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Death, Burial, and the Afterlife

Dublin Death Studies

Series:

Edited By Philip Cottrell and Wolfgang Marx

The essays incorporated into this volume share an ambitious interest in investigating death

as an individual, social and metaphorical phenomenon that may be exemplified by themes

involving burial rituals, identity, and commemoration. The disciplines represented are as

diverse as art history, classics, history, music, languages and literatures, and the approaches

taken reflect various aspects of contemporary death studies. These include the fear of death,

the role of death in shaping human identity, the ‘taming’ of death through ritual or aesthetic

sublimation, and the utilization of death – particularly dead bodies – to manipulate social

and political ends.

The topics covered include the exhumation and reburial of Cardinal John Henry Newman;

the funerary monument of John Donne in his shroud; the funeral of Joseph Stalin;

the theme of mutilation and non-burial of the corpse in Homer’s Iliad; the individual’s

encounter with death in the work of the German Philosopher Josef Pieper; the Requiem

by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford; the imagery of death in Giovanni Verga’s

novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, and the changing attitudes toward death in the writings of

Michel Foucault.

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3 | Stalin’s Death and Afterlife.

3 | Stalin’s Death and Afterlife

Extract

Judith Devlin

This chapter explores the place of death within the political and symbolic codes of Soviet power. Examining the ceremonies which marked the death of Stalin, it argues that the leader’s demise was presented to the public in a manner that owed a significant debt to tradition. Stalin’s expiry prompted a public performance of the myth of the benevolent leader, and of Soviet power, which in several respects rehearsed what Richard Wortman has called the ‘scenarios of power’ staged under the last Tsars. A theatrical representation of public grief and love, Stalin’s funeral and post-mortem display in Lenin’s mausoleum may have been played, as Weber suggests, primarily for the benefit of the ruling elite. However, it was a narrative in which the ‘masses’ not only acted out their part, but one in which they also seemed, to some extent, even to have believed. They also proved able on occasion to manipulate it for their own ends, in a manner that recalls popular appeals to the myth of the Tsar in the nineteenth century and earlier. 1 This suggests that the symbolic system exploited by the political powers in Russia changed less radically than might be expected, given the abrupt transition from Tsarist to Soviet rule.

Stalin died on 5 March 1953 and was buried on 9 March. The circumstances of his death continue to cause controversy, not least because of the refusal to open the archives fully. He fell ill with a stroke on 1...

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