Losing the self? Subjectivity in the digital age

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There are three senses of extinction that have recently come to the fore in cultural production, popular science, philosophy and government policy: (1) the anticipated sixth great extinction event (which we are beginning to witness (Kolbert 2014)); (2) already actualized extinction caused by humans of other species (posing the question of our destructive power, as evidenced by the red list and the widening uptake of the notion of the Anthropocene (Gillings and Hagan-Lawson 2014), and (3) self-extinction — the capacity for us to destroy what makes us human. This third sense might appear to be secondary, parasitic and perhaps ‘only’ metaphorically linked to actual extinction. I will argue the contrary: what may at first appear to be an accident caused by human history and the development of technologies — self-extinction — exposes a broader potentiality of what has come to be known as life. Rather than see humanity as a species that visits accidental destruction upon an otherwise benevolent planet, human self-loss might be an appropriate figure for life as such and might prompt us to question the colonizing moralism that has typified extinction rhetoric. In this respect I would like to reverse the way climate change is conceptualized. One might say that there is a stable earth that is self-organizing and that this benevolently enclosed pseudo-organic whole is the proper home to organisms (including humans). Humans, however, cease to be organic and become technological by extending and supplementing themselves; the organic self-maintenance is broken, and technology deadens human life, and then reaches a fever pitch to the point of destroying all organic life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMemory in the Twenty-First Century
Subtitle of host publicationNew Critical Perspectives from the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781137520586
ISBN (Print)9781137520579
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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