The Ontology of Digital Life: Art and Healing in Second Life

Rob Harle, Independent Artist and Writer, Australia


This paper is an introduction to the virtual 3D computer simulation world known as Second Life. It discusses specifically two important aspects of interaction and participation in this world – Art and the Therapeutic Benefits of spending time in SL. The brief introduction is enough to orientate and get started those not familiar with SL. Suggestions for further research and SL project developments are discussed throughout.

Keywords: Second Life, virtual reality, avatar, digital art, computer simulation, linden, Freedom Project, social interaction.


I walked through an enchanting garden, cobble stone path beneath my feet, the strange birds chirping and flying through the flowering plants led me towards a building of stone and light. Bindu Gallery bid me, Enter.

I stood in amazement as sculptures revolved and pulsated, I noticed a 3D spherical mandala near the stairs, I approached, stepped inside and sat on a red velvet cushion. I was looking out through the iridescent, geometric light patterns of the mandala. An indescribable mystical experience followed as the mandala energy flowed through me.

No, I had not died! No, I was not under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs! I had logged on to Second Life and visited a friend’s Virtual Gallery Exhibition.


Bindu Gallery is the virtual personal gallery of Second Life artist Sheba Blitz. Her original hand painted mandalas are uploaded from real life, manipulated in Second Life then displayed in this gallery.
Bindu Gallery is the virtual personal gallery of Second Life artist Sheba Blitz. Her original hand painted mandalas are uploaded from real life, manipulated in Second Life then displayed in this gallery.

Second Life (SL) [1] is a virtual (digital) 3D computer based world – it is not a game, not a social media app, but a digital version of real life (RL). Like the fragrance of coffee brewing it is a difficult thing to describe, immersion and participation is the best way to understand SL. As with most things the press and television media have also distorted and misrepresented SL, with claims of ruined lives, sexual abduction, huge costs, death and so on. Untrue!

Any individual adult, anywhere in the world may join the SL community for free, create their own avatar – the entity which allows you to live, work and play in SL – then create art, build astonishing architecture, create bizarre fashion or fly on a magic carpet. Flying or teleportation is the standard way to move around the various regions (sims) of SL. If you wish to buy your own land you must become a premium member which costs approximately $70 USD per year, this returns a stipend paid to you of 300 Linden dollars a week. If you do not like flying you may use some of your Lindens to buy a car to drive around in, or perhaps catch a train!

Why Lindens? Philip Linden (Rosedale) was the creator and brainchild of SL. He attended the Burning Man event in the desert of Nevada, USA many years ago, this enormously influenced the already nascent digital, virtual version of SL. Linden Labs own SL, but the actual community is created by the residents with very few rules or regulations. So the basic currency of trading is called a Linden. SL is not the only virtual 3D community some others are; Blue Mars; InWorldz; OS Grid (presently with problems); Twinity; and Onverse.

Screen shot of part of an art exhibition at the virtual SL version of Burning Man Festival.
Screen shot of part of an art exhibition at the virtual SL version of Burning Man Festival.

This is probably enough basic information to orientate those not familiar with SL. As with most digital software and applications, things evolve and become more sophisticated and ‘mostly’ user friendly. Remember Unix/Dos command line communication via AARNet prior to the WWW? Perhaps not, but for those who do, how could we ever have imagined such a sophisticated and virtually real ‘thing’ as SL would develop?

This paper is mainly concerned with a general discussion of two important areas of SL – Art, and the possible Therapeutic benefits of spending time in SL. For those interested in a highly detailed investigation of all aspects of SL, one of the best studies I have found is Coming Of Age In Second Life. This book is a scholarly, anthropologically based study which dispels most “urban” myths and sensationalised nonsense concerning SL.[2]

