Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg
by Tom Boellstorff
[Boellstorff, Tom. 2011. “Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, 504–20. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.]
“to develop a theory of the virtual body that links
- ethnographic insights from prior work by myself and other scholars with
- a theoretical architecture drawing from a range of philosophical perspectives and
- the introduction of three new concepts: virtual chora, being-inworld, and the cypherg” (515).
- chora—ancient Greek philosophical term; in Plato’s view chora is the basis of being, such that “forms come to be in it without ever being of it” (Sallis 1999: 109)
- virtual chora—Virtual worlds underscore how chora is not place per se, but place-making or worlding (Zhan 2009), the embodied “dance” of techne making possible “being-in-the-world.” As this last term suggests, this reframing of chora links it to a phenomenology of the virtual body
- being inworld—Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world’ is not sufficient for the virtual, because ‘being’ is defined and experienced differently, depending on which virtual world one is ‘being’ in. So Boellstorff pluralizes and phenomenologizes the concept (through Merleau-Ponty). Being inworld is existenec (dwelling) according to the local virtual definitions.
- cypherg—a mixture of Karl Jaspers’s cypher (an “objectivity which is permeated by subjectivity and in such a way that Being becomes present in the whole” (Jaspers 1959: 35) and Donna Haraway’s cyborg (part human, part machine, see Cyborg Manifesto). The cyherg itself is “virtual corporeality through which “a participation in Being takes place” (Jaspers 1959: 61), a participation through techne that makes possible the conditions for emplaced being itself. A recursive indexicality, made possible by the pluralization of being-inworld” (515).
“From virtual chora emerges the cypherg, a figure of online corporeality, a figure whose recursively indexical being-inworld stands to fundamentally reconfigure what it means to be human” (517).