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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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8 | Death, Medicine, Literature: Foucault in 1963.

8 | Death, Medicine, Literature: Foucault in 1963

Extract

Douglas Smith

In The Order of Things (Les Mots et les choses, 1966), Michel Foucault notoriously announced the imminent death of Man: ‘As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.’ [‘L’homme est une invention dont l’archéologie de notre pensée montre aisément la date récente. Et peutêtre la fin prochaine.’]1 This effective assassination of the consensual humanism of the post-war period took place in the full public view that necessarily accompanies a best-selling book. However, it was preceded by two less spectacular but arguably more significant metaphorical deaths three years earlier, namely those of phenomenology and semiology, dispatched in the more discreet double publication of Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic (Naissance de la clinique) and Death and the Labyrinth (Raymond Roussel). This double fatality, and its relation to the history of pathology and autopsy practices, might have justified entitling this chapter ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, after Edgar Allan Poe. However, under the circumstances, a literary allusion seems out of place, and the present clinical title more appropriate. This is because, in conjunction, the liquidation of phenomenology (with its model of a full self-determining human consciousness) and the discrediting of semiology (with its model of an empty network of signs) effectively represent the beginning of the end of literature as a central presence in Foucault’s work. This lessening interest in literature coincides with a gradual shift from a thematics...

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