Final assignment of the Road
Extinction and Existential Justification
Woody Allen, movie director and stand-up comedian, once said in “My Speech to the Graduates” that ‘Mankind is facing a crossroad - one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction.’ He describes mankind’s fate as hopelessness or extinction. What he means by that is we are in crisis of finding true meaning and also of physical existence. Cormac McCarthy’s novel, the Road, contemplate these themes further, connecting the extinction and despair of human’s existential meaning. The Road explores the justification of human existence by displaying the extinction caused by human being. Extinction in this context means not just the death as a physical extirpation, but including the nullification of symbolic realm. This abolition of symbolic happens by self-destruction and loss of humanness. That extinction process therefore made human existence as not justifiable. In the Road, aspect of extinction is described by showing destructiveness and impotence of human technology, absence of burial rites suggesting disappearance of symbolic system, and rampancy of cannibalism. In this negative tone of human existence, there are two main characters, the man and the boy, who symbolize human’s good nature and hope. They are contrasted with all the negative facts of human existence, justifying human existence. This is also symbolized by the image of ‘carrying the fire’. In Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Ray Brassier implies that the consequence of extinction wipe out the living as well as to erase that which culture preserves. Following his argument, extinction suggests the abolition of symbolic thought and obliteration of the religious dimensions. So, extinction is different from death, which is not final in the sense that the dead are still present in the memory of those living, having symbolical dimension. By comparison, extinction is more extreme termination of death in that it not only extirpates death, but also nullifies the afterlife, religion and symbolic dimensions. This term of extinction is more clearly defined by Claire Colebrook in Death of PostHuman: Essay on Extintion. According to Colebrook, ‘there are three senses of extinction: the now widely discussed sixth great, extinction event; extinction by humans of other species; and self-extinction, or the capacity for us to destroy what makes us human.’(p.9) As it shows, the notion of extinction enlarged as to include self-destruction or the loss of humanness. So extinction means the self-destruction of all the symbolic realm created by human being such as culture, religion, society, and eventually the humanness itself. About this extinction, Colebrook suggest in her other essay, “Not Symbiosis, Not Now: Why Anthropogenic Climate Change is Not Really Human”, that we must face squarely the question of whether human existence is justified. According to her argument, we are living in an anthropogenic epoch, when all the human activities are extensively affecting the circumstances, discussions of human existence is inseparable to those of surrounding environment. Then, if human existence is proved as extinctive and all the values which human beings consider as of great worthy becomes meaningless, sacrosanctity of human existence has to be reconsidered in terms of philosophical exploration. In this respect, the Road by Cormac McCarthy, describing apocalyptic world, shows the aspect of extinction and poses a question on human existence. First, description of technology in the Road shows the great effect and the power of that technology. Not a lot in this novel show how this apocalyptic situation happened at the first place. In the book, ‘a long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.’(p 53) implies the possibility of nuclear war or meteor crush. Because a lot of human behavior is described as destructive and violent and also...
Cited: Allen, Woody. “My Speech To the Graduates” New York Times 10 Aug. 1979, late ed.: A25+. Print.
Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden: BlackwellPub, 2005. Print.
Colebrook, Claire. Death of the PostHuman: Essays on Extinction, Volume 1. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2014.
---. “Not Symbiosis, Not now: Why Anthropogenic Climate Change is Not Really Human,” The Oxford Literary Review 34.2 (2012): 185-209. EBSCO. Web. 19 June 2014.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. Print.
Vico, Giambattista. The New Science. trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin and max Harold Fisch, Cornell University Press, 1984. Print.
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