The Persistence of the Human

Consciousness, Meta-body and Survival in Contemporary Film and Literature


Recent narrative fiction and film increasingly exploit, explore and thematize the embodied mind, revealing the tenacity of a certain brand of humanism. The presence of narratively based concepts of personal identity even in texts which explore posthuman possibilities is strong proof that our basic understanding of what it means to be human has, despite appearances, remained mostly unchanged. This is so even though our perception of time has been greatly modified by the same technology which both interrupts and allows for the rearrangement of our experience of time at a rate and a level of ease which, until recently, had never been possible. Basing his views on a long line of philosophers and literary theorists such as Paul Ricoeur, Daniel Dennett and Francisco Varela, Escobar maintains in The Persistence of the Human that narrative plays an essential role in the process of constituting and maintaining a sense of self. It is narrative’s effect on the embodied mind which gives it such force. Narrative projects us into possible spaces, shaping a temporary corporeality termed the “meta-body,” a hybrid shared by the lived body and an imagined corporeal sense. The meta-body is a secondary embodiment that we inhabit for however long our narrative immersion lasts – something which, in today’s world, may be a question of milliseconds or hours. The more agreeable the meta-body is, the less happy we are upon being abruptly removed from it, though the return is essential. We want to be able to slip back and forth between this secondary embodiment and that of our lived body; each move entails both forgetting and remembering different subject positions (loss and recuperation being salient themes in the works which highlight this process). The negotiation of the transfer between these states is shaped by culture and technology and this is something which is precisely in flux now as multiple, ephemeral narrative immersion experiences are created by the different screens we come into contact with.
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Biographical Note

Matthew Escobar, Ph.D. Princeton University, is Associate Professor of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and Director of Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Seton Hall University.

Table of contents

Introduction 1 The Human, Consciousness and Its Temporality Humanism Human Freedom What Makes One Human? Consciousness Daniel Dennett on Consciousness: The Human as Virtual Machine Temporality, Consciousness and Ethics Immersion and Framing: The Experience of Film and Literature Embodied Drafts 2 Testing the Human: Trauma, Memory and Consciousness Trauma and the Temporality of the Self Memento The Spectral Past Self Memory, Identity and Ethics Rendering Pain Visible in Memento 3 The Phantom Limb: Specters, Trauma, and Meta-body Meta-body The Body Artist Projecting the Self into a Different Emptiness Erasing the Self You are Made out of Time Recovering the Self The Bird and the Strand of Hair Sous le sable Water Time Lets Fall Its Drop Meta-body in Sous le sable Naissance des fantômes 4 Survival: Human and Posthuman The Temporality of the Paralyzed Body Starting with “I” Correcting the Past Destroying the Self to Save It Posthuman Consciousness Parfit on Transpersonal Survival Postpersonal Identity The Absent Machine The Machine Speaks Involuntary Immortality The Recuperative Project Self-possession Conclusion Pain and the Clean Slate The Other Penetrating / Occupying the Self Bibliography Index


All those interested in contemporary literature and film in English, French and Spanish as well as questions of consciousness, the human, corporeality, narrative and personal identity.