Before looking at art and healing in detail, I should refute the notion that some techno-luddites hold; they argue that a virtual world such as SL is simply specks of light (pixels) on a computer monitor – nothing more, not “real” reality! This ignorance apart from ignoring the very real psychological impact, for good or ill, of interaction with others in a virtual world is that at a deep ontological level it can be argued that all “realities”, including humans, are simply complex conglomerates of light specks (photons). Detailed discussion of this concept/theory, which includes, but goes beyond quantum mechanics, is clearly beyond the scope of this paper. However, there is ample evidence to support this ontology, just one example is my paper published in Ylem Journal, 2007. [3]…Access Full Text of the Article

[1] Read about the Second Life community and download the required Viewer which installs on your computer from

[2] Boellstorff, T. Coming Of Age In Second Life. 2008 Princeton University Press. NJ. Also my review of this book:

[3] The Dichotomy of Reality YLEM Journal. Harle, R.F. (Guest Editor) vol.27 Nos. 10 & 12 Sept/Dec 2007. Journal of YLEM Society, Artists Using Science & Technology. San Francisco, CA.

Naturalizing ‘Queerness’: A Study of Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy

Prateek, Ramjas College, New Delhi, India

If the representation of same-sex sexuality in punitive terms leaves gays in shock, then the legitimizing of Article XVI Section 377 (which bars gay sex) in India made gays all over the world, especially in South Asia speechless and traumatized. In response to this universally misconstrued image of an ‘unnatural’ man, Shyam Selvadurai, a Canadian-Sri Lankan writer creates a narrative which not only offers an ‘innocent peek’ into the biased perspectives of heterosexuals towards queers but the use of a child narrator is a deliberate ploy with which he deconstructs the craving for a so called ‘healthy’ text.’ Thus, this article, by musing on Selvadurai’s most acclaimed text Funny Boy (1994), attempts to examine how and why ‘unhealthy’ texts are constructed. Secondly, it elaborates on the subtle literary strategies used by Selvadurai to debunk pre-conceived notions of a heterosexual literary text. Finally, the article while locating a gay narrative in the social and cultural context of Sri Lanka, presents a gendered analysis of homosexuality in Sri Lanka.

Unhealthy Text

A healthy text is a heteronormative construct, which refers to a text where first, heterosexuality is naturalized and homosexuality is either sidelined or demonized; secondly, where the writer manages to exorcise the demons of unheard voices, and finally, the writer can prevent the eruption of contested spaces. Since Selvadurai challenges all the above mentioned conventions connected to a heterosexual text, his text can be considered as a snapshot of what one can call as ‘unhealthy text.’

Jonathan Ned Katz while chronicling the history of heterosexuality discussed the idea of “invention of heterosexuality.” Following the argument of Freud, Katz points out that “heterosexual” is not merely a noun but frequently an adjective, describing a “drive,” a “love,” an “instinct,” and a “desire,” as well as a sexual activity and a type of person (66). What Katz called “the invention of heterosexuality” referred to his idea that “heterosexuals were made, not born.” According to Katz, the idea of heterosexuality emerged at a specific point in history, and its history intertwines with the story of industrialization and urbanization, the rise of the middle classes, the complications of empire, and the scientific and philosophical legacies of the Enlightenment. The term heterosexuality was created to give medical and intellectual legitimacy to the desires of the emerging middle class…Access Full Text of the Article

Indian Feminist Publishing and the Sexual Subaltern

Elen Turner, Independent Researcher, Australia


The discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” in India has, after 2009, entered a new phase. Discourse on sexuality was once largely focused on law and health policies; now, such discourse is better able to address positive identities and their multitude of articulations. The relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. This article examines independent feminist publishers as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. Such publishers are significant mediators of feminist scholarship and discourse, so analysing their work can reveal much about ‘mainstream’ forms of feminism. The December 2013 Supreme Court judgment to uphold Section 377 is concerning to many, but in the four and a half years that homosexuality was effectively legal in India, the visibility of the sexual subaltern broadened to the extent that it may be difficult to return to a pre-2009 state.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, usually interpreted as sodomy, was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. The Indian Supreme Court, in December 2013, overturned this judgment, effectually re-criminalising homosexuality. Section 377’s reading down was widely celebrated within the queer community as an important milestone, and the Supreme Court judgment lamented. But the four years in which homosexuality was in effect de-criminalised saw large shifts in public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality, shifts that the judgment of the Supreme Court will likely have little effect upon.

