Making Dead Bodies Legible: Facebook's Ghosts, Public Bodies and Networked Grief
This article charts a tenable middle route between critical theory and cognitive science in making a case for the distribution of emotions across digital networks. Specifically, I examine Facebook’s memorial policy and application as a cultural embodiment of public grief. To support this assertion, I look to cognitive scientist Andy Clark’s extended-mind model as a way of negotiating a more holistic approach to Freud’s theories of exchange and incorporation. Facebook, in this regard, emerges as a material rhetoric, one that compels users to participate in public acts of feeling. “I’m being blunt, but the corporeality of the human body is, finally, a blunt matter” -Richard Miller, “The Nervous System” (1996) “The dwelling, this place where they dwell permanently, marks this institutional passage from the private to the public, which does not always mean from the secret to the nonsecret” -Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1995)
1. Cultural Emergences: Roots/Routes of Corporeal Upload(s)
In the wake of September 11th, the United States experienced the rise of heightened national vulnerability alongside the cultural advent of social networking and avatar technologies. Although, to date, there is nothing indicating a causal relation between the two phenomena, it stands that the media ecology that social networking engenders allows for a faster and more efficient dissemination of information that may contribute to the constitution of a national consciousness of vulnerability, fear and aggression. With devastating nationwide historical tragedies, such as 9/11, come widespread grief and mourning; public feelings are carried over and through the newly emergent communication technologies. Yet, these technologies are not only used as communicative means of dissemination (or, as causeways for pre-established and pre-formed feelings) but also are constitutive of feeling, which is continually distributed across non-biological counterparts. In this view, feeling is displaced outside of the biological body, embedded and working through/as non-biological elements. As the affective dimensions of public and private lives are continuously lived across emergent technological networks, it becomes a pertinent cultural task to re-conceive and perhaps revise the ways in which emotions are manifested, communicated, and constituted.
Departing from Judith Butler’s theoretical approach in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004), I hold that the developments of social networking sites, such as Facebook1, act implicitly as a type of national and cultural mourning, operating through the urge to “exchange one object for another;” replacing the vulnerable, biological skinbag2 with that of a digital (and therefore enduring) distributed body (20). After the nation viewed literal bodies falling from the World Trade Center-an image branded onto the national consciousness despite the post facto censoring of media coverage-the urge to interchange one object with another expanded from 9/11 memorials and acts of remembrance to the preemptive preservation of our bodies into digitalized forms. Thus, “the vulnerability to the other…[that] is a part of bodily life” that became so prevalent in 2001 took the form of extending bodily life across an electronic network, digitalizing the haptically exposed body (29). What complicates this (neo)Freudian/unconscious urge to digitalize the more vulnerable body is the actual haptic body dying, leaving the digital remains behind. From this we may ask, what kind of electronic life persists? How are we to grieve the absence of a body when a digital form of that body remains? In gesturing toward an answer to these questions, I explain Facebook’s death/memorial policy in relation to the idea of public and networked feelings. 3 In this way, I hope to suggest that the preemptive digitalization of the body allows for networked and public grief; public affects that, in turn, widen the constitutive conditions of a grievable life by providing a rhetorical space for the articulations of grief and mourning (Precarious Life 20).
2. Facebook’s Ghosts: Death and Memorial Policies
Perhaps the most noteworthy of the emergent social technologies of the mid-2000s, Facebook offers a unique entryway into a discussion about grief in the age of new media. Through (inter)active and digital connections between physically distant individuals, Facebook allows members to connect and communicate with elementary, high school and college “friends” while also functioning as a means of meeting new individuals, forming new relationships, collaborating on work, sharing information, etc. One of Facebook’s most interesting features, though, is its death/memorial application. If and when a member of Facebook dies their profile page can turn into a digital memorial4– disabling all communicative functions except wall posts.
Through this process, “next-of-kin” are not given access to the deceased member’s account. Instead, the account remains unchanged, allowing only friends of the member to write on their wall.
