This essay draws on the work of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others, to examine the relational politics of the selfie in digital culture. It argues that the selfie should be thought of not as the documentation of a “self” but as a practice that defines a figure as distinct from a background. In the process, this produces whatever can be thought to be a “self,” with the background receding from awareness. In using phenomenology to examine the selfie, this essay makes a larger methodological claim for the study of digital media, one that refuses the empiricist mode that characterizes contemporary media studies. It reevaluates the belief that selfies are narcissistic, suggesting that narcissism should be understood through an intertwined dialectic of aesthetic and anesthetic relations that either unveil or close off the body toward another. These relations may have different political valences, depending on context. The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the MV Sewol ferry disaster in Korea, which demonstrates how selfies should be conceptualized as a relational practice that derives an open politics from the interplay between self and background.

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