Volume 14, Issue 1, Spring 2017
Immortality and Infinitude in the Anthropocene
Endling, the Power of the Last in an Extinction-Prone World
In April 1996, two men working at a convalescent center wrote a letter to the journal Nature proposing that a new word be adopted to designate a person who is the last in the lineage: endling. This had come up because of patients who were dying and thought of themselves as the last of their family line. The word was not picked up in medical circles. But, in 2001, when the National Museum of Australia (NMA) opened its doors, it featured a gallery called Tangled Destinies and endling reappeared. On the wall facing a case with a thylacine specimen was written: Endling (n.) The last surviving individual of a species of animal or plant. Since that appearance, the word endling has slowly seeped into popular culture, appearing in symphonic music, performance art, science fiction stories, comics, and other art works. This paper examines the cultural power of the concept of endling as the last of a species and the history of its mobilization in a world facing extinction around every corner.