Accepted Paper:

A man can die but thrice: anthropology of death through Lacan   


Karmen Šterk (Faculty of Social Science)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will present the usefulness of Lacanian triad of reality orders, Imaginary-Symbolic-Real, in interpreting different orders of deaths, as well as demonstrating analogies between the Imaginary death, the Symbolic death and the Real death and Van Gennep’s three-staged process of rites of passage. A short account on the public reception of death and dying of former Slovene president Janez Drnovšek will be added for illustration.

Paper long abstract:

In accordance with the Lacanian triad, the paper will deconstruct death as a three-fold philosophical model which in cultural reality takes shape of logical sequence of metaphysical, physical and ritual events. On the level of the Imaginary, we are dealing with phantasmatic, deceptive universe of images of wholeness which support our existence, (culturally specific) images of coherence, i.e. the concept, the idea of life. On the level of the Symbolic, we are faced with the differential structure which organizes our experience of meaning and designates our social relations, i.e. the meaning of life, the subject's suture to the idea of life. The Real is to be understood as the traumatic reminder that resists symbolization, i.e. life devoid of any idea, sense or meaning of life.

Within this framework, the paper will analyze the (cultural) necessity of death/dying being perceived as a sequence of Imaginary - Real - Symbolic (separation - transition - reincorporation), whereby the Imaginary can be defined retroactively, but always placed at the beginning, and the Symbolic should not precede the Real. If this course of logic is disrupted, inversed, lacking either the boundaries or even one of the features, the subject that caused it would necessitate attribution of special social status and be deemed »ritually unclean«, in Freud's term Uncanny. By the same token, those who experience the Symbolic death prior to Real(ly) dying, such as Aghoris among Hindus or Janez Drnovšek, can come to embody the very concept of life itself, support the Imaginary level of living.

Panel IW03
Liminal Europe