Deconstructing death – Bauman


Zygmunt Bauman points out that: “What is hidden from view when deconstruction is applied to the issue of death is the hard and intractable fact of the biologically determined mortality of human beings. One hears seldom, if at all, about humans dying of mortality… Even the notion of ‘death by natural causes’ – already a sanitized, euphemistic verbal substitute for ‘mortality’ – has fallen out of the vernacular. Medics will hardly ever record ‘natural causes’ when filling in the death certificate; if they lack an alternative, more specific explanation, they will certainly recommend a post-mortem to establish the ‘genuine’ (that is, immediate) cause of death. Their inability to locate such a cause would be decried as testimony of professional ineptitude. A specific cause of every single death must be pinpointed and spelled out, and only such a reason to die may be accepted as a legitimate cause, which either is preventable or with due effort (that is, further research and development of medicines and procedures) can be made preventable – in principle at least, if not in every practical case. Neither the kin nor the friends of the deceased would take ‘natural causes’ as an explanation of why the death had occurred.” (p.40)

“…as alarms about newly discovered but heretofore unknown pathogenic substances and regimes follow one another in rapid succession, every act and every setting of action, including acts and settings thus far believed to be innocuous and harmless or not thought of at all as ‘death relevant’, become suspected of causing irreparable harm and bearing terminal consequences. From the threat of death there is now not a moment of rest. The fight against death starts from birth and fills the whole of life.” (p.41)

Bauman describes “three essential strategies aimed at making liveable a living-with-the-knowledge-of-the-imminence-of-death. The first consists of building bridges between mortal life and eternity – recasting death as a new beginning (this time of an immortal life), rather than the end of ends. The second strategy consists of shifting attention (and worry!) from death itself, as a universal and inescapable event, to the specific ’causes’ of death, which are to be neutralized or resisted. And the third consists of a daily ‘metaphorical rehearsal’ of death in its gruesome truth of the ‘absolute’, ‘ultimate’, ‘irreparable’ and ‘irreversible’ end – so that such an ‘end’, as in the case of ‘retro’ fads and fashions, can come to be viewed as considerably less than absolute; as revocable and reversible, just one more banal event among so many others.
I am not suggesting that any of these strategies, or even all of them applied together, are fully effective (they can’t be, they are but subterfuges and palliatives after all), or that they are free from undesirable, and sometimes quite noxious, side-effects. But they [-p.50] go some way towards taking the poison out of the sting and so allowing the unendurable to be endured by taming, and domesticating in the lived world-of-being, the ‘absolute alterity’ of non-being.” (pp.49-50)

“And so on all three fronts the non-relenting human war on deadly threats is waged. And from all three sources infinite supplies of fear may be drawn for (profitable) recycling.” (p.53)

The primal fear of death is perhaps the prototype or archetype of all fears; the ultimate fear from which all other fears borrow their meanings. Dangers are conceived as ‘threats’ and derive their frightening power from the meta-danger of death – though they differ from the original by being avoidable and perhaps able to be prevented or even postponed indefinitely.” (p.52)

I couldn’t help thinking of the CSI franchise when I read this – and of Body of Proof and a few other TV programmes… in what ways do Bauman’s thoughts help us make sense of those TV dramas, I wonder…

I also wonder how these ideas connect with certain treatments of death, mortality and immortality in popular and Young Adult fiction…

Also… what of ghosts in popular fiction… how do these fit with such thoughts?

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK


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