This memorial function is unique among social networking sites. Although the individual profile of a deceased member remains static and highly private (unable to be accessed if one is not “friends” with the deceased), an application has been developed on Facebook entitled “Memorials” that allows for public obituaries, acknowledging the death and remembrance of an individual (Facebook member or not). As these “profiles” are created and perpetuated through the enactment post mortem of a friend, I see these as articulations of grief and remembrance. These pages, then, are not complex and networked signifiers for an individual but instead post facto representations. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus only on memorialized accounts. As these accounts are “public” in the sense that they are distributed online and available for viewing purposes, I will be citing specific examples of memorialized accounts. However, for the sake of privacy and respect for family members, I will not use deceased members’ names, nor will I provide photographs of them. I will, however, use the only changing aspect of their account, the wall.
Interestingly enough, if one searches “death” on the Facebook search function, two results emerge. The first is “How do I permanently delete my account?” and the second is “How do I report a deceased user or an account that needs to be memorialized and deactivated or deleted?” (Facebook search; “death”). Although Facebook boasts of its sympathetic and technologically oriented policy toward death and remembrance, the emphasis in the search connects “death” with “deactivation,” legitimizing digital life and removing the more haptic reality into a secondary position. This move toward digitalizing the body, which I refer to as the corporeal upload, speaks to the kind of externalization and interchangeability that marks and characterizes cyborg theory, feminist or otherwise. 5 Yet, the basic structure of such a conception stems back to Freud and his developing theory of mourning, budding in Mourning and Melancholia (1917) and culminating in The Ego and the Id (1923). Although Tammy Clewell6, along with Butler (Precarious Life 20-21), distinguishes this development as mutually exclusive (as I develop later), I hope to suggest that the distinction between Freud’s earlier and later conceptions of grief does not really matter – and, in fact, that both approaches can benefit and coincide with each other, augmenting our ever-altering conception of mourning in an age of new media.
3. Negotiable Bodies: Freud and Corporeal-Uploads.
In Precarious Life (2004), Butler anchors her discussion of the powers of mourning to Freud’s contribution to the subject of grief:
“I am not sure I know when mourning is successful, or when one has fully mourned another human being. Freud changed his mind on this subject: he suggested that successful mourning meant being able to exchange one object for another; he later claimed that incorporation, originally associated with melancholia, was essential to the task of mourning…I do not think that successful grieving implies that one has forgotten another person or that something else has come along to take its place, as if full substitutability were something for which we might strive” (20-21 emphasis mine).
Rooting her discussion, Butler acknowledges the development of Freud’s approach to loss and grief by distinguishing between the exchange of interchangeability (namely, replacing the lost object of desire with another object) and incorporation (namely, identification with the lost object of desire and integrating that loss into one’s ego). Although incorporation has emerged as Freud’s more sophisticated view of mourning, I want to suggest a conflation of the two processes. Such a convergence positions exchange as the prior but conditioning state of a digital incorporation. The implications of this will allow for a more nuanced understanding of Facebook as a material rhetoric, compelling users toward a certain articulation of grief. However, to get there, I first would like to look at a more porous and networked conception of the self in order to contextualize my claims about Freud’s developed theory of mourning.
In Natural-Born Cyborgs (2003), cognitive scientist Andy Clark argues that “the human mind, if it is to be the physical organ of human reason simply cannot be seen as bound and restricted by the biological skinbag […] the mind is just less and less in the head […] It is because our brains, more than those of any other animal on the planet, are primed to seek and consummate such intimate relations with non-biological resources” (4). Hijacking and recasting the image of the cyborg [mainly from contemporary feminist theory], Clark’s distributive cognition model, often-referred to as “extended mind theory,” approaches and understands cognitive processes as constituted by an interloping and participatory circuitry between minds, bodies, technologies and environments. Conceived in this way, individual minds are extended beyond the confines of the brain, operating through non-biological elements for the augmentation of “natural” cognitive capacities. Although this model may appear relevant only as a cognitive explanation for heuristics and problem-solving approaches to conceptions of mind, it manifests itself in the everyday. Clark writes:
I spent last Christmas in the company of a young professional whose phone was hardly ever out of his hands. He wasn’t using the phone to speak but was constantly sending or receiving small text messages from his lover. Those thumbs were flying. Here was someone living a divided life: here in the room with us, but with a significant part of him strung out in almost constant, low-bandwidth (but apparently highly satisfying) contact with his distant friend (9).
