The Existential Life

” ‘Life’ is a troubling and contradictory concept.

Its metamorphic quality is witnessed in the essentialist concept of ‘life itself’ as information, in the twofold approach to life as at once scientific and mystical, in the return of vitalisms of all types, and in the pervasive politicization of life.”
– Eugene Thacker, After Life

Okay, well. Let’s just stop there, Thacker.

One of the reasons I took up writing in the blogosphere is because I honestly find stuff like this interesting. And challenging. And maybe a little annoying.

I am continually drawn to philosophy, despite its seeming inability as a field to embrace clarity or simplicity. That actually might be one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by it.

But as a person who has to, you know, live and not just talk about it, I thought I’d take a moment with this passage. I think he’s on to something really important.

“Today, in an era of biopolitics, it seems that life is everywhere at stake, and yet it is nowhere the same.”

As we (well, as science”) advances, our physical lives are studied, codified, and often extended. This also creates a trend of placing politics and issues onto human bodies; to which women/queer/non-binary will shrug and say…duh.

Many of these topics are placed on living bodies in an attempt to explain and understand existence overall.

To be able to point to an object and say – this is exactly that. Done. Don’t we all feel better with such concrete definitions?

Thacker, however, is indicating how short this assessment falls. Life is too various, too mysterious, and yes even too “mystical” to name by science alone.

“…at another level, in our scientific worldview, it seems that life is claimed of everything, and yet life in itself is nothing. While biologists continue to debate whether or not a virus is living, the advances in genetic engineering and artificial life have, in different ways, deconstructed the idea that life is exclusively natural or biological.”

As an academic, Thacker is steeped in sci-fi and technology as well as philosophy. He sees the problem reaching beyond humanity into everything deemed to have “life.”

Life, when applied to everything, begins to lose its meaning. This adds a further wrinkle, wherein we not only have political and societal issues placed on our physical selves, but that very emphasis begins to devalue our individual lives. If everything is alive, what makes us different?


“We also live in a time in which events at the micro-level are also events at the macro-level: the increasing frequency of global pandemics and the prevalence of natural disasters are events that are at once local and global, molecular and planetary.

While human beings or human groups are obviously involved in such events, there is also a sense in which such events are beyond human comprehension.

In short, life is human-centered and yet unhuman-oriented.”

With seemingly constant, large-scale violence, trauma, disaster and struggle, bodies and lives are again lost amongst the “event.” Suffering is written off as beyond grasp, and therefore, somehow, unimportant.

Herein lies our challenge. To reconnect with our own vision of life. To value our humanity as at once uniquely individual and amazingly communal. To challenge the forces that work pretty hard to help us forget the power of being. To not only empathize, but to act.

For me, that always begins with conscious thought, intention and reflection. Although I’m pretty sure Thacker is not out to start a rallying cry of self-examination, his constructs obviously prompted me toward it.

To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. Although, I’m off to partake of some early Friday beers, as I’m sure the over-examined life isn’t worth living either.


Thanks to Sean for the passage!


One thought on “The Existential Life

  1. Pingback: Francisco! | Manresa, Maine

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