The Machine Stops: Modernism, Human Fungibility, and the Critique of Secular HopeThis book investigates cultural responses to the fungibility of persons in modern political and economic systems. I argue that modernism imagined the secular as a new set of cultural strategies for preserving the social power of human traces against efficient disposal. These writers and artists ask: how can we imagine a person’s symbolic, figurative survival in a secular world within a materialist and humanist frame? Where can we now direct our posthumous hope? Rather than loss of faith or rational disenchantment, the secular emerges in this study as a normative project: an ethical commitment to human traces, in their fragility, against the economic abstraction and political replaceability of persons. Modernism participates in secularization as a creative resistance to extreme fungibility, a pragmatics of posthumous survival in modernized societies.
This book is a creative non-fiction exploration of the jagged edge of contemporary mortuary practices, where imagination confronts tradition. As cultural criticism of emerging deathways, this project recognizes a generation of artists, community organizers, and writers who are creating new communities of mourning. These are practitioners of alternative mortality, playing on serious ground. Their cultural experiments offer the dead new forms of cultural presence and make grief less lonely. This cross-genre, formally experimental book brings together historical research, lyrical expression, and cultural criticism. Composed of short meditations and juxtaposed vignettes, Inventing Farewell renders a process of cultural transition. Every modern generation must re-invent its relations to the dead. This unfinished, astonishing cultural work is at the intersection of art, politics, therapy, ritual, and design.