ABSTRACT

In this article on the topic of mediation, I look at some recent, powerful works of fiction, supplemented by philosophical and sociological interventions, to explore our contemporary hypermediated or mediatized society. José Saramago, in his novel A Caverna (2000), presents an updated allegory of Plato’s cave for the Debord-Baudrillard era of spectacle and consumerism. I think the situation Saramago critically depicts has only intensified in the intervening years with further social-technological developments, and I turn to the Adorno-inspired recent work of Byung-Chul Han to explore the contemporary situation of “neoliberal psychopolitics” characterized by the loss of the negative, the reduction of experience, and the increasing spectacle, surveillance, and fine-tuned consumerism of the digital era. In this context, I then turn to Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une îsle (2005) for a dystopian take on our contemporary society involving a further mediation: the genetic mediation of cloning, and the loss of affect and concomitant loss of community that characterize his fictional world – directly extrapolated from our own. Finally, I turn briefly to Ben Lerner’s recent 10:04 (2014) to explore his rumination on neoliberal mediations in the context of catastrophic climate change. To my mind, Han, as well as critics like Bernard Stiegler, Roberto Simanowski and Jonathan Crary, effectively (though separately) update Adorno for a digitally-mediated age. In the article I review these recent contributions to see what lessons we can learn from these critics and celebrated novelists in thinking about mediation in our own lives.

KEYWORDS: Saramago, Houellebecq, Lerner, Adorno, Han, mediatization, technology, Stiegler