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What does it mean for life to reach its limit? Does the limit bring life to a close or open up into a space of renewal? This panel will explore alternative experiences of the limit, drawing out their implications both for ways of understanding extinction and for the responsibilities we bear for it.
At extinction, life reaches its limit. But is this limit a terminal point, a threshold to be crossed, an asymptote towards which one draws ever closer, or a horizon that recedes on advance? What does it mean to live close to the limit, or even to inhabit the limit itself? Does it bring life itself to a close, or open up from the inside into a space of renewal? Mainstream science, focusing on species and their continuation, tends to equate life with a genetic capital, passed down the generations along lines of descent. Extinction, then, marks the end of the line. Yet a counter-current of vitalism focuses more on the organism and its development, regarding it less as a vehicle of transmission than as a vortex in a current of life, which can hold out only for so long before dissolving back into the flow. Death, then, marks not the end of life but the moment at which a failing body is finally overwhelmed by the intensity of the vital energies from which it was once formed. Here the measure of extinction would lie not in the closure of any particular lineages, or in the extent of species loss, but in the capture and containment of life itself, not least by the machinations of science. In this panel we will explore alternative experiences of the limit, drawing out their implications both for our understanding of extinction and for our ideas of what it means to bear responsibility for it.