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The Living Memory and the Nonliving Bodies in Biographical Narratives of Death

Abstract: The present paper focuses on the individual and collective representations of the afterlife in the context of the recent developments of the death study, which blend psychological constructivist and social constructionist approaches. The latter could be applied to representations of heaven, hell, nothingness among others in culture, as well as to the traces of the presence of the dead in the reality of the living people from the expectations for ones own funeral and for the contents of the posthumous memory to the projections of the dead bodies such as encounters with spirits and fear of worms. The analysis of these representations relies on a specific interdisciplinary terminology, flexible enough to describe the intertwinement of various types of socialization, (non)religious beliefs, cultural practice and biographical trajectories. It introduces notions such as posthumous reputations, postselfs and postbodies.

Based on a sample of 60 biographical interviews of men and women (75 years old and over) from UK, Bulgaria and Romania and turning to the terminology of the psychological constructivism and the social constructionism this paper discusses the construction of the nonliving body and living memory of the deceased person. It shows how the gaining of existential meaning of the death presupposes an exchange and interchange of cultural models of mourning and personal experiences, of public instructions and individual strategies for coping with the loss of the innermost image of the loved ones and the fear of the disintegration and decay of the dead body.

Keywords: death study, posthumous reputations, postbodies, postselfs