The Bipolarity of Death

Heonik Kwon

in After the Massacre

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780520247963
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520939653 | DOI:
The Bipolarity of Death

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The Vietnamese perception of the world incorporates the awareness that the life of the dead is intertwined with that of the living, and that the Vietnamese idealize a harmonious relationship between the two forms of life. The morality of death, in modern history, cannot be considered independently from the history of mass death. In Ha My and My Lai, mass death was a central episode in family and village history. The war in Vietnam resulted in high numbers of displaced, troubled, and ritually “uncontrolled deaths.” This chapter examines the implications of the conceptual polarity for the memory of mass death. To illustrate this, it discusses relevant sociological theories about death symbolism. Furthermore, it highlights the two-sided commemorative ritual practice, and relates it to the idea of “symbolic ambidexterity” proposed by Robert Hertz. Finally, it considers its practical implications and theoretical significance against the background of the moral symbolic hierarchy of death.

Keywords: mass death; Ha My; My Lai; uncontrolled deaths; ambidexterity; commemorative ritual; death symbolism

Chapter.  7234 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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