lunes, 29 de junio de 2009

Guy, Donna. 2004. Life and Commodification of Death in Argentina: Juan and Eva Perón.

Guy, Donna. 2004. Life and Commodification of Death in Argentina: Juan and Eva Perón. In Johnson, Lyman (ed.) Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
In this article Guy tries to map the trajectories of both Juan and Eva Perón during their lives and after their deaths, and more generally the persistent popular religiosity over the heterogeneous grouping of people who died tragically and became enshrined into popular sainthood. Guy argues that, “Eva Perón both before and after her tragic death at a young age and the subsequent theft of her remains, became eminently marketable as a popular saint, while Juan Perón, wildly charismatic before his death, lost the charisma associated with him during life” (245). Men of the Army kidnapped Evita’s embalmed and plastified corpse in 1955 and this action further enlarged her cult. Her remains were only returned on 1976 and buried in the Recoleta Cemetery. Juan Perón, on the other hand, died in his bed as an old man in a chaotic country destroyed by political violence. His remains were buried at the Chacarita Cemetery and his hands were cut off from his grave in 1987 (crime still unsolved, and his hands have never reappered). For Guy, Evita after her death became more and more a powerful popular saint, whereas Juan Perón gradually lose his symbolic power and the dismemberment of his body was the last shot at the symbolic cult of Perón. Indeed, these two figures are inscribed in a larger historical tradition of popular cults and popular heroes, which are “rooted in the crisis-filled nature of modern Argentine society and a popular desire of the masses to empower themselves so that they can translate and control the meanings of public and mythical figures” (257). Guy concludes that what has been a trend in the configuration of these popular saints and heroes is the “strong popular preference for those who give to, rather than those who take from the people” (268).

In this general context I wonder how we can think about children experiencing life-threatening conditions in Argentina. In some sense their dying and death could also be seen as tragic as the popular heroes and saints who have been enshrined in the popular cults. Can we think about these deaths in the same line of martyrism and heroics figures of the popular cults? Indeed, there used to be a large popular cult all over Latin America of the "little angels", or dead infants, who died prematurely usually by hunger. This cult was more located in the rural areas and it seems now less frequent. But my question points to the fact that the personal, familiar and collective experience of death, especially of children in Argentina are traversed by popular religiosity and the need to find powerful figures who protect from suffering and pain and who give to the people certain symbolic power that help them during tough journeys.

lunes, 1 de junio de 2009

Bauman 1992 Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies

Bauman, Zygmunt
1992 Mortality, immortality, and other life strategies. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
For Bauman, common knowledge about death, which he considers is provoked by a universal awareness of mortality, offers the inspiration and the catalytic for cultural creativity, and the drive behind transcendence. Bauman suggests that “culture is about expanding temporal and spatial boundaries of being, with a view to dismantling them altogether… the first activity of culture relates to survival-pushing back the moment of death, extending the life-span” (5). Bauman considers that the same awareness of mortality pushes the cultural production of the notion of immortality; he says, “Mortality is ours without asking-but immortality is something we must build ourselves. Immortality is not a mere absence of death; it is defiance and denial of death” (7). Therefore, the social and cultural production of immortality is the central foundation of life’s meaning, producing the conversion of biological death into a cultural object, which in turn “offers the primary building material for social institutions and behavioral patterns crucial to the reproduction of societies in their distinctive forms” (9). Bauman finds two key strategies to deal with death and dying, “the modern strategy”, which dismantles mortality by overcoming the unsolvable issue of death into many particular problems of health and illness, which are “soluble in theory”; and “the postmodern strategy”, which dismantles immortality through transformation of life into a regular preparation for “reversible death”, a change of “temporary disappearance” for the irreversible end of life.

Lock, Margaret. 1997 Displacing Suffering

Lock, M. M. 1997. Displacing Suffering: The Reconstruction of Death in North American and Japan. In Social Suffering. A. Kleinman, V. Das, and M. M. Lock, eds. Pp. 207-244. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In this comparative study of social and medical attitudes towards medicalized death and organ transplant medicine Lock situates the brain death debate at the heart of her analysis. Lock compares two sites, US and Japan, in which technological development of transplant medicine and different professional and social contexts allow or preclude the social production of organ transplantation. In both contexts notions of personhood, mortality and immortality are central to the public debate and the general approval or rejection of brain death as a defined marker of the end of one’s life, and the justification for organ removal and, then, transplantation. Informed consent is also a key part of this displacement of suffering (quote: “a fist step is to recognize how easily suffering can be used in the service of ideological and political ends” (238)). For Lock, in Japan, the individual suffering and the dying person, and the repulsion to receive an organ from a person beyond the “natural” kin group may produce the lack of public support to organ transplantation. Whereas in US, the notion of “gift of life,” with its inherent altruism, allegedly give meaning to the individual death, and, thus, support the ethics of transplant. Another important issue is the role of technology within society, Lock says that in Japan “A tension between technology as both creator and destroyer of culture is evident” (231). Whereas in US, bio-technology is a central force that propels a highly corporative and non-inclusive biomedicine. For Lock, there is a need for a middle ground that avoid “the silencing of individual suffering in the name of nationalism, or professional or governmental interest” (237).