THE LAST ARGUMENT
What do we know about death? While we are alive, we only know that we will all die sooner or later. Birth and death are two major events marking the beginning and end of human existence. Death as the final point of life is also the moment of summing up its results, a kind of measure of its quality. Everyone more than once in their lifetime has to develop their own concept of death, shape up the image of a "good death" and "bad death" and formulate their attitude towards it. What is the way to overcome the fear of death? How should one speak about it with children? Euthanasia — is it good or bad? Can death be "good" at all? Can one make jokes about death? And, finally, is immortality achievable? This, and not only this, is what this "death-centered" issue of the journal Otechestvennye Zapiski is about.
Anna Yampolskaya. Death and the Other
The article offers an overview of the main 20th century philosophical notions of death (Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida). The main point of the article is that thinking about death individualizes the subject; however, in case of one's own and another's death this individualization proceeds in different ways. Death as my very own opportunity reveals me to myself as irreplaceable, whereas another's death and my unrestricted responsibility in the face of that death means that my identity consists in another's demand to replace him with myself in his death. The paradoxicality of this dual demand on the subject — irreplaceability and the need to replace — constitutes the nucleus of subjectivity. Similarly, the subject's speech is defined through the same aporia: death is absolute absence (of meaning); however, this gap in meaning can and must manifest itself in the subject's speech — precisely as the absence of meaning.
Boris Zhukov. Living Means Dying
Life expectancy in developed countries has run into the species' limit. It is aging — the natural weakening of vital functions with age eventually leading to death — which is becoming the primary cause of mortality. The scientific study of aging has been going on for more than a century, yet scientists have so far not reached agreement even on the very nature of this phenomenon. Today several theories of aging coexist in science, none of which, however, can explain all the known facts and empirical findings about it.
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. Death as a "PracticalProblem"
OZ publishes a lecture by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann from the cycle The Liturgy of Death and Modern Culture delivered at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, located in the Crestwood neighborhood of Yonkers, New York, in November 1979. One of the students, Robert Hutchen, now serving as priest in Canada, transcribed the audio recording and used the text in writing his graduation paper. At present, the entire cycle of four lectures, translated by Elena Dor-man, is being prepared for publication. In the fragment now published, Father Alexander discourses upon death in the liturgical context, in which it is regarded as one's "meeting with Christ."
Alexander Soldatov. Overcoming the Fear of Death in Various Religious Traditions
Fear is treated in the article as the primary impetus for modern man's religious quests and the phenomenon of clinical death, as a way to start a scientific discourse for studying posthumous being. The author examines both philosophical and psychological premises of overcoming the fear of death and their reflection in the practices of various religious traditions. Particular attention is given to Christian teaching on the new birth when embracing the faith and the mystical joining with God as a form of "denial of death." The methods and ideas of overcoming the fear of death characteristic of most religious traditions are summarized.
Ivan Kirillov. Not Putting Off Happiness
A professional psychotherapist answers questions put to him by OZ about why it is not the done thing today to speak about death, what we are really afraid of and why it is important to learn to be happy, and tells about his own experience of living with cancer and getting over the fear related to it.
Francoise Dolto. Speaking about Death
The lecture by the French psychoanalyst and pediatrician, a prominent specialist in children's psychoanalysis, focuses on how to speak with children about other people's and their own deaths. Dolto also discusses this problem with respect to gravely ill people and those suffering from depression.
Anna Belokryltseva. Death as a Newsworthy Event
The theme of death is considered taboo, yet the Russian mass media regularly turn to it, and these articles score high ratings. The author, trying to sort out the causes of this phenomenon, identifies the specific features of coverage of various aspects of the theme of death by the Russian mass media and speaks about how the fear of death affects Russians' everyday life and behavior.
Dmitry Rogozin. Sociology of Death
The author of the article gives a detailed bibliographical overview of sociological approaches to the study of death, having in particular analyzed numerous publications by English speaking researchers.
SYMBOLS AND PRACTICES
Alexander Panchenko. The Dead: "Good," "Bad" and "Indeterminate"
The article focuses on the attitude towards death and the dead in the daily life and ritual of Russian peasants. In most cultures and traditions, the ways of ritual and mythological "adaptation of death" rest on two opposite tendencies. On the one hand, there is a tendency to "separate" a deceased person from the community of the living by putting up various magical obstacles preventing him or her from "returning." At the same time, a substantial share of funerary and commemorative rites play a directly opposite role: they are called upon to preserve and maintain socially acceptable connections between the living and the dead. Modern urban culture, striving for the "isolation of death," somewhat erodes and transforms these tendencies. In the rural tradition, the theme of connection and interaction between the living and the dead has always been extremely significant and relevant. The main factor determining the rural community's attitude towards different "types" of deceased was the category of collective memory — a kind of regulator of ritual balance in the "biocenosis" of the living and the dead.
