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Imagining ExtinctionThe Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species$
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Ursula K. Heise

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226358024

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226358338.001.0001

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From Arks to ARKive.org: Database, Epic, and Biodiversity

From Arks to ARKive.org: Database, Epic, and Biodiversity

(p.55) 2 From Arks to ARKive.org: Database, Epic, and Biodiversity
Imagining Extinction

Ursula K. Heise

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on global biodiversity databases, Red Lists of endangered species, and works of literature and art that engage with species loss by way of a database aesthetic. Lydia Millet's novels How the Dead Dream and Maya Lin's website What Is Missing? exemplify an aesthetic approach to vanishing species by way of enumeration, so as to redirect the reader's attention from individual last specimens to biodiversity at large. Their species inventories resemble the global biodiversity databases that have been created over the last twenty years in response to the extinction crisis, especially Red lists that classify species by their risk. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the most prominent global Red List, incorporates elements of elegy into its basic categories, but subordinates them to an epic and encyclopedic narrative logic that at certain moments even levels the difference between humans and other species. This epic approach is also visible in the photography and film database ARKive.org, as well as in the paintings of Isabella Kirkland and the photographs of Joel Sartore, which desentimentalize species elegies and tragedies by shifting to a perception of the numerical sublime of mass extinction and the epic narrative of planet Earth.

Keywords:   database aesthetic, digital humanities, epic, inventory, catalog, biodiversity, species, biodiversity conservation, species conservation

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