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Life Sentences

Life Sentences: The Modern Ordering of Mortality

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    Life Sentences
    Book Description:

    Zohreh Bayatrizi examines the many concerted attempts from the last 350 years to strip death of its mystery, and to order, manage, and transform it from an individualized and fatalistic event to a social phenomenon that allows intervention.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8849-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: The Modern Ordering of Mortality
    (pp. 3-22)

    This book was inspired by the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands in the spring of 2002, an intriguing development, especially considering that, while some states are gradually recognizing the right to euthanasia, no state has completely recognized the right to suicide. State agents in many countries, including the Netherlands, reserve the right to intervene and save the life of a person who has attempted or is about to attempt suicide and to commit him or her to psychological counselling or psychiatric care. Thus, the legalization of euthanasia brings up an age-old question: under what conditions is it permissible to...

  6. 1 Thou Shalt Not Die Violently: Death and the Modern Problematic of Order
    (pp. 23-49)

    This anonymous poem from the English Civil War period features a dialogue between a cavalier’s warhorse bragging about his life of chivalry, fighting in battle for honour and glory and a countryman’s millhorse that takes pride in contributing to the long-term welfare of the commonwealth and declares himself free and content with his predictable, albeit hard, routine of everyday life away from the noise and chaos of war. The political leanings of the author are hard to discern: was he (or possibly she) a pacifist, a royalist, or merely a poet without a cause? His intentions, however, are clear: as...

  7. 2 Thou Shalt Not Die Prematurely: The Political Economy of Death
    (pp. 50-88)

    The story of the Gardener and Death seems to have travelled East to West and found its place in the modern Western imagination within the context of a cultural obsession with the conflict between fatalism and free will (see Sobel, 1998: 55). It portrays Death as a speaking figure who can be seen in one’s private garden or, in another version of the story, in the marketplace in Baghdad. The story alludes to a time, real or fictional, whendeath speech, that is, talking about death publicly and without inhibition, was common, and when death was present in the midst...

  8. 3 Thou Shalt Not Kill Thyself: The De-moralization of Suicide
    (pp. 89-123)

    In 1823 a London jury returned a verdict offelo de se(guilty of suicide) after hearing the case of a twenty-two-year-old law student named Abel Griffiths. Following the ruling, his unwashed, bloodied body was wrapped in Russian matting and dropped into a hole at the crossroads of Eaton Street, Grosvenor Place, and the King’s Road. Other ignominies could have been imposed on his body, as was customary in earlier times, such as throwing lime over it or driving a stake through it. But the jury spared the body additional humiliation. At the time, opposition to crossroads burials, and to...

  9. 4 Thou Shalt Not Die an Undignified Death: The Discursive Constitution of Death with Dignity
    (pp. 124-154)

    A prominent motif in the modern Western iconography of death is the romantic portrayal of serenity: in the works of nineteenth-century painters and the novels of the Victorian period, the premodern macabre image of death is abandoned in favour of the pictorial infusion of death with eroticism and beauty or the verbal imagery of peacefully giving up the soul (see Binion, 1993; cf. Aries; 1974: 58). Thomas Chatterton died one of the typical deaths of his period: violent, lonely, ‘premature,’ and in desperate poverty. But Henry Wallis, nonetheless, famously depicted Chatterton’s death as serene and beautiful: there is no vomit...

  10. Conclusion: Thou Shalt Die an Orderly Death
    (pp. 155-170)

    In a 1904 publication entitled,The Nature of Man: Studies in Optimistic Philosophy, celebrated zoologist and professor at the prestigious Pasteur Institute in Paris, Elie Metchnikoff, suggests that among higher organisms violent death caused by ‘maladies or the voracity of enemies’ is the rule, and natural death, if found at all, is the exception. From as early as the eighteenth century the question of natural death preoccupied a number of natural scientists; the existence of such a phenomenon was seriously questioned and even denied by distinguished biologists and botanists like Jacque Leob (ibid.: 265–6). Relying on an impressive body...

  11. References
    (pp. 171-188)
  12. Index of Names
    (pp. 189-194)
  13. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 195-202)