As Clark points out, emergent technologies are becoming less and less tools, (conceived of in the traditional sense) and more cognitive and affective extensions of our own bodies: “the mobile [phone] is thus both something you use (as you use your hands to write) and something that is part of you” (9). Just as a chef becomes fluid in cutting with a knife, so too do we become fluid in our almost-intuitive wielding of new media technologies. We are wired hybrids, geared toward productively utilizing non-biological resources for our own cognitive benefit. These technologies that augment our capacities, then, are not used, per se, but fully integrated and embedded into our bodies.
As the mind extends beyond the restricted confines of the brain into the ever-expanding informational reservoir of the Internet, so too does the body. In a more literal sense than Butler7, Clark argues for the mutability of physical bodies and an ever-extending limit to its transformative potential. Clark asserts, “the image of the physical body with which we so readily align our pains and pleasures is […] a mental construct, open to continual renewal and reconfiguration” (61). As our minds extended beyond the biological skinbag, our bodies are continually under revision as more emergent technologies arise and integrate into our cognitive practices. With the development of a new iPhone or more resourceful social networking sites, my body is further extended into (cyber)space and its limits are negotiated by something completely external/internal to it. 8 Although the extended mind model privileges the more heuristic/problem-solving component of the mind, it also provides an outlet (into the world) for the affective dimension of the subject: “human brains […] seem to support highly negotiable body images…As a result, our brains can quite readily project feeling and sensation beyond the biological shell” (62 emphasis mine). 9
The extension of affect into the world is not thoroughly explored in Clark’s work but remains a fertile space for further scholarship. And it is here that I would like to examine and exploit that opening to include the affective realm of human experience into extended-mind theory in order to augment Freud’s theory of mourning to include both an exchange and incorporation. Clewell describes Freud’s approach to the work of mourning (in terms of exchange) as “a kind of hyper-remembering, a process of obsessive recollection during which the survivor resuscitates the existence of the lost other in the space of the psyche, replacing an actual absence with an imaginary presence” (44). 10 I take this “hyper-remembering” to mean a kind of experiential reenactment, whether imagine-based or reality-based, of the lost love-object. Transposed to a contemporary context, I see Facebook, specifically Facebook’s memorial policy, as a technological version of this Freudian exchange. This contemporary transposition happens on two levels. The first, as I have mentioned already, is in a preemptive attempt to digitalizing the body (making a precautionary exchange of the haptic body for a virtual, enduring body). The second, I hold, is the memorialization of Facebook members’ accounts. For those who are grieving, the digitalized body (as a memorialized account) allows one lost love-object to be replaced by another. This is not to say, as Butler surmises from Freud, that a digitalized message board can take the place of a warm body. Rather, it is to say that affective attention—one that was directed toward a physical (and perhaps digitalized) body is now turned toward a completely digitalized entity, one that persists as a static, unresponsive digital signifier.
This exchange, however, is not enough for mourners. I hold that Freud’s later development in terms of identification and incorporation strike upon an affective reality that is productive in the process of mourning. Clewell, drawing from psychoanalytic theorists Abraham and Torok, defines incorporation as “the process of taking the lost object into the structure of one’s own identity, as the primary support system of mourning” (51). This incorporation is a precarious event when the body of the love-object is seen through a Clarkian lens. Instead of a static and stable mind-body, as is envisioned by Freud11, the body, in light of contemporary theory and cognitive science, is much more porous and permeable, influenced by its external environs more than its internal bio-mechanisms. It is the case, then, with the body expanding over its borders, distributed and digitalized across an electronic network, it becomes much easier and more imaginable for mourners to integrate and incorporate the lost love object into their own body. Thus, in light of the emergent technologies of social networking and the kind of distributed human being Clark proposes, the Freudian distinction between exchange and incorporation can converge, resulting in a material process of mourning that necessarily calls for a kind of public intimacy that is only achievable through networked communication.
