Grief's existential interest

The grieving animal
Forfatter: Svend Brinkmann
Forlag: Klim (Danmark)
Grief: Grief is rediscovered as a ritual thinking practice.

Even in the rich western democracies, it seems that man is hurting his life like never before. And where is it going? Neither religion, tradition, working class nor family seem to be able to fulfill the need for meaning anymore. What about work? Work is my identity, we say. But now it seems that the work is also about to crack. As if the performance and acceleration community not only save on stress, pseudo-work, and endless identity-hunting, but on an escape and a compensation?

Now it is reported that we are living in the "mourning century" – and perhaps the depression – initiated by the terrorist attacks on 11. September 2001. Grief groups are shooting up like never before. Children and adolescents are affected by depression and grief at an ever younger age. An increased number of grants are being sought and given to projects on grief, stress, quality of life issues etc. Perhaps an indication that we are living in a post-secular age where religion is disappearing and where psychology has become a substitute religion? Have psychologists taken over the right to speak in an individualizing society where everything is being therapized?

A way of living and thinking

The grieving animal, however, is not a book about the grief as illness, as the mental disorder, as a measurable size for developing symptom lists for clinical management, but about the grief as existentially interesting. Grief is a field of reflection in itself, an opportunity for us to think about what it means to be human.

The great sorrow we associate with a loss when one's loved one is irrevocably gone. Death and love are necessary conditions for grief. But the sorrowful and melancholy is also "a root of life" that is suspected in our "positivity-oriented and happiness-focused time". This foundation, also known as "the little sorrow," connects with our daily experience of vulnerability, vulnerability, and, not least, the mortality we attach to our social lives and constant activity. One can see the deep grief which, according to Brinkmann, is an "extreme version of the everyday grief that we experience and are constantly confronted with as we seek to turn our attention from our finality to a necessary continuation of life". It's about how we are aware of our own mortality.

The grief is relational – an extended feeling

Research shows that we may be moving from "the forbidden death" (the taboo of death) to the spectacular death, an integration of the dead into everyday life. Like grief, we see many cultural representations of death in these years. What is special is that we have moved from the concern of religion for the souls of the dead to a care for the mental well-being of the survivors. It is this that causes Brinkmann to describe psychology as a substitute religion for the individualized person who can advise on self-development and symptom relief. Therefore, he takes a different path, a philosophical, post-phenomenological path about the nature and experience of grief.

We have moved from the concern of religion for the souls of the dead to one
care for the mental well-being of the survivors.

His book can be read as a partial settlement with his own psychological state. His clue is: We should not ask where the grief is, but how it is. From primarily observing grief as something individual, he shows, in the light of recent research, the need to examine grief as relational, based on a hypothesis of "the expanded mind." That our processing of grief and comfort after, for example, the death of a friend should not be understood as a psychological process going on "inside the mind", but an extended psychological process involving material objects, bodily relationships and other persons. It may be a guitar that belonged to the deceased who is now in your house, which will cause you to return to this instrument and other items. Machining is done through these and other objects.


The ecology of grief

We live more and more connected, we use Google for a variety of processes in everyday life, to locate, read, act, feel – we are natural born cyborgs. Where is the mind? In the body, in the head? We don't know where the boundaries are, but we are exploring it.

Brinkmann enrolls in "the material reversal" where things, objects and nature can be an actor and influence the body and the mind's response (Bennett, Latour, Harmann and others). Things, funerals, pictures, dramaturgical meetings can all create what is called an "affective niche", a form of organic material scaffold that incarnates and extends and distributes the mind's work and response in an environmental way.

"Happiness is health-giving to the body, though
it is the sorrow that develops the powers of the spirit. " Marcel Proust

Maybe all this is an attempt to rediscover the practice of ritual in our lives? An interesting example from Brinkmann is the Japanese Itaru Sasaki's wind telephone. After his cousin died (of cancer) in 2010, he installed an old-fashioned telephone booth in his garden. When his words couldn't reach the cousin with a normal phone, he thought "they could be carried to him by the wind. It became a way to make the darkness gradually disappear from the heart. " After the 2011 earthquake in which many Japanese lost the local material culture, a large number have visited Sasaki's phone, which has provided them with a material replacement for the lost rituals.

Unlike Brinkmann's earlier anti-self-help books, which at times coincided with too much Gao-medical wisdom, with this book he has taken a step toward an independent research program and thinking about grief. And instead of reducing art to therapy for the good life, he demonstrates with examples in visual art, literature and drama that art's insight into the dark sides of life is crucial to our insight into the human mind.

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