Search results: The subject of Google in 2010s culture

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Is Googling a banal activity or something more insidious? Search Results: The Subject of Google in 2010s Culture argues that users are employing search engines for reasons that parallel how and why subjects first underwent psychoanalysis: to deal with the question of desire. Nevertheless, the dissertation pinpoints a key divergence between Google and psychoanalysis as therapeutic institutions. While psychoanalysis aspires toward the changing of the subject through separating them from the function of the Other, Google has different aspirations. The search engine stabilizes the subject through the accessibility of a limitless desire, binding them to an algorithmic Other. It produces a socialized rather than singular desire, along with a form of subjectivity that can be more easily controlled by digital capitalism's mode of mediation. A deep-seated fear of taking responsibility for one's desire leads subjects to the search engine, where difficult truths demonstrated by psychoanalytic theory and praxis such as split subjectivity, the inexistence of the sexual relationship, the finality of death, and the fraudulent signifier of Whiteness can be negated through the substitute objects of search results. Since the abundance of search results that Google offers conceals the limit of desire, the dissertation turns to several cultural objects that demonstrate this limit, when Google is directed at oneself, others, the dead, and the past. Chapter 1 examines how the protagonists of Megan Boyle and Tao Lin's autofiction novels search through the internet to find themselves, a search which results in the splitting of them from themselves. Chapter 2 turns to obsessive searches for others in novels by Caroline Kepnes and Olivia Sudjic, in which the subject's own alterity is both hidden and searched for behind the digital screen of the other. Searching again conceals more than it reveals in Chapter 3, where three horror films display the dead being buried (and later unburied) with the material of search results. Finally, Chapter 4 discusses the centrality of the unconscious search for Indigeneity to the settler colonial project, which is psychoanalyzed by several Indigenous cultural objects, illuminating the impossible result of this search, and its historical consequences.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Burnham, Clint
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