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Havlickova Karolina | Other
2015-03-08 - 2015-06-30 | Research area: Cognition and Sociality
Mortality in American Novels (1900-1999). A Quantitative Analysis
The project is part of the obligatory curriculum of the MEi: CogSci program of the University of Vienna and is supervised by Dr. Olivier Morin (KLI Institute). The purpose of this study is to investigate cognitive attractivity of death, especially violent mortality in the 20th century American literature. Based on current death studies, it is evident that the modern Western society is not very accepting when it comes to death (Anderson, Sielski, Miles & Dunfee, 2011; Bering, McLeod, & Shackelfold, 2005; Buchan, Gibson & Ellison 2011). The opposite is true. Society is trying to hide death and dying from the eyes of the living. People are dying in hospitals and other facilities where they are separated from the rest of the society, whereas in the past they usually died in their homes surrounded by their family. The topic of death is very ambivalent. While on one hand we are hiding and denying it, on the other hand we are constantly surrounding ourselves with pictures and photographs of the dead. That can also be the case of literature, especially fiction which this project is going to study. The assumption behind this study is that fiction somehow prepares us for risk events and that the purpose of fiction is to teach us the avoidance of mortal risks. I am interested in participating on this project mostly because the topic of my bachelor thesis was also connected with death, though in a different way. In my previous project, death was only a connection between family memory and visual representation and it was not in the centre of my research. I had to become familiar with current theoretical studies on death as well as empirical death studies. But as a student of social anthropology, I was trained to use the basic ethnographic methods (mostly observation and interview). However, this research project will allow me to learn and use other scientific methods to answer some of the questions that I am also curious about. During literature research for my bachelor thesis I learnt that death is the most traumatic idea anyone can have. It is not only because it is inevitable, but also because death is considered to be a state without thoughts that people can hardly imagine. Apart from other living creatures, humans know they are going to die and their trauma is caused by the fact that they cannot forget about their own mortality. This knowledge of our mortality made us create numerous artifacts around the world, from rituals to objects. It also resulted in people coming up with strategies to cope with this traumatic experience. One of the most evident is a strategy how a society copes with the dead and how it helps people to deal with this trauma. We can find this in a sociological study of Zygmunt Bauman (1992) who analysed social institutions and “cultural solutions” that were put in motion by the fact of human mortality and the need to handle it. But there are other questions to answer, for example: How can a society teach people to avoid death? It is relevant for cognitive science to study death in general and society´s notion of death in particular because death influences almost (if not) everything humans do. With its interdisciplinary scope it is a challenge for cognitive science to answer some of the questions about death that other disciplines have not yet managed to.