Category Archives: Dead Things


After reading Russell Belk article “Possession and Extended self”. There are several points I take away from it. However, if I understand correctly, Belk is making the connection with the relationship between humans, and their connection to possessions. Also, Belk states “Extended self is not limited to external object, but also includes Person, place, body parts and vital organs.” I can clearly relate to his point about the extension of possessions. Humans consider their children, spouse, and family and close friends their own property. The article makes a great connection from birth. This is seen as a mastery of possessions and human development. For example, according to Freudian and other psycho-analytic theories, infants begin life being unable to distinguish self from environment, including mothers. As infant develop their motor skills objects that can be controlled are seen as self. However, the objects that can’t be controlled are seen as environment. This explains the origin of this development. Possession helps people manage their identity. Also, helping old people have a sense of continuity. Contamination is a particular process of self -extension. It can be good or bad, as discussed in class we can be contaminated in different way. For example, we can become contaminated through association with an individual.
In the articles “The Culture of Death and the Afterlife” I notice different cultures have unique ways of approaching death. It appears like death is welcoming, the term “Memento Mori” translates to remember that you are mortal, death is anticipated. For Christian this term serves a moralizing purpose. For Christians, it reminds them of emptiness, personally for me death makes me feel lost. This approach of death is unusual, which brings me to Luke A. Filder essay “impression from face of corpse”. In this essay he discusses the way students and other artist created craft and images from dead people. In the essay different artist felt different, and went back and forth on weather, mask made from dead people or sculpted images give a better description of the person their portraying. The idea is that, Death mask made from dead people gives a sense of realness. However, others artist and historian’s feel the complete opposite. The argument made is that “you can see the traces of death and material facts of plaster in each faces. The idea is when people die rigor mortis has set in. Other might see death mask to be used as a memorial and surviving relative might choose to hold on to these lasting memories.
I found this interesting article and attached it for you to read, one of many reasons why one might want to hold on to death mask.

Blog Post 3: Different interpretations of death in different parts of the world


According to the definition in the online Britannica Encyclopedia, a “death mask” is “wax or plaster cast of a mold taken from the face of a dead individual.” But the interesting part is that, according to this source, “death masks are true portraits, although changes are occasionally made in the eyes of the mask to make it appear as though the subject were alive.” This detail is interesting as it reminds me of Fidler’s article, especially when the author states that a death mask will always be dead, as that this sense of vacuity or passivity is a fundamental feature of such creations. As Fidler claims, “there’s an inertness that accretes to a body, a slowing of the blood and then a swelling as that same blood pools.” Therefore, these benevolent corrections may be made with the intent of reviving the traits of the deceased one last time, and persuading the viewers to think that the separation between life and death is not so sharp, and that the mask they are looking at is not an aberrant creation that evokes death and annihilation.

This concept implies the fact that death masks have a negative connotation, and that talking about death in general is harbinger of doom. In Japan, indeed, “open and public discussion of death remains one of the greatest societal taboos,” and although some believe that death is a way to remember the preciousness of life, most people believe that death should not be a discussion topic, especially in presence of children (Sagara-Rosemary and Davies, 223). More specifically, “the negative view of death is so deeply embedded in Japanese society that even professionally trained personnel tend to think that the mention of death could hurt and shock children” (Sagara-Rosemary and Davies, 224).

However, death may be a source of attraction as well as repulsion. When public enemy number one John Dillinger was shot by the police in 1934, a crowd of onlookers gathered around the body to take a look at the famous fugitive, regardless of the fact that they were actually staring at a corpse on the street. In this case, death represents something fascinating, intriguing, and almost seductive, to the point that two groups of medical students made a death mask of the famous criminal from a plaster mold. “The mask captured every detail of Dillinger’s face — the bullet wound, the scrapes from where he had hit the pavement, the bloating and swelling from the heat and pooling blood, and even the tell-tale signs of underground plastic surgery.” John Dillinger’s death was such a source of wonder that the two masks were taken without appropriate authorization. His story makes us understand how controversial is the idea of death, and how this dynamic process is addressed and sometimes even celebrated differently in various parts of the world.

