Hauntology and Extinction: The Case of Some Weird Bugs


NPR posted a story a little while back about these giant insects that went extinct except for a few surviving members that lived under a bush on a giant rock outcropping in the ocean. It sounds like something out of the New Weird, a Vandermeer-esque story in which we find these bugs and they’re telekinetic or something.

While the whole affair is interesting, it’s the ending of the NPR story that really gets me thinking about our relationship with animals that have gone, or are going, extinct. Humans have a thing where we create boundary systems, and whether you prefer the simplistic “in-group/out-group” or the baroque “liberalism generates states of exception for inclusion and exclusion” model, there are not a lot of mechanisms that readily appear to us for bringing “solved” histories back to life.

What I mean: exclusion happens, the excluded disappears through the majority “eating” them or totally eliminating them, and then that horrifying act is relegated to history. We have a lot of theoretical language for dealing with this founding violence, whether you choose Derridean hauntology, a psychoanalytic return of the repressed, or the Marxist materialist approach of the dustbin of history always coming back to bite us in the ass.

The language of that group of historical ass-biting is always centered around something being there but being robbed of capability–like a ghost, it can haunt and have an impact, but it cannot directly topple the forces of exclusion and repair that eliminated it in the first place. The utopian dream of a Williams-esque “long revolution” yearns for that, of course, but I think the steady progress of neoliberalism probably generates cynicism in the face of that model.

In any case, these freaky bugs are this real problem for these theories. The islands that they were eliminated from literally have no desire or space for them. I can’t imagine any suburbanite the world over wanting to wake up bright and early to find one of these giant insects sitting on their marble countertops poised between them and their Keurig machines. And so these bugs exist in a weird limbo, not haunting us like the tragedy of the dodo, but being there as a real material force that no one wants to give an inch for.

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