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Day of the Dead / Día de Muertos
From the pathology of normalcy to the normalization of pathology
“Death is the problem of the living. Dead people have no problems.” German sociologist Norbert Elias
Nearly five decades ago, Erich Fromm defined necrophelia as a “passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly.” He subsequently analyzed a societywide “pathology of normalcy” in which the humdrum boredom and routinization of ‘normal’ life was being transcendended as much by destruction as by creativity.
In a time of 24/7 Covid death meters and an obsession with human life as purely biological, Fromm’s concerns look prescient. Bernard Henri Lévy has described the new Covid & Climate (CLOVID?) zeitgeist of perpetual crisis, in which humans are defined as a uniquely virulent incarnation of pestilence, vectors of both biological disease and environmental despoliation, as a form of “psychotic delirium.” This derangement has produced an authoritarian politics fueled by a permanent sense of apocalyptic crisis on one hand and an obsessive fear of death on the other.
As a cultural antidote to this lethal combination, México and other parts of Latin América are on the last day of a two week celebration of the beloved holiday called Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. In spite of México’s many problems, people in the US and Europe could learn a great deal about restoring psychic equilibrium by understanding the ancient roots and modern cultural significance of Día de Muertos. In the US especially, the holiday has been diluted and commericialized into the thin cultural gruel of Halloween. It deserves a deeper examination.
In October 2021, I published an article exploring the significance of Día de Muertos in México, where it is an often raucous and light hearted celebration of the dead for and by the living. It takes the form of capacious, frequently joyful remembrance and forgiveness of those who have gone before us, albeit often tinged with poignancy. The cultural sharing leavens sadness and lessens both fear and anxiety.
The 2021 article, video and illustrations can be found at the links below.
NOTE: All photos and videos by the author.