What is Virtual Reality in Literature?
Virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. This study is concerned with the re-definition of importance of such phenomenon as virtual reality in contemporary world. A particular attention is given to the emergence of virtual reality during the 18th-century Romantic era.
“A moral character is attached to autumn scenes: those leaves which fall
like our years, those flowers which fade like our hours, those clouds that
flee like our illusions, that light which weakens like our intellect, that
sun which cools like our love, those waves that freeze like our life, have
a secret sympathy with our destiny.”
“…my memory sees the object as if it were before my eyes; such is the
impotence of words and the power of memory over material things!”
Research shows that the current VR technology offers a new convenient medium (or even a combination of several mediums ) for experiencing a portion of a much larger alternate non-physical reality that has been expressed countless times throughout history via mediums such as painting, poetry and classical music.
The storyline directly reflects the narrative from a posthumous autobiography Memoirs from Beyond the Grave: 1768-1800 written by the founder of French Romanticism François-René de Chateaubriand. The project shares 18th century Romantic era’s emphasis on emotion, humanity and glorification of nature.
This research will attempt to embrace the notion of virtual reality outside of the current VR technology, in order to better immersive experience creation. One of the goals of the investigation is to show that “…the narrative is equivalent to life.” (Barthes, cited by Huet, 2000, p.30) Virtual reality takes people through time, space, echoes of the past and imagination, using various mediums. “Each time the past is contacted, it splits into another timeline, so it’s actually an alternate reality story rather than a time travel story.” (Gibson, 2014)
Inspiration came from various sources of interest: Romanticism, VR, storytelling techniques, neuroscience and 3D visual effects. Also, each of the references listed in this research played its influence. In addition, the bodies of works below influenced the course of this project. Wu Kingdom Helv Relic Museum exhibitions are a combination of immersive storytelling and rich colour palettes and lighting.
The work True Detective by Patrick Clair really helped to come up with a visual style.
Multiple award winner Le Livre Des Morts (The Book of the Dead) by Alain Escalle is an example of a combination of emotion, storytelling, collective experiences and a extraordinarily implemented digital film with mesmerizing colour palette and visual effects.
“I have explored the seas of the Old World and the New, and trodden
the soil of the four quarters of the globe. After sleeping in the cabins
of Iroquois and the tents of Arabs, in the wigwams of Hurons and the
remains of Athens, Jerusalem, Memphis, Carthage, and Granada, in
the homes of Greeks, Turks, and Moors and among forests and ruins;
after wearing the bearskin cloak of the savage and the silk caftan of
the Mameluk, and after enduring poverty, hunger, thirst, and exile, I
have taken my place, as a minister and ambassador, trimmed with gold
lace and plastered with ribbons and decorations, at the table of kings,
at the festivities of princes and princesses, only to fall once more into
indigence and to taste prison life.
I have had dealings with hundreds of notabilities in the armed services,
the Church, politics, the judiciary, the sciences, and the arts. I possess
enormous quantities of material, over four thousand private letters… I
have made history and had the opportunity to write it… And my solitary
life, of a dreamer and poet, traversed this world of realities,
catastrophes, tumult, noise, with the sons of my dreams, Chactas, René,
Eudore, Aben-Hamet: with the daughters of my imaginings, Atala,
Amélie, Blanca, Velléda, Cymodocée.”
(Chateaubriand, 1809–1841, p. 1303)
Virtual reality is a state where the mind experiences a non-physical alternate reality. This state has been achieved infinite amounts of times. “The virtual reality of the computer is fundamentally no different from the virtual reality of writing, reading, drawing or even thinking: the virtual is the space of emergence of the new, the unthought, the unrealized…” (Grosz, cited in Otto 2009). Virtual reality enables us to travel between parallel worlds and switch our identities. It adds layers of meaning to our lives and enlarges our territory territory beyond the physical. These are all romantic characteristics.
“Making a connection between Romanticism and technology is not a very obvious thing to do; the two terms do not seem to live together comfortably. The main reason for this fact that we are romantics to the bone: most romantics think that there is an unbridgeable gap between both.” (Coeckelbergh, 2017)
The manuscript Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb was chosen as the narrative because it is a striking example of taking a user (reader) into an alternate reality through a medium of writing. The author owns his own memory and takes us to an extraordinary adventure that exists simultaneously in physical and non-physical realities. “Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe, his Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, is at once sublime literature, brilliant history seen by a fiercely intelligent eye-witness, and a self-portrait of a remarkable and complex man.” (Klin, 2005)
“Chateaubriand’s abrupt statement “I am dead” conveys an impossible present” (Huet, 2000), a virtual existence. “But I have white hair; I am more than a century old, besides, I am dead.” (Chateaubriand, 1809–1841) The many roles that the writer played in his life create a sense of adventure and wonder. “Romantics thought that language mediates and constructs reality, but at the same time they believed we are always embedded and involved in the world.” (Coeckelbergh, 2017).
Chateaubriand shifts places within his memory, disregarding the time, to take the readers into the paradoxes of his journey through discontinuities, triumphs and turmoils. And what makes it even more interesting to experience his real-life reality, is that he reminds the readers that he talks to them “beyond the tomb”. Chateaubriand’s memoir is the perfect example of a successful and honest expression of an alternate reality filled with rich content.
“These Mémoires will be a mortuary temple erected by the light of my
“I behold the light of a dawn whose sunrise I shall never see. It only
remains for me to sit down at the edge of my grave: then I shall descend
boldly, crucifix in hand, into eternity.”
In his life Chateaubriand played many roles. He was a soldier, traveller, literary giant, politician and diplomat. The writer experienced a range of tragic events such as the terrors of the French Revolution, which took away many his friends and family members. But the turmoils of the life did not cancel the writer’s instinct for adventure. Chateaubriand takes the readers through his meetings with President George Washington and his romantic encounters with Natchez maidens in the South; the court of Louis XVI, the reign of Napoleon and the disaster of Waterloo; his successes and fame, as well as his exile and poverty after the Revolution. Finally, the writer honestly talks about the loneliness of his restless soul and his sensitivities. Chateaubriand skillfully owns the time and shifts between unrelated events in his memory.
The writer signed an agreement with a society of shareholders that the memoirs will only be published after his death. He received an immediate payment of 156,000 francs and a life annuity. The writer later proclaimed: “No one can know how much I have suffered from having been required to mortgage my own grave.” (Chateaubriand, cited by Huet, 2000, p. 28) As a result, there is a constant relation within the text between the grave and the act of writing.