The (oh-so-queerly-embodied) virtual

South African Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):398-410 (2020)
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The virtual has become the latest rostrum for ideological heteronormativity; it increasingly plays host to an insidious rhetoric of unjustifiably fixed and oppositional gender binaries that exhort heterosexuality as a norm. Conservative political and religious groups, as well as consumerist advertising, utilise digital technology to reinforce cast-in-stone and adversarial social perspectives for manipulative and exploitative ends. Contrastingly, the virtual may be mobilised to support and facilitate queering in contemporary societies and may positively counter such fixed ideological heteronormative categories of social life. Crucial in this transformative account of the virtual is the body, which is for Merleau-Ponty the horizon of engagement with the world as a condition for perception and performativity. Queer perspectives may, in turn, overcome the oversight of Merleau-Ponty (as critically suggested by Judith Butler and Iris Marion Young) regarding the specific gendered characteristics of the body itself, and allows for an expanded embodied and queer conceptualisation of the virtual. A transformative vision of the virtual entails therefore a rethinking of our understanding of digital technology through (a) the phenomenology of the body-subject and (b) queer theory. I argue that the idea of the body as entirely discursive or performative (per queer theory) needs to be adjusted by explicating the foundational ontological characteristics of the body-subject’s encounter of the virtual.

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