Is death the end of life or the beginning of a new one?

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On the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, it is believed that yang (good energy) is at its lowest. As the working day draws to an end, my boss came into our office: she lit the ends of the sage bundle and waved, diffusing smoke into our work spaces. I smiled, as I struggled to catch my next breath; aware of her intentions but unknowing of the roots of this ritual.

Is death the end of life or the beginning of a new one?

There is nothing more certain than the inevitability of our deaths. Death does not discriminate and it is one thing that every human faces and cannot evade from. This unavoidable sense of ending has had influenced the ways in which we define and give meanings to life. The foreground of death is only possible with the background of life. Despite being an omnipresent entity, death and dying often take a prominent theme in philosophy, literature, art, and science among many others.

Although we typically use languages to describe deaths, no single word or image could wholly encapsulate the elusive nature of death, it is only represented through a wide range of symbols, metaphors and euphemism.[1] Our experiences and orientations with death and dying are far from instinctive but mediated through cultural representations of images, words, and activities which allows us to make sense of and impose a sense of order.[2] Representations are part of social relations, functioning within the structures of specific cultures and societies. At the same time, representations are avenues with a temporal dimension where groups of peoples negotiate and contest, constructing new social relations.

Death in many societies are represented by a personality, voice, or even gender. Gender is an integral part of any society; just as it is a salient feature at birth, we do not lose our gender identification in death. Some have debated between death as a male, or death as a female; if imaginative representations of the unknown is indeed one of the characteristic feature that defines “human nature”, why does it not inform in a more uniform manner?[3] To speak of gender of death, or broadly, masculine or feminine – male or female – are only the roughest of categories, within them more interactions and complexities, both implicit and explicit. The notion and usage of gender is therefore as a fluid, contingent process characterised by contestations, ambivalences, and changes. Placing gender in both a framework of symbolic meanings and politico-historical specificities, gender is thus simultaneously an influence and an interaction. This means gender is not an isolated social phenomenon but tied with the other social hierarchies and relations.


[1] Walter Tony, “Organisations and Death – a view from death studies”, in Culture and Organisation, Vol. 20, No. 1, (Taylor and Francis: 2013)

[2] Morris. Pam, Introduction, Why ‘Literature’ and ‘Feminism’?, in Literature and Feminism: An Introduction, (Wiley-Blackwell: 1993) pp. 6

[3] Guthke K. S., The Gender of Death: a cultural history in art and literature, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 19


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