EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W013)

Death and imagination: creative strategies to embrace and avoid the crisis of death

Location JHT5
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Chiara Garattini (Intel Corporation) email
John Troyer (University of Bath) email
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Long Abstract

Creativity and mortality have co-existed since the dawn of time. The social sciences often explain imaginative elaborations on the subject of death as a tool for resolving the "crisis of death" at a personal and social level. Along this line of argument, the crisis of death is more acutely problematic when there is a crisis of imagination. Western social attitudes towards death are said to be characterised by denial and refusal. Technology and medicine are often instrumental in this dilemma as they both allegedly reinforce our reluctance in accepting death as part of life. On the other hand, there is a sort of expectation that non-western societies never "deny" death but instead "face" it in an elaborate and imaginative manner.

In this workshop we want to challenge these concepts and would like instead to explore the following ideas: how the human imagination is used to avoid thinking about death and how individuals constantly think about death through these same creative impulses. This paradoxical phenomenon becomes especially evident in the Western media, where death related themes become everyday entertainment. Our goal is to explore how individuals create concepts of death that do everything but think about death, while at other times embracing all its creative potentialities. Finally, we want to argue that many people deploy both of these "strategies" and that these activities necessarily overlap.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Engaging paradoxes of grief: ritual from hospice & bereavement spaces

Author: Catherine Dean-Haidet (The Ohio State University)  email
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Long Abstract

Narratives of grief and loss attest to several possible paradoxes or irreconcilable tensions for bereaved individuals. These may include a sense of presence in absence, past in present, fullness in emptiness, and self as separate yet united with the deceased. Rituals of loss and mourning can give language, form, and structure to paradox and changed relationships after a death. Contemporary American hospice and bereavement spaces are cultural sites for negotiating meanings of death, dying, grief, and loss. By using examples from ethnographic fieldwork and interviews collected at two sites in central Ohio, this paper presents evidence of creative practices for learning to live with paradox, contradiction, and the inexplicable after a death. Practices such as storytelling, painting, quilting, yoga, music, energy healing, and equine therapy are discussed. I argue that emerging bereavement ritual engages imagination, affect, and the body in ways that acknowledge and honor continuing internal relations with the deceased while marking transformation of the bereaved individual.

When life crisis meets environmental crisis: imagining death and ecological immortality in Japanese tree-burial

Author: Sebastien Boret Penmellen (Tohoku University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper investigates how environmental crisis has become the locus of creative ideas and practices of death within Japanese society. In a country where ancestor worship is the conventional way of death, a proliferation of new non-ancestral funerals has taken place since the 1990s. One of the most innovative ways of celebrating death is tree burial (jumokusō). In tree-burial, the customary ancestral tombstone is replaced by a tree and the graveyards become vast forestlands, what I refer to as ecological cemeteries. Among jumokusō adherents, the subject of death seems initially concealed by narratives of and praxis for the regeneration of a forest and its biodiversity. Reconciling the creative powers of life and death, however, this paper concludes that Japanese tree-burial provides individuals with the prospect of ecological immortality, in which one's own death is an instrument for the regeneration of life within a cycle of nature.

Places and cult of the dead in Piedmont: what funerary culture for the future?

Authors: Alessandro Gusman (University of Turin)  email
Cristina Vargas (Università degli Studi di Torino)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper is based on a two-year research focused on ethnographic study of eight cemeteries in Piedmont (Italy).

Cemetery expresses contemporary social attitudes towards death; its construction is embedded within complex dynamics of social interaction and self representation at the collective and individual level.

Even if cemetery is connoted by the presence of the dead, there are spaces for creativity and imagination. For social actors, the construction of a "place of the dead" offers the opportunity to "construct an idealised map of the permanent social order" (Bloch & Parry 1982:35) and to localize personal memories in a collective space. It is possible to observe a wide range of personal, familiar and social strategies in the process of coping with the bereavement. Somehow, it is necessary to find a way of keeping toghether the collective places, rites and responses to death and the individual, intimate and painful, experience: "denying", "facing" or "avoiding" the idea of death do not appear as opposites, but as different, overlapping, aspects of a complex process.

Un interespace de la mémoire: les sépultures des cimetières Parisiens

Author: Antonella Grossi (Università degli Studi di Messina)  email
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Long Abstract

Le rapport proposé est un produit partiel de l'année de terrain réalisé dans les cimetières de la ville de Paris. Le constat permet de voir combien les réactions à la mort se déclenchent en un mécanisme né de la rencontre entre la réalité de la mort et son évocation répétée, donnant ainsi naissance à une « matérialité imaginative » qui remplace le caractère concret de la perte : la tombe est le lieu, privé et publique, où l'on observe cette création matérielle de l'absence. Par une réflexion sur les dynamiques impliquées dans ces stratégies créatives, s'offre une lecture de la manière dont la finitude se transforme dans un autre ordre, en une « nouvelle présence ». Cette approche de la mémoire conduit, en outre, à étudier la vulnérabilité des frontières entre les catégories du réel et de l'imaginaire, de l'individuel et du social, contribuant à expliquer la complexité de la pensée et de l'agir «non dichotomique».