In summation, integration/incorporation (whether conceived of as identification or not) and exchange/interchangeability are not mutually exclusive approaches to understanding the grieving process. In fact, through the communicative technologies of social networking-Facebook specifically-both processes are not only possible but are mutually augmenting. By corporeally uploading the body into a digital realm, a process of exchange and integration is not only conceivable but also possible. Abstracting Clark from his cognitive science context-specifically one that favors evolutionary heuristics&-extended-mind theory allows for us to legitimately proliferate a model of affective distribution through the medium of social networking. Such a theoretical move, however, has its implications.
4. Archives and Feelings: Facebook as Material Rhetoric
As the above has suggested, Facebook’s memorial policy functions as a social mode of distributed affect, allowing public access to a digitalized body; one that is seemingly integrated into the viewer’s own body. The content of this section takes its cue and trajectory from Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality and Lesbian Public Cultures (2003) where she describes archives as “repositories of feelings and emotions, which are encoded not only in the content of the texts themselves but in the practices that surround their production and reception” (7). The doubling function here plays an important role in understanding Facebook’s memorialized accounts as a type of archive. Not only are these accounts repositories of feelings and emotions (as we will see through specific examples), but they also encode the kinds of practices that continually interact with (and simultaneously constitute) them. This secondary function of encoding practices marks Facebook as a material rhetoric, compelling specific actions and practices to occur by members. In this section, I look at Facebook’s memorialization process as a digital archive of affect that functions as a material rhetoric, eliciting certain a/effects and compelling specific actions of those who are in mourning (or, interestingly enough, of those who are not). Conceived in this way, Facebook is a rhetoric that simultaneously reminds users of the security in social digitalization, all the while complicating that assertion by invoking the precariousness (and vulnerability) of social living.
Butler foregrounds the concept of necessary social living by stating that, legalistically, we are required to present ourselves as bound beings, individuated and autonomously responsible for our actions (Precarious Life 24). This individualistic conception is pragmatic in the sense that law can be effectively and efficiently enforced upon individual actions, whereas a collectivist conception dredges in murkier conditions in deliberating the identification and consequences of criminal actions. These individual entitlements secure the entire legalistic project of ordering and protecting a community. Yet, Butler suggests, “although this language may well establish our legitimacy within a legal framework ensconced in liberal versions of human ontology, it does not do justice to passion and grief and rage, all of which tear us from ourselves, bind us to others, transport us, undo us, implicate us in lives that are not our own, irreversibly, if not fatally” (25). Viewed through the lens of Hobbes and/or Locke, an intertwined social community originates from a surplus need for protection. In Hobbes’ view, this projection stifled the urge to enact violence on others, whereas for Locke, the social contract acted as a way of deliberating issues of property and ownership. Moving against these more classical grains, Butler argues against the social contract theory and suggests that what makes bodies inherently vulnerable is their pre-disposition toward social clustering:
The body implies mortality, vulnerability, agency: the skin and the flesh expose us to the gaze of others, but also to touch, and to violence, and bodies put us at risk of becoming the agency and instrument of all these as well. Although we struggle for rights over our own bodies, the very bodies for which we struggle are not quite ever only our own. The body has its invariably public dimension. Constituted as a social phenomenon in the public sphere, my body is and is not mine (26).
The body itself conveys an immediate and phenomenological sense of vulnerability-only precariously thin skin separates individual from individual, precarious life from precarious life. Yet into social clusterings we continually converge and are thus constituted as individual: “this possibility does not dispute the fact of my autonomy, but it does qualify that claim through recourse to the fundamental sociality of embodied life, the ways in which we are, from the start and by virtue of being a bodily being, already given over, beyond ourselves, implicated in lives that are not our own” (28). This blurring between bodily confines does not, as it would seemingly indicate, stop at the moment of death. With the ever-enduring digital presence that a social networking site allows, “the primary others who are past for me not only live on in the fiber of the boundary that contains me […] but they also haunt the way I am, as it were, periodically undone and open to becoming unbounded” (28).
