In their collection entitled Digital Death: Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age, Christopher Moreman and A. David Lewis presented a plethora of resources for both the budding and experienced researcher on the interconnectivity of death and the digital world. Their premise for the collection seems to be situated in the increasing instability of knowledge surrounding this new culture of digital death: “This population of individuals who experience dying, death, mourning, grieving, and even mortality itself as a hybrid between the physical and the digital has grown in such number that it has become the focus of academic discussion” (p. 2). By engaging in this conversation, this collection becomes an interesting point of reference for the rhetorician looking to experience new and exciting forms of rhetorical action and reaction. Divided into three parts, “Death, Mourning and Social Media,” “Online Memorialization and Digital Legacies,” and “Virtual Worlds beyond Death,” these twelve chapters revolve around the discursivity of how the living act and react digitally to the death of a loved one. It is our hope to broaden this interaction to include how the living (and dead) interact with the label of rhetorical actor.
The ground this work is breaking concerns a topic that we as a culture have previously shied away from. Specifically, in rhetorical action studies, we have yet to fully encounter the agential corpse, the rhetorical actor without consciousness. This collection is a step in that direction, with one foot in the grave and one out. By focusing on the digital corpse, the bits of memories that exist after a loved one has died, this work redefines not only how we interact with the corpse, but also where the corpse itself ends and even begins. As mourners post pictures and memories of their deceased loved ones online, they are creating an image of the corpse that continues to exist within and through the digital medium. Much in the Victorian tradition of memento mori these digital bits remind users of their own mortality while reshaping and reiterating the identity of the already deceased. This is the digital corpse, one that after (and sometimes even before) burial continues to exist in our online world.
Interestingly, this collection brings forward an interdisciplinary look at the digital corpse. Kairos readers can likely find a contributor from each of their interests. To name only a few, contributors come from fields such as comparative religion, popular culture, historical and philosophical studies, English, rhetoric, sociology, psychology, anthropology, computing and information systems, and gender and sexuality. This intentionally interdisciplinary approach provides for not only a wide net to be cast over the subject, but also a breadth of experiences and technologies to be discussed across and between disciplinary lines. The topic, online memorialization, is one that reaches into many departments, disciplines, and philosophies. It can also bridge these elements in a way that contributes not just to rhetoric (as will be the focus of this review) but also to any field even tangentially interested in this changing culture of death and dying.
In the spirit of agency, navigate around this site by collecting the skulls on the tombstones in whatever order you prefer. After each page click the home skull to return to the cemetery.