This is a study of vulnerability as a dominant cultural discourse today, especially as it manifests in ‘extreme cultures’. These are cultural practices and representations of humans in risky, painful or life-threatening conditions where the limits of their humanity are tested, and producing heightened sensations of pain and pleasure. Extreme cultures in this book signal the social ontology of humans where, in specific conditions, vulnerability becomes helplessness. We see in these cultures the exploitation of the body’s immanent vulnerability in involuntary conditions of torture or deprivation, the encounter with extreme situations where the body is rendered incapacitated from performing routine functions due to structural conditions or in a voluntary embracing of risk in sporting events wherein the body pits itself against enormous forces and conditions.
The Extreme in Contemporary Culture studies vulnerability across various conditions: torture, disease, accident. It studies spaces of vulnerability and helplessness, the aesthetics and representations of vulnerability, the extreme in the everyday and, finally, the witnessing of (in)human extremes. Extreme cultures suggest shared precarity as a foundational condition of humanity. A witness culture emerges through the cultural discourse of vulnerability, the representations of the victim and/or survivor, and the accounts of witnesses. They offer, in short, an entire new way of speaking about and classifying the human.
Introduction / 1. Spaces of the Extreme / 2. Aesthetics and the Extreme / 3. Everyday, Vulnerability and the Extreme / 4. Vulnerability, Biovalues and Witnessing (In)Human Extremes / Conclusion / Bibliography / Index
Pramod K Nayar is Professor of English at the University of Hyderabad, India. His work in postcolonial studies includes Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire (2012), Writing Wrongs: The Cultural Construction of Human Rights in India (2012), English Writing and India, 1600–1920:Colonizing Aesthetics (2008)and Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction (2008). His interests in cultural studies include superheroes, consumer culture, ‘cool’, posthumanism and new media cultures, and his work here includes Posthumanism ( 2013)An Introduction to Cultural Studies (2008), Reading Culture: Theory, Praxis, Politics (2006) and Virtual Worlds: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cybertechnology (2004) besides numerous essays on cyberculture and, more recently, on human rights narratives
The Extreme in Contemporary Culture performs essential work by bringing together material generally segregated by the discipline of the investigator. Literature, film and television, torture, extreme sports, and terminal illness are all subjected to Nayar’s sharp, critical scalpel. The result is a persuasive case for the existence of a "culture of extremity” and a “culture of dehumanization”, and the urgent need for an alternative culture of "interrelatedness".
The Extreme in Contemporary Culture ties together hitherto disparate notions of extremity. The impressive range of cultural examples under consideration allows Nayar to build a thesis around a central unifying concept: vulnerability. The result is a whirlwind of ideas, which are crafted into a fresh, energetic examination of pertinent socio-cultural concerns.
This book is a highly original exploration of the articulation of contemporary culture by the figure of ‘the extreme’. It traces the ways in which the complex, contradictory and often disturbing vulnerabilities we encounter in ourselves, in others and between us, are a driving force shaping a diverse array of cultural phenomena.
Pramod K. Nayar’s book is raw, insightful and should be required reading in all culture studies and political science, especially peace and conflict resolution, programs throughout. Thoroughly researched—and assembling a plethora of topics under one roof—The Extreme in Contemporary Culture is a tour de force concerning vulnerability: a timely topic for the age of technological dehumanization, rose-colored social media reflections of the self and violent hypernormalisation.