Good Morning! When I was asked to talk on the subject of Dying in America at a breakfast meeting, It occurred to me that I might get to make some wisecracks about how we eat, at a breakfast where we would be served croissants, butter, sausage and eggs, and berries served with Devonshire cream: certainly the most tasteful form of dying in America! Nor have we been disappointed: quiche and ham should do quite nicely. Then, after last Tuesday’s election, someone approached me and asked if my talk was gong to be on Democratic Party politics. I suppose the title “Dying in America: might fit that subject very nicely! Another wag asked whether I was going to discuss the Buffalo Bills’ current football season . . . . All of these possible applications of the phrase “Dying in America” point to the enormous importance we attach to the idea of dying, and the ways we use that idea in our very metaphorical language. That kind of richness of language is a sure sign, as Joseph Campbell would remind us, that culturally pervasive myths are constructed around the idea of dying. Now, I don’t intend to talk about Campbell’s views at all today, and I will avoid a short course on myths. But I will make just one or two observations about myths so that you are not uncomfortable with my later use of the term. For one of our myths about myths is that, in this educated and scientifically literate society, we don’t have any myths; myths are supposed to be the glue of fictional beliefs that holds primitive societies together, and we certainly are not primitive. Well, let me explain how I intend to use the idea of myth to illuminate some of our values and practices associated with the idea of dying in America. First, by a myth I mean a culturally pervasive set of beliefs and values that tends to center on a single, simple archetypal image or scenario. And second, by calling something mythic I mean to invoke perhaps a number of myths operating as a cluster of culturally important determinants of attitudes and behaviors..
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