This article revisits, reviews and revises the much cited and magisterial description of successive historical death mentalities from the Middle Ages to modern society as proposed several decades ago by French historian Philippe Ariès. The article first outlines Ariès’s position starting out with the medieval “tamed death,” then moves on to point to several inherent limitations in his history-writing, before suggesting a revision and update of it. Whereas Ariès ended his history-writing with modern “forbidden death,” the author suggests that contemporary death mentality in Western society rather be labelled “spectacular death” in which death, dying and mourning have increasingly become spectacles. Moreover, the author proposes that what is currently happening in contemporary Western society can be interpreted as an expression of a “partial re-reversal” of “forbidden death” to some of the characteristic features of previous historical death mentalities, which—coupled with contemporary scientific and technological possibilities—creates several paradoxical tendencies making death linger uneasily between liberation and denial as well as between autonomy and control.
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