This article suggests that the discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” has, after 2009, entered a new phase, one that is not primarily focused on law and health policies, but is able to look towards positive identities and their articulation in a variety of forms. Furthermore, the relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. I specifically examine independent feminist publishing outlets as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. By ‘independent’, I mean groups that may or may not operate with not-for-profit status, but that are not owned by large publishing corporations, or are subject to the editorial intervention of individuals detached from the main operations of the group. Such publishers are by no means the sole producers of feminist scholarship and discourse, but they are significant mediators of them, so analysing their work can reveal a lot about ‘mainstream’, urban forms of Indian feminism. While in the last decade or so, an increasing amount of online activism and publication has been occurring in India as elsewhere, such work falls outside the scope of this paper as that emerging media warrants a case study in its own right. Book publishing was a form of Indian feminist activism and knowledge production that began in the 1980s, and although it has always claimed to at the forefront of progressive feminist knowledge production, the contradiction between this self-belief and its interactions with the “sexual subaltern” makes it a genre worthy of especial attention…Access Full Text of the Article


Breaking through the Limits of Flesh: Gender Fluidity and (Un)natural Sexuality in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

Swikriti Sanyal, Rabindra Bharati University, India


With the politicization of sex around the nineteenth century, the categories of gender and sexuality became primary instruments of disciplining the personal as well as the public body. Sexual decorum, pertaining to one’s gender and in accordance to social prescription, was encouraged and practised at large, alienating and condemning all forms of sexual expressions that did not conform to the economics of marriage and reproduction. Heteronormativity deployed mass homophobia which caused the suppression and erasure of major homosexual documentation in an attempt of silencing the homosexual voices and experiences. The absence of lesbian material in women’s literature is a case in point. The chief responsibility of the lesbian feminist project lies in identifying or deciphering the underlying essence of lesbianism in women’s writing at large. Following a similar objective, I propose to highlight the socio-political and cultural construction of homosexuality in an attempt to identify the undercurrents of lesbian desire and the dissolution of gender binaries in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. The idea of this research is to read gender as performance while interpreting the ideological politics as well as the literary poetics of Woolf’s writing.

Homosexual writing in the English literature has always been problematized by the socio-political oppression and cultural taboo on the unregulated expression of same-sex desire. Most of the fiction related to the issue remained either unpublished or available for circulation only in private quarters. It is rather difficult to come across any significant main stream literary work with homosexual content before the augment of the twentieth century, and even then the writers took care to camouflage and mask the uninhibited exhibition of this outlawed desire. Radcliff Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) is one of the first attempts towards lesbian writing and the demonstration of what was then considered to be ‘sexual inversion’. The fact that it was received with public aggression followed by a trial and subsequent prosecution speaks volumes about the homosexual intolerance of the age. Virginia Woolf’s pseudo-biography, Orlando, published in the same year, approached the topic differently. Woolf’s lesbian consciousness (though Woolf never identified herself as a lesbian, she was at various stages of her life described as homo-, hetero-,bi- or asexual) taken together with her feminist approach offered a deployment of gender instability in her dialogue with (un)natural sexualities. Orlando’s paroxysmal shifts between male and female, heterosexuality and homosexuality, reality and fantasy, past and present, life and poetry, biography and autobiography unsettles and disavows the very possibilities of fixed meanings and binaries.

