A Non-Place of Death: Image, Cadaver, Mourning, and State Violence in Paris, France

Robert Desjarlais
Professor of Anthropology
Sarah Lawrence College

This talk attends to the politically charged circumstances of life, death, burial, and mourning in situations of police violence against Algerians in France in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the Algerian war of independence.  In particular, I consider the life, death, and afterlife of a man who was seriously wounded by the police during a collective protest in October, 1961, and who died under unclear, obscure circumstances after being brought to a hospital supervised by the Paris police. In drawing from photographic, historical, and archival materials, the talk attends to the circumstances and politics of the man’s death, the legal-medical-bureaucratic regard and inhumation of his corpse, and the family’s subsequent, uncertain mourning in his absence. In all, the talk gives thought to the dynamics of corpses, collective burial, naming the dead, unidentified bodies, and images of life and death in situations of state violence.

Robert Desjarlais is an anthropologist who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York. He has conducted ethnographic research in Nepal, France, and the United States. He is the author of several books, most recently Subject to Death: Life and Loss in a Buddhist World(University of Chicago Press, 2016), and The Blind Man: A Phantasmography (Fordham University Press, 2018).

Death Drives, or Thinking with the Corpse