[Humanist] 25.696 explorations in virtual space

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 4 11:52:40 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 696.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 04 Feb 2012 10:44:40 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: explorations in virtual space

Many here, I very much hope, will be amused, charmed and even delighted 
by Paul F. Starrs, "The sacred, the regional, and the digital", 
Geographical Review 87.2 (April 1997): 193-218 -- in JSTOR. It begins 
with the story of the French bishop, Jacques Gaillot, who having (as we 
say here) got up the nose of the Vatican in a serious way by proclaiming 
the duty of the French Catholic Church to be concerned with injustice 
and the homeless, was dismissed from his See of Évreux and, in a 
brilliant move by the Vatican, appointed vescovo titulare, head of a 
titular see of Partenia, which "currently lies underneath about 100 
meters of sand near the edge of the Great Western Erg in northern 
Algeria" (194).

But the story only begins there. Gaillot's new appointment, literally 
and figuratively bleak to the unimaginative, proved a perfect 
opportunity for Léo Scheer, friend and colleague of Jean Beaudrillard, 
to express his passion for hyperspace. Scheer created for Gaillot 
www.partenia.org. "Although there might be no living patron resident 
within the geographical confines of Partenia," Starrs writes, "on the 
World Wide Web Partenia had become a virtual diocese, with Gaillot 
ministering to any and all who tapped the hypertext link" (196). He goes on:

> The geography of this transubstantiation--with effects on
> communications technology, cyberspace, technology's power to drive
> change, and far-from-subtle implications for religion--is notable. As
> Scheer parsed the matter, "Instead of a metaphysical idea of a
> bishop, attached to a real place, we would have a metaphysical idea
> of a place, attached to a real bishop."In Scheer's words, "The mind
> of God is imitated by the virtual structure of the Internet, where
> the difference between physical actuality and real existence has at
> last been breached" (Scheer 1996). The teleology may be uncertain,
> but the message is without doubt.

He quotes John Kirkland Wright, who in his presidential address to the 
American Geographical Society in 1947 urged geographers to turn away 
from the replicable and testable fare of the physical sciences to the 
alluring terrae incognitae of the periphery -- and so, as it happens 
many years later, to intercourse with that Bishop of a virtual space 
Jacques Gaillot.

> Five decades after Wright's declaration of faith, cyberspace is one
> realm where geographers ought to bestir themselves to consider how
> information has become tantamount to space and is in the process of
> becoming an actual place. There are not many such opportunities, and
> we ignore them at our own peril. The world of information technology,
> through its lively vessel, cyberspace, represents more than a
> contributor to studies in the world and regional economy. Cyberspace
> is assuredly a region--but oddly so, and a troubling and ill-mannered
> one. Can something fundamentally electromagnetic, where "electricity
> runs with intelligence," constitute a landscape? (Benedikt 1991, 2).

As I often say (quoting my old professorial friend William Blissett), 
read it tonight!

Comments? If I were commenting I'd point out how this reverses the now 
commonplace and increasingly boring fanfare over how application of the 
tools of digital geography to the humanities is so helpful etc etc.


Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's
College London; Professor (fractional), University of Western Sydney;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org); Editor,
Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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