Before getting into an elaborate diagnosis of Woolf’s commitment to the lesbian feminist project and her politics of representation, it is crucial to map the evolution of the homosexual identity, and its relation to the notions of sex and gender, over the centuries, from a condition of social incognizance in the eighteenth century (during this time homosexuality was widely labelled under the generalized act of sodomy) to its discursive explosion in the nineteenth and twentieth century, in order to grasp the author’s four hundred year long narrative of the life of her protagonist. Following Michel Foucault’s (1976) critic of the repressive hypothesis of sexuality in the nineteenth century, it can be acknowledged that with the turning of sex into discourse, other forms of sexualities, which did not did not adhere to the economics of reproduction, were expelled from reality; minor perversions came to be dealt with legal severity and sexual irregularities were medicalized and categorized as mental illness, leading to a production and propagation of a kind of sexuality that was ‘economically useful and politically conservative’ (p. 36-37). While in the preceding century, sexual practises revolved around marital obligation and all sexual offenses (like adultery, rape, incest and homosexuality) were labelled under general unlawfulness, the nineteenth century experienced a shifting of focus from conjugal sexuality to perverseness. Foucault writes, “It was time for all these figures . . . to step forward and speak, to make the difficult confession of what they were. No doubt they were condemned all the same; but they were listened to” (p.39). Thus, the Victorian epoch encountered a multiple implantation of perversion rather than its suppression; perverse identities like homosexuality became both the effect and the instrument of power – it was embedded in bodies, judged through personal conduct and wrapped in an eternal flux of power and pleasure (Foucault, 1976, p. 40-45)…Access Full Text of the Article

The Homosexual as Pariah: Thinking about Homosexual Existence in the Context of Evangelical Christianity in the 1960’s

Taylor Cade West, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain


 In the 1960’s some American homosexuals began to speak; they worked to establish a dialogue between themselves and a society from which they were excluded. Evangelical Christians first followed the societal pattern of silence in regards to homosexuality. Later, as the clamor and presence of homosexuals increased, many evangelicals reacted pointedly. The historical coming out of homosexuals and evangelicals’ response, as it is documented in the pages of Christianity Today, serves as a supreme example of the pariah condition that many homosexuals and queer people were experiencing in the 1960s and continue perforce to experience today. It is the purpose of this paper to think about, in the context of evangelical Christianity’s reaction to homosexuality, the homosexual as pariah; to explore the character of a marginal existence.

 It is perplexing to live in a society of which one is not a part (as is the case of queer peoples in so many parts of the world). Where silence reigns, where speaking is a forbidden act, one very often will stumble through the world beclouded by a haze. There is no guide for the perplexed, very seldom does a hand reach through the mist and escort a person to a ground upon which one may speak, one may be. Seldom, if ever, does a whisper break the darkness of one’s insecurity and say, “Go elsewhere. Here you have no place.”

The act of the “Homosexual as Pariah” has not come to a close. Still, well into the twenty-first century, a queer person may be born into a family in the presence of which she may never be herself. A homosexual may live in a society from which he is excluded and at times violently oppressed. And as many gains are being made as far as political and social freedoms in some parts of the world, some states are attempting to restore laws that prevent homosexual activity, the meaning of which is a grotesque violation of the private realm of human beings; and other states have enacted legislation which equates public expression of homosexuality as a kind of “horror-propaganda” against a regime already sunk in a morass of civil rights violations.

Universally speaking, the homosexual—along with all queer peoples—is subject to an imperiled existence and it is in this context of simultaneously expanding and contracting freedom that we must contemplate what it means to be a homosexual or queer person in society. The purpose of this paper does not go beyond an attempt to understand.

In our endeavor to understand, it seems appropriate to fall back on the historical example of evangelical Christianity’s reaction to homosexuals as they began to speak out in 1960s America; through this moment in gay history, we may begin to see the quality of homosexual existence in society. In so doing, we will find that the worldview of those who are members of society is diametrically opposed to the reality of those who find themselves at society’s margins. It will also become clear that the price of assimilation into decent society is nothing less than existence itself. And lastly, we shall attempt to discover a possible alternative that is open to the pariah…Access Full Text of the Article

Discursive Sites of Production and Opposition: Post World War I Popular Music Scene in Britain

Samraghni Bonnerjee, Independent Researcher, Kolkata, India

Download PDF Version


The post World War I British music scene was varied, spanning several genres, from croon, swoon, jazz, blues, to swing – with influences both home-grown as well as imported. New dances, jazz music, and cocktail parties were continuously being imported from America, aided by the popularity of American cinema, which shaped the form of leisure activities of Britain throughout the Twenties and Thirties. However, the conservative response to these forms of music was strict, and post War society was involved with means of trespassing the restrictions and legislations. This paper intends to look at the genres of popular music and their spatial sites of performance – dance halls and ball rooms in England as well as the English colonies – as discursive sites of production and resistance.

