Number 11/2016

Issue Topic: Death, Dying and Grief

List of abstracts

The title “doctors of grief” refers to the observation of Philippe Aries. In the late 20th century, he described how religious officials have been replaced in Western society by doctors of grief, meaning the funeral directors and masters of ceremony whose role is to perform grief therapy on the bereaved family. In most Western societies, Christian churches have lost their monopoly on conducting funerals. Although the number of secular ceremonies in Poland is relatively small (approximately 2 to 5 percent of all funeral ceremonies), their presence in a country with such deeply rooted Catholicism, which plays the role of a cultural religion, may be considered evidence of the socio-cultural changes now taking place. As the authority of the religious institutions traditionally responsible for these rites waned, the main reference point for many people became the self. A commercial mechanism arose: the individual preferences of “clients” determine the “product”. With this perspective in mind, this article references the Stark and Bainbridge Religious Market Theory, according to which religions and secular meaning-creating perspectives compete on the market of ideas like companies. The primary aim of this article is to analyze the socio-cultural contexts of the services of these secular masters of ceremony and identify the core and distinctive features that distinguish them from religious funeral ceremonies.
This article discusses three films by Małgorzata Szumowska on death and dying and their contemporary reception. They include the 2006 documentary A czego tu się bać? [Nothing to Be Scared of], 33 sceny z życia [33 Scenes from Life] (2008) and Body/Ciało (2015). These pictures are linked by the presence of death, which, though expressed using disparate devices of film rhetoric, is still uniformly palpable, even if obscured and hidden. The analysis presented here demands a certain shift in thinking about death: it is not completely eliminated from the social imagination. Death, which is today dismissed and marginalized, also intrigues us, awakens the individual imagination and triggers anxiety along with a simultaneous desire to get closer to it and study its mystery. Such a direction is also noticeable in the work of Szumowska. This is especially true of the three films mentioned previously, which may be analyzed independently of one another. However, presented as a triptych, they point to contemporary means of understanding death, its adaptation and attempts to either grow accustomed to or flee from it.

This article represents an attempt to examine the literary depiction of suicide. The point of departure for this critical literary and pedagogical analysis will be the stories of two heroines from the work of Eliza Orzeszkowa, who took their own lives in the novels Cham (The Boor) and Marta – namely, the characters Franciszka Chomcówna and Marta Świcka. The article also aims to illustrate Bernard Mandeville’s words: “There are things that a man may have a stronger aversion to than suicide.” Chomcówna cannot find her place in the rural community. She is unable to accept her husband’s true love and forgiveness of her past mistakes. In turn, Świcka is unable to find her place in society after the death of her husband. She fails to find work, and gradually starts “going downhill” along with her sick daughter. Both characters end their lives in tragic circumstances.

This article presents a positive view of grief as a symbolic overcoming of death. This concept of grief juxtaposes death with the dimensions of meaning, time and ethics. At the same time, grief remains characterized as a process that plays out on the plane of the individual psyche, as seen in the work of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. In analyzing these psychoanalytic viewpoints, the assumptions and premises of these theories are compared to show both their limitations and revelatory powers. While Freudian theory depicts grief as a natural reaction to the loss of an object ending with separation from that object, Klein presents the complexities of the inner world of the individual, revealing objects existing inside the psyche in a form embedded in mental (negative and positive) representations, while the task of the individual is to contrast these inner images with the real objects and with the threat of their loss, the latter causing a return to the depressive position of childhood. At the same time, Klein’s concept assumes the possibility of overcoming this depressive position in grief. Here we have a positive view of grief, which has been developed on an anthropological level by Alfonso Maria di Nola, who provided theoretical justification for an attempt at a positive interpretation of the significance of grief as a symbolic victory over death – a view that represents the theme of this article.
The article aims to depict the consequences of Emmanuel Levinas’ relational understanding of death, considered within the context of substitution, which can be understood in two different dimensions: individual and normative. In the former, the subjectivity surrenders to the Other completely, with no expectation of reciprocity. In the normative realm, however, substitution is the only choice the subjectivity has that would define its identity. The subjectivity only finds this identity in substitution; otherwise, it slips into il y a, losing its form and any possibility of personal development. In substitution, the subjectivity’s identity is shaped via a dynamically developing relationship with that which is other. One form of otherness is death. However, the impossibility of substitution in one’s own death puts the subjectivity in a paradoxical situation: an identity developed in relation to the Other becomes suspended at the moment of personal death, which comes from another ontological order. Death and dying situate the subject’s identity beyond the borders of its own existence.