raft was constructed with the intentions of carrying supplies from the Medusa. One problem, â€˜mostâ€™ meant one hundred and fifty passengers (149 men and one woman)10 could not fit in the Medusaâ€™s ships. The ships would collectively tow the raft, which was now going to carry passengers, instead of cargo. Second problem, the makeshift raft requires this mass of a hundred and fifty passengers (working class ship servants and military grunts of such low-rank that they are seen as being of essentially the same class, as well as other commoners) be bound together to the raftâ€™s mast and remaining secured cargo, less anyone fall into the ocean. In addition, the combined weight of said hundred and fifty passengers and cargo causes the makeshift raft to submerge, leaving many in the mass of a hundred and fifty passengers standing in water up to their waistline. Third problem, the longboats, as they try to set to sea, do not make much progress. The makeshift raft is more proximate to a living anchor than a means of travel. It is then that the captain of the Medusa, precisely the person who put them all into this situation in the first place, 11 decides that the only solution is to cut the raft loose. Problem solved. Fourth problem, though most of the hundred and fifty passengers do die at sea, some fifteen manage to survive, and, amongst the survivors are a doctor (fallen out of favor due to politics) and a geographer/publisher /owner of a radical bookstore (perpetually out of favor).12 They provide an account of the two weeks they endured in graphic detail, as well as a lens of clinical objectivity, recording precisely the effects of being exposed at sea, discussing elements explored in sketches by GÃ©ricault, such as the eating of dead passengers, the drinking of urine, and the process of deciding who was the weakest amongst the survivors and, therefore, should be chosen next as a source of food. 13 For a European audience weaned on the aesthetic of the sublime and the beautiful, this story of horrors fed the appetite for death that nurtured an emergent Romantic generation, one that cravenly courted the funereal in literature and art.14 The suffering of the survivors of the raft of the Medusa only culminated with the torturous aspect of being almost rescued by the ship Argus15 (the scene depicted in the end by GÃ©ricault), before being actually rescued by the Argus, as it makes a second pass.16
10 The identity of the one woman is still a mystery that I havenâ€™t seen attended to in any of the research on GÃ©ricaultâ€™s painting. What did she do to end up on the raft of the Raft?
The number should be one hundred and sixty-seven. Seventeen members of the crew decided to stay onboard the Medusa, instead of getting on the raft. They also receive little attention.
11 Besides ignoring the rest of his crew on how to navigate the coast, he hadnâ€™t led a vessel to sea in over twenty-five years due to political events in France, basically skipping an important generation in ship navigational advancements. Perhaps the most heinous aspect of the tragedy was the governmentâ€™s attempt to minimize its exposure. The story was buried. No search crew was sent, because the captain of the Medusa tried to keep the raft a secret. The Argus discovers the raft by chance, not by design.
12 CorrÃ©ard and Savigny were two interesting figures in their own right, though they often get relegated to the margins of accounts of the event their account documents. Savigny was a surgeon and CorrÃ©ard was a geographer. That is to say, though there is a lot of attention to GÃ©ricaultâ€™s painting, there is only marginal attention to the two key figures that make the narrative depicted in the painting possible.
13 Historical accounts such as these put television shows likeÂ SurvivorÂ to shame.
14 GÃ©ricaultâ€™s obituary provides the first use of the word Romanticism in regards to the visual arts in French. GÃ©ricault, like many of the Romantics that followed him, chose subject matter from the Romantic poets, such as Lord Byron, whose work offers examples of the fascination with death, a funereal mourning that also marks his work due to his premature death, proximate to the death of GÃ©ricault in 1824.
