The Shame of The Virtual & The Terror of the Real

image004One of the themes I plan on exploring in the creative portion of my thesis is the eroticism of the virtual interaction.  Marcus Speh pointed out (on a post I can no longer find on his blog) that it seems that ‘real’ contemporary writers tend to present all fictional interactions as face to face, even though a tremendous proportion of our communications are digital.

Within the erotic fiction genre, writing ‘virtual’ erotic or romantic experiences has been frowned upon, much like other types of virtual relationships have been fictionally avoided in many other genres.  There are probably a number of reasons why we do this. Perhaps because  it becomes a ‘text’ of ‘text’ with little history? It’s difficult to notate in a way that makes it clear to the reader? Certainly I’ve read few digital epistolary stories that just didn’t work very well – mostly because they lacked a certain amount of honesty.

But more than the difficulties of craft or legibility, I think it has to do with our shame. People who have deep friendships, sex, or fall in love online are represented in the media as socially unsuccessful people. Freaks. Losers. Geeks. We laugh about them, we consider them delusional. The only ‘digital’ story we seem to find acceptable is one in which the parties finally meet face to face.  We are ashamed of what technology has brought us to.  Some of us have become so acclimatized to our virtual interactions, the prospect of continuing that on, into the physical world, seems terrifying.

As a writer, the freak and the loser presents a compelling character challenge for me. Being a freak and a loser myself, there is the delicious stink of the confessional about it. But more than either of those two things, having spent so long in the virtual half-light, I have come to see it as a living, breathing metaphor for the Symbolic and the Real in Lacan’s psychic structures. I’m also compelled by the idea of how the decision to break out of the virtual and into the physical with another person is a kind of transgression.

It is easy to stand back and view it with a jaded eye. It’s easy to ridicule anyone who fears meeting an online friend face to face. And yet we’ve created many urban myths , cautionary tales, and horror stories to warn people off it. Why is that?

I think we assume that human relations have a natural start point, and we assume that start point is in the physical world.  So the transition from acquaintances to friends to lovers takes place on that plane. But the etiquette,  the rules of interaction, the claims which people feel they have the right to make on each other are different in the virtual world. Even time is experienced differently.  If you don’t see a lover for a week in the physical world, it may not seem like much. If you don’t communicate with a lover in the virtual world for a week, something may be dreadfully wrong. And the journey from virtual to real can simply seem impossible.

I’m interested in the perils of that journey. I’m interested in the ‘Symbolic’ world of the virtual interchange, with its heavy reliance on text, the nuances of syntax and tone and style that become the ‘body language’ of the chat space. I’m intrigued by the strangely stepped hurdles of going from text to voice to video, and finally, to flesh.

And when I begin to contemplate our carefully manufactured virtual selves, our projections of desire, how we conceive of the “Virtual Other”, well, my mouth starts to water.

This is the world I live in. I don’t believe that it has been well explored or well described in fiction. This one of the four creative challenges I set for myself.









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