Conference Presentation: The Ontological Crisis of Melacholia

I’ll be presenting my paper “The Ontological Crisis of Melancholia: Searching for foundations in the ether of cyberspace” tomorrow at the (inter)disciplinarities: theory & crisis conference tomorrow. If you have any thoughts or comments on the paper, feel free to drop me a line – I’m hoping to polish it over the next few months and then start shopping it around to a few journals. The abstract is below:


In The Psychic Life of Power, Judith Butler argues that the power structures ordering individuals and states alike are predicated on a mourning that cannot be mourned; melancholia permeates the primary ordering structures of the individual and the state. Butler takes up this absence, and alerts us to the state’s reliance on citizens’ melancholia to support its continued being. The state, constituted by the melancholic, reasserts and normalizes the melancholia responsible for plunging the modern subject into its ontological crisis of Being; it perpetuates the subjects’ inability to authentically ground their selfhood.

In this paper, I ask whether digital environments are spaces that can facilitate the resolution of modern subjects’ ontological crisis, and thus might provoke the reconstitution of modern politics. In responding to this inquiry, I take up Butler’s analysis of mourning and melancholia and situate her politics of identity in the context of Cyberspace. Specifically, I investigate whether the modern subject can work through their crisis within the plasticity of digital spaces, or if these spaces only superficially present possibilities for working through crisis. In interrogating these possibilities, I consider how psychosocial norms of embodied life are (being) embedded throughout digital spaces, and reflect on the implications of state-held norms being reaffirmed in these new media environments. I conclude by adopting the stance that Cyberspace may enable some individuals to acknowledge their experience of melancholia, but stop short of claiming that the possibilities afforded by this space’s plasticity can or will provoke a widespread reconstitution of modern politics.

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