15 Of the many remarkable aspects to the events of the Medusa, the mythical names of the ships are almost too good to be true. First, there is Medusa, the Gorgon sister with the head of snakes, apotropoaic image for Athena and Greek temples, a woman whose gaze turns you into stone. In French, there is a verb â€˜to medusalize,â€™ which invokes this power to petrify. There were three other ships with the Medusa, all of which decided to not run aground: the Loire, Echo, and the Argus. While the Loire is tied to French geography, Echo plays a role in a myth of unrequited love with Narcissus that echoes some of the themes of the longing in the tale of the Corinthian maid. Then, there is
Â Â Â Â Â Given the political situation of France, the painting was received by critics along lines delineated by political leanings. For liberals, the subject exposed the problems of the Restoration monarchy, even broaching questions of class and race.17 For conservative supporters of the monarchy, the scene was seen as obscene, one not proper to the confines of the Salon. For GÃ©ricault, however, their reactions both exacerbated the mental stress resulting from a strict year of confinement to his studio,18 and, also, importantly, yielded a statement pointing to some of the limits of representation. He said in reaction to the critics, "The wretches who write such foolishness have certainly never starved for fourteen days, because only then would they know that neither poetry nor painting are able to render with enough horror all the anguish of the men on the Raft." Even his painting cannot do justice to the unimaginable horrors experienced by the figures depicted on theÂ Raft. Yet, it is not only the realization of the limits to poetic and visual representation in regards to human suffering that his painting provides in its attempt to do justice to the suffering of the individuals of the raft, but it is also the impossibility of successfully mourning the victims of the tragedy through art. Working on theÂ Raft of the MedusaÂ also yielded a series of studies that challenge the traditional representation of death. In particular, GÃ©ricault did a series ofÂ nature mortes, still-life paintings, composed of body parts he acquired through a morgue assistant at a facility on the street where his studio was located. These paintings try to depict death through observing the bodyâ€™s decomposition, using the dead in fragments and stripping away all narratives of redemption. They are simply body parts. And they are not simply body parts. They are paintings of body parts.
Â Â Â Â Â Seen by Delacroix at sixteen,19 these studies did not see the light of day or make it into theÂ RaftÂ directly save though a touch of the color choices. Instead, the dying and dead bodies conceal the effects of fourteen days without any rations other than human remains, still embodying the classicism upon
the Argus, the ship that the figures on the raft are striving to be seen by, a ship on a distant horizon. Arugs was a giant in Greek mythology, distinguished by having one hundred eyes. Argus was able to see all, yet, the figures on the raft cannot be seen by the Argus. Of course, both mythical invocations make sense in regards to sea safety. The Medusa would freeze any monsters at sea, while the Argus could be ever vigilant in perceiving any threat to its safety.
16 Indeed, what also marks this scene of shipwreck as different from its predecessors in the visual arts is the extent to which the subject was known. It was easy for GÃ©ricault to bring his painting to England, for instance, where the Royal Academyâ€™s exhibition of it was a huge success in terms of attendance and reception. The popularity of GÃ©ricault painting was largely due to the popularity of the subject matter.
17Â The Raft of the MedusaÂ is one of the first paintings to place an African body in a prominent position of agency. Questions of colonial relations were also at stake in the Raft, something that would be a concern of GÃ©ricaultâ€™s entire, if brief, mature career. Indeed, on his deathbed, he sketched plans for a representation of the continued African slave trade that had been recently exposed in liberal headlines in Paris.
18 GÃ©ricault was checked into an asylum shortly after experiencing periods of paranoia, testifying to seeing art critics in the trees by the banks of the Seine, saying things to him as he walked along the river. Interestingly, during this period of confinement a series of portraits were produced by GÃ©ricault of other patients in the clinic. The purpose of these works has never been determined, though they remain striking portraits that suspend a lot of the conventions that had confined portraiture at this point in art history.
