Date of Award

12-17-2015

Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Angelo Restivo

Second Advisor

Alessandra Raengo

Third Advisor

Jennifer Barker

Fourth Advisor

Greg Smith

Fifth Advisor

Ian Bogost

Abstract

The Digital Logic of Death analyzes recent reconfigurations in our relationship to death which have emerged in response to the rupture of the digital, as glimpsed through the films, television shows, and digital games which so often inform and influence our understanding of mortality. Considered as both a series of technological advancements and a new set of cultural assumptions, this project argues that the digital cannot but shift our understanding of death in general, and our recognition of our own finiteness in particular. As such, it presents four observations about the appearance, function, and conception of death in contemporary moving images. First, that our dissatisfaction with inaccurate representations of death and increased interest in autonomous simulations reveals an attempt to reinstate the knowledge and painful pleasure once found only through witnessing the death of others. Second, that the seemingly inconsequential nature of death in digital games – where the traumatic is easily rewound and re-animated – serves not to deny death but rather to make it more present, providing an opportunity for gameplayers to contemplate and craft their own unique ‘path to death.’ Third, that contemporary society, engulfed in the binary logic of the digital, has come to fetishize the frightening possibility of death at the expense of recognizing its potential impact on our lives and culture, leading to experiential relays through which we attempt to reencounter that potential, namely a narrative Being-towards-death and a splitting of subjectivity into actual and virtual components with their own relationship to mortality. And fourth, that contemporary narratives of seemingly ‘immortal,’ artificially-intelligent machines are concerned less with the fantasy of immortality than they are with what it means to be mortal, thereby positioning death as the most essential and fundamental component of the human experience. Together, these observations look to renew an existential undercurrent of critical theory, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and metaphysics, which has the potential to greatly inform key conversations in film and media studies, cultural studies, and posthumanism, as well as the capacity to reveal the essential argument of the digital logic of death: that to be human is to know that you will die.

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