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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 45, November 1, 2014

The Simulacra and Vortex of Virtual Reality: Varied Myths

Sunday 2 November 2014

by Saket Bihari

“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth. It is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.”
— Ecclesiastes

Virtual Reality is a kind of rigmarole of offsetting the tried and tested realism of day-to-day life wherein the hoi polloi do not get the opportunity to rise beyond the purported media construct. The matrix of reality and hyper-reality do not get an opportunity to co-exist together but the idiom of progress and industrial-cyber progression leads to a kind of parallel growth for the twin strains of reality and hyper-reality. The idea of utilising simu-lators in the aeroplanes and for training the fighter pilots in the pods resembling Sukhoies and Mirages is a very appropriate instance of going ahead with the idea of faking reality. Faking reality through Internet simulations, I-pods and virtual cellphones happens to be the idea of the post- Matrix generation if Hollywood appreciation is construed to be the nom de plume of the twentyfirst century generation next. The acqui-sition of gadgets which convert through the instrumentalities of Multimedia, objects of interest and fascination into reflections of virtual reality abound in the mediascape these days. The notion of replication of reality at hitherto unimagined and unreachable of places leads to the idea of riding a crest of hyper-reality in order to induce sentiments of excitement, glee and be utilitarian as training methodologies in the Defence services.

Virtual Reality (VR), also nomenclatured as Immersive Multimedia, is a computer-simu-lated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds. Most current virtual reality environ-ments are primarily visual experiences, dis-played either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, but some simu-lations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback in medical, gaming and military applications. The idiom of virtual reality can trace its roots to the 1860s, when 360-degree art through panoramic murals began to appear. An example of this would be Baldassare Peruzzi’s piece, titled Sala delle prospective.

Virtual reality deservedly received the attention of the psychedelic system and the Hollywood mass media instrumentalities. The instance of Star Trek movies can be cited over here. One such instance is that of the teleportation of the space ship Enterprise into “frontiers Unknown” and “Where no man has gone before”.1 The first major American television series to showcase virtual reality regularly was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Several episodes featured a holodeck, a virtual reality facility that enabled its users to recreate and experience anything they wanted. One difference from the current virtual reality technology, however, was that replicators, force fields, holograms, and transporters were used to actually recreate and place objects in the holodeck, rather than illusions. Thus, the instance of incorporating the myth functions of popular tales and mixing them up with issues of virtual reality and novae technologies is the new idiom of the twentyfirst century.

It has been contended by Jonathan Strickland that “Out of all the earliest VR technology applications, military vehicle simulations have probably been the most successful. Simulators use sophisticated computer models to replicate a vehicle’s capabilities and limitations within a stationary and safe computer station. Possibly the most well-known of all the simulators in the military are the flight simulators. The Force, Army and Nakky all use flight simulators to train pilots.”2 The utility of VR in the idiom, thematic percept of Defence preparedness is also an interesting and fruitful function of the computer simulated simulacra. The imagery of a pod serving as the receptacle of a new generation and the imaginings of a young pilot in the cockpit of a simulator striking out and nuking imaginary antagonists in jets and land- based targets is another visage worthy of remembrance.

Jean Baudrilard, in his comment on the vortex and matrix of the artificial and real, contends that “If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts—the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.”3 The idea of the Simulacra or simulations can be vividly elabo-rated upon in the new age idiom of Virtual Reality. Thus, the notion of a nation-state turned out to be a caracass has been foretold with a lot of gothic and grotesque élan, the ferment and the turmoil in a beleaguered nation-state being represented with a great deal of characteristic gothic and symbolic element.

The idea of a colour too represents the notion that every colour spawns simulacra which seethes through the sentiment and flavour of being a nation. In a standard clash-of- civilisations theme, the idea of stars in the US star spangled banner, the white hexagons in a blue Israeli flag, along with the white stars in a red flag of the People’s Republic of China leads to the idea of coloured simulacra. It is this coloured simulacra which posits itself in the idea of the creation of a symbolic national narrative which belittles the frayed, grotesque parchmentali-sation of the national and colourfully sanguine national narrative.