19 Delacroix, upon encountering GÃ©ricaultâ€™s studies, relates the experience in various forms of the following narrative. During the time that GÃ©ricault was working on theÂ Raft, Delacroix would occasionally come by, sometimes even posing for GÃ©ricault (Delacroix posed for figures in theÂ Raft). One day, he enters the open space that GÃ©ricault used as a studio. The space contained a space to sit and read and further back a studio. Delacroix sees the studio door open, walks over, catches a glimpse of one of the severed body part paintings on an easel. Compelled by the beauty of the painting, he approaches and is struck by the smell and sight of the rotting limbs that served as a model for the appealing painting. He turned and ran until he collapsed from exhaustion. Haunted by this memory, he recounts it some forty years later, arguing for the way that GÃ©ricaultâ€™s paintings of severed body parts presented beauty as Delacroix thought it ought to be defined.
whose pyramidal wreckage his painting compositionally roots and un-roots itself. Still, if GÃ©ricaultÂ depicts a moment of trying to survive, the hope of being discovered, if not actually discovered, he does so by presenting a group of figures who try to escape our gaze, striving to be seen in the great distance by the tiny ship on the horizon, a ship barely visible to the viewer even in such a monumental painting. There are also indications that any salvation after such an experience is only ever tenuous, a redemption that may not necessarily have much value beyond survival. Not redeemable in human society, not any longer. The one figure not engaged in being seen within the composition, the figure in the foreground based on Michelangeloâ€™s earlyÂ PietaÂ and depictions of Danteâ€™s Ugolino (the latter a hugely popular subject for the Romantics),20 the old man who bears a corpse across his lap, also bears a gaze that materializes this unease of surviving, of a survival at the cost of oneâ€™s everyday notion of what it means to be human. â€œWeâ€™re saved, really? Saved?â€?
Â Â Â Â Â TheÂ Raft, as a painting in history, became a funerary symbol for the idealism of French Romanticism, especially as propagated by the myths built around GÃ©ricault and his painting by Jules Michelet, who sees the entirety of mid-nineteenth-century France adrift on GÃ©ricaultâ€™s raft.21 The painting becomes a vehicle for Micheletâ€™s nationalism. At a moment when it looked like theÂ RaftÂ was going to be cut up and sold as fragments due to an inability to get the state of France to purchase the work, Michelet wrote, â€œPoor great artist, what has become of you? I see your limbs, as your work, dispersed, scattered, mutilated.â€?22 If theÂ Raft, in its historicity, has always been appropriable to a narrative that reads disaster in terms of meaning, instead of bodies, the studies of severed body parts do something quite else. The studies of severed body limbs and severed heads surviving from his period of laboring on theÂ RaftÂ abandon all historical narratives of redemption for death, as well as all political narratives. Death is presented, in a painting, as the very limit of representation, as that which is always a step beyond, not beyond.23 During the mid-nineteenth century, moreover, death had particular political resonances around the subject of funerals. By the mid-nineteenth century, due to the effects of capitalism, funerals had become so expensive that only the very well-off could afford them. Amongst the myriad factors creating political unease in the years leading up to the 1848 Revolution, France was becoming divided by class in the wake of the rapid growth spurred on by the policies of the July monarchy of 1830. The growth of cities drew people away from a countryside that was itself being redrawn by corporate farming. Through homogenization, new differences emerged in society. Less stable than the identities conferred by monarchical society, new class identities would see the rise of the urban bourgeoisie. The new identities arising from capitalism, however, were as unstable as the stocks the bourgeoisie trusted as the foundation for their transient fortunes in corporate investments and financial futures. Everything had
20 Blind, he eats his children. The visual reference may serve as a signifier of the displaced cannibalism that GÃ©ricault decided against directly representing in the final painting. He did do compositional studies that explore the cannibalism theme.
21 He gave macabre accounts of surgeries that GÃ©ricault underwent during his last year of life, including one where the artist insisted that a complex system of mirrors be set up so that he could watch the doctors cutting into his back and legs where gangrene had set in, as well as refusing any anesthetic during these procedures.
22 Given its associations with figures aligned in opposition to the monarchy, the French state was also reticent to purchase the work and have it as a reminder of anti-monarchal sentiment.
23 This is the way that Maurice Blanchotâ€™s use of the French phraseÂ â€˜pas au de laâ€™Â is translated, as it is impossible in particular contexts to tell which way to translate the phrase. In choosing a duplicitous phrase, Blanchot articulates a thought of the limit, of how every step beyond a limit creates a new limit. See below and Maurice Blanchot,Â The Step Beyond/The Not Beyond.
a future except oneâ€™s place within society. Gustave Courbet provoked some of the latent anxieties around funerals, class, and identity in his monumental painting,Â The Burial at Ornans.
