, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 353-372

Natality and mortality: rethinking death with Cavarero

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Abstract

In this article I rethink death and mortality on the basis of birth and natality, drawing on the work of the Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero. She understands birth to be the corporeal event whereby a unique person emerges from the mother’s body into the common world. On this basis Cavarero reconceives death as consisting in bodily dissolution and re-integration into cosmic life. This impersonal conception of death coheres badly with her view that birth is never exclusively material but always has ontological significance as the appearance of someone new and singular in the world of relations with others. This view of birth calls for a relational conception of death, which I develop in this article. On this conception, death is always collective, affecting all those with whom the one who dies has maintained relations: As such, our different deaths shade into one another. Moreover, because each person is unique in virtue of consisting of a unique web of relations with others, death always happens to persons as webs of relations. Death is relational in this way as a corporeal, and specifically biological, phenomenon, to which we are subject as bodily beings and as interdependent living organisms. I explore this with reference to Simone de Beauvoir’s memoir of her mother’s death from cancer. Finally I argue that, on this relational conception, death is something to be feared.