Grosz, Elizabeth. "Cyberspace, Virtuality, and the Real," in Architecture from the Outside. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
annotation by Lauren Beitler (Theories of Media, Winter 2004)

This article is Grosz’s exploration of the way that the increasing ubiquity and sophistication of virtual technologies, both in our lives and our imaginations – especially the Internet and the promise of Virtual Reality – affects the way we think about issues of materiality, reality, form, time and space, and more particularly Architecture. Grosz draws on and examines theories of virtuality and its relation to reality. Grosz does not speak of the real in the Lacanian sense; rather she is considering the real as it is commonly conceived – as materiality and presence. She sees the virtual continually posing the question of how reality can expand itself – a question which prods architecture to reconceptualize the "real" spaces it constructs so that they can capture some of the promise of the virtual’s expansive possibilities.

Grosz begins by considering the way that new media lend old media greater immediacy. She seems to be arguing the opposite of what Bolter and Grusin argued in Remediation. They argue that old media bring their authenticity, hard won over years of slowly becoming banal, to bear when they are incorporated into new media. Grosz also sees the way that media technologies become banal over time, but she sees their passage to reality at the moment when a new, more virtual medium comes into play. Especially when these new technologies are predicated on the seeming lack of materiality of a web page or video game, older media seem more immediate simply by their material presence. Thus reality and virtuality can only be considered in contrast to one another.

Grosz comments on the tendency of other theorists to see this lack of materiality in both utopic and dystopic terms – either cyberspace offers us possibilities for control of our environment and escape from the limitations of our material, culturally predicated selves, or they are terrified that the power of virtual technologies will be used for fascist control and that increasing interfacing with virtual technologies leads to loss of social immediacy. In both cases they see our entry into virtuality as the disembodiment of our minds, Grosz deftly dismisses the reductionism of both points of view in a move that echoes Hayles: she argues that it is impossible to escape materiality. She asks, rather pointedly, "What would making love be without a body?" (84).

But once she has laid them out, Grosz’s focus is not in considering the mind/body or virtual/physical dialectics, which she sees as highly unstable, but the way that virtuality forces us to reconsider corporeality. Specifically, she wants to consider what cyberspace can say to architecture. It is in this vein that she asks, "what would be a virtual house?" (87), a problematic question and one that she does not fully answer here. Rather than considering all of the ways that virtual technologies are used in the creation of a house, Grosz believes that architecture (and, by extension, all media) should aspire to the virtual by trying to embody "the idea of an indeterminate, unspecifiable future, open-endedness . . . of the function or telos, openness of form," (88). The virtual brings richness to reality by allowing future possibilities to resonate in the present. While McLuhan and Kittler preach different forms of technological determinacy, what makes Grosz’s vision so appealing is the way she sees technology bringing greater indeterminacy – perhaps no escape from our materiality, but new possibilities for that materiality.