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Section Notes


January 16th


1.) "Reconstructing Death" and "Psychology & Death"
What is the realtionship between postmodernism as a social condition and our contemporary experience of death? More specifically, what are the social factors that have shaped our experience of death since the beginning of the twentieth century, as these two articles see it? What cultural, technological, institutional and social factors mark the difference between modern (roughly 1900-1945) and postmodern (1945-present) understandings of death? How might changing these factors alter the death-denying aspects of our culture?
2.) "The Death of Huey Newton" & "Reconstructing Death" (pg. 17)
Both of these articles treat, in various ways, linguistic strategies for representing death, especially as these serve concrete political objectives. Wendy noted in class last Thursday that "the medium is the message". What are some of the rhetorical strategies (the way in which things get said, the "medium") that these two articles explore? How do these strategies determine the representations of death (in the case of Huey Newton and Iraqi citizens) and serve political aims? Furthermore, what does the way that these deaths are represented say about larger cultural understandings of death?
3.) "Hmong Refugees" (pg. 79) & "Cultral Mediations for Native Canadians"
Both of these articles treat the conflict between the "cultural expectations" of Native or refugee groups and Western institutions such as the hospital, cemetary, or the morgue. Describe some of the conflicts that these articles outline, focusing on the particular way in which the scientific and medical understandings of death and dying come into conflict with so-called "traditional" or religious understandings. How might medical and "traditonal" worldviews be reconciled in an institutional context? What new social roles, professions, or educational practices can you imagine that might work on mediating such conflict?
4.) "Death without Weeping" & "Cultural Mediations Among Native Canadians"
"Death Without Weeping" explores the environmental factors that shape the emotional response of a certain sector of Brazilian woman toward early infant death. "Cultural Mediations" treats conflicts between medical institutions and Native Canandians. How does religious cosmology affect attitudes to death and dying at the personal, psychological level in these two articles? To expand a bit, what are some of the cultural assumptions of the scientifically educated North Americans (for instance, the emphasis on individual life) that make it difficult for them to understand alternative reactions to death & dying? You might focus on the idea of the "little angel" in "D.W.W." and the reactions to infant death described on page 69 in "Cultural Mediations"
5.) "Tuck Everlasting"
This book deals with the issue of immortality. What are the ethical issues treated by this text? Does this book have a significance for any current legal, religious, or ethical debates? What did you find most interesting and why?
6.) "Modes of Dying" (pg. 16)
Kastenbaum lists various diseases and their significance in the cultural imaginary. What social or political events have shaped our understanding of death and dying at the collective level? You may draw these from your personal timeline, or from historical events you did not live through but feel contribute to our everyday awareness of what death means. [For instance, the first bombs to be dropped from airplanes were used in the Italian campaign to colonize Libya in the early 1900Ős. The bombing is thus a recent invention of history (and not one of its better acheivements). The bombing inspires terror because of the noises of airplanes passing overhead and the explosions at ground level, shattered glass and collapsing rooves. It creates the idea of a "retribution from the heavens", a sort of rainfall made of steel; it awakens us to the suddeness of death and mankindŐs capacity to destroy itself rapidly. Certain people cannot look at the skies without trembling. Mankind ironically seems to become the victim of "gods" from above once again, of a destiny no longer in the hands of those living on earth. A work such as PicassoŐs Guernica displays the heavenward-looking agony of these Spanish victims of the German blitzkreig. Thus the "bombing" evokes feelings of frightful anticipation, suddeness, the uncontrollability of life & death, shattered landscapes & consciousness :a destiny no longer in humankindŐs control: rather, it is meted out from above.]