To Die a Living Death: Phantasms of Burial and Cremation in Derrida’s Final Seminar
In the Third Session of his seminar The Beast and the Sovereign , Volume 2, Jacques Derrida turns from a close reading of Heidegger’s 1929–1930 seminar on The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe —the two books at the center of the seminar—to the question of what it means for a large and growing number of people in the Western world to have to decide, in a seemingly sovereign fashion, about how their bodies are to be treated after their deaths, that is, whether they are to be buried or cremated. This question marks a rather surprising turn to the present—even the autobiographical—in the seminar. This essay follows Derrida’s treatment of the question in the rest of the seminar. It considers, first, what Derrida calls the phantasms attendant upon all speculations regarding this supposedly binary alternative between inhumation and creation and then what this alternative might tell us about Greco-European modernity and certain modern conceptions of the subject and the subject’s putative autonomy and sovereignty over its life, its body, and its remains.
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