By Alexander T. Riley
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Additional info for Angel patriots : the crash of United Flight 93 and the myth of America
29 Here, remarkably, we find an early American culture much closer in the central role it assigns to death in its broadest narratives to the Mexico described by Lomnitz than to its contemporary incarnation. By the mid-1700s, however, a less exacting religious sensibility had become dominant, and its more sentimental and ultimately Romantic vision of death replaced Puritanical dread and asceticism. 32 But however much this new death culture shared with its Puritan predecessor the placing of death front and center in life’s concerns, it also set the stage for the rise, in the 46 | Death, Horror, and Culture late 19th century, of what we might call the modern American culture of death.
B: They all died during the day today, lucky us, so you’ll probably have it nice and easy. A: So I saw. Looks like three, four, and five are empty. B: Can you believe it, we had five deaths in the last twelve hours. A: How lovely. B: Well, see you tomorrow night. 11 The extramundane fact par excellence, the disappearance from the world of an entity that had previously existed in a conscious state, is by this kind of process made banal and unremarkable. And yet David Sudnow, the ethnographer who captured this conversation, shows in this study that even here, in the routine world of hospital death organization, some deaths remain exceptional and retain the power to break these frames.
Understanding death as a cultural fact, as something that is not fully reducible to (though it is also inseparable from) a discussion of the science of biological organisms or an exercise in reasoning and logic, is so difficult that even some who have thought very hard indeed about it nonetheless fail to get fully to grips with it. 13 From his perspective, it is acknowledged that death may be ritualized differently in different cultures, but this fact is seen as an aside to the more fundamental investigation of the meaning of death in human life, which involves the work of logically cleansing the way we talk about it.