Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In the past twenty-five years, renewed interest in ghosts has given rise to explorations of haunting and hauntology. Theories of animation offer a different take on death and mourning, drawing attention to the mode of mediation through which relations with the dead take shape. What happens when we substitute the figure of the avatar for the figure of the ghost? What mode of relation might be opened up by such digital embodiments and the forms of animation that they entail?
In 2016, best friends Nick and Steve came up with an ambitious plan to create an immersive virtual reality experience that would reunite Nick with his late father in the form of an avatar. Their undertaking sits at the intersection of three related notions of animation. Animation describes the way a fabricated figure comes to life through manual or digital manipulation that endow it with lifelike qualities, such as the ability to walk, sit, and make eye contact. But animation can also describe a mode of mediation in which the multiplicity, partiality, and sparseness engendered by the medium contribute to its affective impact. These latter qualities are essential to the connection between Nick and his father. They help bring them both to life, animating father and son by invigorating their ongoing relationship. Such forms of relational animation illustrate that it is not just characters who are dependent on the creative capacities of living humans; we are puppets to their love.