” is not dissimilar from contemporary notions of “affect”.  The term “affect” only became widely used after Silvan Tomkin’s seminal work Affect Imagery Consciousness (1961-63).

I argue therefore, that 3-D does not make the image appear more “lifelike” but rather 3-D technology submerses the spectator in a lifelike sensual experience. While Ang Lee’s use of 3-D resulted in me being distracted not only from the verisimilitude, but the entire film experience, the technology caused a physical response in me unlike any 2-D film I’d ever seen. I’ve often, momentarily, recoiled or jumped when watching 2-D films, but never felt physically sick and the affect has never continued beyond my leaving the auditorium.

When I first became interested in questions of embodiment I wondered how my body and the bodies I encounter (virtual or real) could affect and be affected. What could the connection between the body and affect be? What I have come to understand is that embodiment is central to affect, affect is my body’s response – my body’s way of thinking.

References

Massumi, B (1980) Introduction in Deleuze, G & Guattari, F A Thousand Plateaus, London, UK & New York, USA: Continuum

Shouse, E (2005) Feeling, Emotion, Affect in M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture Vol 8 Issue 6 Dec 2005 accessed at: http://www. journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php

Smith, G.M (2004) Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein’s Writings in Quartley Review of Film and Video 21.4 (October- November 2004) pp305-315 accessed at: www2.gsu.edu/~jougms/Eisenstein.htm

Also, for an interesting article on 3-D and haptic visuality see:

Ross (2012) The 3-D aesthetic: Avatar and hyperhaptic visuality in Screen 53:4 Winter 2012 pp 381- 397 accessed at: http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/4/381.full.pdf+html?sid=11bcd8eb-c502-4bd1-bade-5146c161d780

By Mona Sakr

‘Just as others have argued that it is through our ways of seeing the world that we become viewing subjects (see Crang, 1997), it is through our bodies that we become doing subjects.’ (p. 261)

Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (2011) Gesture and movement in tourist spaces. In C. Jewitt (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 253 – 263.

By Mona Sakr

How important is the body in a world of email communication and blogging? It seems that individuals can have influence on others without ever referencing their body. Or do emails and blogs reference a different kind of body? Does digital communication depend on imagined bodies? When I read a blog, do I necessarily imagine a body for the blogger? If so, what shape do these imaginings take?

I try this out…

I visit Keri Smith’s blog. Keri Smith is an illustrator and writer who makes quirky and beautiful books (e.g. ‘How to be an explorer of the world’). The most recent post on her blog is a photographed image of used teabags, followed by a quote from Georges Perec. Before I read the quote or reflect on the image, I imagine the actions that were necessary for the information in front of me to be gathered. Some one needed to have taken that photograph. Given that Keri Smith is an artist, I imagine that she took the photograph and she set up the scene to be photographed. I imagine also that she read this particular quote in the context of more general reading, and that her choice of this quote was marked by an embodied activity – looking up from the novel perhaps to consider what has just been read, or folding over the edge of the page to mark the place where the quote appears.

Image

In short, my appreciation of the blogpost is coupled with the reconstruction of activity that I assume made it possible. The activities were presumably carried out by a body. While I do not imagine a particular body with certain physical features, I think in terms of actions and capabilities – what the body must have been capable of doing and what it did. I make sense of the blog and the individual who writes it through this imagining of the body. I like the actions that (I assume) made the blog possible, and I therefore like the blog and blogger.

What place is there for imagined bodies in theories of social media and digital communication?

By Mona Sakr

In my last post, I talked about the link between bodies and ‘self’ and I suggested three ways of thinking about this relationship:

PERFORMANCE (bodies perform the ‘self’)

MOMENTS (bodily moments make up the ‘self’)

MEDIATION (experience is mediated by the body)

boat race 1

Watching the boat race this weekend, they seemed like a good way of making sense of the part that bodies played in this spectacle, and a starting point for further questions about the body…

PERFORMANCE: In sports, we use every trick we have to create the conditions for our success. Part of this is using our bodies to perform to others. We use our bodies to perform competence, to perform victory. Before the boat race began, the competitors inhabited their bodies in particular ways. They sat up straight, they looked straight ahead, they embodied the role of fierce and focused competitor. In moments of physical exhaustion, the performance crumbled… At the finish line, the individual in ‘stroke’ position in the Oxford boat, collapsed backwards and was dribbling. It took him a few minutes to regain composure and embody the role of victor. When can we perform and when can we not? What role do the moments of non-performance play in the making of ‘self’?

MOMENTS: I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that the individuals taking part in the boat race will remember it for a long time to come. What will they remember? Will they remember the physical exhaustion and exhilaration? They might well talk about these aspects of the experience, but is it possible to remember bodily experience? Try remembering what it’s like to feel cold when you’re hot, or what it’s like to feel nervous when you’re relaxed. What is the relationship between body and memory?

MEDIATION: Not everyone can participate in the boat race. Not everyone has a body that fits the bill. Only the men’s boat race is televised. Bodies allow us to own certain experiences and not others, so can they be conceptualised as currency?