Burial as wedding: a creative ritual solution to an existential crisis

Author: Gheorghita Geana (Academia Romana)  email
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Long Abstract

A moving ritual is performed in Romanian folk culture: when a young person dies before being married, his/her burial is combined with a simulated wedding. Thus, the dead is dressed like a bridegroom/respectively like a bride and a young fir tree is thrust upon the grave. Based on "Mioriţa" (The Ewe Lamb) - the Romanians' national ballad, where such an episode occurs -, Mircea Eliade called this ritual (in French) "les noces mioritiques" (in English: "mioritical wedding"). The signification of the mioritical wedding is related to the order of crucial events in human life: birth-marriage-death. An accidental death can trouble this natural succession. Nevertheless, the human being is able to restore the necessary order by defying fatality and drawing toward coincidence the burial and the wedding. As a particular case of the rites of passage, the mioritical wedding proves the creative force that a ritual can involve.

Fear and prayers: negotiating with the dead in Apiao, Chiloé, southern Chile

Author: Giovanna Bacchiddu (Pontificia Universidad Catolica, Chile)  email
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Long Abstract

Apiao people exorcise their fear of death by protecting themselves from the dead's wrath. After death, individuals turn into animas, spirits, that can haunt the living - unless they are properly taken care of. This paper describes the beliefs surrounding death and the dead for a small Catholic community. The dead have ambivalent powers: just like God and the local miraculous saints, they can be both benevolent and revengeful. They can be placated through offerings and prayers sessions, called novenas. These represent the chance to negotiate with the supernatural, and enact the fundamental social value of actively remembering. The novenas entail inviting and attending many people, and spending vast amounts of money to honour the dead. The celebrations that accompany the prayers -ritual consumption of food and alcohol - allow individuals to strengthen their alliances with other individuals, in respect to the strict reciprocity rule that governs interaction in Apiao.

The triumph of death? The living and the dead among Lithuanian rural Catholics

Author: Lina Pranaitytė-Wergin (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
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Long Abstract

Far from accepting Catholic doctrinal notions of death as full explanations, rural Lithuanian Catholics practice a form of bricolage rooted in personal experiences of death and the afterlife. Knowledge obtained from communicating with the dead in dreams, and stories of feeling the physical presence of the deceased are often more significant for them than dogmatic preachings about this-worldly life and the beyond. This paper focuses on exchange transactions and forms of communication between the living and the dead in rural Lithuanian villages. I argue that these practices can also be understood as ways of 'taming death'. The exchange practices connecting the church, priests and the deceased are conceptualized as ways to support and restore institutional order, but also to recreate a cosmological order based in extra-institutional ideas about death.

Enjoying the death of the others? Some anthropological reflections around the volunteer work with dying patients

Author: Yannis Papadaniel (Université de Lausanne)  email
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Long Abstract

My contribution aims to explore the activities of volunteers who work with people who are terminally ill and dying in Switzerland. I will focus more specifically on the following two research questions:

a) How and Why do the volunteers cope with the constant presence of death in their everyday lives?

b) How does death come to be presented as an "attractive" and creative outcome in palliative care contexts?

In order to answer these questions, I will present some results based on an ethnographic research. For three years I have been indeed engaged in a participant observation in four volunteers associations in Lausanne, Switzerland. As such I will explore these two questions further by examining the meanings that the volunteers attach to their own practices.

Death, crisis, rhetoric

Authors: Arnar Árnason (University of Aberdeen)  email
Sigurjon Hafsteinsson (University of Iceland)  email
Tinna Gretarsdottir  email
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Long Abstract

Death is an example of what Carrithers has recently referred to as the vicissitudes of life. Individual deaths and mortality more generally frequently demand a response, an attempt to account for their happening, an attempt to make sense of. Evoking Carrithers's anthropological reworking of the notion of rhetoric as the process of convincing self and others, this paper investigates contemporary engagement with death in Iceland. Looking at internet memorial sites, newspaper obituaries and other forms of memorialisation, the paper uses the notion of rhetoric as an analytical tool. Particular attention will be paid to the figure of eternity in its dual sense of death and timelessness as an important element of death in Iceland in the context of economic and political crisis.

Absenting death and visualizing ghosts

Author: Michele Hanks (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)  email
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Long Abstract

In contemporary England, there has been an explosion of interest in all things ghostly and paranormal. Self-fashioned groups of amateur ghost hunters regularly attempt to 'scientifically' document the existence of ghosts. The paradox of ghost hunting is that death is at once central and yet strangely absent. Ghost hunters interpret death as the condition of possibility that enables the emergence of ghosts and, yet, in the course of ghost hunting, discussions of death remain absent. This paper argues that contemporary popular technoscientific engagements with ghosts paradoxically render death invisible, while seeking to visualize the traces of dead individuals. Death becomes implicitly incorporated into a naturalizing and technoscientifically mediated discourse that renders the crisis of death incidental in a naturally unfolding human trajectory that does not end in death. By setting out to experience and document ghosts, ghost hunters creatively transform the absences engendered by death into fertile fields ripe for 'scientific' documentation.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.