It is a curious thing, then, that in a post-9/11 effort to preemptively secure our bodily/national borders, the cultural response comes in the form of social networking-;literally, a digital tethering of bodies to other bodies. Bound together, Facebook and other social networking sites allow for a kind of bodily presence at varying physical distances that necessitate an immediate absence. As such, given the kind of incorporation we have thus far discussed with Freud and Clark, this communication, whether it is with Facebook members dead or alive, is a kind of inscription on the self and other that holistically constitutes what it means to live a bodily life in the age of new media. From this developed premise, I would like to move toward understanding what it is that compels us to communicate with the dead in this way. Why write on a memorialized Facebook wall? What are the rhetorical and performative implications of that discursive practice?
5. Speaking with the Dead: Inscriptions of Public Memory
With memorialized Facebook accounts, those undergoing the mourning process can enact normative communication practices with the deceased individual (in the form of posting on their wall) but are compelled, by the material rhetoric of the memorialization, to address the death in both implicit and explicit ways. In an effort to showcase the theoretical assertions I have thus far been promoting, I would like to turn to an example of a memorialized account. However, in doing so, I will not use specific names, out of respect for the individual and family members. Rather, I will extract the rhetorically relevant content to discuss the distributed emotions cultivated on the deceased individual’s wall.
The memorialized account I want to examine belongs to a university student who passed away due to a bacterial infection. Per Facebook policy, all applications but the wall function have been disabled and the account remains officially in memorial status. The deceased individual’s “friends” have left recent wall posts (as of 17 December 2010), indicating constant and repeated visits to the memorialized account (despite the fact that the individual has been removed from Facebook’s “suggestion” function, thus implying that those who visit his profile visit it voluntarily and purposefully). Most notable in these posts is one comment (left on 18 September 2010), which implies a direct address to the deceased individual: “Great party huh? The ‘lil girls got [sic] meet each other. I pray they will always be good friends” (Facebook 1). The mundanely quaint comment is affectively[AB1] appealing, for it addresses the memorial site as a digital body, one that endures to date and remains conscious of relevant social on-goings. These kinds of speech acts, ones that I argue are in a sense performative, address a digital presence (one could say, a digital body) that is explicitly absent.
Addressing the deceased individual does, in fact, do something in terms of performativity: “the structure of address is important for understanding how moral authority is introduced and sustained if we accept not just that we address others when we speak, but that in some way we come to exist, as it were, in the moment of being addressed, and something about our existence proves precarious when that address fails” (Precarious Life 130). Both resultants, as described by Butler, occur in this instance of address. First, the individual posting on the wall comes into existence in a relational status to the deceased; namely, as one who cares and wishes their continued relationship and communication. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, the address undoubtedly fails (as the deceased individual cannot reply), thus materially acknowledging the precariousness of the relationship and, ultimately, life itself.
Judith Butler, writing fondly of her first encounter with Derrida, provides a telling and insightful anecdote in her London Review of Books article. Quoting Derrida, she writes, “There come moments […] when, as mourning demands [deuil oblige], one feels obligated to declare one’s debts. We feel it our duty to say what we owe to friends… There is in that attempt, that essai, a longing that cannot reach the one to whom it is addressed, but does not for that reason forfeit itself as longing. The act of mourning thus becomes a continued way of ‘speaking to’ the other who is gone, even though the other is gone, in spite of the fact that the other is gone, precisely because that other is gone” (“Jacques Derrida” 33). This debt, I want to suggest, is embedded in the Facebook memorialized account. It takes the broad form of a material rhetoric that persuades-indeed compels-us to inscribe on this digitalized body some kind of relational link, one that will simultaneously articulate us and re-invoke the kind of presence that most productively aids the Freudian mourning process of exchange/incorporation. The digital body rightly does not (and cannot) respond to received wall posts (though, such a function is conceivable, especially if we hold firm to the idea of corporeal upload). Rather, every wall post is deliberately met with silence, with a certain and lasting lack of vocalization and/or inscription. We are met in these almost-futile acts of engagement and communication with nothing but our own echo.
