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.
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.
1 The Human, Consciousness and Its Temporality
What Makes One Human?
Daniel Dennett on Consciousness: The Human as Virtual Machine
Temporality, Consciousness and Ethics
Immersion and Framing: The Experience of Film and Literature
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
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
Parfit on Transpersonal Survival
The Absent Machine
The Machine Speaks
The Recuperative Project
Pain and the Clean Slate
The Other Penetrating / Occupying the Self
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.