Â Â Â Â Â Executed on the scale of history painting, Courbetâ€™s painting depicts a burial in his hometown of Ornans. Given, however, the political situation immediately after 1848, as well as the factors of class identity marking some of the motivations for the 1848 revolution in France, the depiction of an everyday rural funeral posed a number of challenges to the Parisian audience of the 1850 Salon. As T.J. Clark has expertly shown, the reactions to Courbetâ€™s funeral painting differed as the work approached Paris, being shown in other cities and towns along the way from Ornans due to delays in the scheduled opening of the Salon.24 Funerals, in particular, were a sensitive issue in Paris, where the majority of people could not afford a funeral and grave marker, leading to an anonymous death in the midst of the birth of urban life. In composition, Courbetâ€™s work drew upon funeral announcements, but in subject matter it presented a burial that did not fit into the genre of history painting, a genre that had been reserved solely for the depiction of the funerals of elite members of society, such as kings and generals. The signs of class, visible in the ubiquitous black urban frock coat, simultaneously bore a sign of rural class hierarchy and urban anxiety for Parisians. The uniform of the urban bourgeoisie appears in a rural setting, touching on the rural roots of some of the newly rich who abandoned their familial roots for urban profits, urban profits that were far from stable, that led to anonymous signs of success that could be co-opted by any. 25 Easy come, easy go. The appropriation of the genre of history painting for a funeral of no great historical value to the state posed a series of questions about funerals. These questions, in part, fueled the strong reactions to Courbetâ€™s work, reactions exacerbated by the accompanying paintings he exhibited as part of the 1850 Salon.26
Â Â Â Â Â The transformation of the representation of death in French art of the nineteenth century sees a further assault on the redemptive narrative around mortality in the form of Manetâ€™s realism. Manet, in depicting the dead Christ, depicts the signs of an artistâ€™s studio, signs of the artistâ€™s artifice, suggesting that the redemptive nature of death is a little less certain from the standpoint of a modern gaze, one anchored by a quest for objective truths in a world of greater visual dissimulation.27 Likewise, in such a historical context, one could situate LÃ©on Bonnatâ€™s use of a cadaver as a model for his painting of the Crucifixion, an attempt at depicting the look of death similar to the one initiated at the beginning of this century (and art historical digression) in the work of GÃ©ricault, but one taken to very different ends in regards to narrative intentions.
24 See T.J. Clarkâ€™s twin towers on art of mid-nineteenth century France,Â The Absolute BourgeoisÂ andÂ Image of the People. Clark traces the reaction materialized in the reviews of Courbetâ€™s work when shown in towns along the route to Paris, mapping the increasing anxieties that emerge around audience reactions to Courbetâ€™s work as they get nearer to Paris. See T.J. Clark,Â The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851Â and T.J. Clark,Â Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution.
25 If you have enough money, even enough credit, you too can own a Mercedes. My apologies to all the Mercedes owners in the audience.
26 In particular,Â The StonebreakersÂ andÂ The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair, Ornans. Clarkâ€™s analysis of the criticism and political climate of the years preceding the exhibition of Courbetâ€™s painting still remains the standard and offers great insight into the way that Courbetâ€™s works unsettled his audiences.
27 Another example of this paradoxical search for truth in a world of greater surfaces is the photograph. From its inception, photographers have played on the presumptions and assumptions of truth that are born in the gaze of the beholder. Death, after all, can be staged, as it is in Hippolyte Bayard,Â Self-portrait as a drowned manÂ (1840) and Henry Peach Robinsonâ€™sÂ Fading AwayÂ (1858).