The Indian national flag bears three colours, namely, white, saffron and the green which can be earmarked for both a singular symbolic message along with the nationalistic and conjoined message of the tricolour. The national flag was also adopted by the Constituent Assembly of the nation on July 21, 1947, with the debates concerning the various statements of the people and national leaders such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, K.M. Munshi and S. Radhakrishnan. The tricolour posits that, “In 1947, when India gained freedom from the British, a committee headed by Dr Rajendra Prasad decided to adopt the flag of the Congress as the national flag of India with a few modifications. With this in mind, the flag of 1931 was adopted as the national flag of India, but the charkha in the middle was replaced with the Ashoka Chakra. Thus, the Indian national flag was born. The saffron colour on top represents sacrifice, white represents truth, peace and purity and green signify the law of dharma (righteousness).”4 Thus, singularly the three colours in the national flag might be construed with individualistic meaning while perceived and managed in a conjoined manner the national flag spawns a novae Indian narrative which is akin to a collective rendering of the Indian nationhood though in an incipient state in the neophytic days of the Republic immediately in the aftermath of the attainment of independence.

This is what Gayatri Spivak has to contend in the context of the notion of nationalism and how nationalism can be intertwined with the idea of imagination. Gayatri Spivak writes in one of her pieces that “When and how does the love of mother tongue, the love of my little corner of ground become the nation thing? I say nation thing rather than nationalism because something like nations collectivises bound by birth, that allowed in strangers gingerly, have been in existence long before nationalism came around. State formations change, but the nation thing moves through historical displacements and I think Hannah Arendt was altogether perceptive in suggesting that the putting together of nationalism with the abstract structure of the state was an experiment or a happening that has a limited history and a limited future.”5 Thus, this rendering of the outcome which emerges out of the marriage of nationalism, pan-Indianism and imagination needs to be denied in the light of the amalgamative experience of nationhood. Does as a scholar one needs to eschew the idea of wedding the idea of a state with nationhood in order to deny the post-westphalian international system of a zeal to go beyond the fissiparous trends of stultifi-cation and obfuscation? All these questions must be answered before a country and its citizens can be enamoured of and asked to stick to a conjoined national narrative. Such a gloomy and pessimist narrative needs to be removed off the silver screen of the nationalist simulacra if the colourful, multi-coloured, myriad and variegated visage of symbolism and simulacra associated with nationalism is to be re- emphasised with academic and artistic vigour. Gayatri Spivak once again contends that “It is difficult to develop a linkage between the personalised narrative which is part of the selective narrative of nationalism. Such as the idea of a troupe of soldiers marching to a band’s music and the Russian soldiers marching long step in a parade.”6 Then, how can imagination make and reflect the conjoined narrative of nationhood a reality and not a mere symbolic chord which can be shared during annual and ceremonial occasions? Thus the pessimism about the personal narrative and the optimism about the collectivity should be re-examined before a nationalist Simulacra and a litany of symbols can be arrived at in the light of a nationally ordained commonality.

To Conclude

What one needs to realise in the pennant age of the times is that we can spawn a whole new array of national symbolism along with the colourful and trend-setting idea of a commo-nality through symbols. Right from the simulacra of simulating flights through the simulators in the entrails of the Defence establishment along with the utility and parerga of simulations, energising and the Star-Trek’s practice of Teleportation, the idiom of stimulants to reality as it exists is a standard practice which is followed in the cultural narrative. The idea of nationalism, nationhood symbols—all with the litany and accompaniment of cymbals—amount to a conjoined discourse wherein even simulations as if one is in a Matrix of post industrial age, can be firmed up as the new twentyfirst century reality for the idea of communication and ideology of nationalism. 

Footnotes

1. “Where No man has gone before”, URL: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Where_No_Man_Has_Gone_ Before_(episode)

 (Online: Web), Accessed on December 12, 2013.

2. Jonathan Strickland, “How Virtual Reality Military Applications Work,” URL: http://science.how-stuffworks.com/virtual-military1.htm

 (Online: Web), Accessed on December 11, 2013.

3. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation: The Body in Theory, Histories of Cultural Materialism, (University of Michigan Press, 1995).

4. Refer to Indian Constituent Assembly Debates, Parliament of India, Government of India.

5. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Nationalism and the Imagination, Columbia University.

6. Ibid.

Dr Saket Bihari is an Assistant Professor in Development Studies, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.