1st Edition

Human Virtuality and Digital Life Philosophical and Psychoanalytic Investigations

By Richard Frankel, Victor J. Krebs Copyright 2022
    314 Pages
    by Routledge

    314 Pages
    by Routledge

    Winner of the Gradiva® Best Book Award 2022, and the Courage to Dream Book Prize 2023 from the Academy of the American Psychoanalytic Association!

    This book is a psychoanalytic and philosophical exploration of how the digital is transforming our perception of the world and our understanding of ourselves.

    Drawing on examples from everyday life, myth, and popular culture, this book argues that virtual reality is only the latest instantiation of the phenomenon of the virtual, which is intrinsic to human being. It illuminates what is at stake in our understanding of the relationship between the virtual and the real, showing how our present technologies both enhance and diminish our psychological lives. The authors claim that technology is a pharmakon - at the same time both a remedy and a poison - and in their writing exemplify a method that overcomes the polarization that compels us to regard it either as a liberating force or a dangerous threat in human life. The digital revolution challenges us to reckon with the implications of what is being called our posthuman condition, leaving behind our modern conception of the world as constituted by atemporal essences and reconceiving it instead as one of processes and change. The book’s postscript considers the sudden plunge into the virtual effected by the 2020 global pandemic.

    Accessible and wide-reaching, this book will appeal not only to psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and philosophers, but anyone interested in the ways virtuality and the digital are transforming our contemporary lives.

    Part I: Virtual Media  1. History of the Virtual 2. Dimensions of Virtuality Part II: Evolving Conceptions of the Virtual and The Real  3. Two Stances on the Virtual and Hyperreality  4. The Inexorable Flow  Part III: Depth Psychology in the Digital Age  5. The Virtual Within 6. The Virtual as Potential Space  7. Virtuality and the Other  Part IV: Philosophical Issues of the Virtual  8. Ontological Centaurs  9. Digital Pharmacology  10. The Tragedy of the Virtual  POSTCRIPT: Digital Life in the Time of the Pandemic


    Richard Frankel, is a faculty member and supervisor at The Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis. He is a teaching associate and supervisor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a private practice in Cambridge, MA. He is the author of The Adolescent Psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian Perspectives.

    Victor J. Krebs is professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and philosophical curator at VJKCuraduria Filosófica. He is author of La imaginación pornográfica: contra el escepticismo en la cultura, and editor (with William Day) of Seeing Wittgenstein anew.


    ‘Whether we embrace it or resist it, digital communication is one of the defining facts of our times. In their rivetingly thorough and engaging account, Frankel and Krebs show us what psychoanalysis has to do with and do for our digital age. And like all the more interesting psychoanalytical books, it is about far more than psychoanalysis.’

    Adam Phillips, general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics, translations of Sigmund Freud; author of On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored; Going Sane; Side Effects; Missing Out; One Way and Another; and most recently, The Cure for Psychoanalysis 


    ‘Secluded during the COVID pandemic, I sank into this extraordinary and utterly timely work. Human Virtuality and Digital Life pursues the deeper ambiguities and opportunities of our suddenly, radically digitalized existences. Ranging effortlessly from bison painted on caves to the semiotics of photography to our new "0-1" worlds, from Plato and Walter Benjamin to D.W Winnicott and Guy Debord, the authors consider the way seeing, thinking, and being will change, the way truth, time, and space will bend, the way our most private possession, our own psyches, will be both impoverished and enriched by what is no longer a dream but is our waking present.  A brilliant work.’

    George Makari, director, DeWitt Wallace Institute of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medicine; author of Soul Machine: The Making of the Modern Mind and Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis


    ‘This ground-breaking book is a must-read for anybody interested in how the meaning of the human is being reshaped by digital communication. Who are we becoming as we relate to others and to ourselves via social media, and virtual worlds? How are technological enhancements of human life transforming who we are? This book offers exciting new perspectives on these timely questions that broaden tremendously our way of understanding the media-enhanced world that we have created and is (re-)creating us. Viewing technology as a pharmakon that can be both a remedy and a poison, the different chapters offer powerful elucidations of the ways in which the digitalization of our lives has transformed our world and our capacity to experience and imagine. Using insights from both philosophy and psychoanalysis, the book brilliantly explores digital and virtual technology as "a laboratory of subjectivity" that opens up new possibilities for human existence and new configurations of selfhood and otherness. This mesmerizing book is at the forefront of contemporary philosophical discussions of the human and the post-human, and raises provocative questions about technology and the future of humanity that will spark new debates. A masterpiece.’

    Josž Medina, Walter Dill Scott Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University; author of Speaking from Elsewhere and The Epistemology of Resistance


    ‘A brilliant articulation of a philosophy of human virtuality for the digital era, conceived in terms of our psychic drives to massify, fracture, and capture our desires, our self-image, and the densities of our lives. The ambivalence and numinosity of digital life in the era of COVID has not found more significant expression. The flow and stoppage of time, truth and post-truth, reality and hyper-reality, beliefs, concepts, images, politics, film, our ancestral bodily capacities: they are all treated here. A sweeping and insightful grasp of technology to bear on our time. A tour de force.’

    Juliet Floyd, Professor of Philosophy at Boston University; author (with Felix Mÿhlholzer) of Wittgenstein’s Annotations to Hardy’s Course of Pure Mathematics