Virtual Reality, Decadence, and the Will to God: A Rebours and Mondo 2000

Posted in Earlier to 2006 Journal


The replication of reality to ensure its control is behavior as old as Plato’s shadows on the wall. Postmodern analysis seems to enjoy this way of looking at the world, in which experience is reduced to a set of signifiers, in which notions of natural “truth” are replaced with understandings of the created “true” (McCarthy, par. 6). Underlying the motion towards better, clearer and more thorough ways of reproducing reality is the desire for total control and domination. In the perfectly replicated world, every parameter is under control, every variable manipulable. Each possible outcome is either precalculated or under the direct influence of the creator. Artistic creation becomes the expression of the desire to be in total control, to replicate reality more thoroughly than the predecessor, to be the God of the created world. J. K. Huysman’s Against Nature (A Rebours) parallels the desires expressed in Mondo 2000. Both the drive behind the development of Virtual Reality (and its associated conceptual creations of cyberspace and the cyborg body) and the motivation behind Des Esseintes’ disassociation with the mundane carry with them a sense of alienation from the “natural” world and dissatisfaction with its limitations. Whether in the state-of-the-art technology of Virtual Reality (VR) or in the aesthetic sensibilities of Des Esseintes, the desire to replicate and improve upon the inadequacies of “natural” reality takes control over artistic creation and human behavior in ways that might not be immediately evident given the technologically and socially disparate contexts in which they are both located.

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