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â **********
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œLet us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being isÂ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.â€?- Friedrich Nietzsche
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œIn the halo of death, and there alone, the self founds its empire; there the purityÂ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â of a hopeless requirement comes to light; there the hope of the self-that-dies isÂ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â realized (vertiginous hope, burning with fever, where the limit of dream is pushed back).â€?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â - Georges Bataille
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â "The function of desire must remain in a fundamental relation with death."- Jacques Lacan
Â Â Â Â Â Second, philosophy and the thinking of death: the larger history of philosophy could be framed around the question of death in a manner similar to the ways indicated above in regards to the visual arts. A thinking of mortality could be translated into a historical narrative structured around thinkers who have considered mortality from Heraclitus to Heidegger and beyond. Within philosophy a productive modern tradition could be sketched out through thinkers such as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Freud, Heidegger, and Sartre, to name a few. In particular, the post-World War II generation of French thinkers provides a critical foundation for contemporary currents of thought worth considering. Beyond the populist existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, writers such as Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot offered an important counter tradition to a vision of triumphant humanism. Batailleâ€™sÂ Inner Experience, written shortly after meeting Blanchot, reflects an engagement with how mortality contours being. Besides his engagement with death, Batailleâ€™s experimental, fragmentary style bears some of the marks of his intellectual exchanges with Blanchot. Blanchot, sometimes called â€˜the thinker of death,â€™ considers the relation of death to writing, representation, and art, something that can be traced out across a range of texts, but may be most forcefully argued in the texts â€œThe Essential Solitudeâ€? and â€œLiterature and the Right to Death,â€? both part of his bookÂ The Space of Literature. Blanchot suggests that the artist who makes the work does not enter some better, surer world, but, rather, is marked as insignificant in comparison to the work that comes to take the place of the artistâ€™s self after coming into being. Artists do not live on. The work remains. I am not free. I am bound to the work. The work of Blanchot and Bataille is important not only in offering a counter vision of existence to that of Sartre, but in also providing a tradition that played an important role in forming the approach of Jacques Derrida and other thinkers of the 1960s in France.
Â Â Â Â Â Derridaâ€™s thought, in particular, is marked by themes of mourning, memorial and death, providing a funereal tone that has been noted by many commentators on his work.28 Derridaâ€™s exploration of death, mourning, loss, memorial, and other related subjects also should be seen in relation to the work of some of his other contemporaries, such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lacan. Lacan, in
28 See John D. Caputo,Â The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without ReligionÂ (Indiana University Press, 1997) and Barbara Johnson,Â The Wake of DeconstructionÂ (Wiley-Blackwell, 1994). One could also consider the exploration of mourning and Freudian concepts in Mark Wigley,Â The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derridaâ€™s haunts.
particular, would seem important, especially in relation to his re-reading of Freudâ€™s concept of the death drive.29 Nevertheless, a funereal specter looms over much of Derridaâ€™s work, even from the beginning.30 For instance, in his early study of Edmund Husserlâ€™sÂ Origin of Geometry, Derrida poses the problematic of mortality in contouring consciousness, a consciousness of mortality that leads him to re-write the CartesianÂ cogitoÂ as, â€˜I think, therefore I am dead.â€™31 Mortality haunts all thinking, all systems of representation, whether written, phonic, or visual. The marks of thinking, of writing, of the artist, not only confirm the vast world that exists before â€˜Iâ€™ existed, but also, at the same time, confirm that every mark haunts my existence with mortality.
Â Â Â Â Â One form that such mortal haunting takes is the activity of mourning, an experience that marks all of us in some form or other, at some point or other. Derrida, in his explorations of mourning often turns to Lacanâ€™s re-reading of Freud, at times through direct engagements with Lacanâ€™s texts or through dis-placing Lacanâ€™s texts with his own reading of Freud, especially in regards to mourning.32 For Derrida, the process of mourning puts the self in an impossible and impassible situation. To successfully mourn, the self needs to incorporate a bit of the lost other into their own self, allowing one to pass on, to continue on with oneâ€™s own life, revealing no exterior signs of suffering, of loss, while retaining a memory of the lost other. Yet, at the same time, this lack of suffering, in regards to the lost other, poses a moment of not mourning the other. It is only in not mourning the other that the other is successful mourned by a self that encrypts the other through this impossible transaction of mourning. In other words, mourning poses a paradox. When one mourns the other, one is not successfully â€˜moving on,â€™ the mourning process has not ended, but when one no longer mourns, no longer carries out the rituals of loss, fails to mark the loss of the other, one has succeeded in moving on. I succeed by failing and I fail by succeeding.