As is a common objection and critique of rhetoric, the implications of being compelled toward some action does not render the action a result of soft-determinism, de-legitimizing the genuine affective motivations that first spurred one to act rhetorically. Rather, conceived of in a larger sense, all human interactions and all motivations are highly rhetorical-symbolically enacted in order to achieve some effect. Being compelled to write on a deceased individual’s wall, then, is not tantamount to being forced to inscribe. Rather, the compulsion stems from the rhetorical space being provided for such an inscription. The openness, the possibility for articulation (an articulation that gets to the heart of both deliberate address and the failure of that gesture) compels inscription, thus rhetorically constructing a community that articulates these affects publically. Facebook’s memorial policy, then, acts as a conduit for public feelings and intimacies. Often individuals writing on the deceased member’s wall will respond to each other’s wall posts, distributing the process of exchange and incorporation across several digital and/or haptic bodies.
6. At End’s Beginnings: Networked Grief and Collective Articulations
Thus far it has been suggested that the motivation behind the corporeal upload stems from the nationwide vulnerability we experienced after the United State’s boundaries were unexpectedly breached. Such a feeling of bodily vulnerability, we have seen, has its primary origins in social clustering-clustering that has led us to digitalize so as to distribute that which constitutes living. And from this preemptive digitalization of the body, we find new ways in which our already porous bodily life becomes more permeable and more inter-subjective than previously conceived. This is readily seen when, converging both Freudian exchange/incorporation and Clarkian integration, a viable substitute for our lost love-object becomes incorporated into our very own body through a process of identification. But how is it that one who mourns can enact a therapeutic identification when a digitalized body remains? Butler, in the chapter entitled “Precarious Life,” writes, “Identification always relies upon a difference that it seeks to overcome, and that its aim is accomplished only by reintroducing the difference it claims to have vanquished” (Precarious Life 145). Identification, then, is not a complete immersion and incorporation into the digitalized body. Rather, it is a mediated relation, one of distance and acknowledgement that allows for a phenomenological link that is at once binding and individually constitutive.
The mediated relation of Facebook’s memorial policy cultivates a sense of affective frustration. It forever seals off and solidifies an emergent body-a body that calls for public identification. Why create and perpetuate such an archive if we conceive of grief as terminable, as an affective response that, hopefully, has some relieving end? The emphasis here has to shift to the temporal framework surrounding the digital archive. If we were to view these material rhetorics as electronic tombs of the dead-marked (de)composing bodies that continually remind us of the public grief and vulnerability we should feel-then they perpetuate little more than digitalizes graves, popping up in a space constructed for the sole purpose of social interaction. Instead, we should aim to view these profiles as archives of the future, archives that continually emerge and do so not to remind us of the past but as a constant gesture toward the future. As Derrida writes in Archive Fever (1995), “the archivist [a position we all assume in the intimate, public dealings of Facebook] produces more archive, and that is why the archive is never closed. It opens out of the future” (68). Such is the case with the digital bodies. They emerge in life and persist onward after death, enduring as futural rhetorics, archiving the potential for public feelings.
In closing, I hope I have gestured toward a consideration of Facebook’s memorialization policy and the grieving practices that emerge from it, however individually oriented they may appear, as communal efforts at experiencing and overcoming the process of mourning. Wall posts on a memorialized Facebook account are not, as we may like to believe, quiet whispers uttered before a grave. They are public intimacies, utterances that are iterable and reiterable by means of an electronic distribution. As a material rhetoric, Facebook offers a space for articulation, one wherein individuals may communicate with the dead and so come into community with living others. They enact this process of exchange and incorporation by way of rhetorical compulsion (taken, again, in the non-pejorative and generative sense). This move of articulation is one that is described by Butler as the project of establishing “modes of public seeing” and, I would add, public feeling (Precarious Life 147). Emergent communicative technologies allow for a collective effort in this attempt. In this way, we find that the multitude of echoes that reverberate through and against a deceased member’s wall constitute a communal voice, one that deliberately distributes the efforts of articulation to several individuals, across several electronic networks, in the hopes of articulating the precariousness upon which bodily and social life is ultimately predicated.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. Print.