Vadim Mikhailin. An Animal as Death
Notions and images related to the thematic field of death much too often turn out to be associated with zoomorphic figures for this association to be coincidental. The article examines possible cognitive grounds for such semantic coincidences, going as far as the so-called "animal style" characteristic of many archaic cultures, as well as of a number of modern phenomena.
Alexander Meshcheryakov. Abolition of the Body: Japanese Totalitarianism and the Cult of Death
The article deals with the concept of self-sacrifice in Japan in the second half of the 19th -first half of the 20th centuries. The author demonstrates how, in the process of formation of a nation-state and its growth into a totalitarian state, there emerged the idea of "nationalization of the body," as a result of which death in the name of the "homeland" and the emperor came to be perceived as a supreme value.
Irina Glushkova. A Living Dead as an Ethno-Cultural Brand
The author examines in detail the numerous burial practices in India, which were different in different periods and in different parts of the country — from cremation to burial in the earth or in the water. The central part in the article is given to an analysis of the cult of Dnyaneshwar, who in 1296, at the age of 21, willingly entered an underground cave and has since remained in it — in fact, in a grave — in "good health" until today. This phenomenon is taking place in the town of Alandi on the banks of the Indrayani River, 151 km from the most overpopulated megalopolis in India, Mum-bai (Bombay), the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra, which has a population of 112 million and where people speak Marathi language. The "living dead" is the author of a Marathi commentary on the Bhagavad Gita; he is considered to be the father of Marathi literature.
Anna Sokolova. "New People Should Not Be Buried in the Old Way!" The Evolution of the Funeral Ritual in Soviet Russia
Numerous transformations in the spiritual and material culture of Russians, related to a radical change of the social system in Russia and the shaping of Soviet culture in the first half of the 20th century, have affected the most varied spheres of public and private life, including the funeral ritual. With their coming to power, Bolshevik ideologists had to decide the question of how their deceased comrades, non-believing Communists, were to be buried. The Soviet government's interest in the funeral ritual can be traced from the first months of the revolution through the early 1930s. Within that period, the ways in which the ideologists of the new power tried to solve the problem of non-religious burial of the new Soviet person in different periods are to be seen clearly.
Lyudmila Zhukova. The Notions of Death and Burial Traditions of the Russian Judaizers (Sabbatarians)
The article is based on field surveys of Sabbatarian communities in Russia (Astrakhan, Voronezh and Volgograd Oblasts). The author examines the Sabbatarians' notions of death and funeral rituals in the context of the Judaic religious tradition and popular Orthodoxy. The rituals of the Russian Judaizers, which, as a rule, took shape outside direct contacts with the bearers of normative Judaism, were subject to a strong influence of Orthodox peasant culture. The past few decades, however, have seen a trend towards rectifying the tradition as a result of both the revival of Judaic religious life in Russia and the Sabbatarians' emigration to Israel.
Konstantin Bannikov. Transcendental Starcross
In his travel notes, a noted traveler provides an entertaining account of the specific features of the funeral rituals of some of the peoples of Russia and similarities and differences in the Scythians' and Gypsies' attitude towards the deceased and reflects on the role of interpretation of death in culture genesis.
BY THE SIDE OF A PERSON PASSING AWAY
Marcia Angell. May Doctors Help You to Die?
On November 6, 2013, Massachusetts voters will decide whether a physician may provide a dying patient with medication to bring about a faster, easier death if the patient chooses. On the ballot will be a Death with Dignity Act. In the author's opinion, patients should be given more control over when and how they die.
Boris Zhukov. Blurred Immortality
The progress of medicine has led to an unexpected result: the concept of death, which was until recently quite unambiguous, has been split into several separate concepts, the relationships among which have been getting ever more entangled with each passing decade. This gives rise to legal and ethical collisions which no one undertakes to resolve; yet avoiding their resolution is becoming increasingly difficult. At the same time, technological progress has brought about the temptation of achieving "practical immortality." However, the most popular projects of this kind today are, in fact, attempts to reproduce ancient religious notions through the use of modern technologies.
Vladimir Kartsev. Social Insects: A New Concept of Life
In the first part of the article, the death and aging of organisms are regarded as adaptive mechanisms essential for the evolution of a species. These processes are predetermined genetically, and they can be consciously influenced at the genetic and biochemical level (this area of study is being fruitfully developed by Academician Vladimir Skulachev). The second part focuses on social insects, whose unit of existence is the family and not the individual. In some species, the death of the family is rigidly programmed (probably, at the genetic level), whereas in others there are no limitations on life duration and the family is potentially immortal. This, however, is the case of cultural and functional rather than genetic immortality, since as a result of replacement of fertile individuals (queens) the family changes genetically over the centuries of its existence.
