Seeing the Difference: Conversations on Death and Dying

Christina Gillis, ed.
June 2000
Photo of a well-worn chair.

Seeing the Difference brings together the texts of a two-day institute on death and dying, aimed at facilitating an interdisciplinary conversation between artists, humanists, and medical practitioners. It explores the techne of dying, representations of death, and what one might call an ethics of dying. The project proceeds from a doubled sense of “difference”: a view of death as separation or “difference,” and an acknowledgement that the various disciplines also view death “differently,” developing languages that are too often particular to their own fields.

Dying bridges a no man’s land where the unfathomed and the unknowable confront the scientific and the humanistic imaginations. While death may be the vanishing point of medical knowledge and representation, it is also a point of mediation. Neither doctors nor humanists, nor artists nor policy makers, can provide answers where death is concerned; any inquiry into its cultural, scientific, and perhaps even spiritual contours must be a plural one. The multiple conceptual frameworks engaged here offer different ways of understanding the dying body: the medical view of the body as literal text for implementing physical and psychological change; the humanist’s view of the body as the site of complex layers of meaning to be explored through a range of interpretive strategies; and the artist’s creation of the body in terms of alternative explanatory systems that may mediate between the physical and the metaphysical, that may confront an “unknowable” or “inexplicable” and give it form.