Towards a Postmodern Poetics: Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Reccy of Realities

Amit Bhattacharya, University of Gour Banga

Download PDF Version


In this paper, I have tried to analyze a few poems by Elizabeth Bishop to show how she takes up or takes in shifting identities and subject-positions in a clear dialogue with cultural norms and expectations. I have also sought to chart her poetic trajectory from alienation to alterity to show how she started by refusing to accept the ‘otherness’ about her and her various poetic personae based on such determinants as gender, sexuality, class or age, and ultimately accepted those self-same counts of ‘otherness’ in a never-ending melee with the ‘so-called’ metareality of conundrum and contingency that is provisionally called ‘life’.

The Spectacle of Science: the Art of Illusion in Prints of the French Revolution

Claire Trévien, University of Warwick, UK

Download PDF Version


In this article, I will discuss prints from the French Revolution that utilize scientific instruments as political metaphors. France’s fascination with science during the Enlightenment has been well documented, notably by Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Christine Blondel in their recent investigation of its uses as a popular form of entertainment. Whether it was seen as an ally or a foe, the spectacle of science attracted Revolutionary artists. This pull reveals not only an understanding of scientific material thanks to the groundwork of the Enlightenment, but also a need to reposition science within a Revolutionary context. What the prints have in common is ‘spectacle’ in the sense that they are pre-occupied with the idea of illusion, not just as a negative act of deception but as a creative and potentially empowering process, allowing the viewer to see beyond reality into a brighter future.

The “Politically Correct Memsahib”: Performing Englishness in Select Anglo-Indian Advice Manuals

S. Vimala, M.G.R. College, Hosur, India

Download PDF Version


Examining select Anglo-Indian advice manuals written after the Indian Mutiny in 1857and during the ‘high imperialism’ period of the British Raj, the essay proposes that this cultural artefact served the purpose of constructing and naturalizing the English Memsahibs’ gendered racial identity. By reiterating the performance of gender, class and race imperatives to construct a unique identity prerequisite for the Anglo-Indian community as well as the Indian colony, these texts aimed at the crystallization of this identity that will strengthen the idea of the British Raj. Such reiteration- apart from revealing the imperial anxiety of the subversion of the Memsahib identity- were useful to caution the English women new to the colonial environment.  Reading these Anglo-Indian advice manuals produced for the consumption of the Anglo-Indian community, what the essay further proposes is that the performance of gendered-racial identity of the English women in India constituted not only the governance of their bodies and the Anglo-Indian spaces, but also their management of travel and material consumption including food.  Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter provide useful insights to study the performance of the “politically correct Memsahib” identity and its attendant relation to the imagining of the homogenous British Raj.   

Singing Specters: Phenomenology in the Performance of Music

Dan W. Lawrence, Michigan Technological University

Download PDF Version


In this article, I write along with key 20th century thinkers—Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jacques Derrida—to understand how a phenomenological examination of the performance of music can contribute to a meaningful exploration of the roles of consciousness and presence in the process of rhetorical invention. I begin by looking at Plato’s Phaedrus and assess the notion of “fit” as it relates to rhetoric and performance as well as the mythical trope of the cicadas. I will then explore how Plato’s rendering of madness in this piece might help us understand Derrida’s almost paradoxical construction of the voice in Voice and Phenomenon. From here, I move to analyze the figure of the ghost as presented by Derrida and relate this to the non-presence of presence while asking: how might this notion better help us understand how rhetorical decisions are made by performing artists? The argument I put forth is that there is a subtle difference between the aleatoric moments of invention that occur in the process of solitary composition and those that occur on the stage. My conclusion points toward further research that would analyze these elements in recorded music and digital recording technologies which further problematizes the notion of non-presence: what would it really mean to have a ghost in the machine? Do we perform a séance each time we press “play”?