The Ur-Real Sonorous Envelope: Bridge between the Corporeal and the Online Technoself

The Ur-Real Sonorous Envelope: Bridge between the Corporeal and the Online Technoself

Marlin Bates (University of the Pacific, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2211-1.ch015
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In the rhetorical construction of identity, we are often tasked with analyzing how rhetoric either points to or creates a space for identity. This chapter would seek to move beyond that. This chapter seeks to analyze how ur-real rhetoric creates identity not through a textual sense. It creates an effect on our psyches. The exigence is no longer the over-riding guide for the identity construct. Rather, the rhetoric is called forth not just by the situation but instead by the sum total of the rhetorical effect on the bodies being changed. It is the totality of the milieu in which we find ourselves. This represents what can be considered to be a fundamental shift within identity theory: Heretofore, we seek to explain reality and ur-reality in terms of how it aligns/misaligns with the physical realm. This chapter examines World of Warcraft’s and Ultima Online’s impact not just on the lexical construction of rhetorical identity, but also on the somatic; we need to be looking as to how the body responds. The chapter attempts to discern where the somatic and the lexical construction of rhetorical identity intersect by applying theories from Black, Burke, and others.
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Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) have steadily increased in prominence over the last decade to a point where discussion concerning the genre is no longer confined to the computer rooms and Internet cafes. Indeed, there is a growing body of scholarly research on MMOs and their various instantiations (Doheny-Farina, 1996; Donath, 1999; Turkle, 1999; Bates, 2005, 2009). To be precise, prior research (Bates, 2005) has indicated that the rhetorical construction of identity not only exists online, but also that rhetorical identities have combined to form associations with other identities. Those associations and identities are what Kenneth Burke (1969) would term a “community of ways” (p. 130). Burke (1969) tells us that imitation allows a rhetorical personage to find a place within their community. The player-characters, whether they are gamers or role-players, imitate each other in order to perfect their individual - and yet communal - identity and, thus, win acceptance from the group. Moreover, the research has focused on how the game itself, web sites, the USENET, and game message boards allow player-characters to conduct what is essentially an “out-imitation” of each other. Therefore, if there is a need to emulate those around them in the game, the players will naturally tend towards competition in order to fulfill that need. It is the conscious use of imitation/competition by the player-characters that draws them together as a whole. In order for there to be order within the chaos that is a culture, there must be a sense of how one fits within that community. Burke tells us that the imitation allows a rhetorical personage to find a place within that community. Contradictory as it may seem, the MMORPG represents a site in which player-characters seek out ways to be like each other in order to maintain an individual identity that exists within the community. The player-characters, whether they are gamers or role-players, imitate each other in order to be the best and, therefore, win acceptance from the group as a whole. I believe that not only is the Burkean sense of identification in play, but also Edwin Black’s (1970) theory of the “second persona” is at work here in the ur-real. Moreover, the Dawkins (1976) neologism, the meme, works in concert with these two theories to drive online ur-real identity creation. In an effort to support these conclusions, this chapter will attempt to explain how the rhetorical construction of identity occurs in the online world, the ur-Real (i.e., MMOs), and is being employed by rhetors to meld the real and the ur-real in their everyday lives. The ensuing identity-meme alloy then allows the rhetor the ability to deal with difficulties in all planes of existence.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Threshold Crossing: David Schwarz’ (1997) concept of how music allows the physical body to cross into a fantasy space created by the music. In an ur-real sense, it is how emotional responses to the sonorous envelope allows the corporeal self to cross into the ur-real self.

Sonorous Envelope: This is the experiential area in which the ur-real is extended through psycho-somatic reactions to the corporeal body. Rhetors use the emotional effects created within the corporeal body to extend the rhetorical self created and maintained within the ur-real.

Ur-Real: The ur-real is an all encompassing term that reflects the boundary between the corporeal existence (see below) and the online existence. It includes what others term “virtual” reality and beyond.

Player-Character: The melding of the physical gamer/user with the on-screen representation. It is the combination of the user and the avatar. This is usually specifically referring to MMOs where the user is in some control of the avatar’s features and/or name.

Corporeal Existence: Those experiences that are bounded by the physical reality in which our physical body is located. Although the boundary between the ur-real and the corporeal is becoming blurred, the distinction is still located on the physical body we inhabit as human beings.

MMO/MMORPG: MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online/Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) are now loosely defined to include not only the standard fare of games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest, but also games such as the first-person shooter (FPS) of HALO or Call of Duty.

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