For instance, there is a tradition called “Sky Burials” in which the recently deceased are used to feed wild animals. According to the Tibetan Buddhists, this practice reflects the fact that the human body is simply “an empty vessel,” so there is no need to commemorate it. The Buddhists also see this ritual as a final glorious act: in fact, the remains will sustain the life of other creatures. Another interesting way to see death, and in particular the death of a powerful person, is to be found in the body of cultural traditions of Nigeria. In the play “Death and the King’s Horseman,” death becomes a sacred duty, which the protagonist cannot escape. Indeed, according to the Yoruba tradition, “the death of a chief must be followed by the ritual suicide of the chief’s horseman, because the horseman’s spirit is essential to helping the chief’s spirit ascend to the afterlife.” If the horseman does not complete the ritual, the king’s spirit will wander on earth and hunt the living.

In conclusion, death masks can signify so many things, and can be interpreted in many ways, because death itself has numerous interpretations, and that makes impossible to give death a clear connotation.


Blog Post #3: Death, Captivating and Frightening

Before reading Luke Fiddler’s Impressions From the Face of a Corpse, I remained ignorant to the existence of ‘death masks.’ Never had this concept of capturing the face of a deceased one last time before the final good-bye ever occurred to me. Yet immediately I understood why people continue (for centuries!) to capture these unique faces of the deceased. In the second paragraph, I believe Fiddler touches on the reason why these faces are so captivating and enthralling

“ To ask why or how a death mask works is to probe a maelstrom that makes mock of sure footing. But what if the thing that makes a death mask tick is not the resemblance to someone long-dead, but rather the visual noise, static, and imperfections that halt that resemblance in its tracks?”

I understand that unexplainable, intriguing, almost-absorbing feeling one feels when looking into the face of the deceased. My entire childhood, both of my parents worked as Executive Directors for Assisted Living Homes. Though they love their occupations, both claim the one of the most unfortunate aspect remains the passing of residents, especially when they were close with them, (essentially the whole building). So naturally we attended many funerals.With many of the funerals holding open caskets, from a young age, these deceased faces enthralled me. TO this day they remain slightly frightening ,yet I can’t stop studying their final facial features.

Despite the fact an Open Casket viewing differs from a death mask, one cannot deny the comparison of the phenomena Fiddler discusses of how we cannot stop from staring at all the little imperfections. He mentions a popular notion that “in death, our bodies become honest.” I found this interesting because as I recall staring the person never looked the same as in life (I understand now a body is manipulated for an open casket). How bodies remained so perfect and still, makes me associate death with a feeling of ease, peace and comfort. Yet as a child interacting with residents, the imperfections on the elderly are clearly noticed, which made me nervous and slighly frightened when around them; worn, leathery hands, blue veins clearly visible, faces covered in wrinkles and scars from life.

I believe this manipulation of death in our society and how others capture death through ‘death masks represent how different cultures and societies deal with the unknown of death. Though the stillness of the bodies and the awareness the deceased is no longer living, I could never stop from staring at that serene person laying in that casket. As we grow and become more open-minded throughout history, people realize death may not turn out to what its described as in their religion or personal ideology. Though all cultures and societies possess different practices for their dead, their process reflect their attitudes and beliefs about the afterlife. This fear and acknowledgement of the unknown forces us to do the only thing possible to ease that feelings of fear, anxiety from uncertainty; comfort each other. As Aristotle teaches us through his artistic proof of ethos one must build credibility with their audience. I believe that is the purpose of these death masks or even open caskets. Viewing the face of the deceased with their face remaining the same integrity, or even being moulded and casted different to particular taste, or having an open casket displaying the deceased almost happy, builds the best credibility through personal first-hand accounts of the people one admired, respected and loved.

Blog Post #3: Dead Things

What can we learn from the way a culture deals with death, particularly how they handle dead human remains? As Belk explains in “Posessions and the Extended Self,” in modern Western cultures, bodies–and their associated smells and effusions–are associated with negative forms of contamination. This aversion to contact with someone else’s body, Belk argues, is expressed in the way crematoria sift through human “cremains” to remove any traces that retain too much of their original form as bones, teeth, etc. Yet, again as Belk explains, the aversion to bodies, especially dead bodies, has numerous cultural and historical exceptions. These exceptions include actual and symbolic cannibalism, the collection and reverence of saintly relics, and as Luke A. Fidler describes in his essay, “Impressions From the Face of a Corpse,” the practice of creating memento mori of the dead:

Death masks also record the work of human hands. They figure the body as something subject to post-mortem manipulation, as a kind of storehouse waiting to be raided by curious scientists, churchmen, or souvenir-seekers. Autopsies, for instance, left their marks. Beethoven’s death mask, taken two days after he died, shows the saw marks where the composer’s ear bones were removed. His left ear later wound up in a curiosity cabinet. Continue reading Blog Post #3: Dead Things