Death in Documentaries

The Memento Mori Experience


Memento mori is a broad and understudied cultural phenomenon and experience. The term “memento mori” is a Latin injunction that means “remember mortality,” or more directly, “remember that you must die.” In art and cultural history, memento mori appears widely, especially in medieval folk culture and in the well-known Dutch still life vanitas paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet memento mori extends well beyond these points in art and cultural history. In Death in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience, Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter suggests that documentaries are an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori. Bennett-Carpenter shows that documentaries may offer composed transformative experiences in which a viewer may renew one’s consciousness of mortality – and thus renew one’s life.

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Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter, Ph.D. (2008), Catholic University of America, is Special Lecturer in Writing and Rhetoric and the Liberal Studies program at Oakland University in Michigan, USA. Recent publications appear in the Journal of Communication and Religion and the journal Mortality.

 Basics of Memento Mori
 From Art and Cultural History to Contemporary Documentary
 Features of Memento Mori and How Memento Mori Functions
 Levels at Which Memento Mori is Referenced by Documentaries
 A Rhetorically-Oriented Phenomenology Applied to Documentaries
 Composed Transformative Experience: Introducing Documentaries as Memento Mori
 The Program Ahead

1 Memento Mori in Art and Literature
 1.1 Memento Mori in Art: As Symbol and as Picture
  1.1.1 Memento Mori as Religious Image
  1.1.2 Memento Mori as Still Life and as Portraiture
  1.1.3 Memento Mori as Visual Quotation in Art, Including Photography
 1.2 Memento Mori in Literature: As Verbal, Literary, and Ideational
  1.2.1 Memento Mori as Picture Nomenclature and Verbal Instruction
  1.2.2 Memento Mori as Reference in Literature: Verbatim and Ideational
 1.3 Memento Mori in Film and Television

2 Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten as Memento Mori
 2.1 The Eameses as Designers of Experiences that Communicate Ideas
 2.2 Levels at Which Memento Mori is Referenced by Powers
  2.2.1 Symbolic, Verbal, and Ideational Memento Mori in Powers
  2.2.2 Memento Mori as Mortality-Index in Powers
  2.2.3 Memento Mori as Convention and Experience in or Related to Powers
 2.3 The Intellectually Transformative Point of Memento Mori Experience, Referenced by Powers

3 Memento Mori as “Consciousness of Mortality” and as a Cultural Phenomenon
 3.1 Memento Mori is an Index of Death
  3.1.1 Memento Mori (in Any Form) Refers to Death
  3.1.2 Memento Mori Relies upon Consciousness, Memory in Particular
 3.2 Memento Mori is Also an Artificial Convention
  3.2.1 Memento Mori is an Artifice with a History or Cultural Genealogy that Relies upon Particular Social Reception
  3.2.2 Memento Mori Relates to Various and Specific Genres, Media, and Materials
 3.3 Memento Mori as Composed Transformative Experience
  3.3.1 General Aspects of Memento Mori Experience
  3.3.2 Intellectually, Ethically, and Affectively Transformative Elements of Memento Mori Experience
 3.4 A Contemporary Form of Memento Mori: Documentaries

4 Ethical Memento Mori: Wim Wenders’s Notebook on Cities and Clothes
 4.1 Wenders as Contemplative Documentarian of Mortals
 4.2 Levels at Which Memento Mori is Referenced by Notebook
  4.2.1 Memento Mori as Symbolic, Verbal, and Ideational in Notebook
  4.2.2 Memento Mori as Mortality-index in Notebook
  4.2.3 Memento Mori as Convention and Experience in or Related to Notebook
 4.3 The Ethically Transformative Point of Memento Mori Experience, Referenced by Notebook

5 Documentaries as Contemporary Memento Mori
 5.1 Documentaries Index Death
 5.2 Documentaries Also Rely on Convention with a Particular History and Function
 5.3 Documentaries as Composed Transformative Experience
  5.3.1 Documentaries as Intellectually Transformative: Determining and Distinguishing the Real from Irreal
  5.3.2 Documentaries as Ethically Transformative: Contemplating Appropriate Responses to the Mortal Condition
  5.3.3 Documentaries as Affectively Transformative: Moving Individuals into Distinctive Human Experience
 5.4 Levels of Analysis by Which Memento Mori is Identified in Specific Documentaries

6 Quintessential Memento Mori Experience: Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993)
 6.1 A Word on Jarman as Ecstatic Seer
 6.2 Levels at Which Memento Mori is Referenced by Blue
  6.2.1 Memento Mori as Verbal, Literary, and Ideational in Blue
  6.2.2 Memento Mori as Mortality-index and convention in or related to Blue
 6.3 The Affectively Transformative Point of Memento Mori Experience, Referenced by Blue

7 Personal Memento Mori: The Iconic 9/11 Footage and the Threat of Death
 7.1 The Viewer as Contemplative Seer of the Threat of Death
  7.1.1 The 12th of September, 2001, Comet Burger Diner, usa
  7.1.2 When Memento Mori Strikes Close
 7.2 Levels at Which Memento Mori is Referenced by the 9/11 Footage
  7.2.1 Memento Mori as Symbolic, Ideational, and Composed in the 9/11 Footage
  7.2.2 Memento Mori as Mediated Mortality-index, Indicated by the 9/11 Footage
 7.3 Personally Transformative Points of Memento Mori Experience, Referenced by the 9/11 Footage
  7.3.1 Realizing One’s Place as a Mortal in a Vast Cosmos
  7.3.2 “Making one’s life” as a Mortal in 21st Century “glocal” Society
  7.3.3 Moving One’s Self into Distinctive Human Experience
 7.4 Counterpoint: Memento Mori as Death Threat in Extremist YouTube Videos

8 Conclusion and Future Prospects
 8.1 After Death in Documentaries
 8.2 From Memento Mori to Memento Vivere?
 8.3 Memento Mori in New Media Environments

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All interested in culture and film, literature and art, and existential human themes of survival, well-being, death, and consciousness, including curious general readers, undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars.
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