Reunited? On the Aesthetics and Rhetoric of Meeting the Dead Through Virtual Reality
Keywords:death, distance, virtual reality, non-mediateness, unframedness
Even though death creates irremediable distance between the living and the departed, human beings have been struggling since ages to bring the absent once again present through any form of available media. In all of the multifarious attempts at making the dead seem as if alive, a distance of the living from the departed was nevertheless retained in that the deceased was not really present, but only ‘presentified’ through a clearly perceivable medium. Yet nowadays, virtual reality promises to finally bridge the gap and make the living cross the border of the afterworld. By focusing on the paradigmatic case study of a South Korean mother who in February 2020 ‘met’ her dead daughter through a VR simulation, this essay takes into account both the visual and the linguistic strategies used to convey the idea of a direct, non-mediated ‘encounter’ or ‘reunion’ between the two. The overall objective of the article is to show that in immersive virtual environments, despite all rhetoric, the dialectic between proximity and distance which is common to the traditional notions of both the dead and the image is not only still present, but also greater than ever before.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Pietro Conte
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