De-Extinction and Melancholia: Narcissistic Attachments
Thom van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose argue that rhetoric which frames de-extinction projects as progressive tools to overcome extinction disregards the need to ‘dwell’ with extinction through a process of mourning allowing us ‘to learn from and “work through” experiences of loss’ in order to come to an altered understanding of the world and our own relationships within it. Responding to this, I argue that de-extinction projects are inherently melancholic. In his 1917 essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Sigmund Freud argues that melancholic attachments can be seen as related to a loss of ego rather than of object, and as such the melancholic’s inability to work though and detach from the lost object is a direct result of the ‘narcissistic foundation’ of the initial object attachment. The tendency for de-extinction projects to be framed as moral endeavours seeking to undo the effects of human-caused extinction in a process of necessary atonement would suggest an attempt to repair a collective human ego is at work. However Freud’s suggestion that the immortality of the ego is most fully secured in the narcissistic relationship of parent to child is a useful way to think through the complexity at work in the relationships between scientists and the nonhuman animal children they hope to create, their narcissistic investment in whom is linked to the immortality of the human ego in ways that trouble species boundaries.
Emily Thew is an English Literature PhD student at the University of Sheffield and is funded by the Wolfson Foundation. Her research examines the ethical interactions between embodied beings in contemporary literature, particularly focusing on ill and animal bodies in relation to grief and mourning. She recently co-organised the symposium ‘Animal Machines: Animals and/as Technology’ held at Sheffield University.