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The Death Drive at the End of the World: From Anti-Natalism to De-Extinction

Public Talk

Oct '22

Ben Ware

The Death Drive at the End of the World: From Anti-Natalism to De-Extinction

Immanuel Kant’s eighteenth-century invitation to imagine an ‘end of all things’ no longer feels like just a thought experiment. Faced with an accelerating climate emergency, ongoing deadly plague, and now new inter-imperialist conflict, it feels, at times at least, as if we are hurtling towards what the philosopher Günther Anders once termed a ‘naked apocalypse’ – an apocalypse without revelation or remainder. Taking the present moment of crisis as its starting point, this paper begins with a return to Freud. It moves through three stages. First, it offers a re-reading of Freud’s 1915 essay ‘On Transience’ and makes several new suggestions about what this text might teach us about the politics and ethics of extinction. Second, returning to Freud’s scandalously ‘speculative’ theory of the death drive, and highlighting some of its aporias and blind spots, the essay asks how we might think the notion of the Todestrieb today, in the era of the so-called ‘anthropocene’? Third, the paper highlights two (seemingly opposed) ways in which the death drive plays out today: ecological anti-natalism and resurrection biology (also known as de-extinction). Both, Ware suggests, are false exits from the current catastrophe; and the way forward will require a new way of thinking dialectically about ‘the end’.