It is not without some irony, and, indeed, this my point, that I compare Jameson's resolutely Marxist ideal of cognitive mapping that he, he who has the feeling he is one of the few Marxists left (Cognitive Mapping, 347), posits as a means of maintaining a stressing on “the gap between the local positioning of the individual subject and the totality of class struggle in which he or she is situated” (353) with the hyper-fantastic and rampantly capitalistic realm of lived virtual experience in Second Life. SL, though ostensibly fulfilling the requirement of creating an imaginary space in which one can locate oneself within a larger social totality, nonetheless fails to provide a space immediately attractive to revolutionary political action; to the contrary, it is the very space where the conquest of the imaginary by capital is most stunningly profound.
Cognitive mapping is attractive and essential for political action because any such action is only manageable if, as Jameson says, following the failure of the League of Black Revolutionary Workers, one can successfully map one's own place in relation to the larger imagined social totality (353). This is essential today more so than ever, for today, in our postmodern world, we are “now exposed to a perpetual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed” (351) as opposed to our previous conceptions of space as first organized on a Cartesian grid and conceived as homogenous (classical) before moving towards a radical alienation between truth and experience (349). In our current milieu we are compelled to find a new means with which to navigate the imagined space of our reality without the comfort of that immanent grid or the specifics of distance the play of the dialectic of truth and experience allowed the great modernists. Rather to the contrary, there is no space from which we can create any distance,; separations and distinctions are no longer hard and fast, rather they bleed and blur into each other. And while this is not in and of itself a bad thing, we might expect Jameson to say that it serves to radically decenter every aspect of our lived heterogeneity to the degree that any purposeful movement becomes impossible without a larger whole against which to move. This is why the Workers could be so successful on a local scale while losing their potency immediately upon entering into a larger cognitive space, lost like a solitary gust of wind in a hurricane.
Second Life is a fascinating example of the consequences of this postmodern spatial situation. On the one hand, SL is precisely the kind of imaginary 'space' where one can imagine a representation of one's self firmly in relation to a larger social totality, in this case, the SL community. In this sense, it is precisely the kind of mechanism for imagining the project of cognitive mapping. However, it is limited with respect to its social totality being only the artificial and commensurately imaginary community of SL, wholly distinct from an imagined relation to real material conditions which dictate the organization of the social totality. But that is not to say that there is nothing real about what happens on Second Life; quite the contrary, the real material of capital has infiltrated its imaginary realm in every conceivable money-making way. The developers and designers of SL charge membership fees for their premium memberships, fees rewarded in-world with fake money with a degree of equivalency to real money itself. Virtual 'land' may be bought and sold, and, indeed, there is a whole economy unique to SL which nonetheless is directly tied to the real life economy outside its servers. Indeed, there is a whole host of entrepreneurs who have made real-life fortunes in profit at manipulating the economy of Second Life, users who literally manipulate imaginary relations for real economic gain. In this way, this program which seems to bear a potential for radically mapping one's subjectivity as it relates to a social whole in order to effect social change becomes one more site of the colonization of our social imaginary by the juggernaut of capital.
The question remains then: to what extent can we learn from SL how not to perform a cognitive mapping project (whose shape Jameson makes to pretensions to anticipate, leaving it open to the imagination, as it were)? Or rather, how can we establish an imaginary space where capitalism is never the motivating force? For what seems certain is that if we rely upon corporations and companies to produce such a program for us, we are doomed to re-enacting the same.