Butler, Judith. “Jacques Derrida.” London Review of Books. 26.21 (2004): 32. Electronic.
Clark, Andy. Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Clewell, Tammy. “Mourning Beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss.” JAPA, 52.1 (Winter 2004): 43-67. Electronic.
Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Print.
DeGroot, Jocelyn. “Reconnecting with the Dead via Facebook: Examining Transcorporeal Communication as a Way to Maintain Relationships.” Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2009. Columbus: Ohio State University, 2009. Electronic.
Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Trans. Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print.
Facebook.com 18 September 2010. Online. 6 December 2010. Electronic.
Facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=deceased? 26 October 2009. Online. 6 December 2010. Electronic.
Fowelkes, Martha. “The Social Regulation of Grief.” Sociological Forum, 5.4 (1990): 635-652. Electronic.
Freud, Sigmund. The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. Print.
Kelly, Max. “Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook” Facebook.com. 26 October 2010. Web. 6 December 2010.
Miller, Richard. “The Nervous System.” College English, 58.3 (1996): 265-286. Print.
Rotman, Brian. Becoming Beside Ourselves: Ghosts, the Alphabet and Distributed Human Being. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
1 I would like to thank anonymous reviewer #1 for his/her invaluable comments as well as for pointing me in the direction of danah boyd and Nicole Ellison’s “Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13.1 (2007). Electronic.
2 “Skinbag” is a term that comes from cognitive scientist Andy Clark’s work Natural-Born Cyborgs (2003). In this sense, it works to describe holistically the limits of the biological bare-life.
3 See Martha Fowlkes, whose article “The Social Regulation of Grief” [from Sociological Forum, 5.4 (1990): 635-652] speaks to the seemingly ever-present connection between grief practices and social norms. She argues that social norms assign varying merits to different social relations, thus “regulating” when and who can be mourned.
4 As Facebook CSO Max Kelly writes in a blog post of the memorial introduction: “We understand how difficult it can be for people to be reminded of those who are no longer with them, which is why it’s important when someone passes away that their friends or family contact Facebook to request that a profile be memorialized…When an account is memorialized, we […] set privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. We try to protect the deceased’s privacy by removing sensitive information such as contact information and status updates. Memorializing an account also prevents anyone from logging into it in the future, while still enabling friends and family to leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance” (Kelly 1).
5 For one of the best introductions to cyborg theory (broadly conceived), see Elaine L. Graham’s Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgets UP, 2002. Print. Also, for the originating piece that utilizes the cyborg figuration, see Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991(149-181). Print.
6 See “Clewell, Tammy. “Mourning Beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss” from JAPA, 52.1 (Winter 2004): 43-67. Electronic.
7 Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Rutledge, 1993. Print.
8 A binary that becomes superfluous in an extended mind model that purports distributed cognition.
9 Brian Rotman describes Clark’s “soft self” or what he refers to as a “para-self” by suggesting that “the result is a body which, though conditioned by and inseparable from its evolutionary lineage, is revealed as increasingly exogeneous [sic] -made and conceived from its bio-techno-cultural environs; increasingly transparent-less privately enclosed, more publicly inspectable and surveyable through a multitude of techniques; increasingly porous-engaged in a constant flow of information and affect across its boundaries” (133-134). See Becoming Beside Ourselves: Ghosts, the Alphabet and Distributed Human Being. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
10 As reviewer #1 has directed me, see Jocelyn DeGroot’s dissertation entitled, “Reconnecting with the Dead via Facebook: Examining Transcorporeal Communication as a Way to Maintain Relationships” (2009). DeGroot’s analysis offers productive insight into the types of communicational practices that are common on deceased members’ walls. Although this article does not explore explicitly the kinds of communications present on Facebook walls, it sees such insight as working in tandem with its focus on digital media constituting public feelings.
11 By “stable” and “static” I refer to the more consilient conception of the self (comprised of ego, superego and id) that is put forth in Freud’s major works. Nowhere in Freud’s works do we see the kind of distribution of agency and diffused self that we find in more postmodern theories of subjectivity.