Keenan attaches the concept of the window to light. Window and light are inseparable. A Window is a means through which we receive light, and therefore it is a means through which we make ourselves visible as well as allow ourselves to see.. Keenan then poses a number of questions: What do we need a window for; for light or for gazing? Is the window a means to look out or to look in? And most importantly, how do we define public and private in relation to the window? Keenan suggests that due to the permeability of the window, the public is present within the subject and therefore the subject does not ever exist in the private. I would like to illustrate this point using Second Life.
The window of an Internet browser is the window through which we access Second Life. It is important to note the power dynamic that is attached to the window, and attached to the dynamic of private/public. The window is a means through which we look and are looked at. When one is able to see and not be seen, one is in a position of power. Keenan asks “what arrives with light?” (Keenan 125). With light comes visibility and thus vulnerability. When we exist in relation to a window we are visible to the other and therefore we are unprotected. A window also has the ability to “tear-s- open the protection that is the human subject” (127) by blurring the lines between private and public. Keenan says that “the subject’s variable status as public or private individual is defined by its position relative to this window” (Keenan 132). “Behind it, in the privacy of home or office, the subject observes that public framed from it by the window’s rectangle, looks out and understands prior to passing across the line it marks- the window is this possibility of permeability- into the public. Behind it, the individual is a knowing-that is, seeing, theorizing-subject. In front of it, on the street for instance the subject assumes public rights and responsibilities, appears, acts, intervenes, in the sphere it shares with other subjects” (132). Keenan says that “the public is in me (him), but it is all that is not me in me” (Keenan 133). Keenan is saying that ‘public’ is anywhere where we interact with the other. “The public is not the realm of the subject, but of others, of all that is other –and in- the subject itself” (Keenan 133). The public is thus “where we encounter what we are not”.
In Second Life the subject is entering a window through which he/she is setting up a second self (what he/she “is not”) that is then placed in the public realm where this self is interacting with the other. The subject on the other hand is in a position where he/she can assume privacy (as the subject is in the comfort of his/her own home gazing through the window at the ‘public’ realm that has been virtually created). The subject assumes a persona which then becomes the subject’s virtual self, in the sense that it is the self that others perceive the subject (with which ever name he/she is using) to be. The subject is then occupying two separate selves: one that assumes privacy and the other that assumes publicity. The problem is that the two selves overlap but are yet separate. This means that the subject can identify in his/her avatar the characteristics that he/she does not possess and therefore can identify the other in his/herself. This now poses a problem for the separation of private and public. The subject has brought the other into his/herself by virtually assuming the qualities of the other and contrasting them with the ‘true’ qualities of his/herself. The identification with the virtual self in second life completely blurs the line between public and private for the subject because they begin to identify the actions, physical qualities, and ideas expressed by their avatar as a reflection of themselves. This creates a space in which the privacy of the palpable actual body of the subject is mute.
One can then say that programs such as Second Life are a more visual understanding of Keenan’s idea of the public sphere. Keenan understand the public to be within him because the other is within him. In Second Life, the subject internalizes the other by creating the other virtually through the window of a browser and assuming it to be his/herself. In Second Life the window is a means through which the subject can see and identify with the other that is a different version of him/herself. The privacy of the subject (their actual true self) becomes a non-issue as he/she is identifying him/herself with the character he/she is assuming in Second Life. Therefore there is no private for the subject. The subject exists in the public because the other exists within the subject and the subject exists within the other that exists within a virtual window that is the window to the public sphere.