Â Â Â Â Â Mourning also constitutes one of the themes dominating some of Derridaâ€™s most important works on the visual arts. A thematic of mourning marks his reading of Kantian aesthetics, one built around distance and loss, in his essay â€œParergon.â€? TheÂ parergon, a supplemental structure, comes to mark the incompleteness of the work or ergon that the parergon comes to complete, whether it is a frame on a painting, clothes on a statue, or columns on a building.33 The work orÂ ergonÂ is missing something that theÂ parergonÂ provides. In doing so, theÂ parergonÂ provides another term that embodies the logic ofÂ diffÃ©rance, of difference and delay, that Derrida traces throughout his work through terms appropriated from the texts he analyzes. The supplemental structure of theÂ parergonÂ undoes any dream of autonomy that may reside within the confines of Kantian aesthetics. In addition, Derrida notes the sense of loss and longing marking Kantâ€™s analysis of beauty, as well as the contradictory pleasure that is taken within the beautiful, a pleasure without pleasure and without any interest to the one enjoying the experience of
29 See Richard Boothby,Â Death and Desire: Psychoanalytic Theory in Lacanâ€™s Return to FreudÂ (Routledge, 1991).
30 Of course, Derrida questions any beginning, even questioning the order of his first texts. See Derrida,Â Positions, trans. Alan Bass (University of Chicago Press, 1983).
31 Jacques Derrida,Â Edmund Husserlâ€™s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (University of Nebraska Press, 1989).
32 Derrida,Â Resistances of Psychoanalysis, trans. Peggy Kamuf, Pascale-Anne Brault, and Michael Naas (Stanford University Press, 1998).
33 These are the examples given by Kant that Derrida discusses, pointing to an impossibility to even keep each of these separate from one another. He presents examples where statues in the form of veiled bodies are used to hold up a building within a painting and other combinations that are supplemented by illustrations pointing to the further questions that Kantâ€™s three examples pose. See Jacques Derrida,Â The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Ian McLeod (University of Chicago Press, 1987).
pleasure. Likewise, in his essay â€œMemoirs of the Blind: the self-portrait and other ruins,â€? mourning is also prominent in his considerations, along with themes of blindness and ruins. The self-portrait is marked by blindness, as the artist at some point turns from mirror to canvas. But it is also marked by temporality, marked as a ruin by this self that once was. The immortality promised by the image comes at the price of the mortality of the body, the bodyâ€™s ruin. In his considerations, Derrida turns to the story of the Corinthian maid, pointing to the structures of loss marking this scene of the origin of drawing in an air of mourning and memorial. The work of art is a work of mourning.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â *********
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œThey do not think of death, having no other relation but with death.â€?- Maurice Blanchot
Â Â Â Â Â Third, if mourning provides one of the elements to the funereal in Derrida, and, through his thought, one can consider some of the questions posed by funerals from a philosophical standpoint, 34 there are also other ways to think of the funereal.35 That is to say, culturally, we can see many different approaches to funerary practices. Black is not the only funereal color in the world. In Japan, for instance, white was traditionally the color associated with mourning.36 There is no singular funeral. We could even say that there is an element of difference at play within the funereal, an element of difference that could resonate with the effects of DerrideanÂ diffÃ©rance. That is to say, instead of offering a universal, the funereal offers a realm of differences, pointing to the universality of difference. The funeral is a formalized space for encountering alterity.37 From the ritualized performance of mourning depicted on early Greek vases to the lavish tombs of Egyptian royalty, ways of mourning, re-membering the dead, bear insights into the cultural values and the value of life within any particular culture at any particular time.