Anna Sonkina-Dorman. Medicine and Society in Search of the Meaning of Death-Bed Suffering
The rapid advancement of the possibilities of medicine in the 20th century, the medicalization of death and parallel development of palliative assistance raise previously nonexistent ethical questions. What determines a "good" death, is such a concept relevant at all and what is the way, with all the variety of meanings and values that illness, suffering and death may carry, to find uniform rules and attitudes for peaceful coexistence of very different people in modern pluralistic society?
Alexander Ediger. Playing Games with Death
A professional anatomic pathologist, answering questions put to him by OZ, tells about himself and his work. In his opinion, one's attitude towards death is one of the cornerstones of one's attitude towards life; therefore, it should be instilled in children from the earliest possible age.
Dick Swaab. Death
OZ publishes a chapter from the book We Are Our Brains. From the Womb to Alzheimer's by the noted Dutch neurophysiologist Dick Frans Swaab. The author of the book advocates euthanasia, believing that on the threshold of death a person can and must sum up the results of his or her life and make a sober-minded decision to depart from it. Such is the standpoint of the great scientist who has not only made a huge contribution to understanding how life is organized, but has also opened up new ways of fighting many grave illnesses.
Sergei Roganov. Modern Suicide: An Introduction to the Subject Matter
The article offers an overview of the main theories of suicidal behavior and new findings and studies in the field of suicidal behavior patterns. The author comes to a conclusion about the need to develop new integral theories of suicide that could represent models of biological, psychological and social mechanisms of suicide.
Galina Belyayeva, Vadim Mikhailin. "You Fell Victims": The Phenomenon of Appropriating Death in the Soviet Tradition
Death is one of the most powerful mobilization resources used by the ruling groups even of the earliest state formations for drawing the population into solving various political problems. The article, based on recent studies in cognitive psychology, analyzes the specific features, mechanisms of implementing and evolution of the strategies for "appropriating" death by the power elites of the Soviet Union. The subject of the analysis is limited to the pictorial arts and cinema as the most effective means of propaganda.
Nikolai Khrenov. The Reverse Side of Life in the Cinema
The article centers on the change in the notions of death related to the transition from the totalitarian to post-totalitarian regime in Soviet Russia in the 20th century. These notions found expression in cinematographic forms. In the first half of the 20th century, Bolshevik ideology, transmitting the festive, optimistic atmosphere of life, managed to "tame" death. Ideology made it the basis for creating a new social cosmos. Post-Soviet society has again, just as was the case before the experiment with socialism, restored the perception of death characteristic of existentialism. However, this sharpened perception of death, which emerged in the situation of social anomie as a result of disintegration of forms of sociality is only typical of auteur cinema. This cinema is developing, resisting the spreading orientations of consumer society, and these orientations are linked to the striving to "hide" death, to make it invisible and nonexistent.
Alexander Pavlov. The Evolution of Black Humor in the American Cinema
The article examines the way in which death is represented in American comedy in the second half of the 20th century and discusses the status of comedy as such. The topics being addressed include bathroom humor, cynicism, absurdity, social satire, and also the role of laughter in breaking social taboos. Particular attention is given to the functions performed by laughter in the sphere of modern mass culture using the cinema as an example.
Sergei Roganov. Brain Death as a Legal Fiction
A review of the book Death, Dying, and Organ Transplantation: Reconstructing Medical Ethics at the End of Life by Franklin G. Miller and Robert D. Truog. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011, 198 p.
The review presents the main ideas of the need to revise the criterion of "brain death" as one of the principal criteria of human death. The authors of the book propose to abandon the existing practice of recovery of organs for transplant after the pronouncement of death of a person upon "brain death" in favor of reconstructing the existing medical ethics based on the principle of legal fiction.
Alexander Markov. Death from the River of Time
A review of the book Death in Maharashtra
A review of the unique monograph Smert v Maharashtre (Death in Maharashtra) edited by Irina Glushkova. Contributors to the monograph include scholars from various countries — Russia, India, Australia, Canada, and the United States — united by an interest in the cultural and historical region of Maharashtra ("Great State," now a state in India, with Mumbai as the capital). The book examines in detail the social mythology and economics of death. The voluminous tome comprising numerous documents (translations of poems and prose works) helps one in the first place to shed the popular notion that Hindus are indifferent to death, accepting it as the cosmic order of things.
