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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.)Tuck Everlasting and in class-movie
Tuck and the movie we saw yesterday both dealt with various modes of dealing with death and dying and the issue of immortality. How is the issue of immortality presented in "Tuck" and how was it treated in the movie? Which perspectives in the film seemed to relate most to ideas explored in the book? You might focus on the use of cemetaries, the Vietnam memorial, cryogenics (freezing bodies), Ashanti ritual, or the Japanese "laser-light show", among other things.
4.) In-class movie
The Ashanti funeral incorporated a number of practices absent in most American burials influenced by the Christian tradition. What were these practices and how do they differ from funerals in our own society or ones that you have attended? You might focus on the emotional responses of the friends and family, who handles the dead, cultural practices, and community involvement among other things. What does this make you think about the way your own culture deals with death and dying?
5.) Lecture, 1-10 & Preface to The Path Ahead
"The way we think about death is shaped to a great extent by what we hear, read, and see in the mass media, which tend to report or depict only deaths linked with violence or catastrophe. These images do not create an impression of death as something natural to human being, nor do they match the reality of how people die. Without first hand experiences with death and dying we are prone to accept what is reported or portrayed at face value. (pg. 3 The Path Ahead ) Last Thursday's lecture and the quotation from the preface both point to the role the mass media has in shaping our conception of death and dying. Do you agree with the argument above? How does the mass media shape our perceptions of death and dying, both positively and negatively?
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 1900's. 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 mankindÍs 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 PicassoÍs 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 humankind's control: rather, it is meted out from above.]