Je sais l’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses ...
This is the quotation from Baudelaire that I was trying to remember as we sat in deck chairs on the deck of Jill's cottage yesterday, talking about Second Life. A a pod-cast in the Philosophy Bites series, mentioned by Chris, had got us arguing about the revolutionary nature of Second Life technology on the Internet, and its unprecedented escapist appeal, but I claimed that there was nothing new about this whatsoever; the technology might be new but the concept is not. On the contrary. Human beings have been creating avatars of themselves and / or imaginary worlds ever since we began to walk about on this planet.
Religion, to give an obvious example, which has been around since the year dot, is all about the promise of a Second Life that will occur after this first, inferior one.
"...and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."
Look at Moses encouraging his tribesmen and women to envision a land flowing with milk and honey, a Second Life for the exiled Israelites, and I'm quite sure that there were other people like Moses, in other parts of the world, well before his lifetime.
Look at Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), in book form. Printed books were a relatively new invention in More's day, but the concept of Utopia was not. Most of Gulliver's Travels and other such science fiction, ancient and modern, is an invention of different, parallel, universes good and bad, and so is regular fiction for that matter. I remember my French literature tutor at university, Dr Mein, saying that a novelist (she used Proust, Flaubert and Mauriac as examples) has the imagination to create in his characters and their settings other possible versions of his own life. I'm sure Jane Austen did that; if her heroines seem rather interchangeable, it's because they're all variations on the theme of her own inner life (within a rather restrictive and limited First Life environment).
Aren't paintings the creations of an alternative world as well? An obvious example are Watteau's landscapes and the fêtes gallantes that take place there. Significantly some of the faces in these pictures wear masks. In our discussion about Second Life yesterday Jill was reminded of Venetian masked balls and I hardly need mention theatre, the stage. In the old days unfulfilled people yearned for the Land of Cockaigne or what the Germans call Schlaraffenland. Nowadays they imagine themselves in Yoville.
I mean to say, what's the difference?