We deconstruct necrophilia in Western culture by exposing how it valorizes death and perverts the dignity of life. 

The ideology of dualism and human separation can be traced to Greek philosophers, and is embedded in the Abrahamic religions; however, Rene Descartes is considered the father of modern dualism.  IMAGE_Descartes_mind_and_bodyDescartes’ philosophy consolidated and augmented Bacon’s reductionism and formed the intellectual context for the current ecological crisis (Plumwood, Nature, np).  Descartes held that there are two kinds of existing things: physical and mental. He argued that self-conscious awareness is a unique human achievement that elevates humans above all other species (Suzuki 15). Cartesian dualism seeks to master the body in order to reside in purely rational, intellectual states. Dualistic thinking categorizes phenomena into binary opposites in which one part of the binary is valuated as superior while the categorical ‘other’ is devalued as inferior or primitive; thus, Cartesian dualism bastions hierarchical systems of domination: anthropocentrism, sexism, racism, androcentrism, colonialism, ableism and classism.

Human-centeredness, or anthropocentrism, is the hyper/separation of humans as a special species; it weaves a dangerous set of illusions about the human condition into the logic of our basic conceptual structures.  Human-centeredness is a complex syndrome which rationalizes the delusions of being ecologically invulnerable, beyond animality, outside nature, and thus beyond the reach of the sixth mass extinction event (Plumwood, Nature np).  Human/nature dualism conceives humans as not only superior to but as different in kind from the non-human, which is regarded as a lower non-conscious and non-communicative physical sphere (Jantzen, 1999, 32f).  Cartesian thinking is necrophilic in that its goal is to control the mind by transcending the body in order to achieve immortality and divinity in death. An otherworldly preoccupation is particularly evident for Christian and Islamic religionists who valorize martyrdom and yearn to escape embodied life for a heavenly home.  The secular obsession with transcending the body manifests in celebrating war and building elaborate war memorials that beautify youth who die in battle. Science valorizes its own heroes – the astronauts who transcend our planet in space-ships.

Natality is situated in the continuum of ecocentric philosophies which include deep ecology, social ecology, ecofeminism, organicism, indigeneity. Freya Mathews’s ecofeminist philosophy moves beyond deep ecology to explore ecological interconnectedness or “oneness” to describe personhood as the embodied relation of self to the self-realizing universe in the extended region of spacetime (p.149).  An ecocentric philosophy recognizes that all beings are equal and interdependent in the living systems of nature, which is itself capable of agency and intentionality.  As relationality with earth deepens, we acknowledge our ecological vulnerability and our animality.  Interdependence is linked to the principle of sufficiency (enoughness) which frees humans from the drive to acquire and consume in accordance with the competitive ideology of capitalism (Plumwood, Feminism, p. 5).

By deconstructing necrophilia, we clear a space in-between paradigms to imagine a different future and to begin moving forward to that future paradigm which I call natality.

The full article on Deconstructing Necrophilia will be published in Canadian Woman Studies Journal (CWS/cf) Vol.31, #1 & 2 – a special issue on Women and Environmental Justice.

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