- Necromedia by Marcel O’Gorman
Necromedia is an ideal book for posthumanism. It makes a posthumanist argument in a style reminiscent of Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism? It gives a precise theoretical perspective for questioning various forms of art, including film, literature, and digital media. Like Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” it questions technology from the perspective of the human. Unlike Heidegger, its driving interest is affirmation.
O’Gorman refers to the book as “an examination of how, in contemporary culture, the technical aspect of the human has collided with the symbolic aspect, resulting in a situation where technicity itself has become the basis for heroic recognition” (p. 3). O’Gorman’s thinking is motivated by “two universal and inevitable elements of human being: death and technicity” (p. 4). Technicity is straightforward enough, covering handheld tools to digital technology, but “death,” “the symbolic aspect,” and “heroic recognition” need more elucidation than O’Gorman provides. This lack [End Page 124] of clear definition of terms early on is one of the few weaknesses of the book. In light of the rest of the book, “death” refers to physical death, but also connotes a sense of meaninglessness that interactions with technology are meant to defy. That is to say, when people seek a sense of “heroic recognition” via technics’ interface, they do so in order to feel fulfilled and to overcome the finitude of an embodied existence. “Heroic recognition” is a term derived from the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, who, according to O’Gorman, suggests that “Homo sapiens is characterized not only by its technical striving but by its symbolic striving” (p. 3). An example that comes to mind is an old Jaguar commercial with the tagline “How Alive Are You?” O’Gorman takes on the manufactured satisfaction found in commodities and mass media, and situates it in relation to human striving for symbolic meaning.
After the short introduction, the book’s chapters alternate between applications of theory and discussion of digital media, typically presented as art installations. O’Gorman structures the book this way in an “attempt to marry media theory and digital practice in a hybrid narrative about death and technology” (pp. 5–6). The first chapter introduces O’Gorman’s theoretical perspective in more detail.
“Necromedia” refers to the book’s guiding and posthumanist principle that “to fully acknowledge human finitude is also to acknowledge our own technological being. All media, . . . by pointing at once to both our technicity and finitude, are necromedia” (p. 15). O’Gorman does not mean to say that media call attention to human finitude in a sea of displays and shifting lights. Rather, O’Gorman calls attention to human finitude to show how it has been masked in the use of technology. For O’Gorman, contemporary culture is too motivated by “the challenge posed by technology, which demands for ever new and more sophisticated methods of self-extension and self-archivation” (p. 23). The strength of O’Gorman’s arguments throughout the book stems from the fact that he clearly sees this limited interaction with technology as a problem. As such, Necromedia prescribes “a technics of applied media theory, a mode of humanities scholarship designed to produce an alternative technoculture” (p. 15). This would require “transforming . . . media theorists into media artists” so that art can challenge the metanarrative of disembodiment with projects that question and draw out the values of the human audiences (p. 15).
Such an argument requires a unique theoretical backing; this is where O’Gorman takes his inspiration from Ernest Becker. O’Gorman frames Becker’s thought as an “existential curative” that deals “straightforwardly not only with death but with evil, morality, religion, and love” (p. 18). Becker’s focus on social values like these is reflected in O’Gorman’s concern with the waning importance of the body in our technophilic culture. Becker’s work depicts humans as at the mercy of society, either as depressed individuals sedated by social expectations (pp. 19–20), or as introverted individuals whose self-reflection only...