Â Â Â Â Â If we look at funerals in America, we may see at play some of the phenomena marking the presence of capitalist values. There is a corporate dimension that has led to a homogenization of practices, propagating a uniform, assessable set of standards that can be spread everywhere and can be used to assure patrons of professional service. After all, the patrons have put a lot of faith in the individuals handling their requests. As well as a great deal of money. Funerals are big business. One
34 Such a questioning may consider theÂ parergonalÂ structure of the funeral to both the deceased and living, the in between space of the funeral. Such a questioning would perhaps even question the play of absence and presence, self and other, life and death that seem to be at stake within the space of a funeral.
35 As well as other aspects of Derridaâ€™s thought that could be considered. For instance, one could consider the themes of memory and mourning in Derridaâ€™sÂ Memoires for Paul de Man, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Cullter, Eduardo Cadava, and Peggy Kamuf (Columbia University Press, 1988).
36 This has changed in modern times with the introduction of black as the primary color for mourners.
37 If death is the alterity of life, then the funeral is the sanctioned space for personal encounter with the proximity of such a radical alterity. Indeed, what is most radical about the alterity that is death is how proximate it is to life. This perhaps accounts for some of theÂ unheimlichÂ effects of seeing someone in a funeral casket. They are both so near and so far from the individual we knew as a living person.
doesnâ€™t have to know much about supply and demand to understand why. Yet, beyond the material economics, the profiteering on suffering that demarcates one angle of critical analysis, the funereal also reveals something of the culture of specialization spawned by industrialization and marketing. The perpetual need for progress proposed by capitalism leads to a further contouring of specialized needs fulfilled by specialized talents. The advancements in coffin design are only one example of this continual progress and drive to cater towards the wealthy and maximum profit. Theyâ€™ll even send you to space for a price. A larger aesthetics emerge out of the field of the funerary arts, leading to individuals trained to construct the look of â€˜resting-in-peace,â€™ an aesthetics of death-as-peace that begins a process of re-membering. Sculpted into an image, the deceased in most funerals possess anÂ unheimlichÂ effect, as if they resemble the deceased, but are not simply the departed, an imposter at some level.38
Â Â Â Â Â We could also suggest that the funerary within American culture reveals an element of spectacle associated with entertainment. The funeral becomes something entertaining, as in the case of celebrity funerals, especially those featuring famous performers. 39 The funeral becomes a performance. The funeral performance is always done, however, in the name of filling some gap, a gap marked by the mortal passing of the other, a gap that marks a space for mourning, a process of mourning that is a process of re-membering. This is a re-membering that is, on one level, selfless, that tries to preserve a memory of some other, that sacrifices the time of the present in the name of the past, in the name of the otherâ€™s memory, while, simultaneously, being a time of re-membering that is selfish, a process of mourning oneâ€™s own passing through mourning the passing of the other, a process of fantasizing about oneâ€™s own funeral. Perhaps this offers some insight into the popularity of a scenario involving someone seeing their own funeral, something that has been staged in an array of movies, television shows, and commercials fromÂ MI-5Â toÂ Buffy the Vampire SlayerÂ to commercials for satellite television. Moreover, the popularity of the funerary as a tele-visual experience is something that points to a continued fascination with funerals, whether such fascination manifests itself inÂ Harold and MaudeÂ orÂ Six-Feet Under.40 Funerals are potentially entertainment in a tele-mediated culture. The scale of the entertainment is only in proportion to the scale of the media recording it. If history painting recorded the apotheosis of French monarchs, digital media is there to represent in real time the passing of world leaders today, whether it is Ronald Reagan or Kim Jong-Il.41 Indeed, in visual media, the apotheosis of a former leader is still first and foremost a visual spectacle of the grandest order, even if it is one now recorded on cell phones.42
Â Â Â Â Â Against such media spectacles, it is important to think of more common remains and rights. If the mid-nineteenth century posed questions about the right to a funeral, the right to claim a funeral is still
38 Never at peace in life, the deceased appear with a peace that they never enjoyed in life, in most cases, lending a bit more insight into this unheimlich effect. It is the last makeover that one gets, if you go that route.
