The Production of a Proper Place of Death
Personalised memorials often provoke a process of formalisation. As motives behind the development of a proper place of death we may find given social, cultural, religious or aesthetic structures. However, I propose there are hidden motives for these value judgements other than aestheticism, religiosity or cultural authenticity. Even if, as Åkesson describes it, personalised memorials may serve as a positive and graspable connection between the symbolic and diabolic reality, the opposite may also be true. Negative experiences of personalised memorials might, for instance, lie implicit in various value judgements and may perhaps be explained by what Kristeva calls abjection. Abjection, for Kristeva, is something confusingly horrible which suddenly breaks through in a moment of revelation when the expected is turned upside down. Certeau presents a related view, stating that the instantaneous flashes of memory can only find catalysts in spaces that enable unpredictable situations to occur whereas memory becomes static in autonomous proper places. If we move Kristeva’s and Certeau’s discussion to the context of persona-oriented memorials, we may well find that standardised and impersonal grave lots for some people enhance emotional control and thus help tame the fear of death, whereas the more unpredictable encounters with roadside memorials or memorial decorations from “the living world”, like toys, photographs or personal items, function as catalysts, hence, revealing the ever-present powers of death and turning the space of ordinary life upside down by exposing its temporariness and fragility. Thus, the borders of the cemetery, originally enclosing the churchyard to separate the consecrated earth from the unconsecrated, continues, in current secular and large-scale cemeteries, to keep death in order, inside well-trimmed hedges and proper grave lots. Outside there is life - and the protection works both ways.
The 7th conference on The Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal