Another theme from the Roskilde Conference: More ammunition for the view that what's "here" and "real" is not all that here and not all that real. I used to think that people who were trying to de-center reality were fiery communards or something, but the quasi-reality of the here and now finds support from the oddest collection of evidence. On the one hand, completely pragmatically speaking, irreality is everywhere now, in the form of straight-out fantasy living in VR but also in the form of pseudo-realities like "Reality TV" (not real at all), "News" (actually entertainment), and "Security" (a massively morbid social dance of cordons, machines, and rubber gloves, signifying nothing). The surreal isn't theoretical any more. It hits you right between the eyes.
We all know now that money is virtual. But at the conference, I met Dominic Power, a geographer from Uppsala whose work argues that fashion is virtual. Of course! It's all about convention. And speaking of conventions, the thinking of Thomas Boellstorff seems to be becoming more influential, with many people now citing his simple claim that there's little difference between VR and "reality" because culture makes "reality" a construct anyway. Let's not forget that Tolkien and Shakespeare had issues with reality, and to complete the picture, here's Pope Benedict the XVI: "We must rather have the courage, the joy, the great hope that there is eternal life, that eternal life is real life, and that from this real life comes the light the illuminates this world as well." Strange bedfellows, but the weave of argument from all these directions is hard to deny, even for someone like myself, trained in the most objectivist of disciplines: Reality is what we make of it.
It seems to me that this raises a difficult aesthetic question. If we are making reality, what should we make?