39 The prime examples of this are the funerals of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Performers render the songs of the deceased to both a live audience and international audience on television and the Internet.
40 The number of entertainment films using the word funeral points to this popularity. One even has to distinguish between Abel Ferraraâ€™s The Funeral (1996) and Juzo Itamiâ€™sÂ The FuneralÂ (1984), two completely unrelated films. A partial list could includeÂ Members of the FuneralÂ (2008),Â Death at a FuneralÂ (2007), the American version,Â Death at a FuneralÂ (2010),Â Funeral KingsÂ (2012),Â Dim Sum FuneralÂ (2009),Â Big Shotâ€™s FuneralÂ (2001),Â All My Friends are Funeral SingersÂ (2011),Â Grannyâ€™s FuneralÂ (2012),Â 20 FuneralsÂ (2004),Â Funeral in BerlinÂ (1966),Â A Texas FuneralÂ (1999), and, of course,Â Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).
41 Of course, in America, the media reports on how mourners were being paid and forced to mourn Kim Jong-Il, while for North Korean viewers, Reagan would be the leader contributing to all their suffering.
42 This is to say nothing of the posting of funerals on web sites such as YouTube or the advent of virtual mourning sites that allow people to attend funerals via a computer link up.
something at stake all too frequently in the world because of economics and politics. In Kenya, the expense of funerals leads to severe economic impacts. The bereaved often begin campaigns to raise funds for a funeral in the city or face the costs of transporting the remains to a rural location. With incomes already so low, the loss of a loved one is also a loss of an income, furthering the economic plight of the survivors. In other cases, contested cultural and national rights have led to conflict over funeral rites. For instance, the crackdown on Tibetan funerary rites, such as the Sky Burial ceremony, offers an example of contested fealties of sovereign identity impacting practices that span centuries. While there is always more than one funerary rite, the right to a funeral should be basic to everyone. Yet, this has never been the case.43 Funerary rites reveal class divisions from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece and Rome, even as they offer exemplars in cultural difference to the contemporary world.
Â Â Â Â Â Interestingly, the term â€˜funeralâ€™ only appeared in English in the seventeenth century, during the early modern era, marking a new period in relation to rites for the dead. Before, â€˜funerealâ€™ was the term used to discuss rituals, rites, ceremonies and other aspects to burial practices. The shift to â€˜funeralâ€™ also saw the emergence of a whole range of new modern figures, reflecting a larger cultural shift towards modernity that looms over the post-Renaissance world. First, in the nineteenth century comes the funeral director, someone who embodies the gaze of professionalism that can read the signs of grieving, while overseeing and coordinating all aspects of the new funeral event, from receiving the body to preparation of the body to arranging the funeral itself, and, in the early twentieth century, the funeral home and funeral parlor, the space where all these steps can be efficiently carried out, a process of centralizing authority in the gaze of the director. 44 The eighteenth century is marked by other cultural shifts impacting funerals, such as new ideas in cemetery architecture.45 The advent of photography in the nineteenth century led to the use of photographs to remember the dead, especially in the case of children. The world of modernity brings specialization to the world of funerals, providing new services that propogate the positions and roles needed for the expansion of the infra-structures of capitalism, fueling the transformations that mark our funerary culture today.
Â Â Â Â Â Regardless, importantly, there is no singular funeral. The funeral is always more than one. It is never simply you or I. It is everyone when it is a matter of the funeral. â€œItâ€™s your funeral.â€? We are all just attending. But only for a moment, until it is our turn to go.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œImagination is at bottom the relationship with death. The image is death. A propositionÂ
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â that one may define or make indefinite thus: the image is a death or (the)Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â death is an image.â€?- Jacques Derrida
43 In both global and historical terms.
44 One could almost imagine Foucault writing a study about the emergence of the funeral director.Â Bury and Console.
45 See Richard A. Etlin,Â The Architecture of Death: The transformation of the cemetery in 18th century ParisÂ (TheÂ MIT Press, 1987).