Vadim Radayev. Death and the Market. On Viviana Zelizer's Book Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States
The book under review is Viviana Zelizer's Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States. The reviewer reveals the specific features of the author's approach to the qualitative analysis of historical data and the study of the market as an organic unity of economic and cultural relations, pecuniary interests and sacral meanings.
Vasily Kostyrko. Local Saints Come First A review of the book Ivan i Yakov — neobychniye svyatyie iz bolotistoi mestnosti: "Krestyanskaya agiologiya" i religiozniye praktiki v Rossii
Novogo vremeni [Ivan and Yakov, Unusual Saints from a Marshland: "Peasant Hagiology" and Religious Practices in Modern Age Russia] by A.A. Panchenko
The book by St. Petersburg anthropologist Alexander Panchenko deals with the still-surviving local cult of Novgorodian saints Ivan and Yakov. Their life (the elder brother killed the younger one and, in fact, took his own life) is extremely atypical for Orthodox hagiography. The author, using materials of peasant hagiography of the Russian North and medieval Europe, shows that this subject is fully in line with traditional models of "producing the sacral" in agrarian societies, and the religious practices developed around these strange saints are typical of the Russian peasantry as a traditional way of normalizing relations between people and inhabitants of the other world.
Vasily Kostyrko. A Trap for a Rich Country
A review of the book Russkii krest: factory, mekhanizmy i puti preodoleniya demograficheskogo krizisa v Rossii [The Russian Cross: Factors, Mechanisms and Ways of Overcoming the Demographic Crisis in Russia] by D.A. Khalturin and A.V. Korotayev
The book by Russian anthropologists examines the phenomenon of supermortality in post-Soviet Russia. Using statistical methods, the authors show that it is not low living standards nor the deterioration of the quality of medical services but the consumption by the population of hard liquor, which became accessible following the lifting of state monopoly on alcohol in the early 1990s which is one of its major factors.
Vasily Kostyrko. The Inevitability of the Common Good
A review of the book Brak i svadba v slavyanskoi narodnoi culture: Semantika i simvolika [Marriage and Wedding in Slavic Folk Culture: Semantics and Symbolism] by A.V. Gura. Moscow, Indrik Publishers, 2012, 936 p.
The monograph by Alexander Gura is a highly detailed ethno-linguistic study of the Slavic wedding ceremony, featuring the Slavic wedding ritual minimum — a set of actions without which the Slavs did not regard a wedding as complete. The author considers in detail the relevant ritual terminology, describes the functions of participants in the ritual, provides a classification of wedding symbols and ritual actions, and shows regional types of the Slavic wedding ceremony. To a lay reader, this work will serve as a vivid demonstration of mechanisms through which traditional society maintained its own social structure and reproduced itself demo-graphically.
Vera Milchina. Letters to the "Best Friend"
A review of the book Vosstaniye dekabristov: Dokumenty [The Decembrists' Uprising: Documents]. Vol. XXII. From the Papers of Pavel Pestel (Family Correspondence). Ed. by S.V. Mironenko [compiled by O.V. Edelman]. Moscow, ROSSPEN Publishers, 2012, 430 p.
The review focuses on a new volume of the ongoing publication of The Decembrists' Uprising. In it, Olga Edelman has published her translations from the French of letters that Pavel Pestel's parents sent to him. The letters were confiscated from the Decembrist during his arrest; later on, his relatives never claimed them and, as a result, the papers remained in the archives of the Third Department (organ of political investigation in imperial Russia). The letters now published not only provide interesting evidence of the material and moral aspects of everyday life in Russia in the first third of the 19th century; they are also a dramatic human document making it possible to take an unexpected view of textbook figure of Pestel.
Vladimir Malakhov. Clean-Shaven and Bearded: The Possibilities and Boundaries of the Metaphor of "Inner Colonization"
A review of the collection of articles Tam, vnutri: Praktiki vnutrnnei kolonizatsii v kulturnoi istorii Rossii [There, Inside: Practices of Inner Colonization in the Cultural History of Russia]
Alexander Etkind, the initiator and editor of the collection of articles, tried to provide comprehensive substantiation for the concept of "inner colonization" as a salient feature of Russian history. The attempt has not been a perfect success, for even some of the contributors to the collection do not share his theoretical perspective. In the reviewer's opinion, the main cause of the theoretical failure is that the idea of Russian history as a history of "inner colonization" reduces the multitude of agents of social action to a confrontation of two artificial entities — the colonizing power, on the one hand, and a people being colonized, on the other. In addition, instead of actual people acting in concrete historical circumstances, the reader is suggested at all times to see the operation of a trans-historical cultural matrix.