Joshua Schuster, "What Is Extinction?: A Natural and Cultural History of Last Animals" (Fordham UP, 2023)


Life on Earth is facing a mass extinction event of our own making. Human activity is changing the biology and the meaning of extinction. What Is Extinction?: A Natural and Cultural History of Last Animals (Fordham UP, 2023) examines several key moments that have come to define the terms of extinction over the past two centuries, exploring instances of animal and human finitude and the cultural forms used to document and interpret these events.

Offering a critical theory for the critically endangered, Joshua Schuster proposes that different discourses of limits and lastness appear in specific extinction events over time as a response to changing attitudes toward species frailty. Understanding these extinction events also involves examining what happens when the conceptual and cultural forms used to account for species finitude are pressed to their limits as well. Schuster provides close readings of several case studies of extinction that bring together environmental humanities and multispecies methods with media-specific analyses at the terminus of life.

What Is Extinction? delves into the development of last animal photography, the anthropological and psychoanalytic fascination with human origins and ends, the invention of new literary genres of last fictions, the rise of new extreme biopolitics in the Third Reich that attempted to change the meaning of extinction, and the current pursuit of de-extinction technologies. Schuster offers timely interpretations of how definitions and visions of extinction have changed in the past and continue to change in the present.

Joshua Schuster is an associate professor of English and core faculty member of the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at Western University. He is the author of The Ecology of Modernism: American Environments and Avant-Garde Poetics and co-author of Calamity Theory: Three Critiques of Existential Risk.

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Cody Skahan

Cody Skahan ( is a graduate of the MA program in Anthropology at the University of Iceland as a Leifur Eriksson Fellow and will be starting his DPhil at the University of Oxford in the fall of 2024. His work focuses on environmentalism in the Arctic, especially amidst conflicting and interrelated sociotechnical imaginaries originating from different sources such as youth environmentalists. Cody co-hosts a social theory and anthropology podcast with two of his friends called Un/livable Cultures ( available wherever you get podcasts.
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