The posthumous condition of gossip: Death and its reputational benediction
Mihai Stelian Rusu 
|Abstract:Gossiping is ubiquitous in social life. In every imaginable corner of society, people from all walks of life are gossiping their living acquaintances. But what happens when the “third party,” i.e., the subject of gossip, is absent par excellence, not only temporarily and spatially, but definitively? Do people continue to gossip their dead acquaintances? What is the fate of gossip after its target dies? These are the questions this paper sets out to address. In doing so, it develops a non-reductionist sequential model of death as a social process in which biological death is only the starting point of the bio-social phenomenon of dying. Building on some classic anthropological theories and concepts taken from Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, the paper examines the post-mortem status of gossip in terms of the unfolding sequence of the funeral ritual in a particular Romanian cultural context. It argues that during the liminal phase covering the deathwatch and the burial, a transient “gossipless communitas” emerges around the dead one governed by the taboo against gossiping. If the dead is afterward spared from post-mortem gossip, this is due mainly to the impracticality of gossip. The paper ends by arguing that death, despite the emotional distress caused to the surviving family, brings about a reputational bless for the deceased. It does so since, under the normative jurisdiction of the saying “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum” (Of the dead, nothing unless good), the memory of the deceased is being posthumously dignified.
Keywords: Anthropology of gossip, death and dying, death studies, funeral rites of passage, memorial afterlife, reputation management
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